My nationalism! Not yours!

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.

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24 thoughts on “My nationalism! Not yours!

  1. Vestas

    Her PhD is on “Black Feminist Theory”. Says it all really.

    Another “radical feminist” who believes in the inherent superiority of the female gender.

    ie a misandrist.

    1. Heidstaethefire

      No it doesn’t. She’s wrong about Khan and stupid to act as his human shield. That doesn’t ms,e her wrong about everything.

  2. Ian

    “We want independence…”, wow that second last paragraph needs to be chisled in stone..love it. That sums up this whole movement.
    I am going to copy that paragraph off so I don’t lose it.

  3. Bill Dale

    I think we need to be careful not to give oxygen to the unionists’ attempt to frame the debate. I read on another blog yesterday that the author of the Guardian diatribe had tweeted in 2014 about attending a “Better Together” event. These are simply trolls, and engaging with them merely serves their purpose, which is to keep their warped viewpoint in the public eye.

    A short dismissal of her opinion, with the excellent second last paragraph suffices.

    Let’s frame the debate as the way out for Scotland, and all who call Scotland their home. Leave the bitter Nationalism to the unionists.

    1. Quakeawake

      Agree with you Bill,
      Let them get on with demeaning themselves through their abuse, while we focus on the policies and principles that are our true drivers: self determination, humanity, respect and inclusiveness. By focusing on these things we expose them for the empty fools they are anyway.

  4. Rowdy Yates

    Good piece Peter. I was quite shocked by Heuchan’s piece in the Guardian. I think that might come from spending many years in England where the Guardian was the liberal-left read of choice. I still struggle to think of it as anything other than a truth-teller when in reality, it is increasingly pumping out the same anti-democratic bile (though, it would seem only for the Scots – the independence struggles of other nations are cause célèbre for the Guardian).

  5. bringiton

    I am a Scottish nationalist,not a Swedish,Serbian or Swaziland nationalist because I identify myself with a country called Scotland in which I live.
    The fact that we do not have the normal governance arrangements that prevail in most countries is why the national party has,for now,overwhelming support of Scots.
    It is this identity that supporters of the British state attack as being xenophobic and racist because it represents a threat to their cosy little world and in the case of some,their livelihood.
    I am a proud Scot,no buts,because of what we aspire to be as a country and as such greatly value my identity.

  6. Alasdair Macdonald

    The Clare Heuchan article can be summed up as an example of the ‘straw man’ fallacy. And, Sadiq Khan’s speech/article deployed the same fallacy.

    This is a staple of the anti independence propaganda.

    As Mr Bell has done, we need to point these out.

    Has there been a ramping up of the anti-independence propaganda recently? I notice that the ‘independence for Orkney and Shetland’ trope is getting an airing on Radio Scotland today.

  7. Geejay

    I haven’t read Heuchen’s article because I won’t go near the Guardian, as it’s no better than the trash Mail, Express etc. But what it Nationalism’s opposite? Is it what we see from the UK governing classes, or perhaps Trumpism – English/US exceptionalism, colonialism, state terrorism (Chomsky called the US a terrorist state), Brexit and the green light that’s given to racism and xenophobia? Hardly a day passes without some UK politician or establishment figure proclaiming the UK’s “difference”, UK values of “democracy and the rule of law” as if the UK was in some way unique. i.e. British Nationalism, which of course isn’t nationalism.

    1. Geejay

      ..and this it the UK where the obscene immigration rules are dividing families, separating mothers/fathers from children and spouses from each other because they are the wrong sort of Nationality. Nationalism !!

  8. Piotr

    We live in a world of nation states. It is difficult, right now, to conceive of another plausible arrangement. Claire seems to condemn this state of affairs because it creates division. She propoes no alternative. She does not see a natural desire within Scotland of many for Scotland to join the club. She sees parallels with racism, fosterers of division, separationists, nationalists. If this were true then any desire from anywhere for soveriegnty is a racist desire. Where, one wonders, does this leave the world?

    Amazingly and thankfully this It isn’t a racist desire for most of the world of course, just, bizarrely and uniquely for Scotland.

    My guess is Claire is a Unionist and feels British, which is quite is fine. Unionists may find it difficult to understand a simple desire for many in Scotland for autonomy. Some, like Claire, may want to ‘other’ those with this simple desire. Thus we are labelled with negative unwholesome attitudes and prejudices. This will certainly prevent Claire from seeing another perfectly reasonable and valid point of view.

    Implicit in what Claire says is the notion that what is united should never be divided. A little thought reveals the limitations of this as a political philosophy. Emotionally, however, we can understand the pull of this. We are trashing the family home.

    Many of us beg to differ, not, as she claims, out of a sense of exceptionalism or destructiveness but more because we are excited by the opportunity to be perfectly commonplace and to shape our back yard. We do not see this as trashing anything, just coming to a new, more desirable, domestic arrangement.

    These countervailing views are not be easy to reconcile but what would bring us a little closer together is a little respect and understanding for each other’s point of view. What will certainly drive us farther apart is ‘othering’ one side.

    Claire, you are not helping.

  9. Westviews

    My nationalism couldn’t be more inclusive. I’ve yet to meet a fellow Yes voter who isn’t. Anyone who can look at our movement and label us as racist must be wearing Unionist blinkers.
    There will always be a few in every group who taint the rest with their narrow or racist views and these will be the ones the MSM will hold up as an example. Every one of us needs to show those who believe the MSM propaganda just how inclusive we really are.

  10. Sandy

    Paul kavanagh has just exposed heuchan as a better together campaigner. Guess that may answer the question about what her excuse is.

  11. Jeff

    The problem is that people like Ms Heuchan do not see Scottish independence as being about anything other than blood-and-soil nationalism.

    Many years ago there was a popular psychology magazine (London based) which in one issue contained a feature on ‘patriotism’. After analysing the psychology behind patriotism, the contributor went on to say: ‘But the politics of patriotism is nationalism….Patriotism, even in its mildest form, creates an attitude of ‘us’ and ‘them’.

    Years later I wrote and illustrated a comic book on Scotland’s history of struggle for self-government. I applied to a certain left wing publisher in London who told me ‘We don’t regard Scottish nationalism as progressive or radical’. What a put-down!

    The Brit Left (so-called) see nationalism as an ideology, as opposed to internationalism, and anything which challenges this upsets their cosy blinkered view.

  12. Dan Huil

    Sadly there will be more attempts at shaming people in Scotland by calling them racist for wanting independence. Hatred and negativity is all that britnats have. I believe, however, that people in Scotland have grown so sick of britnat behaviour in recent years that they will rightly ignore the latest britnat smear campaign.

  13. Lochside

    Heuchan and all the rest of the ratfaced choir that only ever scream ‘racists’ at poor old Scotland and its only representative party (50% of the vote) are out and out lying operation Smear operatives. Which is part two of Operation Fear 2014.

    They knowingly are framing..as in’ fitting up’…the political ‘debate’ in the expected Britnat perjorative manner. Divide and rule…make the softies on the Left recoil and not vote YES in case someone thinks they might be PREJUDICED. At the same time these paid stooges are farting out ‘Rule Brittania’ at every opportunity.

    As mentioned by Alisdair Macdonald, I heard Radio Schotttland pumping out the expected add on under hand bilge about Orkney’s ‘Self Determination’ bid by its Council. No questioning how a constituent part of Scotland, could or should need to consider this move any more than Sark should split from Engerland and return to its nearest neighbour of France.

    Next we’ll be hearing about Shetland next…and its supposedlygreater Norse identity than Scots…despite DNA tests disprove this ( as if this mattered!) and the folk speak a broad Scots dialect wi a Norn intonation..not the other way about.

  14. Dave

    I always read your stuff Peter and this piece I think was one of the best.

    Normally being a member of an ethnic minority (apologies if I’m not using the correct terminology here) rightly gives people a perspective and weight to their argument regarding how they have been treated, that’s unassailable. This is normally based on personal experience and is right and proper. It’s when people move out with this and start applying it to different scenarios and think the same rules apply that they enter dodgy ground.

    In my opinion, being a Scottish Nationalist is not racist and it doesn’t matter what race creed or colour you are. If you think it is then you are just plain wrong. Simple. Your opinion is no more valid than anyone else’s.

  15. Abulhaq

    Ms Heuchan’s Guardian piece was just click bait. So outlandish in its claims and so badly reasoned to merit rejection as a poor effort even by her faculty. It did the job, however. She got the negative result she intended. As a Scottish Black Feminist Lesbian she can now feel thoroughly vindicated and smugly superior. Well done Claire…α+

  16. Moreida Lord

    This paragraph ‘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” should be pinned like a banner in all our twitter profiles or made into a picture for us to use… do you give permission? It is beautiful, it’s honest and it’s representative of what we in the indy movement want and aspire to… thank you…

  17. Robert Graham

    oh i guess her association with better together never entered her mind when she set out to rubbish all supporters of Independence ,
    This links to a guest on news night castigating the English NHS , no reference was made to the guests involvement with a Bermuda based healthcare provider.
    It should be a requirement of Newspapers and TV news organisations to clearly state the opinion offered is that of the contributor who may have a vested interest . it shouldn’t be left to the reader or viewer to find this out , if not now that is Fake News , like so much of the dross we are expected to digest that is presented as News when most of it is Opinion .

  18. Graham Watson

    She’s wrong about us claiming superiority… Then claims Scotland has better institutions and superior representation. Just one of the MANY highlights of the sad little piece of run on sentences.

    Maybe next time try not be so hypocritical or racial insensitive. Also your white privilege is showing Pete.

  19. Tom

    It is quite clear form some of Heuchan’s other tweets (ie her spat with Angela Haggerty) that she equates racism with prejudice against people of colour only. Ie white on white prejudice isn’t ‘racist’. Fair enough, that’s her definition, her opinion, she’s entitled to hold it, but it also means that in her article she clearly suggests that actual white-power racist motives lie hidden somewhere within Scottish nationalism. Which is to my mind ludicrous.

  20. Alisia Willford

    It is a fact that the largest part of the planet’s media is owned by right wing capitalists. Their intention is to further the virus of capitalism and increase the planet’s differentials between wealthy and those in need. Left Insider provides left wing news from reputable news sites such as Left Futures, Red Pepper, Novara, The Canary, Buzz Feed, Left Foot Forward etc. We all have the right to fully exploit our own potential and we all have the obligation to help others maximise theirs.

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