mark mclaughlinMark McLaughlin says Scottish Labour members picked Smith because those who would have backed Corbyn already have the SNP, and use the term “nationalist” because they refuse to acknowledge their own nationalism.


With the recent goings on in British politics, you could be forgiven for thinking that in our attempts to be open-minded we have opened rather too wide and allowed our collective brain to fall out.

Fortunately, it’s not just us. In the United States a racist demagogue may become the world’s most powerful man. In France they seek to liberate Muslim women by forcing them to take their clothes off. It’s all going terribly well. An interest in politics these days is less of a hobby and more of an affliction. Alas, there’s no getting rid of it.

On the subject of things of which there is no getting rid, St Jeremy the Principled, as history will surely remember him, has been re-elected leader of the Labour Party. Labour can finally be against racism and poverty again, thank heavens. The Blairites should obviously go and join the Tories now, and take their voters with them. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

On purely anecdotal evidence, I suspect I am in the minority in SNP-supporting circles in believing Corbyn to be a terrorist-sympathising incompetent, an extraordinarily dim waste of time and column inches, and a malignant narcissist. His elephantine bumbling through interviews calls to mind the words of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who once replied to unsolicited correspondence by calling the sender “a witless and meddlesome old ass, self-deluded and full of vapours”. There are few in British politics to whom the description is more apt.

Luckily, Labour centrists managed to out-vapour St Jeremy with their very own gaffe-basket, Owen Smith. The whole premise of his candidacy was that Corbyn couldn’t win an election because he was too left wing and inept and so, naturally, Smith then proceeded to agree with said left wing policies before advocating negotiation with Islamic State.

Corbyn was never asked if an interventionist industrial strategy would repel foreign investment; or if ambivalence to NATO would destabilise Eastern Europe; or if banning the private sector from the NHS would result in patients dying on waiting lists. These would, of course, be serious ideological objections to Corbynism – objections that have gone woefully unmade for far too long. It’s not just that Corbyn can’t win power, he’s also wrong on the issues. The centrists provided an alternative candidate absent an alternative vision.

When given the choice between someone who passionately believes in the wrong things and someone who believes in nothing, political activists were always likely to opt for the man with a cause. That is, except in Scotland. According to YouGov, Scottish Labour members chose Owen Smith by a 16% margin.

Now, schadenfreude is indeed the ugliest of emotions, but seeing Scottish Labour members lament getting stuck with a leader they didn’t vote for, and consequently argue for more independence, was really quite funny. There were few calls for complete separation, granted, but it was enough to give the old “Scottish Labour Party to be more autonomous” articles their 74th outing since the 2014 referendum.

I think the result is indicative of two things. First, in Scotland if you’re on the populist left and looking for a cause, you’re an SNP member, not a Labour one. Second, the remains of the Scottish Party are acutely aware that if they wander much farther into the wilderness it’s possible that they won’t find a way back. Taken together, it appears that Scotland’s political landscape, both in the Labour Party and more generally, looks very different to the rest of the United Kingdom.

For many, the nature of the United Kingdom appears to be immaterial; it is only important that we remain part of it. If Scotland is to be represented by an overtly xenophobic, little-England government that is forever led by a dog-whistling Conservative Party, then so be it. Businesses will have to list foreign workers, immigrant doctors may be deported (presumably to let yer auld da have a shot at doctoring) and that’s before we have a bonfire of all that ruddy red tape. With every government pronouncement, Brexit seems more likely to involve reshaping the United Kingdom in a Faragian image while the leader of the opposition is busy making jam. We might get blue passports though. So, y’know, every cloud.

It is at this point where, having voted Yes in 2014, I feel it necessary to point out that independence would allow Scotland to treat immigrants as citizens rather than an inconvenience. It’s not a cure for all ills, certainly, but on this specific issue, the leaders of the Scottish parties (including the Conservatives) are unarguably more internationalist in outlook than the UK Government. Does that observation make me a nationalist? Is it nationalist to recognise borders and think that one group of people can have a separate political culture from another? Is it nationalist to believe that this distinctiveness should be given proper weight in constitutional arrangements?

Most Scottish Labour members would say yes, which is par for the course. But in that case, it seems fair to request that when you pithily admonish the SNP by demanding they focus on the “real issues” and not borders, a period of self-reflection is in order. Do you really mean that your values aren’t dependent on borders? Or do you actually mean that you support the borders as they currently exist? Because it can’t be both. They are directly contradictory positions.

If it is the former, as is often claimed, then this would be in-keeping with the great leftist tradition of international socialism. In 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published The Communist Manifesto in which they called for workers across the world to unite. They argued that a common class interest transcends nationality, and that a global revolution would eventually create stateless communism. However, if Kezia Dugdale is planning the overthrow of capitalism and the creation of a borderless Utopia, she’s doing it very discreetly. Last I heard there was some difficulty pressing buttons, but perhaps we are in the midst of the long game. Only time will tell.

Even if you accept that Scottish Labour are the ideological descendants of Marx and Engels (in which case, I have a bridge to sell you) I am yet to hear a convincing justification as to why this pooling and sharing of resources stops at Dover. If it is merely geography, then surely this sharing would include the Republic of Ireland. If it is language, then it would include the United States, Australia, New Zealand and so on. I can find no unique denominator between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that would exclude all other countries from this pooling and sharing.

This is, of course, quite different from the argument that we shouldn’t obsess over the constitutional question, with which I have a great deal of sympathy. Personally, I think it would be preferable if Scotland could put the independence question on the back burner for a while. We did have a referendum only two years ago. But it is worth noting that the SNP didn’t choose the constitutional upheaval, the material change, of Brexit. It is the imminent consequences of being reminded in the starkest terms that we are not a union of equal nations that has brought it bubbling to the surface.

I suspect that most members of Scottish Labour just quite like the United Kingdom, and feel equally Scottish and British. You’re not against borders in general, just against one at Berwick. The nations of the United Kingdom share the BBC, the NHS and the pound sterling. Adam Smith, David Hume, Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, Keir Hardie and so many others who hailed from here have made generation-defining contributions to our collective history. Favouring the British state over a Scottish state for such historical and cultural reasons is a perfectly lovely and defensible position, which makes it all the more curious as to why you can’t just say it.

The fact that Scottish Labour has dismissed as nationalists those who voted Yes for similar reasons may be one explanation for the state of denial. I believe Scotland has a history and political culture that is distinct from France, but it doesn’t then follow that I think France to be inferior. It simply means that I recognise that they are different places. The same goes for the rest of the United Kingdom. It’s an odd psychological phenomenon that conflates acknowledging difference with expressing antipathy.

The crux of the problem is that “nationalist” is increasingly used to dismiss rather than to describe. It is chucking a connotation-laden rhetorical grenade and running up to the moral high ground. It’s an intellectually lazy and unsustainable position that produces far more heat than light. And given that with the distinct lack of opposition and the impending exit from the European Union, the constitutional question is likely to rear its head again, Labour would do well to not be dismissive of what will be, at least in part, legitimate grievances.

I do not know how narrowly or broadly it should be defined, but when the term “nationalism” is used it should, at the very least, be consistently applied. If the goal is really Marx’s stateless society, then fine, I will accept being labelled a nationalist by all twelve Marxists in the country. But you can’t argue that nationalism is accepting that countries exist and that borders are an acceptable reality, and not find a decent number of nationalists at Labour conference.

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62 thoughts on “Are you a Nat?

  1. Brilliantly written, as usual, and not completely wrong-headed. I don’t see why we, as an imagined community, cannot develop our “sovereignty and independence” amicably within the functioning networks we already have (as Canada and Australia developed theirs). But this would mean losing the zing of exclusiveness and assertion which nationalists require. Granted, you seem to one of those who wishes to use a populist/nationalist wave to get some sort of political advantage for your particular local politics (I presume, social democratic). This is a base approach to community and politics, but you are on a hiding to nothing. The “exclusion” ethos of SNP members is on display every day – from outraged spluttering (á la Salmond) when anyone mildly challenges their viewpoint, to packing Parliamentary committees to praising dubious “national” leaders. If you think this is a vehicle for future harmony in our country, rather than the increasingly obvious Ulsterisation, you have been duped by the nationalist trope that Scots are nicer people. OK, you are not nationalistic, you are a would-be populist manipulator 😉

    1. “As Canada and Australia developed theirs”—– now there’s the thing. Keir Hardie expressly stated Dominion Status was his ambition for Scotland.
      This seems to have been air-brushed out of Scottish Labour’s memory. They prefer our “sovereignty” to be locked away in Westminster, where we can never exorcise it.

    2. There’s something in what you say here, and maybe Hugo Rifkind had it right when he said “nationalist movements inevitably attracts nationalists”. But, as the Labour movement is learning, we all have our own deplorables to contend with . And, as always, a reminder that twitter is not representative.

      Haha that would make a fantastic twitter bio, would-be populist manipulator.

  2. nationalist
    a person who advocates political independence for a country.
    “a Scottish nationalist”
    relating to nationalists or nationalism.
    “a nationalist movement”

    There, that’s your definition of nationalism. It’s not really that difficult. If your politics start with national identity you are a nationalist. It’s always a wee laugh reading the contortions nationalists go through desperately trying to drag everybody down to their level. And the not so hidden sanctimonious smugness can’t fail to shine through. England’s racist and intolerant, not like us…

    1. I actually considered when writing it whether this was just a rationalisation, and I’m open to accepting it is, but I’m struggling to see the flaw in the logic. When the UK Labour party advocates a policy, it does it for the people that live in the United Kingdom, and nowhere else.

      Also, I think if advocating independence is nationalism, then that’s a perfectly reasonable definition, which does apply to Yes supporters generally. In which case, almost every country in the world, those who have gained independence from larger states,have done so because of nationalist movements, in which case the term shouldn’t necessarily be a pejorative. On the England part, I was very specific in referring to the government, not the country.

    2. Anybody who acknowledges their own National identity is a Nationalist by default. Do you not have a National identity of your own?

      1. Not really so, Mike. Lots of people accept Scotland’s own national identity, Willie Rennie, Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson to name but three.
        What they don’t accept is the right of the people who live, work and bring up our families here to run our own affairs. It is that last rejection of democracy that also defines their “anti-nationalism.”
        I’m proud to be a democrat and a Scottish nationalist.

    3. So, would you say then that because Britain is already independent (forget the EU in this), that there can be no such thing as a British Nationalist?

    4. Ergo, May and the Conservative Brexiteers are British nationalists as are the 52% who voted Leave. They wanted political independence for Britain. And are leading a nationalist movement.

  3. Well written piece. Of course many British Nationalists don’t like to look in the mirror when they whine about “nationalism”—-see Grahamski above.
    We see again in this morning’s papers that Scottish Labour don’t want an electoral pact with the SNP, preferring presumably, the Tories to continue in government, exhibiting their brand of chauvinistic, exenonphobic, England for the English ( wonder if they will expel all the foreign football players from their leagues—–or return all the dodgy foreign money swilling about London) separatist, narrow nationalist brand of “progressive” politics Ian Murray wants as his “partners”.
    But never mind. Also in today’s press, is the suggestion that Blair will make a political comeback, no doubt advised by Murdoch and Co. A new Party on the horizon? Kezia and Ian will be SO pleased!

    1. “exenonphobe” is a wonderful new word whose exact meaning is not clear.

      I did mean to write xenophobe whose meaning IS known, and feared by minorities the world over.

  4. Anas Sarwar has it right about Scottish Labour: “We are not comfortable unionists and we are not comfortable nationalists”.

    But UK Labour HAS to now embrace British nationalism as a matter of pragmatism. The only chance to win the next UK election is to pander hard to UKIP supporters in England. It won’t make any difference in my opinion. Corbyn is already under too much suspicion, and he just doesn’t look like PM material. It’s as simple as that.

    CON 38(+1)
    LAB 31(=)
    LD 5(-1)
    UKIP 16(+1)

    In Scotland the choice is between Scottish nationalism or UK nationalism. It is what it is.
    Unless Labour can become electable and produce a worthwhile federal offering, I will be voting for Scottish nationhood if we get another referendum.

    Because it’s now increasingly clear that British nationalism is effectively just English nationalism under another name – mainly due to the huge population difference. The EU referendum proved that, with any chance of a special deal for Scotland now dismissed.

  5. Mark,
    You sound a bit down. Dont be. Scottish Labour saved the union. If it were not for The Scottish Labour Party Scotland would be an independent country. So do not be down hearted, look up to the towering figures that stood in the vanguard of the struggle against independence and prevailed, Gordon Brown, Lord Darling and Foulkes. Many others played their part but without Labour the cause would have been lost.
    History will eventually be kind to the victors. It always is, and one day these men and their single minded approach to party and country will be written into the history books of the UK. Be proud of your party’s achievements.

      1. Mark,
        I own up, I never read your article, but I have now and Im not sure what point you are making.
        Scottish Labour are where they are because they lost their supporters. Its as simple as that. Its the reason any political party fails.
        For decades Labour put Westminster interests ahead of its Scottish supporters’ beliefs, and that is not a good thing for a political party to do.
        It started with the poll tax campaign, continued with the trick of unilateralism to multilateralism in the time it takes to give a conference speech and hit the buffers with the 2014 referendum.
        As for the future, it will be wipe out of Scottish Labour’s rotten councils next year. Kezia will resign thereafter. Down south JC will carry on playing the north London marxist. 5 years of unique entertainment guaranteed.
        Its impossible to see any further than 2017. Personally I dont see an indyref2 and I think the vision of an independent Scotland is over. I am of the opinion that with the result of the EU/UK ref the EU project is already dead in the water, Nobody wants to admit this yet because the consequences could be of global proportions.
        As for Labour, lets hope down south JC continues his re organisation of the head office. As for Scottish Labour? Who cares.

    1. …and thanks to the efforts of the Scottish labour Party, we now live in a right wing, EU leaving UK instead of a centre left, EU supporting independent Scotland.

  6. “On purely anecdotal evidence, I suspect I am in the minority in SNP-supporting circles in believing Corbyn to be a terrorist-sympathising incompetent”

    Problem you have with that accusation is your definition of “Terrorist”.

    For example Consecutive UK Governments fit the description and very definition of Terrorist so anybody voting for them would by default be considered “Terrorist sympathisers”

    On the question of incompetence well you could write infinite volumes on the subject with regards to the Labour party Jeremy in relative terms actually doesn’t qualify in comparison to some of the worst perpetrators of the problem such as the last 8 Labour leaders in Scotland.

    “Luckily, Labour centrists managed to out-vapour St Jeremy”

    And right here I have to question your ability to deal with reality. You cannot describe Right wing extremist Tories as “Labour centrists”. That’s apples being compared to carrots.

    I couldn’t actually be arsed at this point to read any further. I find you contributions to be airy fairy unrealistic bullshit to be honest.

    I really don’t know where you’re coming from at all. Maybe that the whole point? Are you deliberately trolling shite? Are you officially clickbating?

  7. I feel it needs repeating we don’t actually know how Scottish Labour members voted in the leadership contest (a YouGov poll with a tiny sample size it not the same as actually having the results).

  8. I don’t think it’s a case of either ‘admitting’ that we are actually british nationalists and are ‘happy’ with the border at dover (or in ireland) or alternatively committing ourselves to a world-state utopia, but more a case of accepting them as currently existing facts which currently reflect political realities. I’m all for cooperation across borders with the republic of ireland, and the rest of europe (most Labour members were enthusiastically for remaining in the EU) and for pooling and sharing our resources across Scotland, the UK, Europe and the World (It’s not Labour, scottish or otherwise, who want to cut the DfID budget). To say Labour is just a British Nationalist party ignores our membership of the Progressive Alliance and Soialist International to work with our sister parties around the world to further our common goals.

    Given that, why should we be in favour of putting up more borders without *very* good reason to? You may think we are naive to want to stay in the Union and fight the Tories alongside the people of England and Wales, but surely you can recognise it as a valid sentiment, maybe even admirable, to want to help. Were we independent, the best we could do was to tut, shake our heads at how badly people were being treated in england, and then turn away to mind our own business.

    There does seem to be a more tolerant political culture in Scotland than is developing in the rest of the UK, as demonstrated by all the major parties here rejecting the divisive language of the Conservative conference (even in Ruth Davidson speech at the eye of the storm), and I think that is a very good thing.

    I don’t, however, follow the logic from there that says because of this we should erect a border to prevent that culture from becoming contaminated, I have confidence that the tolerance of the Scottish parties is not a fragile thing, but is rather stronger than the politics of fear and intolerance to which it is opposed. I want to remain a part of the UK to help that political culture to spread.

    1. Phil, I used to think like this, but now I am thinking we have sacrificed our own interests long enough. Are Scots just supposed to sacrifice our own interests including our EU citizenship in order to hopefully prop up a UK Labour government a decade or more away ?

      If Labour members are ‘enthusiastically for remaining in the EU’, then the party would campaign on principle to rejoin, or at least for another vote on the terms of leaving.
      But no. Now we see Corbyn even against the single market, backing up suspicion he backed a Brexit vote all along, as his crazy climate-change denying brother claims.

      If Labour makes a comeback it won’t be because of Scottish votes. It will be because the party has pragmatically changed to pander to a new wave of English, anti-European, nationalism.

      In which case, I am thinking What’s the point ?
      If we have to choose between a civic type of Scottish nationalism or a xenophobic type of UK/English nationalism, then people living in Scotland might as well choose the kind that puts our nation first, and can result in a social democratic government here.

      I don’t want to see working class English people suffer under Tory rule either, but we have to accept that is what the majority of England has voted for, England is 90% of the UK, and that is the direction of the country for the foreseeable future.

      We don’t have to go along with it any longer. Many Scots have stuck with labour out of loyalty for years, but at some point, enough is enough. Maybe making a success of a independent Scotland with social democratic policies will demonstrate to English folks that a better path is possible.

    2. These are sound sentiments. But you face a practical problem. How can 5 million Scots save 55 million in England and Wales hell bent on destruction? How can our 59 MPs have influence in a Parliament of 650? Even if every MP in Scotland was Labour, it would still not have created a Labour government in the UK. The numbers aren’t there.

      I am not a greedy person, I accept that you have to give to get, and that often you have to give a lot more than you get. There is the greater common good to consider. That’s pooling and sharing. Fine.

      But what if you give all you have year after year, decade after decade, and it makes not one iota of difference? Pointless sacrifice is just foolish. There is no merit in it.

      We have the chance to build a social democracy in a sovereign Scotland. Isn’t that better than nothing? For decades we have been trying to turn UK politics in the direction of more just socialist policies but all our political might has signally failed to turn the Great British Titannic away from the iceberg it is hell bent on colliding with. Should we, in the interests of solidarity, die with the rest?

  9. ‘The crux of the problem is that “nationalist” is increasingly used to dismiss rather than to describe. It is chucking a connotation-laden rhetorical grenade and running up to the moral high ground. It’s an intellectually lazy and unsustainable position …’

    Exactly. Like you I think left leaning British Nationalists who oppose Scottish independence on the grounds that any Nationalism is bad are intellectually lazy. They seem to be able to exist in a quantum political state in which they can be both for UK borders and against any national borders at the same time.

    The problem is that it is very hard to break through the level of ignorance and self deception displayed by them. They don’t see themselves as nationalists. They are conditioned to react with scorn and sneers when the word is mentioned. They rightly reject full on right wing British nationalism, but they fail to recognise the nature of their own nationalism.

    I have devised a simple test for helping to reveal to people whether or not they are in the presence of a left wing Britnat. Listen for the word ‘internationalist’. That is “I’m an internationalist” when used in conjunction with any of the following. One, an expression of solidarity with the ordinary people of England (enough of whom vote Tory to ensure that’s what the rest of us get). Two, an attack on the SNP government (for failing to … well … anything could be put in here e.g. ‘failing to be Labour’). Three, a failure to express their solidarity with, say, the ordinary people of China, Indonesia, Nigeria, India, United States, Brazil or even France, let alone say what they are doing to show that solidarity. Like, for example, working towards a single, left wing world government. Their expressions of solidarity seem to stop at the English channel. When this happens, then there’s a fair chance that you are in the presence of the lesser Britnat.

    I am a left winger and primarily see things in term of a class struggle, but I have recently taken to describing myself as a Scottish nationalist. Such a description succinctly expresses one of my main political concerns at the moment. But It also entices left wing British nationalists into self righteously telling me about the evils of nationalism. And this provides the opportunity for engagement!

    I commend Labour Hame for having the courage to let Mark McLaughlin express his view here. It could cause some discomfort to Labour supporters, but hopefully it may result in some of them questioning their previous understanding of the term ‘nationalism’.

  10. Good article Mark. One question you don’t raise though: if Scottish nationalism is unacceptable to many Scottish Labour folk, why do they (as most do) support the devolved parliament?

    I have never heard a convincing reason why Scotland can legitimately be a bounded political community for the purposes of health and education policy, but not for say social services or foreign policy. Surely general support among union supporters for the devolved parliament contradicts their position that Dover not Berwick is the proper limit of the political community?

    No doubt that contradiction explains why the continued slow devolution of powers to Holyrood is always rather arbitrary, designed as a sop to nationalism, rather than based on expressed principles which would inevitably have to confront the difficult task of defining Scotland as a political community, without thereby legitimising its ambitions to statehood.

      1. And yet its only the growing support for Scottish Nationalism that forces Devolution to adjust itself in the same direction making both ideals directly proportional to each other to a point where they merge and become one and the same.
        Or do you believe there is a specific point of Devolution which is capable of stopping the growth of support towards Independence?
        You may want to think about the age demographic divide between the 2 ideals before answering that question.

  11. Scottish nationalism is very different from Scottish patriotism.

    One of the many good things about Great Britain is that a union of different nations helps to keep rampant nationalism in check.

    Scottish and British patriotism = GOOD

    Scottish and British nationalism = BAD

    1. Is it not possible to be a Patriotic Nationalist Andy? Would that be Good and Bad?

    2. That really depends on how you define naionalism and patriotism. If nationalism is
      simply the support for the sovereignty of a nation state how is that inself bad. That is how pretty well all countries are organised. Your definition of nationalism probably differs to the posters above who support it. It therefore comes down to symantics. Likewise patriotism could be seen in a negative light too.

      1. “The Difference Between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does , and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does”

        Eric Blair

        1. said…………”while nationalism can unite people it must be noted that it unites people against other people”

          There’s A World Of Difference Between Patriotism And Nationalism.

          Nationalism and patriotism are two words which are often used inter-changeably

          Patriotism fundamentally means affection for one’s country and willingness to defend it.

          Nationalism is a more extreme, unforgiving form of allegiance to one’s country.

          1. It all makes you wonder who is the real nationalist party here.

            To their credit, the SNP have always advocated a civil type of internationalism, and campaigned for the Scotland and the UK to remain in the EU. Yet now we see the Tories retreating into a little England mentality, and Labour seemingly willing to back them up.

            Scottish Labour has far more in common with the SNP that our leaders will ever admit, yet we have been conditioned to see ourselves as enemies, when the real enemy is in Westminster right now – working out plans to leave the single market and forcing companies to label foreigners..

          2. So whats the difference between Scottish Patriotism and British Patriotism Andy?

    3. So what is the difference between Scottish nationalism and Scottish patriotism?

      Why is one better than the other?

  12. Good try but Labour in Scotland are doomed. They are dead, just do not know it yet. They are beginning to smell rank though.

  13. The centre of British politics just took another violent lurch to the right.Not so in Scotland.

  14. Good article. As a former Labour voter for over 40 years, I have determined that independence is the way forward in Scotland. I hear any comments about Nationalism, but none which actually describe the type of nationalism involved in this process of seeking independence.
    It is nothing to do with being better than anyone else. It is actually more to do with inclusion rather than isolation.

    I ask you to put yourself in the place of a Scottish voter today. What are the options? Possible Tory governance for ten years or more. The most right wing Tory government in my lifetime, including Mrs Thatcher. Labour in my humble opinion are unelectable in Scotland. Nobody,but nobody apart from Labour activists believes in the new Scottish Labour autonomy drivel. It is nonsense. They cannot afford to pay their own bills.

    Scottish politicians have never talked about borders. That all came from English politicians including many top Labour figures. What type of message is that sending to the Scottish people? Inclusiveness ? I think not.

    In trying to destroy the SNP you destroy only yourselves because you state things about them and their membership which now includes myself, which are simply not true. You alienate me further with every accusation.

    I think Scottish Labour must now put it’s house in order. If we ever achieve independence they could become a force again, but the sad reality is that they daily accuse and deny almost half the electorate who voted for independence . Not a particularly good starting point

  15. Interesting article – you have a very confrontational style and it’s great to see it on a Labour page. It’s hopeful that Labour No voters are beginning to consider that perhaps the word ‘nationalist’ doesn’t mean what they thought it meant. That in fact, that darker meaning of the word is more appropriately directed at the UK government who have truly defined British nationalism with a deeply worrying intolerance for folk that aren’t British. But many still stubbornly classify as nationalists those that want Scotland to break free of the UK and refuse to listen to arguments that it’s the only way that at least some part of these islands can be free to be pursue a positive, inclusive, international agenda.

    Perhaps our continued struggle has has an affect on the definition of the word though, this from google:

    a person who advocates political independence for a country.
    “a Scottish nationalist”

    I’ll accept that. Nothing more. Nothing less.

  16. said…………”while nationalism can unite people it must be noted that it unites people against other people”

    You’re referring to “Blood and soil” Nationalism not “Civic” Inclusive Nationalism Andy.
    If you’re confused as to the difference then you can see it displayed and compared between what the Scottish Government promotes and what the UK Government promotes.
    “We are Scotland” is a prime example of what “Civic” Nationalism looks like” Separating and distinguishing groups within lists is an example of “Blood and soil Nationalism”.
    Its not rocket science Andy its not even Science 101 its simply the difference between inclusion and exclusion.

  17. It is not intellectually inconsistent simultaneously to:

    (1) identify the conceptual material weakness at the heart of nationalist ideology; that a commonality of consciousness and interest, transcending time and space, is present in members of a group defined only by their shared (and historically arbitrarily defined) geographical circumstance;

    (2) recognise the limitations of the current constitutional arrangements as a mechanism for advancing cosmopolitan socialist ambitions, yet work within them; and

    (3) seek to avoid further, and narrower, constitutional arrangements.

    1. I think part of this is right, but there are a few issues. First, the commonality of interest doesn’t transcend time and space, but is based on real, tangible evidence. The most recent are the 2015 GE, 2016 SE and EU referendum. Second, it seems odd for political activists to recognise the limitations of the current system yet not advocate for change. It has a whiff of deciding what the Labour position is, then trying to work backwards towards justification. Third, it depends how you define “narrower”. Given the rUK voted to leave the European Union, while Scotland voted to remain, these constitutional arrangements could be said to be wider with Scotland in Europe, than the current position.

      Lastly, the attempt to avoid narrow constitutional arrangements, as an end in itself, seems to me a hollow goal. History is full of independence seeking countries who thereafter were better off.

      But more than that, the point I was trying to make was about the dismissive use of nationalist as a pejorative, which while is sometimes justified, is not always. Being willing to accept that the current borders are fine is not having a “politics without borders”. It’s defending the status quo.

      1. The identification of a national identity, transcending time and space, is central to nationalist ideology. It is what explains the emphasis on the place of the “nation” in the evaluation of the suitability of the constitutional arrangements as a prism through which to refract the general will. You indulge in this yourself. You say “Scotland voted remain” well, no it didn’t in fact. A lot of people in Scotland voted leave. If you want to extrapolate a particularity in a geographically delimited electorate from the results of plebiscites, why not London? By your calculation London also voted remain (and Labour), even though more people voted leave there than voted remain in Scotland. Is this sufficient to identify a London particularity requiring separation from the UK?

        I don’t think election results have ever demonstrated the particularity of the Scottish electorate, but to play along with the examples you provide. The GE 2015 result no more proves Scottish exceptionalism any more than the similarity of the results in 1997, 2001, and 2005 demonstrate Scottish similarity to the rUK electorate. Scottish Parliamentary elections , in which only Scottish voters participate, demonstrate nothing at all in this argument.

        Simply saying “many countries have been better off independent” isn’t really the argument you started with. And in any event, it isn’t a great one for you to currently rely on, fiscally.

        The Labour Party historically has been anything but defeatist on developing international governance systems. We have achieved GF Agreement, G8 Gleneagles, expansion of EU eastward, signed Lisbon Treaty. This isn’t defeatism.

        Allowing international collective ambitions to collapse into simple, cosy nationalist solutions. That’s defeatism.

        1. I should correct myself, slightly fewer people in London voted leave than Scots who voted remain.

        2. Not recognising the difference between a city of the United Kingdom, London, and one of its constituent nations, Scotland, is an unbridgeable gap in perspective, I think. It is as accurate to say Scotland voted remain as it is to say the UK voted to leave. On the Scottish elections, the return of a party to power that doesn’t even stand in the rest of the UK is surely of some note.

          The point about being better off wasn’t a pro scottish independence argument, but about the term nationalism more generally. Besides, being “better off” is more than a matter of fiscal calculation. As I argued here Having said that, I do concede the current fiscal position is problematic for the pro-indy side, and I don’t deny the GERS figures.

          It seems to me an odd position to pride yourself (admirably) on internationalist ambitions, and then say that the UK is the best platform for these to be pursued, given recent events.

          1. I think just saying “Scotland is particular because Scotland is a nation” and “London isn’t particular because London isn’t a nation” demonstrates the inability of nationalism to overcome the lack of permanence, of fixity, which that ideology has to assume in identifiable administrative areas in order to maintain logical coherence. My problem is with the fluidity of those administrative aread, carvrf by the atbitrary tidr of military and economic history.London may never have been a nation-state, but why not? Venice has a separatist movement. Is Brittany a nation? Cornwall? More recently, Croatia? Yugoslavia? Dagestan?

            Leaving the UK isn’t Labour party policy. Leaving the EU wasn’t either. But leaving a customs union and trading bloc aren’t the same thing as leaving the UK. It doesn’t make me less of an internationalist to continue (as I do) to hope for a second eu ref and defer the decision. I’m depressed to have the prospect of having to choose, frankly.

            However, essentially your argument boils down to Scottish exceptionalism, justifying Scottish separation, and not the same for London because “nationhood”. Well, that’s nationalism, undistilled. Fair enough, but that doesn’t make me a nationalist as well, ehich is what your piece suggests.

        3. By spending lots of time, effort and resources campaigning to keep the UK together, this suggests to me the Labour party is hugely concerned with protecting and maintaining the current constitutional arrangements of the UK at all costs (as you put it ‘the emphasis on the place of the “nation” in the evaluation of the suitability of the constitutional arrangements as a prism through which to refract the general will’)

          And with that maintain the national identity of the UK, Britishness, British values (or to put it your way ‘the identification of a national identity, transcending time and space’)

          Gordon Brown made numerous speeches on the subject on being British, he co- wrote a book on Britishness in 2009 and in 2006 he made a speech calling for a Britishness day.

          I’m not quite sure why Labour are so reluctant to try and hide the fact they believe national identity to be very important?

          1. (1) campaigning to avoid narrower constitutional arrangements doesn’t a British nationalist make per se;

            (2) support for preserving constitutional arrangements, in opposition to avowedly nationalist alternatives, does not involve aceding intellectually to the idea of national particularity (in this case British particularity, which I don’t believe in either personally, although I don’t speak for Gordon Brown). To me it simply involves acknowledgement that the existing arrangements facilitate constitutional discourse with more people than do the proposed alternatives. This is cosmopolitanism, materialism or utilitarianism maybe, but it’s not nationalism;

            (3) I don’t deny that the labour party, and its leaders, have indulged in/conceded/stoked nationalist feelings, but that doesn’t mean support for the labour party makes me a nationalist on the basis of its opposition to Scottish Indepensence. Support for Scottish Independence as a constitutional imperative on the basis of Scottish Nationhood, however, is nationalism. I believe the two approaches to assessment of the constitution (mine and the author’s) are different, and that my support for labour and against scottish separation from the UK do not involve any intellectual compromise or hypocrisy, which is the central argument in the piece.

          2. Okay Hugh. So when changing the constitutional arrangements under devolution, why did Labour use national identity i.e a Scottish Parliament as the deciding factor for the geographical boundaries if the focus wasn’t Scottish nationhood? Isn’t that a form of nationalism?

            Just because the actual outcome wasn’t full independence, the existence of the Scottish Parliament is still evidence of attempting to narrow the definition of ‘us’ and create an ‘other’ in the sense that Scotland could take different decisions from Westmnister. The only difference was Labour thought the Scottish Parliament would be a Scottish Labour controlled administration opposing and attacking a future Conservative Government. By anyone’s reasonable definition of nationalism, that fits the bill. As Donald Dewar I think described it once, independence within the UK.

            Otherwise if the purpose of devolution was to give more decision-making power to local communities, why not just devolve more power to local authorities, cities or go back to the regional authorities that were abolished in 1995?

      2. Wow! Just fucking wow! What the fuck are you guys on? This is Scotland we don’t do pretentious.
        What we do in Scotland is identify the negative and the positive.
        The negative is suffering the positive is the removal of that suffering.
        We are suffering because we are in a place that puts an ideological force in our path which destroys our very standard of living.
        If we remove the power of that force we improve our standard of living in the same manner that if you remove your finger from a sponge the surface bounces back to its original form.
        The Conservatives Labour and the Lib Dems are all representative of that destructive force and even with the best intentions of the best of them we will remain subject to that force which can and will be used against us again and again and again during the cycle of change that is inevitable within that continuous circle of power exchange outwith the control of Scottish influence.
        For example we may for a time get a Jeremy Corbyn in charge who may or may not treat Scotland with respect and consideration. But what happens down the line? Inevitably we end up with another Thatcher another Teresa May another Cameron.
        There is no argument that can trump the simple concept that its the people of Scotland who should decide who Governs the people of Scotland.

        1. Drew,

          I said in my previous post that the labour party had indulged in nationalist sentiment in the past. Devolution and the rheyoric surrounding the campaign for it are evidence of that for sure.

          That still doesn’t get you to the conclusion that taking the opposite view from the writer to scottish independence is by definition a support of british (or more accurately UK) nationalism.

          I oppose the break up of the UK along avowedly nationalist lines. I support more cosmopolitan forms of governance. These ambitions are difficult to achieve for sure, and are frustrated by the current political climate. However, that does not render the holding of these positions, nor working within and preserving existing constitutional structures, contradictory or hypicritical. In particular, holding these positions does not run contrary to my expressed scepticism of nationalism as a coherent ideology.

          1. Fair enough, that makes sense. I get Labour are like most other political party and there is a range of views within the membership and support.

            I just think Labour are all over the place when it comes to national identity and that’s one of the main reasons they have lost swathes of voters in Scotland and England.

            Constantly attacking the SNP about nationalism one minute and then trying to woo those same voters back the next isn’t going to work.

            If Labour keep making the same mistakes about national identity in England as they have in Scotland, then it could prove fatal for the party.

            Ghandi was an Indian nationalist and nobel peace prize winner John Hume is an Irish nationalist.

            Nationalists all over Eastern Europe helped countries get independence and free their people from the oppression and poverty of the USSR.

            Unless you still think most of the world should be under the control of Spain, France, Netherlands and Britain, you’re going to have to accept that in the right circumstances national identity politics have done some good as well as harm.

      3. Just a thought I had Mark…
        were ypu trailing the conference message with this piece??

  18. An interesting article, and subsequent debate. I too voted Labour for many years but voted YES in the 2014 referendum. However, whilst seeing Scottish Independance as the way forward I don’t regard myself as a “nationalist”. I’m quite happy being a member of a union with other counties.

    What I’m not happy with is the current political system within the UK. First passed the post election to the house of “commons”, unelected “peers” to the House of Lords. An archaic and heavily weighted system which keeps the wealth of the country in the hands of the wealthy.

    I voted Labour in the expectation that they would address these fundamental issues if in power. They haven’t and we continue to be one of the least “equal” countries in the developed world.

    So, I no longer believe I can change the system in this particular “union” and am therefore left with no choice but to vote to leave it and work to ensure Scotland has the type of political system I can believe is better for my kids. In doing that I remain happy for Scotland to form other “unions” with countries who can live with that political system.

  19. Excellent article. It’s high time someone called out Scottish Labour’s contradictions towards nationalism, national idendity and Marxism.

    You cannot claim to be the party of internationalism and solidarity if pooling and sharing relies on being a British passport holder/taxpayer.

    You are either campaigning for a one world government or you believe in nation states. There is no grey area here. The devil in the detail is merely a case of where you draw those lines on the map.

    If nationalism and nationalist parties are really so evil, why did Labour in Wales form a coalition with Plaid in 2007? Why have a long standing parliamentary pact with the Northern Ireland nationalists the SDLP who Ed Miliband described them as a ‘sister party’?

    Are trade union members of Unite and the NUJ in the Republic of Ireland nationalists if they prefer a ROI passport instead of a British one? Do they deserve any less solidarity because they don’t have a British passport?

    If devolution is such a fantastic political arrangement, why didn’t Labour spend more time campaigning for a fully federal Europe, with the UK giving up most of its sovereignty to the EU becoming a ‘devolved’ part of Europe and pooling and sharing with our neighbours?

  20. Mark what you post is intellectual what it lacks is emotion and because it lacks emotion it lacks credibility. You don’t come across as somebody who believes in what they say. You only come across as somebody who wants others to “note” what they say. You’re too busy trying to sound intellectual and clever that you forget to input passion.
    If you don’t input passion you don’t input credibility. Because if you cant convince people of your own belief you aint going to get them to believe.
    I have to wonder why you chose Labourhame to post you opinions? Cant you get pro Indy sites to highlight your views?

    1. Maybe he wrote here because he wanted to be sure you saw it, Mike?

      I enjoyed his piece. Made me think. I hope he writes here again.

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