The Nasty Face Of Nationalism

nasty-nationalism

A PERSONAL VIEW by Derec Thompson

Derec_01_smallDerec Thompson is a self-employed web designer originally from Belfast who now lives in Cambuslang just outside Glasgow. He was recently involved as a campaigner for a Yes outcome in the Scottish independence referendum and has consequently joined the Scottish National Party.
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I’ve just emerged from the first political campaign I’ve ever been involved in. The Scottish independence referendum campaign has possibly been the longest in living memory. As a volunteer campaigner I’d been squeezing as much in as possible around my day-to-day life. Needless to say this past week has been spent trying to readjust to normality, and a normal sleep pattern. The campaign was fast paced, particularly in the last few weeks, and having finished licking my wounds I’m now trying to gather my thoughts.

When it came to arguments the Yes campaign had them all. When emotion and identity were discounted, independence for Scotland was a clear winner. Never before would a country as wealthy and resource-rich as Scotland have declared independence. Research carried out at Edinburgh University showed that the more informed people were about the issues, the more inclined they were to vote Yes. Indeed, the No campaign’s arguments largely relied on misinformation and ignorance. Better Together even produced literature that claimed, amongst other absurdities, that an independent Scotland would be poorer than Pakistan.

Although I was campaigning for a Yes vote last Thursday I don’t consider myself a nationalist. I don’t consider myself Scottish for that matter. I kept my distance from the debate for quite some time because of this. The media, laden with stories of the narrow-minded and aggressive nature of the ‘nationalist’ Yes campaign made sure of that. Over time I came to see these for what they were — deliberately divisive and grossly exaggerated accounts designed to detract support from a growing movement. My anger turned to action and this Belfast boy took to the streets in an effort to counteract what can only be described as coordinated subterfuge carried out by the mainstream media on behalf of the No campaign.

Over the last few months we’ve had to bear the brunt of a largely biased media (with a few notable exceptions). Abuse on streets from the general public has ranged from passing sectarianism to physical threats and violence. Our local campaign group has had to contact the police on more occasions than I can recall due to the vitriol directed at us. This anger it would seem, had been largely legitimised by the media. You would be inclined to believe ‘Vile Nats’ were tearing apart the very fabric of society were you unfortunate enough to be a Daily Mail reader. Alex Salmond wanted to single-handedly destroy every last institution in Scotland according to the BBC. There seemed to be a sense from some that independence would lead to armageddon and that Scotland was somehow uniquely incapable of running its own affairs unlike the 193 other independent nations on Earth.

Media tactics varied in subtlety, but the underlying coordination was undeniable. The Yes movement was roundly demonised, dehumanised and vilified. Online abuse directed at anyone who spoke out against independence was given an inordinate amount of media coverage. This magnified and often distorted perspective of the Yes campaign led to the term ‘Cybernat’ being coined to describe online Yes activists and used liberally by the media and by No campaigners, and particularly by Labour’s Alistair Darling. This dehumanising pejorative stuck and online abuse from those opposing independence, although equally as nasty and unacceptable, was largely given a blind eye.

And so I turn to the title of this piece – The Nasty Face Of Nationalism. Those aren’t my words, but those of a man who has seemingly figured out how to be in two places at one time. Double-jobbing Sammy Wilson MP MLA has come under fire for his comments made on Monday during Assembly matters, in which he also lamented the “tartan terror tactics of the SNP”.

I haven’t seen so much cheek from Mr Wilson since his famous frolic in France.

To accuse the SNP of being responsible for the “nasty face of nationalism” in Scotland is nothing short of breathtaking. His claims come a mere fortnight after he asserted that he had been informed by a senior Labour figure that they welcomed the support of the Orange Order during the No campaign. This would be the same Orange Order that held ’No Thanks’ parades across Scotland on the 5th of July this year that resulted in almost 30 arrests and an innocent 12 year old girl being bottled in broad daylight during a brawl in Glasgow Green.

Glasgow Orange Parade, 2014

To my knowledge there was not a single physical act of violence carried out against any person on account of their support for the union over the course of the campaign. I will happily stand corrected should anyone be able to present a news or police report to the contrary. The closest that anyone on the Yes side of the debate came to a violent act was when Jim Murphy MP was egged during a street debate, something that was front page news for four subsequent days.

In contrast there were numerous assaults on Yes supporters and activists, many of which were not given the media attention they deserved. An 80 year old man was attacked on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile last September. His crime? Holding a placard supporting independence. His punishment? A broken wrist. A pregnant woman was kicked in the stomach at the start of this month in Glasgow’s busy Argyle Street. Eyewitnesses allege that it was a pro-union campaigner from the Britanica Party (a BNP splinter group) who carried out this assault. A 59 year old grandfather was left injured the previous day after allegedly being assaulted by an angry mob at Tynecastle, incensed at the sight of a pro-independence street stall. A 48 year old man was kicked in the face outside Edinburgh’s Usher Hall after attending a pro-independence concert that featured Franz Ferdinand and Mogwai.

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The Yes movement has been largely peaceful, described as a carnival by many impartial observers. Any nationalism within the pro-independence camp has been largely civic, resonating with a deep-rooted sense of national pride many Scots feel. As a non-Scot I was never made to feel unwelcome or excluded by Yes. The only time my nationality or legitimacy was called into question was by supporters of the union.

Sammy Wilson was right about one thing however. The Labour Party did indeed unofficially welcome the support of the Orange Order and other extreme groups, despite publicly denouncing them. I would go one step further and accuse Labour of actively soliciting their support and attendance at rallies and events.

A week before the referendum I attended a protest in Rutherglen at a media-managed appearance by John Prescott and Alistair Darling. Labour had chosen several locations to visit that they deemed red zones, traditional Labour heartlands where local support was surely guaranteed for their big names to visit. Despite Rutherglen being one of Labour’s Westminster safe seats, the number of protestors vastly outnumbered the number of Labour supporters there, many of whom had been bussed in for the occasion. Of the actual locals who were there campaigning for Labour, there was a decidedly loyalist feel to the event. Upon hearing my accent I was repeatedly questioned about what right I had to be there (I’ve lived here for many years and had a vote in the referendum) and my nationality. As well as racial and sectarian abuse, we were treated to Nazi salutes and a young lady was assaulted. This resonates with stories I’ve been hearing from individuals in other Yes groups. It would appear that many Labour gatherings and events had a significant presence from individuals whom the party were trying to distance themselves from in the media. A more alarming tale to come to light is that of Labour MP for Aberdeen South Anne Begg campaigning alongside National Front Scotland leader Dave McDonald. What is particularly worrying about this is that Anne is sure to know exactly who Dave is and what his affiliations are as he’d been the National Front’s candidate in the Aberdeen Donside by-election last year.

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Things reached boiling point last Friday evening. Emboldened by a sense of victory, the actual nasty face of nationalism emerged in Glasgow’s George Square, wrapped in Union Jacks. Scottish loyalism, just like its Northern Irish counterpart, loves a good dose of triumphalism it would seem. The Square had been home to Yes campaigners for the previous few days. The civic nationalism and carnival atmosphere of the pro-independence camp was a stark contrast to the ugly British ethnic nationalism that invaded and rampaged throughout the city. George Square descended from Woodstock to Woodvale in the space of a day.

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“As it grew dark, several hundred of them charged off into surrounding streets. People with pro-independence badges were assaulted.” reported Alex Thomson on Channel 4 News. Video of a young girl being surrounded by grown men and having a saltire flag torn from her hands have shocked this country to its core. A Glasgow SNP councillor leaving the city chambers was subjected to aggressive homophobic abuse, also caught on camera. The only newspaper to declare support for independence, the Sunday Herald, had a generator at the back of its building set alight.5The loyalist gathering in the Square on Friday was co-ordinated and planned, with the Vanguard Bears, Britain First and even the PUP being implicated. As people move to distance themselves from the thuggery witnessed there has been a distinct lack of condemnation from pro-union parties, something that sadly feels familiar to this Northern Irish lad. Pro-independence campaigners held a peace rally in the Square the following day, and invited all to attend. A pop-up donation site for Glasgow’s Needy, a food bank for the homeless, sprang from this and pretty soon there was more food than the charity could manage to distribute.

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It’s really depressing that Labour MP Eric Joyce has described this magnificent gesture of human compassion and kindness as “narcissism and self-promotion” in a scathing blog post attacking what he calls “foodbank fetishism”. Labour, once the voice and champion of the people, are signing their own death warrant in Scotland at present. Pro-independence political parties are seeing an unprecedented surge in memberships and there is a tangible sense of a desire for retribution for Labour’s conduct over the course of the referendum campaign. With a general election next year, Scottish parliamentary elections the following year, and council elections the year after that, those wishing to take revenge will have plenty of opportunity.

Whilst I can’t be certain about what will happen next in Scottish politics, I’m going to go out on a limb with a couple of predictions:

1) This probably won’t be the last time Sammy Wilson makes an arse of himself.
2) The independence referendum may well prove to be a pyrrhic victory for the Labour party in Scotland
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