A Different Kind of Nationalism

We’re now into the final week of campaigning for the Scottish independence referendum. Polls are showing it’ll be very close, and no-one really knows which way it’ll go, not least because the turnout will be higher than other elections. I agree with many others that the level of political engagement has been amazing, and I hope that this keen interest in our futures continues afterwards, whatever the result.

I will be voting Yes on September 18th, and strongly encouraging others to do so. I’m English by birth and Scottish by choice – I’ve lived here all my adult life. I believe that Scotland will be better off having the power to make its own decisions in all areas, as its economic, social and political makeup is significantly different to the rest of the UK. A country with a similar population to Denmark and Norway, with vast amounts of land and natural resources, can certainly thrive as an independent nation. That’s not to say that it will be a smooth and easy journey, of course, but it’s impossible to achieve your potential without taking a few risks. Indeed, the greater risk might be to stay as part of the UK.

The grassroots Yes movement which has overtaken the country in recent months has little in common with the xenophobic nationalisms of continental Europe. I have heard reports of individuals supporting the Yes side engaging in anti-English abuse, but people have also been physically attacked by No supporters (some of these incidents may be sectarian-related). Neither camp can choose who backs them, and if the Yes campaign has the unwanted support of a few anti-English racists and other undesirables, Better Together are busy distancing themselves from the Orange Order, UKIP and BNP.

A driving force behind many swings to Yes has been immigration, and the ability of an independent Scotland to welcome more migrants. The UK’s tightening immigration policy has long been unpopular in Scotland, a country in need of an influx of younger people to balance its ageing population. It’s currently difficult for skilled people from outside the EU to stay in the country (unless they’re wealthy, of course), and this is damaging the economy and breaking families apart. The Yes campaign has strong support from a number of groups rooted in diaspora communities in Scotland, such as Africans for Independence, whose supporters well understand the challenges faced by countries post-independence.

I was talking to a No-voting friend, and one of the few things we could agree on was that the Better Together campaign has been terribly misjudged and mismanaged. There are few better ways to encourage support of the other side in a dispute than to patronise them, accuse them of being overly sentimental and irrational, and deny them fair representation in mainstream media (I think there’s a feminism joke in there somewhere!). This shouldn’t be the reason behind someone’s decision, but it appears the campaign’s conduct has changed many people’s minds in an unintended direction.