Leader: SNP must rebrand nationalism as a positive

It is a wonderful moment when our elected politicians are honest. MPs and MSPs typically spend so long trying to avoid answering direct questions that they often end up looking slippery and untrustworthy.

SNP supporters. This week Nicola Sturgeon said she felt nationalism had ugly connotations. Picture  Jane Barlow/PA Wire
SNP supporters. This week Nicola Sturgeon said she felt nationalism had ugly connotations. Picture Jane Barlow/PA Wire

And so yesterday it was refreshing to see Nicola Sturgeon engage in an open debate about nationalism, its connotations around the world and even the name of her own party.

The First Minister was speaking during a debate at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, where a Turkish author said nationalism had a very negative and ugly meaning for her, and asked if it could “ever be benign”.

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Ms Sturgeon said: “The word is difficult. If I could turn the clock back, what, 90 years, to the establishment of my party, and chose its name all over again, I wouldn’t choose the name it has got just now.”

For the leader of a party to say “I don’t like the name of my party and I wish we could change it”, is unusual. But it is also honest. Nationalism has negative undertones. The First Minister is all the stronger for this statement.

The obvious solution is to change the party’s name, but Ms Sturgeon dismissed this as “far too complicated”. How about the Scotland First Association (SFA), Future for Scotland (FFS) or even Scotland or Bust (SOB)? No, maybe not.

Rebranding, especially as a means of reputation laundering, rarely works.

Far better that the party shows, week in week out, that it really does stand for its stated goal of “civic nationalism” that is in stark contrast to the ethnic nationalism of the BNP and white nationalism in the US.

Sturgeon says: “If Scotland is your home 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.”

But many of the SNP’s most vocal supporters trade in a more narrow form of nationalism and our First Minister should do more to reject this view and shout them down. A brand isn’t just in a name; it’s the values you promote day in day out.

Furthermore, the party too easily promotes the idea of “Scotland good, UK bad”. Right-minded voters realise this is too simplistic and we need a more nuanced and grown-up debate about independence.

If that happens, then perhaps nationalism itself can be rebranded as a positive.