Nicola Sturgeon, who has spoken on several occasions about her “problems” with the word nationalism because of its “connotations”, last year suggested that people in England should consider moving to Scotland, later declaring: “I don’t care where you come from, if you want to live in Scotland and consider yourself Scottish that’s fine by me.”
So it was entirely in keeping with her kind of politics to stress there was “not an anti-English bone in my body” when asked about a clothing firm’s concern that “anti-English rhetoric” from some in Scotland – the company did not blame her – could be putting off customers from south of the Border.
For good measure, the First Minister added: “I come from partly English stock, my grandmother was English, and I lead a party that is full of English people.”
That prejudice against any group, based on nationality or any other factor, has no place in a liberal democracy should go without saying, but regrettably we live at a time when the world has seen populist leaders rise to power by blaming foreigners and immigrants for their nation’s woes.
Such hate-filled nonsense has thankfully failed to make much impact on mainstream politics in Scotland, but it would be a mistake to think there is anything ‘exceptional’ about this country which makes us immune to such siren voices.
Some other parties also have problems – Keir Starmer has made tackling anti-semitism in Labour a priority, while Islamophobia is a concern for the Conservatives – but SNP needs to keep its own house in order.
To ensure that the small number of anti-English bigots within their ranks and in Scotland as a whole does not grow, it is vital that senior SNP politicians follow the example set by their party leader and, loudly and clearly, condemn any such sentiments while making a positive case for independence.
They should do this simply because it is the right thing to do, but it is also in their political interest.
Voters who might be won over to the cause of independence – perhaps preferring a vision of a Scandinavian-style state within the EU to Brexit Britain – are more likely to be scared off, than converted, by even a hint of the dangerous form of nationalism disdained by the First Minister.
Liberal democracy is easily taken for granted, but we all benefit from it and, whatever the future holds, Scotland must always cherish it and treat the prejudice of populists with the contempt it deserves.
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