Once again my allergic reaction to nationalism has resulted in my blog coming out in a nasty rash. The nats are swarming, clogging up my comments and while, to tell the truth, they aren’t causing me too much discomfort, they are certainly causing me some embarrassment. So I thought it was time I stopped dabbing on a few bits of creme here and there and try to get to the root of the problem (and if that isn’t a contorted metaphor, I don’t know what is).
So, first of all, a mea culpa (yes, I am capable of them from time to time). I shouldn’t have capitalised the Ens in “Scottish nationalist” and “Cornish nationalist” in my post on nationalism yesterday. It’s clearly caused some confusion, so let’s clear that up straight away. It wasn’t my intention to suggest that the SNP resort to such practices, merely that such practices do exist and are documented. Nor are members of other political parties immune to stupid nationalistic behaviour.
Secondly, the SNP launched their 2005 election campaign in Dundee, not Stirling, and the memorable claymore wielding incident took place beside a rather anonymous actor playing Robert the Bruce, rather than a statue of a famous anti-semite playing William Wallace. Other than that, though, the incident is true. It took place on 6 April, which was both the anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath and the day in which the SNP launched their campaign. My point that it was a deliberate press stunt designed to send a specific message, along with a specific subtext, remains (frustratingly, I can’t find an online photo of this incident, but there is a lovely one of Salmond gazing adoringly at his mighty weapon available on Empics if you have access, ref EMP.2319661). I will be interesting to see what he does to mark 6 April 2007.
What Scots need to appreciate is that it isn’t Scottish nationalism I have a problem with, it’s nationalism. Various commentators have sought to distinguish between civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism, and I assure you I do understand the difference. My position is however that all too often the former strays into the territory of the latter.
Nationalism is a bit like the mogwai in 80s classic Gremlins. It comes in two types: cute and cuddly civic nationalism, and the nasty, violent, murderous ethnic version. To prevent the one from transforming into the other, you have to rigidly obey certain specific rules. There are no grey areas here; you can’t feed Gizmo at 00.01 and expect everything to be fine. Break the rules and, after a gestation period, all hell breaks loose.
That is why I am so intolerant of that claymore incident. It simply isn’t good enough to employ that sort of violent, backward-looking, ethno-centric imagery when launching an election campaign. The fact that so many Scots Nats commenting here simply do not see it as a problem, speaks volumes to me. This is tantamount to watching the mogwai being chucked into a swimming pool with a shrug of the shoulders.
I’ve spent much of the past two years working in SE Europe and with SE Europeans. I’ve seen what happens when people allow their sense of proportion slip when it comes to nationalism and it ain’t pretty.
People here have rightly alluded to incidents by other party politicians. I should disabuse new readers who may be under the impression that I’m some kind of blind party loyalist. I absolutely condemn the Lib Dems in Burnley for flirting with the BNP. Ross Finnie was incredibly foolish to call Digby Jones an ‘English Prat’. I also don’t agree with the Scot Lib Dem line on independence (personally I think they should neutralise the SNP by pledging to introduce a general system of citizens initiative and referendum) or, for example, local income tax (a policy which the SNP foolishly share).
All I’m really looking for is an acknowledgement that when dealing with issues over national identity, you have to be doubly careful about not pandering to racists and ethno-centrists. But all I’ve had over the past 24 hours is, at best, shrill displacement activity.
The bottom line is this: English Nationalists, still small in number, are on the march, and while they too like to call themselves civic nationalists, they’re obsessions are invariably national anthems, flags, immigration, Witangemots and Perfidious Alba. It’s on the rise partly because certain politicians in England are indulging them, while others are resisting the very real need for greater decentralisation and self-determination. The question I would ask the SNP is this: is your sense of civic nationalism so robust that it won’t begin to crack if a nasty strain of English Nationalism starts to cause a stink south of the border? I have my doubts.