May the best nationalist win........

May the best nationalist win........

by David Torrance
article from Monday 6, May, 2013

I GOT A BIT OF flack on twitter the other day for suggesting there were certain similarities between UKIP, which last week achieved an impressive breakthrough in the English local elections, and the SNP, which in 2007 and 2011 registered a significant proportion of the vote in devolved Scottish elections. This, for some reason, got a lot of people’s backs up, predominantly Nationalists.

This is puzzling, for both UKIP and the SNP desire independence from a larger political union. UKIP – the clue’s in the name, United Kingdom Independence Party – wants to withdraw from the European Union, while the SNP would like, subject to a referendum next September, to leave the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Thus both parties are nationalist, UKIP are British Nationalists (although of course their appeal is very English) and the SNP are Scottish Nationalists. To me, there is nothing inherently wrong with either desire, yet supporters of (Scottish) independence are quick to portray UKIP’s aim as regressive while depicting theirs as – almost by definition – progressive.

It just strikes me as rather odd to mock UKIP for wanting to withdraw from a 40-year-old Union, while considering the SNP’s plan to leave a three or two-century-old Union (depending on which Act of Union you subscribe to) to be respectable and sensible. There are arguments for and against in both cases; and both, however you look at it, would have advantages and disadvantages.

That isn’t to say the two parties are identical, of course they aren’t. Their stances on immigration are almost poles apart, while UKIP doesn’t much like the EU while the SNP, naturally, does (though with certain qualifications). Economically, both parties buy into the neoliberal orthodoxy (though UKIP has now moved away from its flat tax stance). Both, it has to be said, aren’t too hot when it comes to detailed policy on things like welfare.

My point has only ever been that both parties are similar in terms of impetus, rhetoric and leadership, not their respective policy agendas. Compare and contrast the following: ‘We believe in the right of the people of the UK to govern ourselves, rather than be governed by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.’ (N. Farage) It is ‘fundamentally better for us all, if decisions about Scotland’s future are taken by the people who care most about Scotland, that is, by the people of Scotland.’ (Independence Declaration)

As the BBC journalist Douglas Fraser observed at the time, ‘the logic behind that is that Scotland would be better out of the European Union as well as the British one’. Indeed, yet the SNP continue to argue EU=good, UK=bad (or at least bits of it are). And, it has to be said, UKIP has a point about the EU being run by either ‘unelected’ officials or indirectly elected ministers. Could the SNP seriously argue that the UK is less democratic than the EU?

Then there’s the leadership analogy. Now I happen to think both Farage and Salmond are extremely talented politicians. They manage to depict themselves as ‘everyman’ figures, above the Establishment fray and in touch with everyday concerns. The BBC’s Nick Robinson observed the other evening that the UKIP leader, ‘like Alex Salmond’, had reached parts of the electorate other politicians could not. This is demonstrably the case; yet again it caused offence on twitter.

Both leaders are concerned (some might say obsessed) with political sovereignty, yet neither completely rejects the Unions they wish to leave. Farage talks about developing a new ‘relationship’ with the EU, while Salmond has gone even further, co-opting certain elements of the British state, not least its Queen, currency, ‘social union’, and so on.

Also irritating about last week’s events was that predictable smugness that always surfaces when English voters appear to ‘swing to the Right’. The SNP’s Kevin Pringle tweeted that Scottish politics ‘looks very different from Westminster politics this morning’ (despite it not having been a Westminster election), when in fact all it demonstrated was a divergence in electoral behaviour. The same could be said of the SNP: its May 2011 result owed little to increased support for independence, but rather a lot to dissatisfaction with the alternatives.

Pringle’s implication, of course, was that Scotland doesn’t ‘do’ Euroscepticism or hostility to immigration. There are differences, certainly, but polling and social attitudes surveys consistently show Scottish public opinion to differ only marginally from that south of the border. So there is anti-EU sentiment in Scotland, it’s just not something UKIP has been able to capitalise on.

This is, in part, is down to competition from the SNP which, although undoubtedly popular, hoovers up the sort of anti-politics vote that UKIP captured so effectively last Thursday. Consequently UKIP does slightly better in Wales (it has councillors and one MEP), where organised nationalism (Plaid Cymru) is much weaker than in Scotland.

Scots are, at best, a bit more pro-European than those in rUK, though not by much. It’s often forgotten that in 1975 Scotland registered a bigger ‘no’ vote to continued EEC membership than almost anywhere else in the UK, while Salmond (then a student) railed against ‘excessive’ Brussels bureaucracy. He, together with the rest of his party, has successfully reinvented himself as a Europhile.

Albeit with certain qualifications, for the SNP likes Europe (and, come to mention it, the European Convention on Human Rights) more in theory than practice. It is opposed, for example, to the Common Fisheries Policy, membership of the single currency and the closer fiscal integration it would inevitably face as a new member state, placing yet more constraints on its fiscal freedom as, of course, would retaining Sterling (indeed, the SNP appears to prefer London control of its currency to Brussels’).

The SNP says it will work constructively to reform the EU from within, but then so does David Cameron. UKIP is also caricatured. Recent analysis shows that, if anything, its supporters are to the Left of regular Conservative voters, which perhaps explains why Farage rails against the ‘seven per cent’, public schoolboys (like him) who dominate positions of power in the UK. UKIP, he claims rather unconvincingly, is the true party of social mobility.

Of course all this inevitably gets lost in the referendum mix, which doesn’t leave much room for nuance or irony. UKIP is, despite all of the above, useful for the SNP, for it highlights (however superficially) the central premise that Scotland does things differently and therefore ought to govern itself. Next June – just months before Scots vote on independence – there will be an even more useful election which UKIP will probably win in England and the SNP in Scotland; elections to the European Parliament will pit British against Scottish Nationalists.

May the best Nationalist win.

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