Sadiq Khan has gone and done a Godfrey Bloom, overshadowing an entire party conference with his daft remarks. The idea was that extending an invitation to the Mayor of London – a moderate, Labour politician and proven election winner – would help to inspire Scottish Labour members to victory in 2020. Instead, he called half the country (including a large swathe of former Labour voters) racists.
In fairness to Khan, he was asked to come up to Scotland and make a speech anent a political landscape he was unfamiliar with. Rather than ask for help or advice, he decided to wing it and batter out a sermon of platitudes and fiction. He belatedly altered the speech, taking out the most offensive parts – but the gist remained the same. His gaffe came from a place of (understandable) ignorance, rather than malice – but its impact was hardly lessened.
There are many authoritative (and better informed) commentators who make more compelling arguments that Scottish nationalism isn’t as innocent as it presents itself. They do not extrapolate from a few radges on Twitter that all indy voters are “anti-English”, but offer a more intuitive analysis of the position forwarded by the moderate cheerleaders of “civic” nationalism. As commentators, their point may have (some) validity. If, however, they are Labour activists trying to win back voters, such arguments – even if correct – are unhelpful. Attacking nationalism – as opposed to the SNP government – draws in a far greater “basket of deplorables”. Labour will get nowhere calling its ex-voters racists.
Claire Heuchan, in an attempt to master the “Stream of Pish” literary style during an incoherent ramble in the Guardian, touched upon one valid point – that Scottish nationalism, despite its claims of tolerance, is awash with Scottish exceptionalism. It is true that Scots (not just nationalists) have a long seated tendency to view ourselves as morally and intellectually superior to “the English” – in fairness not always strictly without good cause – and naturally, a fair bit of that has seeped into our nationalism. However, the notion that this fatally undermines Scottish nationalism – as many unionists would hope – is fanciful.
(As an aside, the worrying thing is not that Heuchan says the things she says or ostensibly believes them – there are loons on every side of any argument who fail to stop themselves spraffing nonsense. The two worrying things are that, a) she is, in fact, a pro-union campaigner trying to actually win the constitutional argument – rather than just a mad yin with an opinion; and more importantly b), that the Guardian’s editors didn’t spot this for the steaming river of pish that it is. Of the five quality newspapers still available in Scotland, two (the FT and the Guardian) produce no Scottish edition at all, one (the Times) does a bit of tartan window-dressing on its English offer, and the two that are edited in Scotland (the Herald and the Scotsman) are in decline and owned by publishers specialising in regional publications. In the devolution era, Scotland needs and deserves more knowing insights into her present condition.)
Unionist or nationalist, we are all proud of the fact that Scotland is a country someone can belong to in two weeks if they want to. As Paul Kavanagh points out in a brilliant rebuttal:
The author claimed that the pro-independence aim of making Scotland better was proof of its anti-English racism, an argument which she based on nothing more than innuendo. Better than who? Eh? Nudge nudge wink wink. Why better than England of course! … It’s not Scottish exceptionalism to believe that Scotland can be better than it is. It’s British exceptionalism to believe that it can’t be.
Try as we might to dismiss Scottish nationalism as bigotry, unionists must accept that the argument is about administrative sovereignty, not racial segregation.