My response to the “spectacularly ill-judged” comments branding Scotland’s independence movement ‘racist’ was a short blog article under the title In defence of Sadiq Khan. Disappointingly for those desperately hoping to see outraged fulminations everywhere, the piece ran to barely more than 200 words, and the tone was more resigned irritation than angry indignation.
I wrote that Khan’s resort to facile stereotypes and simplistic caricatures was, if not entirely forgivable, at least understandable given that he is a London politician and has, therefore, been exposed to nothing else but the facile stereotypes and simplistic caricatures which comprise the cosy consensus of a metropolitan media clique. A cosy consensus fed, not by dispassionate observation, honest research and thoughtful consideration, but by lazy acceptance of the bitterly resentful outpourings of Scotland’s lately displaced political elite.
Sadiq Khan sees Scotland and its politics only from the perspective of someone deeply embedded in the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state and someone totally immersed in a world-view that is particular to the British establishment.
So what is Claire Heuchan’s excuse?
Heuchan is, by her own account, a “Scottish woman”. She has no need to rely on the London-based media for information about what is going on in Scotland. Of course, most of the ‘Scottish’ media is no better. But at least she has the option of a first-hand perspective untainted by the kind of ill-informed commentary that led Sadiq Khan to make his embarrassing gaffe.
So what is her excuse?
In her rush to serve as apologist for Sadiq Khan, Claire Heuchan presents a woefully flawed analysis of nationalism. In her eagerness to rationalise his ‘racist’ slur, she embraces a massively distorted perspective on Scotland’s civic nationalist movement.
Some caution is required here. Heuchan appears to be sorely confused about her attitude to equating Scottish nationalism with racism. In the space of two sentences she both rejects the notion as a “massive false equivalence”, and endorses it – claiming that both perspectives are “reliant” on precisely the same kind of “clear distinction”. A distinction “between those who belong and those who are rejected on the basis of difference”. Notwithstanding this ambivalence, I think we’re entitled to assume that Heuchan is at least in broad agreement with Sadiq Khan.
But why must this distinction be as Heuchan assumes? There is absolutely no logical reason why nationalism has to be exclusive. There is no reason why it has to rely on a rigid definition of “those who belong”. There is no necessity that this category be defined by “those who are rejected on the basis of difference”. There are ways to be outside a category other than being rejected. Just as there are ways of being part of a category other than needing to be accepted. There is choice. Heuchan’s concept of nationalism precludes choice. It doesn’t even acknowledge the possibility of choice, far less its crucial relevance.
Let us be clear about the fact that this is Heuchan’s concept of nationalism. This is a glimpse into her mind. It tells us only of her mentality. There is no reason whatever why others’ must accept or conform to her definition. I have no problem with being labelled a nationalist because I insist on the right to define and describe my own attitudes. I decline to let others write the label on my behalf.
My nationalism is not exclusive. I don’t know what ‘Scottishness’ is, far less how it might be measured. I experience no “zeal for national identity”. In all the rhetoric of Better Together/Project Fear nothing was more alien to me than the talk of “real Scots”. A term which absolutely implies exclusiveness. If anything caused me more discomfort it was jingoistic references to “proud Scots”. What is there for me to be proud of? There was no effort involved. Being born Scottish was not a personal achievement. Arguably, those who have adopted Scotland as their home have more justification than me for feeling “proud”, if only because they have made a conscious, informed choice. In some sense, they may have had to work at being Scottish. I didn’t.
I could talk at length about how nationalism is adaptive. About how it represents a necessary evolutionary development without which facilitates large, complex societies. But that may be for another time. Suffice it to say that it is a far more nuanced phenomenon than Claire Heuchan allows. People make different choices. Nationalism is not an ideology in its own right. It is a component of political ideologies in general. It is not one thing. It varies according to the individual’s perspective. We each incorporate our own personal version of nationalism into our politics in our own way.
She takes a similarly simplistic view of that trigger-word recently adopted by British nationalists, ‘divisiveness’. In fact, division is the nature of politics. Democratic politics is a contest of ideas and ideals. To abhor division is to reject democracy.
Heuchan looks at divisions in society and sees only oppressors and victims. There seems to be no space in her ideology for the possibility of division being no more than different choices. This may be a consequence of her being black. I cannot say. I cannot presume to know her experience. I know only that it is a gross error to perceive Scotland’s independence movement in this way. It is wrong, and it is offensive.
But this is not the only thing about Claire Heuchan’s article which is erroneous and insulting. The section on “Scottish exceptionalism” is the most appalling distillation of vacuous prejudice and empty assertion. Who is trying to “valourise Scotland”? Who is seeking to present Scotland as “some sort of progressive utopia”? Who is “denying this country’s own colonial legacy”? We are told that all this is being done by “nationalists” – which is a catch-all label for the out-group that Heuchan is set upon demonising. But where is the evidence of this? There is no attempt to support the allegations with either illustrative examples of even reasoned argument. Heuchan simply assumes the defects that justify her defamation of Scotland’s independence movement. And asks others to take the same unthinking approach.
There is a “mythos” here. There is a “fairytale”. But it is the ugly tale told by those so afflicted with the infamous cringe that they cannot allow any notion of even common decency to be associated with Scotland. This is the Scotland of British nationalist propaganda, not a Scotland that accords lived experience.
It is only hard-line unionists and British Labour loyalists who talk of Scotland’s supposed claims to moral superiority over other parts of the UK. It is part of that grotesque caricature referred to earlier. It is objectively arguable that Scotland is “more egalitarian than England”. But it is only those with a political axe to grind who read this as an elitist boast. Less prejudiced individuals accept that attitudes and values are pretty much the same wherever you go. It is not those attitudes and values which are different in Scotland but the fact that they are better reflected in public policy due to our distinctive democratic institutions and processes.
That Scotland has a distinctive political culture cannot sensibly be denied. Voting patterns alone are proof enough that Scotland is different. But that difference does not arise from us being better people. That is a nonsense only ever peddled by those who regard Scotland’s constitutional aspirations as a threat. To the extent that Scotland is already a “fairer” country that the rest of the UK it is solely because our proportional electoral system leads to government that is marginally more influenced by attitudes and values that cannot find expression within the British political system.
Which is why we want to break free from that system. Scotland’s civic nationalism has nothing whatever to do with ethnicity. Our independence movement has nothing whatever to do with any of the things which Claire Heuchan imagines absolutely define it. It is entirely about better democracy and better governance. When she talks of “purism” governing understanding of Scottish identity and belonging she is not talking about either the Scotland or the politics with which I identify. She is talking about a nation of which I would be ashamed. And a politics that would be anathema to the near 50% of Scotland’s people who are being called ‘racist’ simply for wanting to bring their government home.
We want independence, not for any flag or anthem, but for the opportunity to create a better, fairer society. Not because we are inspired by a great past, but because we aspire to a better future Not because we regard Scotland as superior, but because we refuse to accept that it is inferior.
Scotland’s civic nationalism is about so much more than either Claire Heuchan or Sadiq Khan seem capable of comprehending.Views: 3042
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