Scottish Nationalism: The Seductive Myth of a Brexit Life-Raft

3 Aug 2016

Welcome to Scotland post June 23rd, and the mildly terrifying refrain repeated following thesecond hugely divisive referendum we’ve recently endured:


“Well… I’d probably vote yes this time around.”


The rise of nationalism as a resurgent, powerful force shaping the British political landscape has been startling. I’m a Welshman who studied at university in the south of England, now I live and work in Scotland, so I’ve experienced an odd exposure to the spectrum of nationalist polemic across this union of ours.


The raw political force of this feeling has, for me at least, dangerous connotations that exceed impassioned patriotism. Amplified by social media, nationalist thinking stirs up pride and anger, reinforcing difference and exclusion.


The narrative of nationalist Scotland has now spun a way out of the mess of a post-EU United Kingdom.


Like patriotic pride, the success of Scotland’s nationalist movement boils down to the self-perception of a nation, cause, and identity. Whether the hugely important idea of a strong Scottish voice at the negotiating table, a unique relationship with the EU, or the option of another independence referendum, the message was clear: Scotland had spoken, and being piped out of the EU against its will has no place within this carefully crafted ideal.


This self-image was tangibly close to reality, with the SNP membership surging following the Brexit vote. The appeal of Scottish nationalism in such circumstances cannot be ignored.


Hope not hate, build not break, and other slogans, harked back to the positive nationalism espoused by the Yes campaign, an enduring positivity utilised to grab voters. The parallels between a campaign to leave our United Kingdom and the endeavours to keep us in a wider union of nations internationally, were, at face value, discordant.


Yet, the ultimate message of a hopeful, accepting, and welcoming idea of a nation, were ironically similar to the ideas of those who voted Remain on 23rd June. This time, Scotland standing alone was important to all, not for the sake of mere national pride and a grip on the country’s destiny, but for inclusion into the dream of an accepting international economic and cultural community. What a way to win over the liberal, previously erring on the side of caution.


With a vague number of hopeful (albeit ultimately superficial) options regarding Scotland’s continued membership of the EU, it was easy to forget how the mechanics of the SNPs European dream could actually forge Scotland into the UK’s Brexit life-raft.


The new and improved self-crafted nationalist image of a nation of socially left-leaning internationalists, led by a brilliant polemicist (there’s no denying Nicola Sturgeon's political prowess, whatever your leanings), has been hugely attractive to many.


The worst of it? Better Together argued for a stable devolution, but with the Brexit result and subsequent political tumult, it’s hard to give credence to the idea of devolved power from Westminster. It’s ironic that much of the unionist campaign rested upon the idea of stability when present politics is unprecedentedly fractured.  


It’s easy to turn to a cause through hope and blind panic. An independent Scotland was pitched as a way to escape the absolute political mayhem that’s engulfed the country. If the price to pay to escape the wreck is an irrevocable schism of our country and subsequent further obscene instability for all involved, then count me out.


Instead of turning this energy and outrage inward, scrambling for the lifeboats (intangible as they may be), we need to re-engage with those who voted Leave, across the union, and right the ship, not let it capsize and flee.


If hope not hate and build not break was the spirit of the Yes and Remain campaigns, then how dare we abandon that ethos to plunge the country into further disarray? Unionists need to stabilise and rebuild, rapidly.  We would be stronger if we continued within the European Union I maintain, but I am absolutely certain we are stronger in these unprecedented, turbulent times standing together as part of a United Kingdom to navigate the future.


Although it’s a sign of the severity of the situation how attractive, for a time, abandoning ship actually was.


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