Independence is normal

Henry McLeish can’t seem to quite make up his mind about nationalism. Repeatedly, he uses the word in a manner which leaves little doubt that he regards it as a pejorative term. But then he describes the notion that “businesses trade, not countries” as a “flawed idea”. He is clearly disturbed by President Trump’s prioritisation of corporations over nation states, describing it as “an agenda for markets and consumers not for democracies and citizens”. Apparently, it’s not nationalism in itself which is anathema to Mr McLeish, but Donald Trump’s particular brand of nationalism. When nationalism is considered as a means by which popular democracy defends itself against encroaching corporate power, then it is a good thing.

Their nationalism bad! Our nationalism good!

Reducing the concept of nationalism to this banal ‘them and us’ level of simplicity is a serious error of thinking. Much better to regard nationalism as a component of all ideologies, varying only in the manner of its expression. We are all nationalists. We just define our nationalism in different ways. And, as Henry McLeish has demonstrated, we also tend to define others’ nationalism in ways that are informed by our prejudices. Their nationalism is bad because it is part of a world-view which we do not share. Or it is bad simply because they are political rivals and must be portrayed as bad in every regard.

Of course, nationalism can be expressed in ways that may be considered objectively malign simply on account of the outcomes that flow from it. History provides vivid examples of nationalism perverted to some malevolent purpose. But it is pure folly to conflate such extremes with the commonplace of nationalism as no more than recognition of the role of the nation state as a unit of social, political and economic organisation.

This last stands as a fairly adequate definition of civic nationalism. A form of nationalism that defines the nation state primarily in jurisdictional and administrative terms, with a sense of national identity deriving from shared participation rather than common ancestry.

It is doubtless his tenuous grasp of the nature of nationalism which explains Henry McLeish’s ambivalence about Scotland’s independence movement. An interminable deliberation which, it must be said, long since departed the realm of interesting internal debate to reside in the land of exasperating public indecision. The man will neither piss nor, thanks to inexplicably indulgent media, will he get off the pot.

An inclination to see something dark and ominous in the very mention of nationalism almost certainly accounts for McLeish’s reluctance to fully embrace the project to normalise Scotland’s constitutional status. All those learned negative associations blind him to the simple civic nationalist desire to bring Scotland’s government home, where it can better reflect Scotland’s distinctive political culture. A political culture informed by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

But Henry McLeish is not blind to the justice of Scotland’s cause. He just needs a way to reconcile the conflict between the unarguable logic of dissolving a dysfunctional political union and his aversion to a conception of nationalism which, for all its irrelevance in the context of Scotland’s politics, is nonetheless real to him.

Reluctant to admit that restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status is a good in its own right, he seeks to identify special circumstances that might justify it.

Unwilling to acknowledge that it was fatally flawed from its inception, he looks to recent developments to find a reason for considering an end to the political union.

Unable to concede that it has always been the union that was anomalous, he persuades himself that the anomalies are products of the Brexit débâcle, the Trump presidency and the Tory hegemony.

A new future for our country, better governance and the capacity to engage with the world on our own terms have always been good ideas. It didn’t need Brexit, Trump or permanent Tory rule to make independence desirable. Independence is normal. It is the status to which the people of all nations will always aspire. But if seeing independence as an escape rather than an ambition helps Henry McLeish overcome his feckless faltering on the issue, then perhaps we shouldn’t complain too much.

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8 thoughts on “Independence is normal

  1. Vestas

    He’s another “indy-but” and always has been.

    The National seems to really like these “indy-but” columnists (Boyd et al) and enquiring minds wonder why…..

    Its not as if any of them are particularly gifted or are well-known is it?

    Pretty sure you could say “who’s Henry McLeish” to the average Scot & the best-case response would be “didn’t he used to be a politician or something, ages ago?”

  2. twathater

    I think you are being extremely kind to Mc Leish and his cohorts, I am 66 and reflect on the corruption , misinformation and overall greed him and his party subjected Scottish citizens to. To me him and his ilk have created and contributed to the CRINGE and Scot buts. It is only now that they find themselves an irrelevance to me and many other ex liebour voters ,that they wring their hands and PLEAD to be listened to. It was all right when they were in power , to hide, under the official secrets act the Mc Crone report that showed Scotland ‘s true wealth , it was all right to hand back to Wastemonster part of the Barnet formula because they didn’t think the poor in Scotland needed money spent on them , I could go on but I will just say , until they THROW the whole lot of the undesirables out of the liebour party and start afresh , they are dead to me and many others

  3. bringiton

    Now that the British state has been reduced to it’s essentials,i.e. a xenophobic isolationist English state,where does this leave those in the British Labour party in Scotland?
    Their claim of being anti “nationalist” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny when their leader whips his MPs into supporting an exit from the union of European states.
    It is a straight choice for them now between a social democratic outward looking Scotland or something completely different.
    I suspect that many have been brainwashed by their own propaganda and think of Scotland as being too poor etc etc.
    Or maybe they just can’t admit that we “nationalists” were right all along.

  4. Clydebuilt

    What are the National playing at with their front covers. Can’t imagine ANYONE saw today’s and said Wow I want to buy that…….

    The paper is a good read for Yessers, never seen it attracting undecided’s too much of a specialist paper.

    Is that what it’s intended to be.

    McLeish, yesterday’s man, still failing to make himself relevant. Just like the Red Tories.

  5. Sandy

    Aye, he needs to get off the fence and that soon. If he could bring even one in ten of labour supporters with him, that would put support for independence over the fifty percent mark and what a difference that would make.

  6. stewartb

    Yes ‘independence’ is normal but so too is ‘nationalism’. Surely every nation state and its population expresses, albeit in different ways at different times, a ‘nationalism’. Each nation state expresses this and acts in ways judged to be for good or ill, depending on the point of view of an ‘observer’ positioned within or outside the state in question. So ‘nationalism’ is not intrinsically good or bad, and its association with a nation state is to be expected.

    I find it hard to understand those who oppose the case for Scottish independence on the basis of an in-principle opposition to ‘nationalism’. It seems to me they are really advancing the proposition, by implication, that Scotland’s nationalism is being played out now and/or would be played out subsequently by the new nation state, in an unequivocally ‘bad’ way. But why, and in comparison to what, seems never to be explained. So not only is Scotland too wee, too poor and too stupid, but we are likely to be ‘too bad’!

    I find opposition to Scotland’s self-determination based on such an opposition to ‘nationalism’ as frustrating as the contention of some vocal Scottish Labour unionists that only they can justifiably claim to occupy the moral high ground of ‘internationalism’ whilst Scottish nationalists must of course be (only) narrow and inward looking!

  7. J R Tomlin

    I disagree that about what makes some nationalism evil and others not, and I think the Gandhi quote I’ve used more than once expresses it well.

    “Violent nationalism, otherwise known as imperialism, is a curse. Nonviolent nationalism is a necessary condition of corporate or civilized life.”

    The difference between the two is more basic that the outcome. It is the intent of imperialism to conquer and oppress.

  8. Alasdair Macdonald

    It is often worthwhile to adopt the philosophers’ ‘principle of charity’ and grant the person the most favourable interpretation of her or his proposal. Mr McLeish is not addressing people like Mr Bell, nor me, who are already convinced of the benefits of independence. He is seeking to change the minds of Labour supporters, mainly. He knows that a fair number of them are swithering. One of the most potent ways of changing minds I to set up cognitive dissonance within the person whom one is trying to persuade. This entails setting out a plausible scenario which is not too dissimilar to the person’s current view, but is different and in the direction of favouring independence. Cognitive dissonance is when a person is trying simultaneously to hold two conflicting positions and has to resolve things. If the alternative is pitched too far from the listener’s current position, he or she feels no tension to be resolved and simply retains the current view. What Mr McLeish is trying to do with his five questions is to face swithering Labour supporters with dissonances to be resolved. Mr McLeish has some status amongst Labour supporters that neither Mr Bell, nor I nor any of the other commenters have no so has a reasonable chance of being persuasive, a better chance than any of us has.

    One of the reasons why so many of the Trotskyite and other ‘revolutionary’ (risibly so) groups are so unsuccessful is that they are so contemptuous of others and pitch arguments that are so far from those of the majority of us that we let them slip away like water off a duck’s back.

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