Monday, September 26, 2011

Another spurious claim of 'anti-Englishness'

Loosely following on from my previous post, a Twitter exchange between Tory Hoose's very own version of "Admin" and Lib Dem blogger Gavin Hamilton drew my attention to a post by Gavin in which he ponders the way forward for the Tories, but also gives a special mention to left-leaning Nats -

"Finally, I have noticed that some Nationalists argue they want to defeat poverty and bring about social justice in the modern Scotland - but the only way this can be done is in an Independent Scotland. How can this be so? The reason it can be so is that England keeps on imposing alien Conservative regimes on Scotland who are against such left of centre agendas. Indeed, making sure we do not have a Conservative regime enforced on us period, is a key driver for having Independence.

This strikes me as most unhealthy reasoning. There is absolutely no reason why we should not achieve these laudable aims as part of the UK. This reasoning is getting dangerously close to a basic anti-English sentiment which never lies far beneath the surface with some nationalists."

I wouldn't describe Gavin's own logic here as "unhealthy" so much as utterly baffling and in dire need of elucidation. There is "absolutely no reason" for thinking that we can't pursue a left-of-centre agenda as part of UK - except, of course, for the excellent reason Gavin has just given himself, namely that the UK electorate keep on electing right-of-centre governments (of both the Tory and Labour varieties) and that there is absolutely nothing Scots can do to change that within the context of the United Kingdom, due to our having less than a tenth of the population. For Gavin to demonstrate that he understands this reasoning so thoroughly, but then to wildly assert that anyone who adheres to it is "dangerously close" to being anti-English, simply isn't good enough. We need to know why.

Let me try a counter-example here. Suppose there was a serious proposal for the UK to withdraw from the EU, the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights, and instead become the 51st state of the USA. One of the consequences of that would be the instant reintroduction of the death penalty - because even citizens in US states that have abolished capital punishment are still subject to the federal and military death penalties. Now I could easily argue that there is "absolutely no reason" why the UK can't be just as free of the death penalty as part of the US as it currently is as part of the EU. It's simply a matter of "winning the argument" at US-wide level, I could say. And every single person would know that is a fundamentally deceitful claim, because the argument is essentially unwinnable in the US, at least for the foreseeable future. By choosing to join the US, we'd be aligning ourselves to a completely different political culture, one that would render absolutely inevitable the return of judicial murder to these shores.

I trust that, as a good Lib Dem, Gavin would think that in itself was a good enough reason to argue against taking such a step. But would that make him "anti-American"? And if not, why not?


  1. Thanks for the mention.

    I will have a think and drop you a response comment later today when I have finished my working day.


  2. Anti-Englishness is a weapon used Unionists.

    They hope by trying to equate desire for Home Rule (used to be Liberal policy, that) or Independence with anti-Englishness we'll be too ashamed to stand on our own two feet.

    Well, sorry old chap. No

    I may dislike the Westminster establishment, but I refuse to equate believe in Scotland with hating my friends and relatives, even those who have chosen a political path I regard as unfathomable

    Try justifying your Broken Union, be positive about what you are trying to sell, if you wish to sell it

  3. Sorry to post so late but since you were kind enough to write about my post I thought I should reply :)

    I was writing about the perception difficulties the Scottish Conservatives have and that part of that is that they are somehow seen as not Scottish or alien.

    If they are seen as alien a natural development of this thinking is to see them as English, especially if you feel English voters impose Conservative regimes on Scotland.

    This is a point I have heard more than one nationalist make.

    Of course you can say that this is not anti-Englishness it is about being opposed to Conservatism. This is true. However, for some the natural extension of this thinking is to see conservatism as being alien,which means of a different culture which in this case must mean being English, which equals bad.

    Nationalism, like any ism is a complicated ism and the desire for self determination is perfectly reasonable and one I would support as a good Liberal. However, nationalsim can be the belief that one state is naturally superior to other states and sometimes the identification of a national culture is combined with a negative view of other cultures.

    Now i actually think Alex Salmond is quite good on this issue and has worked hard to make the SNP avoid being anti English. I think the SNP has worked hard to be positive nationalists rather than the negative type of nationalists.

    But remember I was writing about the Conservatives here, not the SNP, and the perception they face from some nationalists (small n)

    While accepting that the desire to have a more left of centre country is perfectably understandable i just think it is a rubbish reason to say that Independence is the right way for Scotland in perpetuity, political systems come and go - there are plenty of other arguments to make. And I think Conservatism, especially a Scottish brand, is part and parcel of our political culture, not alien, just not very popular these days.

    The seeing them as alien argument's natural extension to to see that culture - presumably English - as being bad.

    I know Nats can be a little sensitive to this issue and like to pass it off as wearisome but it is an interesting issue and one worth exploring from time to time.

    And certainly the SNP work to make sure that the anti-English nerve that is under the surface for some scot nats is tempered and not part of a positive programme.

    And this ant-English nerve has been part of the problem Scottish Conservatives have faced since Thatcher I guess. They aren't seen as Scottish and I guess this is something that Murdo Fraser is thinking about with his proposals for an autonomous centre right party in Scotland to try to shake off what he sees as a toxic brand.

  4. Gavin, I appreciate you taking the time to post such a long comment, but I'm still struggling with this. Of course I was aware that your original post was primarily about the toxicity of the Tory brand in Scotland, but for some reason you took time out from that towards the end to make the (at best) tenuously related point that those of us who, quite logically, see little hope of making substantial progress on social justice without independence, are somehow "dangerously close" to being "anti-English" - in plain language, racist. At the time, you failed to give even the vaguest hint as to how on earth you had reached such an offensive conclusion. An argument rooted in logic would go something like this - "A follows on from B, because of C". Well, you told us all about A and B, but there was no trace of C.

    OK, so you've now fleshed out your thinking on that point to some extent, but it's still utterly unconvincing. I note you've studiously avoided my hypothetical question about whether you would oppose the UK joining the United States because of the inevitable reintroduction of the death penalty - that's an example of a concrete, negative consequence of a smaller country with one set of values aligning itself to a much larger country with a different set of values. It illustrates why such a constitutional arrangement can be undesirable for rational and idealistic reasons, not for reasons of racism or "anti-Americanism".

    "I know Nats can be a little sensitive to this issue and like to pass it off as wearisome"

    Bogus insinuations of borderline-racism (to put the most generous interpretation on what you said) are somewhat more than "wearisome". It's hard to think of an instance where a little "sensitivity" on our part would be more justified.

    "While accepting that the desire to have a more left of centre country is perfectably understandable i just think it is a rubbish reason to say that Independence is the right way for Scotland in perpetuity, political systems come and go - there are plenty of other arguments to make."

    Yes, there are plenty of other arguments to make in favour of independence. How does that observation even begin to demonstrate that this particular argument is "rubbish"? Again, I'm baffled. And as for the "come and go" point, Scotland has had a divergent political centre of gravity for a very, very long time now. It would be a brave person who would claim that will no longer be the case in thirty or even fifty years' time.

  5. The problem with any kind of nationalism is that pride in one's country can easily descend into a sense of superiority - 'Thank God we are not as others are' kind of thing.

    When you define yourself by your differences (as the SNP and their supporters continually do)then it is even more easy to assume that your differences make you *better* than they are.

    There is certainly an air of that kind of attitude towards your southern neighbours, even in this blog; your assumption that your choice of political theory is superior and therefore better than the their political theory is not a justification to hold all the English people south of the border in contempt.

    And regardless of whether you mean to or not, that contempt comes through, even to me here in Australia, loud and clear. If I were an Englishman I would also believe that many of you Scots are rabidly anti-English.

    You see the point is not whether you intend to be anti-English (and the term is xenophobic not racist, you are of the same race)- what matters is how you comments can be interpreted by others. If I, an Australian who has no particular love of the English, can find many of the SNP supporters comments highly offensive, then why should you be surprised that the English themselves do so.

    So 'Spurious' claim - I'm afraid not, it is all too common and too widespread to be anything but a national trait; and I can see that you don't want to admit it, and who can blame you, if I were a Scot, I wouldn't like it either.

  6. Your suggestion in the penultimate paragraph that what I and other SNP supporters actually say is less important than how others (eg. you, as a self-appointed arbiter) feel our words "can be interpreted" is so unutterably silly as to be barely worth responding to. So, moving on...

    You also seem to be effectively saying that there are things "even in this blog" that are anti-English and xenophobic - I'd like some specific examples of that, please, because that's a very strong claim which you don't appear to have the slightest interest in substantiating.

    And how supremely ironic that you're from Australia - a country that was once ruled from Westminster, but no longer is. Just run us past how that process worked again? After all, you appear to believe that it's literally impossible to argue the case for independence from a country without holding the people of that country in contempt - I can only conclude, therefore, that you regard your own countrymen as "xenophobes". On which subject -

    "and the term is xenophobic not racist, you are of the same race"

    In the way that the word 'racist' is commonly (and indeed legally) understood in this part of the world, that is incorrect. But words have different meanings to different people, so you're entitled to your own view.

    Finally, you appear more than ready to make sweeping generalisations about a negative "national trait" supposedly possessed by the Scots as a people, not just by SNP supporters. In the light of your previous comments about xenophobia, I'm just curious - does the term "self-awareness" mean anything to you?

  7. Claims of anti-Englishness fails to explain the number of English born supporters of the SNP

    People who are raised in England then come to Scotland, live here a few years and draw the conclusion that the Union isn't working for Scotland.

    It might b your distance, but it is clear that the Scots, in terms of the SNP, are the people of Scotland, regardless of origin. As the grandchild of immigrants, I do not feel excluded by that

    If you wish to see hate against a group, head to any Guardian thread dealing with Scotland, and see the view in which Scotland and its people are held

    The fact is that Scotland IS a separate entity, though one bound to the Union by Crown, Stewart and History. Crown and History were not enough to keep Australia bound to the Empire when its interests lay in independence, why should it constrain Scotland, when the people of that nation repeatedly demonstrate different political values and ambitions to the rest of the UK?

  8. Stewart in the above para should be Treaty, the problem when posting from a phone

  9. Interesting point of view. For me personally the Thatcher years were basically the reason I joined the SNP.

    I started off as a fairly left wing person who, naturally, voted Labour. I was never a member of Labour but I never thought about voting for any other party and certainly the Thatcher Government absolutely crystallised things for me. Tories = bad. Labour = good.

    But then as things went on I started to think maybe it wasn't that simple. One of the tipping points for me was the Miners Strike. It was one day when I was in Glasgow City Centre and the NUM was out collecting and there were massive queues of people lining up to donate to them and express their support. It gave me a warm glow as I joined the queue and a wee old lady in front of me said oh they've got to win haven't they, all of Scotland is depending on them to beat Thatcher. And that made me feel incredibly depressed because I thought - a. they are not going to win and b. what is wrong with Scotland if we are depending on striking miners to defend us against Thatcher? How ridiculous. These men are fighting for their jobs and their families' future, they are not fighting to defeat Thatcher, what an unfair burden to put on their shoulders. And then I went on to think why do we have to defend Scotland against Thatcher in the first place when people in Scotland don't vote Tory. And, bang, I was a nationalist. Just like that.

    And from then on I looked at things differently. So much of the 1980s and early 1990s was about various political parties claiming the mandate to defend Scotland against the Tories. It was all so pointless. If all the energy and passion and commitent that went into defending Scotland against the Tories went into creating a better future for Scotland how much better off would we all be?

    That's not anti-English. It's the opposite. It's the false and unnecessary conflict that results from England largely voting Tory and Scotland not voting Tory that is the problem. It doesn't need to happen, it is futile and pointless. We should just run our own country and then it would never be an issue again.

  10. Home Rule for EnglandSeptember 27, 2011 at 9:43 AM

    Of course it is also true that England has a Tory Lib Dem coalition because of Scottish Voters! We've had the likes of Nick Clegg imposed on us because although the Tories have a good majority of seats in England, when Scottish Welsh and Irish MPs are included they don't! At least you Scottish have your own Parliament to decide on domestic issues. We English don't and have the Lib Dems involved in our domestic arrangements thanks to Scottish et al voters!
    I agree with your last comment. England should become independent of Scotland Wales and N.Ireland. These problems would then be gone!

  11. Don't be mad at us though - the average Scot - your predicament is as much to do with the unfortunate constitutional predicament we find ourselves in as our problem is.

    The unionists seem to rely on this old mercantilist view of things: that countries necessarily compete with one another and therefore cannot both grow and flourish at the same time (thus: "stronger together, weaker apart"). Dissolutions of unions around the world have shown this to be complete nonsense. In fact, Norway, Denmark and Sweden are all far better off out of the unions they were once in. I wonder how many Austrians wish they had been assimilated into greater Germany during their unification?