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Humza Yousaf doesnt want to be a nationalist anymore

Whose nationalism is it anyway? Credit: Getty

January 19, 2024 - 3:40pm

Do Scottish nationalists believe in nations? Scottish National Party leader Humza Yousaf told the BBC’s Nick Robinson for a podcast released this week that he is not “comfortable” with the word “national” in his own party’s name. Nor is this the first time an SNP leader has expressed a distaste for, well, nationalism: Nicola Sturgeon claimed the same aversion, saying in 2017 that if she could “turn the clock back” she’d choose a different name for the party, as the word “national” could be “hugely problematic”. 

But apparently there’s nationalism and nationalism. Both insist that their version of Scottish independence is not driven by a “far-Right nationalist inclination” but instead a civic one, in which — as Yousaf put it — “it doesn’t matter really where you come from.” In Sturgeon’s 2017 words, “if Scotland is your home and you live here and you feel you have a stake in the country, you are Scottish and you have as much say over the future of the country as I do.” This may come as news to the great many Scots for whom the desire for political independence from England rests upon the idea of two fundamentally different peoples. That is, groups with distinct histories, affinities, political interests, and — yes — ethnic and cultural ties. 

For the political class that has evidently colonised the SNP, as it has colonised every other institution afforded a modicum of political clout, the notion of “peoples” in this sense is, at best, a distasteful connotation that must be disavowed in favour of the morally correct view. At worst it’s “problematic”,  or “far-Right”, which in contemporary parlance means “morally beyond the pale”. 

But in this sense, they are simply echoing a broader shift. Until relatively recently, the idea that “peoples” are real was treated as an unassailable basis for political legitimacy. Indeed, promoting the “national self-determination” of peoples informed American foreign policy for much of the 20th century. But a more recent collective political-class decision appears to have been taken, across the developed world, to dissolve the political legitimacy of peoples, along with the nation-states that convene their interests — all while paying lip service to that framework for the sake of the plebs.

In the wake of this, it’s now unchallengeable dogma in polite society that peoples do not legitimately exist, or have any right to view themselves as politically distinct. Much as respectable liberal feminists are banned from speaking about “women” without at least observing the canard that men can also be women, the assertion that anyone may belong equally anywhere is now obligatory even in articles sceptical of mass immigration: see here and here for this week’s examples. 

Much as Havel’s greengrocer had to parrot slogans about the workers, in order to be admitted into polite society even Right-wing commentators are obliged to disavow the political salience of distinct ethnic or cultural groups. Implicitly: we may only talk about nation-states on the condition we nod along with the idea that they function like gym memberships. Anyone may opt into any of them, at any time, with equal standing.

But what’s the point of seeking political independence, if it’s not for a distinct people? Sturgeon insisted that Scottish independence is still meaningful in this context, as it’s about “running your own affairs and making your own mark in the world”. But it’s difficult to see why any group should go to all the trouble of replicating systems of government for an independent state, if there is no durable or self-constituting basis for the relevant political community. 

The most plausible interpretation for this apparent paradox is not pretty: very simply, the SNP’s leadership is lying to its base. The aim is not achieving independence for the Scottish people. Instead, it is the creation and funding of new institutional infrastructures, for the greater glory of a spreadsheet class which fundamentally doesn’t believe in “peoples”. In other words: a nationalist independence campaign has been hijacked by people who view it as an opportunity to seize power and resources. And their path to victory rests on misleading the mass of Scots who genuinely believe in peoples, about what they are trying to do — and who they are doing it for.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
6 months ago

Sturgeon insisted that Scottish independence is still meaningful in this context, as it’s about “running your own affairs and making your own mark in the world”.
But, of course, don’t request more specifics as to who the “own” refers to in the above remark. That would be impolitic.
(Incidentally, can we go back to referring to political ineptitudes as “impolitic” rather than “politically incorrect”? The former sounds delightfully Georgian, while the latter is straight out of Mao’s China.)

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
6 months ago

This people are starting to rival academics for the outsized angst and importance that is placed on trivial matters.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
6 months ago

Could this be the same wee Nicola who never passed up an opportunity to stir anti-English sentiment when playing to her base ?

Or indeed Useless Yousaf who can blather for hours about his ‘identity’ and that of his co-religionists and wife’s rellies when it suits him ?

carl taylor
carl taylor
6 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Exactly. It’s a bit rich Useless bemoaning the idea of ‘nation’ when it’s apparent that he has loyalties to the Umma.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
6 months ago

My suggestion: SSNP

Scottish SupraNational Party

Alternatively: TEUT

The EU Toadies

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
6 months ago

Bravo Mary. Our World is Turned Upside Down. Truly. The same charlatans – the same 20 year old class of groupthunk political zealots have captured all the key bases in the British Statein London, with the tiny near irrelevant exception of maybe 60 temporary Tory bavkbench MPs. Otherwise- we are taken, captured, gone. Law. Civil Service. BBC. Quangocracy. Blob. An astonishing revolution by stealth. More please…

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
6 months ago

The Scottish National Party membership (I know many) are centred around one mantra, “we hate the English!”: no English voices will ever be heard on home-grown TV or radio. If they were honest their party would be called the Scottish Nationalist Socialist Party.

Christine Novak
Christine Novak
6 months ago

Wow, when I hoped you’d apply your mind to the idea of nation-states in general, I didn’t expect (well maybe I did) to hear about so many tentacles of influence being co-opted by the “spreadsheet” mentality. Bravo! Still digesting it all.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
6 months ago

Maybe I’m wrong, but the political class appears to be even more banal and stupid than it was even a couple of years ago. If you give even two seconds of thought to the word national, you are an unserious person.

Karen Arnold
Karen Arnold
6 months ago

So the real message from the SNP to Scottish people who are proud of being Scottish is that the SNP regard you with contempt- you are only useful to enable those who covert power to get what they want.

karen fraser
karen fraser
6 months ago
Reply to  Karen Arnold

I think you have hit the nail on the head there Karen.

William Shaw
William Shaw
6 months ago
Reply to  karen fraser

I’d say Mary also hit the nail on the head.
That last paragraph describes the situation perfectly.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
6 months ago

Is the uma a nation?

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
6 months ago

The ummah, as originally formulated, is both a national and transnational institution. Muhammad failed to transcend the Arab tribal dynamic, but did manage to create a sort of “super-tribe” in Islam that permitted Arabs of every tribe to abandon their original tribal loyalty and join a universalist movement.

Bob Rowlands
Bob Rowlands
6 months ago

They were my thoughts exactly

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
6 months ago

These politicians should all be put in a prison together with life sentences, so they can discuss these things together for ever.
Wales has just published a very expensive report and all the politicians are getting very excited here; apparently independence is possible. But people will have to be prepared to be poorer for the short to medium term, worth it though because we will have more democracy (whatever that means).
These politicians are the lowest of the low. Everybody can be poor as long as the politicians get rich. Apparently, young people are for this idea and middle-aged and old people are against it. Now, why is that??

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
6 months ago

Du du Caradog, what a thing to say. But, look you, mun, unlike the Scots, we’d sound much nicer. How mellifluous our leaders would be as they talked bollocks.

Can you imagine the Scots sounding as fine?

Norman Powers
Norman Powers
6 months ago

It’s been clear for years that when judged by its actions and not words, the SNP had surprisingly low interest in independence.
They lost the indyref because they appeared to have left planning the details until the very last second, and when they did finally produce a white paper it boiled down to “everything will be the same as it is now, except not English, except for the bits that will still be English like the currency and state media”. This must have left a lot of people wondering what the point was.
But did the SNP learn? There’s no evidence they did. Brexit invalidated a lot of their prior policies, but the SNP seems to have no real institutional interest or capacity in replanning how to implement independence. The emptying of the already meagre North Sea oil eliminates a swathe more.
Mary does a great job of demonstrating why this is: the S in SNP doesn’t really stand for Scotland. It’s more like the Socialist Neo-Progressives party. The SNP thinks of Scotland as an arbitrary zone of land with no specific culture or history. Their differences with England boil down to being more left wing so to the extent independence would let them go left (but not too much) then they’re for it, just so long as it’s not too much work.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
6 months ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

Well, there was the ( hypothetical) oil money. I renember our idealistic leader stressing this: there’ll be loads of money, we’ll have loads of money, in her awful brogue. And taking the extra Covid funds to use for independence campaigns.

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
6 months ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

SNP is the Snotty Nose Party to most of us…

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
6 months ago

Traditionally nations tended to have a distinct culture and language. Scotland’s culture has largely been adopted by the English in the sense that on Burns night many of us with only a tenuous family link with Scotland will be adopting some tartan display and attending the piping in of the haggis well south of the Scottish border.

As for the language I expect Yousaf and plenty of Scots will have as much difficulty understanding a properly rendered “Address to the haggis” as most of us who will be raising a dram on or around the 25th of January. I think Yousaf might also have some difficulty complaining of English cultural appropriation in this respect.

If the Scots Nats are not National Socialists what are they? Why should not the people who happen to live in Pimlico or Wessex or London decide they might be better governed were they to vote themselves an independent entity.

As for Yousaf perhaps he fears to appear to be a rootless cosmopolitan owing a primary allegiance to a religious identity. Perhaps one can understand why he might wish to play down any suggestion that the Scottish volk should throw off the yoke of foreign subjugation in the interests of their nation. Who might be blamed for the stab in the back were that aspiration be thwarted.

Margaret Donaldson
Margaret Donaldson
6 months ago

The ultimate irony is that both Yousef and Anwar, both first generation immigrants, both espousing some sort of socialism, both rolling in it, (whatever ‘it’ is,) both went to the top fee-paying school in Glasgow. Whereas Ross, the toff as he’s a Tory, went to Forres Academy, a state school, and is a fully qualified football referee.

John Murray
John Murray
6 months ago

The things is if you’re a member of Clan Yousaf you can’t really insist on Scottishness being based on part of some sort of people who have been hanging around on that patch of land for centuries can you? It would raise some awkward questions for you otherwise.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
6 months ago

The Global Neoliberal Party? The Northern European Economic Zone Party?

j watson
j watson
6 months ago

This ‘people’s’ stuff is twaddle. Half the current English population probably got non English heritage, whether Irish, Scot, Welsh or further afield. And that’s only considering recent centuries.
Scottish Nationalism is twaddle and mostly based on fairy story nonsense.
What there is generally shared values and history, (complex history not propaganda), and that’s the bedrock.
Too often we fixate on where people come from rather than what values they hold and how do we better ensure the best of our values are transmitted and part of the deal to reside in this set of islands on the edge of the north Atlantic. Is it not ‘where are you from’ but ‘where are you going’ in the attitude and values.

Bobs Yeruncle
Bobs Yeruncle
6 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Though some Scots pay lip service to being culturally different there’s very little difference except a belief that they’re different (which I admit can be an important factor). In reality there’s very little difference between say someone from the north of England. And yes I speak from experience here.

The vast majority don’t speak Gaelic, they know and use some Scots words but they watch Netflix, shop at Asda, secretly support Man Utd and are familiar with Windows just like the rest of us.

j watson
j watson
6 months ago
Reply to  Bobs Yeruncle

Exactly. It’s twaddle isn’t it.
Interesting point about Gaelic – originally the drive on learning English in schools in Scotland, Wales and Ireland was to increase opportunity for those kids. Much as kids the world over learn English as the international language (luckily for us). It was emancipating and quite the reverse of what is often twisted now. By all means maintain the historical language but don’t twist the history.

Peter Stonebridge
Peter Stonebridge
6 months ago

Is the establishment of Holyrood ultimately to blame? Prior to that the Scottish Office had a generous budget and could only spend it on day-job fundamentals such as Health, Education, roads etc. They would be the sole beneficiaries and as a result standards were high. Come Holyrood and more particularly the SNP the funds have been spent on ferries, aluminium smelters, nationalising railways, grants for all sorts of stuff, reducing the amount available for fundamentals. The resulting lower standards are the direct result of devolution. Is devolution actually worth it?

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
6 months ago

No govt works without accountability – and Westminster’s generous funding of Holyrood has meant Holyrood always has a financial backstop, a Daddy Warbucks, who will come bail it out when they screw up. So Holyrood can be non-serious and focus on political rent-seeking and interest-group appeasement, rather than governing in the common good.

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
6 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

The devolved government has produced some cracking pieces of legislation that Westminster should at least try to emulate. They have made meaningful differences to people’s lives ax Scotland… Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003, Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2001, Private Rented Housing (Scotland) Act 2016, Licensing of Short-term Lets Order 2022. All person based rather than public sector/business based. There are plenty more…It is not all bad! Allthough the Snotty Nose Party have been in power far too long. We need a coalition government again soon.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
6 months ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

I think we disagree about what a cracking piece of legislation looks like. To take one example… I don’t think legislation giving the govt the right to determine “fair” rents… is fair at all.

Chipoko
Chipoko
6 months ago

I wonder why Sturgeon deleted all her WhatsApp messages, in spite of having undertaken not to do so? Never trusted her!

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
6 months ago
Reply to  Chipoko

She is not known as the Wee Bachle for nothing…

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
6 months ago

It took me years to realise that in most countries governments are seen just as ways to take power, with jobs and money the main motives.

denz
denz
6 months ago

It’s been just a silly spelling mistake all these years.
It’s the Scottish NOTIONAL Party the noo.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
6 months ago

Gosh. It’s almost as if a determined and resourceful group of powerful misfits with a globalist ideology identified egocentric, ambitious, empty vessels in political parties everywhere and programmed them through flattery, bribery, and perhaps just a wee bit of blackmail, into undermining national and personal sovereignty, so that they might try and consolidate top-down power and control structures at the global level, with useful little bought and paid for puppets in almost every notionally national government. All in the name of the common good, of course. After all, they are the good guys and the baddies are the evil, practically fascist, nationalists who believe in things like meaningful political choices devolved to the local and national levels, and diversity in cultures and political systems across the world. Some of them even believe in freedom of speech and conscience – how utterly unconscionable when we know how hate speech causes harm!

Yousaf and others like him will get their political comeupance one of these days. It won’t be pretty because their attempt to implement deluded fantasy land policies will provoke a furious backlash. We’ll then see what nasty, mob-driven, nationalism looks like, just as the grand architects of the Treaty of Versailles did. Those of us whose politics remained, throughout this madness, moderate and liberal are unlikely to be able to prevent this as we are likely to be tarred, in the eyes of the mob, with the same brush as the discredited clown-world progressive-authoritarian globalist puppets, so comprehensive has been the ideological captures of our political parties and institutions. And then there’s China, Russia, and Iran etc to worry about …