Brian Monteith: Division will come back to bite

Had Scotland been independent back in the early 1960s, bands such as The Beatles would not have been 'ours'. Picture: AP
Had Scotland been independent back in the early 1960s, bands such as The Beatles would not have been 'ours'. Picture: AP
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Scottish nationalism is about being anti-English, about divide and rule and about difference, writes Brian Monteith

Alex Salmond has been at it again. No stranger to making speeches in Liverpool, he was there last week trying to reassure Scottish Labour voters that we would all still remain buddies if Scotland votes Yes.

Needless to say our gallus First Minister was not interested in discussing how his independent Scotland requires tax rates designed to bring Liverpoool-based companies north – or how taking the third most economically successful area out of Britain will enrich the people of Merseyside, when it must statistically make them poorer.

Nor did he touch on how our British identity – so shaped by the people of Merseyside and Scotland – would no longer be available for either group to share.

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Had Scotland been independent in 1962 when The Beatles had their first hit, it would have been as foreign a cultural influence to us as they were to Belgium; an influence, yes, but not one of our own. Not part of the family. And all the inspirational Scottish achievements of the last 50 or so years – ranging from Dolly the Sheep to countless medical advances – they too would no longer have been available for Liverpudlians to claim as part of their culture, their family.

Did Salmond describe what his vision of division means for his audience’s sense of Britishness? Of course not. Salmond remains the most divisive politician in the UK and even in England this is a badge he wears with pride. If there is a word that is absent in Alex Salmond’s vocabulary it must be solidarity, for he clearly cannot share experience with people from every corner of Great Britain, they are merely audiences he can use like some blank wall to project back a message to Scotland.

It is of course part of the whole nationalist strategy to downplay the anti-Englishness of their message – but it is one that people are wakening up to and recoiling from.

For one, it is not enough to win an argument by constant repetition of the assertion that we shall all be friends in future – when by definition we shall no longer be comrades in arms but competitors. It will be different, nationalism will place us at a disadvantage – and it will be our doing.

In this new more visceral market where the greatest share of our exports currently go we shall no longer be participating on a level playing field but instead find that we have erected, entirely by ourselves, our own raft of regulations and petty obstructions, while adding distance through the removal of UK business cross-subsidy, that puts our nation at a fundamental disadvantage.

And that’s before England and the rest of the UK decides to introduce its own advantageous economic policies. It is beyond rational expectation or reason that as Scotland rejects the UK that those in Liverpool, Newcastle and beyond will wish the UK to stand still and will not themselves look for their own advantages that will place Scotland in a weaker position.

This reductivism, this destruction through constant division, will only lead to tears. Not my tears, but the tears of my sons and their offspring not yet conceived. The conceit in all of this is that Scottish nationalism is not about being anti-English – and certainly not anti-Liverpudlian – when it is very much about being both. It is about divide and rule, it is fundamentally about difference.

The usual defence against such prejudice in more academic or self-regarding circles of polite Scottish society is the suggestion that civic nationalism is about institutions and not people, or worse races. Apparently you cannot be a racist if you are only suggesting we can do things better in Scotland by ourselves – because we shall not be outnumbered by the rest of the UK – the same nation that we have interbred with, colonised and on many occasions actually been in control of through Scottish monarchs, politicians, industrialists, trade unionists and public figures such as John Reith.

It is, however, a logical fallacy, for in this talk of civic nationalism we can see in its everyday language that an assumption of superiority is taken for granted. It is natural, it is self-evident that Scottish institutions must by their very Scottishness be better. We are told that merely by being independent we shall be fairer – when the evidence shows that the UK is becoming fairer and is already fairer than many most developed countries including some in Scandinavia.

We are told we shall also be more economically prosperous while having greater welfare benefits by dint of being independent – ignoring the conflict between these two claims and that our neighbourly competitors will themselves be free to make their own decisions that can make them even more successful.

I am an advocate of localism in the sense of ensuring decisions that affect people are taken by as locally relevant and accountable institutions as possible, but to believe that this will mean fairer decisions and outcomes must automatically follow – as so many commentators and politicians suggest – is to impart a civic prejudice that is surely abhorrent. Westminster does not always mean bad, Holyrood does not always mean good. For instance, the soft power of the UK to do good in the developing world is far greater than anything on offer from the supine power that would exist from Bute House.

If the civic nationalism we are presented with was saying that there will be wrong turnings, poor outcomes and honest mistakes – that some things might be worse in an independent Scotland – but at least they will be our own errors, then that would be a neutral advocacy of civic nationalism. That is not what we hear, however. Time and time again we are told that everything emanating from Westminster is bad while the results of Holyrood – that great unchecked, unscrutinised and imperious parliament – is good.

One can only conclude that the civic nationalism of Scottish nationalists and their cheerleaders is in fact racially, not institutionally based. It is an arrogant superiority built upon a conceit that Scots will behave better – whichever way better is defined by those that seek to set our moral compass.

The truth must be that civic nationalism and racial nationalism are both still nationalisms cut from the same cloth. A Scottish politician speaking in Liverpool cannot change that fact.