Deconstructing Scottish nationalism and the new democracy

The referendum in Scotland gave birth to a new democratic movement in Scotland - a movement people all across the UK could learn from.

Duncan Thorp
17 November 2014

It’s been almost two months since Scotland went to the polls in the independence referendum. With the passage of time we can now judge things with a slightly calmer perspective. While we await the outcome of the Smith Commission on further devolution it’s true that while nothing’s changed, everything’s changed.

It’s often been stated that the Scottish independence referendum was a defining moment, not just for the people of Scotland, but for people across these islands and beyond. No war, no violence, 97% of people aged 16 and over registered to vote, an 85% turnout and a popular, open debate in pubs, streets, town halls and schools. Even for those who saw it as divisive, everyone across the UK can celebrate what was a genuine achievement for direct democracy.

This success was against the backdrop of a mainstream media that’s now fallen behind more effective and democratic means of communication. There was a significant ignorance and snobbery about Scottish independence by many sections of the British media. From both right-wing comics like the Daily Mail but also from alleged progressive media, who should have known better than to parrot state propaganda. You could say it was a case of cosy academic theories about “nationalism” not reflecting real life progress.

During the campaign itself I heard confused arguments about “dividing the working class”, the “battle against nationalism” and “separatists”, all misguided at best. With that logic we certainly shouldn’t have the alleged borders created by the existing Scottish Parliament or of local authorities, the different legal system or even clubs or societies. With this narrative we should have a one world government because being “separate” from France, Canada or Ireland divides us all. I’d suggest these arguments were based more on belief in emotional British state mythology.

Ironically independent United Kingdom supporters are, by their own definition, British nationalists. Though they certainly wouldn’t want to be associated with the nationalist mob performing Nazi salutes, singing Rule Britannia and burning a Saltire in George Square, Glasgow, after the votes were counted. Those campaigners clearly didn’t get the memo about the “battle against nationalism”.

It was also interesting to spot the outdated slogans of yesteryear that still circulate in the British establishment. Claims of anti-Englishness, becoming a “foreign country” and “divorce”, all evidence of a rejection of what was actually happening on the ground in Scotland. In our local communities this was about a real thirst for positive engagement, progressive politics and concern for social issues like unemployment, poverty and the economy. Of course this media distortion meant that people in England formed dangerously distorted and misleading views about the reality of what was happening.

This brings us to the crucial point. Scottish nationalism has never really been about nationalism at all - it’s always been about democracy - whether opponents or advocates realised it or not. Ancient petty rivalries and past subjugation, Scotland used as an experimental testing ground by Thatcher, a parliament abolished for centuries against the will of the people, nuclear weapons, voiceless and disempowered, can you see why this vote happened? Can you also see how this lack of a voice applies to people in the English regions too?

I was born and brought up in England. Though I’ve lived in Scotland for almost 20 years I feel fortunate in never having been taught any nationalist narrative. It’s one of the reasons that the propaganda from the corporate media and the “anti-separatists” is so unjust. Unlike colonial British nationalism, the Scottish independence movement was and remains inclusive, it’s civic and progressive, many people of English origin are involved. Yes there are narrow minds in any movement but the reality does not match the silly “English hater” claims made in some parts. I genuinely love these islands and the many varied and incredible people who live here. Different political institutions are about fairness and equality, not separation.

So where are we now? Though the constant, raw energy of an impending vote is gone, the Yes independence infrastructure is still thriving, growing and determined. The cultural movement, National Collective, is part of this, as is RIC (Radical Independence Campaign), Women for Independence and many other progressive groups. The future of course lies in Generation Yes, for younger people. There’s no notable right-wing in this movement. SNP, Scottish Green and Scottish Socialist Party memberships have exploded - creating a huge force for the next elections. Since the vote, tens of thousands of people have joined the SNP, making it the third largest UK party, the Scottish Greens have quadrupled their membership - and they’re all still growing. While the UK state infrastructure remains powerful the unionist campaign itself has effectively ended.

This comes back to the key point in that much of the Scottish Yes campaign has now thankfully gone beyond narrow nationalism and is indeed going beyond narrow independence. It’s becoming about local community control and empowerment of neighbourhoods too. It’s not about the so-called “45%” people, stuck with a defeatist mind-set. It’s about the 100%. It’s becoming a democracy movement. Democracy not destiny.

This emerging Scottish democracy movement is one of many diverse people-led movements across the world. Of course we know there’s also a wider war against democracy made up of governments and agencies, corporations and the media. But we should all begin to take an active role in the campaigns for authentic people power because it’s only with mass, persistent action that progressive change happens.

Beyond the official party line, the underlying British story has never been about people. It’s really about maintaining an elitist Westminster System*. Scotland is currently a full part of this system. And the system can’t be reformed. Vested political-corporate interests, government by millionaires, Lords and Ladies, state surveillance, a voting system rigged to keep two parties in power forever, a stifling, dangerously unequal economic system, increasing right-wing domination, a weak parliament, corruption built into the system itself. Britain isn’t working.

People across the British Isles need to recognise the Scottish democracy movement for what it really is. It offers something for all of us, for English people, Welsh people and Northern Irish too. It’s certainly not perfect and it’s not always easy but ultimately it’s about an equal voice for everyone. It's now time for the next phase.

* ”Westminster System” isn’t a code word for “The English” it’s a code word for Westminster System.

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