I was following a Twitter conversation the other day and it hit an interesting point.
I’ll explain what I mean but it does involve a bit of a read to get there so be warned…
Barring Labour supporters outside of Scotland angry they’ll never ‘win Scotland back’, there’s a chunk of people in England (and much of this is anecdotal on my part but it supports what others have found) who do look at the SNP (and Plaid Cymru in Wales) as something alien.
I spent 28 years living in England. Until the advent of the internet I could only pick up what was going on in Scotland via visits or more normally, though second, third, fourth, etc hand reports. Upon visiting Scotland in 1999 I was amazed there was any serious support for the SNP as although by this time my eyes were opened to the shitshow that was Tony Blair’s Labour, I’d shuffled over to nominally voting for the Lib Dems. The SNP for me, were ‘Tartan Tories’. Independence was a joke and barring the odd shining star like Margo McDonald the SNP were as much a threat as the Tories or Labour.
At this point I was a nominal supporter for the Union. True, I wanted full devolution, even a form of federalism, but independence seemed divisive as I truly felt the people of the UK worked better together. I had seen the slow destruction of Scotland continue on visits home (the sight of seeing the blue towers of Ravenscraig gone still shock me) but I was seeing the Tory destruction of parts of London, the Midlands and the South West. I thought the only way to fight the Tories was finding a UK alternative to them yet I never really included the SNP as part of that because I saw them as a ”Other’. They didn’t want solidarity, and the idea that cultural identity was as important as beating the Tories meant that had I lived in Scotland at the time, I’d be against the SNP.
For years I’d lived in England and never (bar one time in Staines with a drunken arsehole) had any xenophobic abuse. Yeah, there was banter with mates, but that was what mates do when they’re having a drunken session and it was both ways, not to mention it wasn’t serious. It wasn’t real, actual, xenophobic abuse. Around 2009 I had UKIP supporters in Bristol speak of Scots as a second-class race essentially. Then their bottom-feeders, the English Democrats, produced an election broadcast which was so xenophobic towards Scots that I complained to Ofcom. Everything changed & I blame a lot of that on UKIP. I no longer felt there was a level of equality in the UK, and my eyes were opened that for a section of people in England they clung onto a form of imperialism where Scotland was the property of an Empire. What I found equally extraordinary is that this wasn’t now coming from the right, but friends of mine who I knew were lefties were pushing a similar line.
Then the Scottish independence referendum campaign happened and the concept of even a Scottish identity in the UK was challenged. You didn’t accept a version of the UK where you plead fealty to the UK and suppress any lingering cultural identity of your own. For some on the left in England especially, multiculturalism didn’t extend to people from the UK as your identity as a Scot threatened the UK identity. That was the default as after all, as I’ve said, if you live in England you’re not exposed to the daily routine of Scottish politics and life. Sure, the advent of the internet meant it was easier to catch up with what was going on but you never experienced it first hand.
Last November I returned to Scotland to mainly recuperate from a stroke and deal with cancer. I saw the day-to-day life of Scotland. I saw ‘Scotishness’ first hand and some reactions were initially that some of it felt parochial however this was a relic of my thinking that the default situation for these islands is the UK. The SNP’s inability to conform to the default position and thinking of many in England antagonises people, in the same way some people are antagonised by Muslims wearing veils or speaking Polish in the street. It’s a failure to accept there’s other cultures in the UK and a reluctance to accept that Unionism (because this is what I’m really talking about) naturally involves crushing other cultures to be assimilated like some red, white and blue Borg.
So the SNP could be a right wing party that supported independence and promoted a Scottish identity separate from a Unionist one. They’d be equally despised by some. It’s the independence that rankles them because it challenges their own default identity. Their centre-left platform isn’t that much different from Tony Blair’s early days when he dabbled with social democracy but because they propose that there’s alternatives in these islands to Unionism (and everything that comes with it) they rile people up to the point of blind hatred. I’ve come to see independence as a political solution and a natural state for all countries to have, so although I won’t vote SNP (except in the general election as I think they’re the only way we’ll fight off the Tories in a Westminster election) I don’t see them as scary bogeymen any more.
And that’s where we are in this election campaign. Identity and culture will play a massive part of this election not just in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but across the UK as a whole because this is where we are thanks to Brexit. Corbyn’s Labour haven’t realised this, but Theresa May has hence why she’s called this election when a default position for many is a form of uber-Unionism that sees the UK as the centre of the world.That position may not be popular when the realities of Brexit kick in, so in Scotland I think we get what’s at stake here. Back in England any attempt to fight this solely on policies without dealing with Brexit (and everything that comes with it) hands the Tories an advantage. In this election identity is all, and it’s a straight fight between a hard/far right Unionist one and one Yes supporters offer. Make your choice.