A No to Nationalism
Hi, I thought I might be able to contribute some thoughts to your excellent suggestion to hear from ‘No’ voters. For me the question of whether or not Scotland should split off from the rest of the UK was an ethical decision – is there a righteous case for separation? And in my opinion there is no righteous case. I can’t see how there can be any moral legitimacy for nationalism in the context of an existing and established liberal democracy and free society. The justification for Scottish nationalism is that as this is the civic variety then it’s acceptable, but in the context of a liberal democracy with a long history of all citizens sharing the risks, rewards and resources of nationhood, I can’t see how there can be any justification for ring-fencing off one part of the polity that is to be led to a new political promised land while leaving the rest behind. It is simply wrong to decide that there must be a new smaller definition of ‘us’, and that from henceforth it will be ‘us first’ and we can relinquish responsibility for the rest of ‘them’.
This plays out into the moral and practical arguments that the SNP put forward. One central argument for example was that ‘it’s Scotland’s oil’ and that North Sea oil revenues should not be spent on the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, instead being concentrated on us Scots, with the point made that if we had that undiluted oil wealth then we could reduce poverty in Scotland. But the corollary of this argument is that in achieving this you have to be willing to see poverty increase in the rUK. In the current austere economic climate (oil price aside) Scotland hoarding those revenues would make the rUK fiscal position worse overnight, potentially forcing the government there to cut spending further or increase taxes, pushing people on the margin into poverty. It makes me wonder how many families in England, Wales and Northern Ireland Scottish nationalists would be happy to see pushed into poverty to achieve separation.
This is just a single example, but the point is that nationalism in the context of a liberal democracy is ultimately selfish. And I for one don’t mind the fact that oil wealth helps to educate a child in Liverpool, or helps pay for someone’s medical care in London. The who subsidises who argument was therefore irrelevant for me. As long as we have a reasonably healthy democracy (and I know some think we have a banana republic, but we plainly don’t – we’ve just had a ‘festival of democracy’), then we should just be thinking in terms of ‘people first’, not ‘Scots first’.
Nationalism, including this civic variety, is ultimately about exclusion. Scottish nationalism aims to exclude politically the people south of an historic border, in an era when borders are becoming less relevant whether people like it or not. This exclusion is wrong. Nationalism has had a justified place in history, but only when it’s a means to the greater end of achieving freedom and democracy for an oppressed people. We Scots are not oppressed. The Yes movement is not a civil rights movement. We have a duty to be ‘people unionists’ – with a small ‘u’ – and to celebrate and nourish whatever bonds between peoples that we have.
So for me, voting ‘Yes’ would have meant succumbing to an instinctive tribal view of how we should organize ourselves and live. We’ve tended to rise above this way of thinking in the past, and for the sake of our own humanity I believe we should continue to resist this way of thinking in the future. Taking a principled moral stance against nationalism was, for me, an affirmation of my humanity.