Toxic British nationalism

It is certainly gratifying to see in the mainstream media an acknowledgement of the ‘dark side’ of unionism. But it is not a novel phenomenon. Nor is it as ‘fringe’ as David Leask would like to pretend. Many would argue that the anti-independence side of the first referendum campaign was dominated by hard-line unionists. Hence, Project Fear. There was nothing remotely moderate about the lies, smears and scaremongering indulged in by the British establishment. That was British nationalism red in tooth and claw.

Nor has British nationalist extremism been relegated to the fringes of political discourse in the aftermath of the first referendum. As David Leask points out, it is increasingly vociferous and vehement in its rejection of anything that so much as hints at a Scottish political culture that is in any way distinctive. Notions of British exceptionalism are at the very core of the dispute about the UK’s place in Europe. And Ruth Davidson has been quite open about the fact that the Tories in Scotland will be contesting the Holyrood election on an explicitly British nationalist platform as the Tories seek to lure hard-line unionists away from British Labour in Scotland.

It is right that we should be concerned about the fact that ultra-unionism is so largely going unchallenged. There is a danger that it may be portrayed as simply the other side of the Scottish nationalist coin. But the reality is that there is more relationship between the British nationalism of the British parties in Scotland and Scotland’s civic nationalism than there is between the austerity-obsessed neo-liberal orthodoxy of today’s Tories and the kind of benignly paternalistic Conservatism that people in Scotland once voted for in huge numbers.

That Scotland has an increasingly distinctive political culture, developing apart from that of the rest of the UK, is beyond question. Were it not so, British nationalists would hardly be working themselves up into such a lather of righteous indignation over even the most minor manifestation of divergence from their rigid concept of ‘One Nation Britain’. And Scotland’s political culture is particularly healthy – with an openness to novel, or even radical thinking; high levels of engagement; and a great depth and range of political discourse which are the happy legacy of the grass-roots Yes movement.

British nationalism threatens to poison the pool of Scottish politics. Let us hope that others will join David Leask in throwing a spotlight on this odious ideology and the irresponsible politicians who seek to turn it to their electoral advantage.

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