May 25, 2020

Leading SNP politicians have been formulating a plan to renew their push for Scottish independence after next May’s elections. It is hardly surprising that Scottish nationalists are pushing for Scottish independence — that’s sort of the trade description — and especially so as the coronavirus is putting strain on the UK, as it is on other federations like the United States and Belgium.

Yet it cannot be right that the Scottish National Party should subject the good people of these Isles to yet another nationalist, divisive, separatist “little Scotlander” referendum, kicking off a new round of an entirely unsolvable political bun-fight that will tear our country apart even further. We’ve had the “once in a generation” referendum and the nationalists lost. Should the SNP succeed next May, Westminster — Parliament for all the United Kingdom — should simply refuse to authorise it.

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The SNP is by any measurement Left-wing, a social democratic party that prides itself on being as unlike the Tory and Brexit-voting hordes of the south as is possible. They are Left-of-centre on economic and social issues, fiercely pro-EU and in the European Parliament would align with progressive and green groups from across the continent. Yet this is not the whole story, as anyone who has upset their supporters can testify to.

Despite being a Remain-voting liberal, my views on a second referendum have attracted the sort of racism — from Scottish nationalists — that you would usually expect to receive from the far-right. In many exchanges with SNP supporters, I have learned that that Left-wing racism against people of colour is apparently acceptable, if we veer off an approved script.

But, then, as surprising as English liberals may find it, Scotland is not the progressive paradise they like to believe — and  my anecdotal experience is borne out by wider concerns. Last year more than 80 public and professional figures signed an open letter warning that the struggle against racism in Scotland is “rolling backwards”, creating a climate of “resentment towards frank discussion of race and racism” that is threatening to undo progress on race equality.

It is significant that the signatories also highlighted a trend to “silence the voices of people in Scotland who face colour-based racism”. This letter came less than two months after Scotland’s national poet laureate Jackie Kay warned openly  that Scotland had to “grow up” as it was “decades behind” in its treatment of black and ethnic minority people.

Too often, when minority voices such as mine — children of the colonies, born in Britain — oppose the break-up of what we now consider our country, Scottish nationalists too readily seek to silence our voices by accusing us, instead, of being English “colonists”.

Such rhetoric is not only overly antagonistic, it also displays a fundamental ignorance about why most ethnic minorities in Britain have expressed a preference for calling ourselves British over English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish. And while I embrace being both a non-Anglo-Saxon Englishman and a Brit, it is not easy for many of us to forget the nationalist-inspired violent racism levied against us growing up, and still present today.

For ‘progressive’ Scottish Nationalists to draw an equivalence between ethnic minorities who oppose their separatism and British colonialism, smacks of the very colonial privilege they seek to denounce. The fact of the matter is that Scottish colonists profited greatly from the creation of the British Empire. Scotland’s debt to Empire is her dirty little secret, seldom acknowledged but ever-present. The “tobacco lords” of Glasgow were enriched by slavery in the Americas and Africa, while a quick visit to the former North British Rubber Company in Edinburgh serves to disabuse most naysayers suffering under such a false sense of righteousness.

The pernicious narrative peddled by Scottish nationalists that England colonised Scotland, and then the rest of the world — and so England must even now be resisted in Scotland — sounds suspiciously like an act of whitewashing Scottish culpability, at least to the ears of this descendant of a former colony.

This is not something SNP supporters like to hear, but SNP supporters have gained a reputation for intimidating critics. Recently, BBC News Scotland Editor Sarah Smith learned the hard way why Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has earned the nickname “Nippie Sweetie” for adopting the  “aggressive and adversarial approach of male politicians” early on in her career.

Ms Smith had made the admitted error of accidentally describing Sturgeon as  “enjoying the opportunity” to shine during lockdown, instead of saying that she was “embracing” the challenge. Ms Sturgeon’s supporters were not happy to say the least, and an online pile-on inevitably ensued. Ms Smith, though, was quick to push into reverse gear, her resultant climbdown being perhaps the swiftest and most complete of any journalist in recent years, to my mind. Scotland’s BBC chief was so remorseful, in fact, that she felt the need to issue no fewer than four swift back-to-back apologies online to Ms Sturgeon, with one of them remaining pinned to her profile page for days. Ms Sturgeon regally confirmed that she accepted her apology.

So wouldn’t it be lovely if Nicola Sturgeon also apologised for, and investigated, the racism present among all too many of her online supporting trolls?

While it is true that Ms Sturgeon is not personally responsible for the behaviour of her supporters, such racism appears not to be a mere bug for the SNP, but may well be a feature. Indeed, just because a nationalist party identifies as being on the Left, it does not mean that an undercurrent of racism cannot be found beneath all the cuddly talk.

Historically, many nationalist parties and nationalists have started on the Left, from the French Revolution onwards; indeed one of the most famous of 20th century nationalists, Benito Mussolini, was on the National Directorate for the Italian Socialist Party, before he turned rightward to fan the flames of nationalism.

Violent hostility to outsiders and critics is in the DNA of nationalists, whether on the Left and Right, as anyone who has debated with SNP can testify to. When that outsider has different colour skin the rage seems to be heighted.

As party leader, it is Nicola Sturgeon’s duty — not mine — to make minorities feel safe from the racism of too many of her supporters. And until she can do so, do not be fooled by the progressive overtures of this SNP. For too long commentators of all persuasions have harboured a policy and ethical blindspot for Scotland’s nationalists, viewing them as polar opposites to English nationalists, rather than their counterparts.

We should beware the kid gloves with which metropolitan opinion formers treat the SNP. Their party machine is curiously similar to Momentum, and much of what we would never tolerate from Corbyn now rules in Edinburgh. As such, they are riddled with all the trappings of power, while harbouring a nasty, illiberal and authoritarian streak. Alarm bells should be ringing now, lest after lockdown we enter blindly into yet another experience like the three years before the virus struck.

And if you thought Brexit Britain got bad, just wait until Scexit.