SNP must establish clear blue water between it and Rudd’s ‘nationalism’

SNP must establish clear blue water between it and Rudd’s ‘nationalism’
The Sunday Times, by Kevin Pringle


When I switched my political allegiance to the Scottish National Party (SNP) 30 years ago (my vote had gone to Labour in the 1986 local election) one of the first things I did was join the student branch at Aberdeen University.


I was handed two things for my money — a lapel badge displaying the red flag with a little SNP logo instead of the hammer and sickle, and a membership card bearing the initials FSN.


Not wishing to appear any more ignorant than necessary I didn’t query what the letters stood for, and after a process of thought concluded that it must be short for Free Scotland Now.


It was only some weeks later that I discovered it was actually Federation of Student Nationalists.
And that gave me pause for some slightly more informed thought. Was I really a nationalist, of either a big or small ‘n’ variety, and if so what did that even mean?


In my mind, I had joined an organisation that was further to the left than Neil Kinnock’s proto-new Labour Party, and which had a connection with Scotland’s radical political tradition that I had read a bit about.


I appreciate that not all the grown-up SNP members would have viewed the party in that way. But I and like-minded friends had the confidence of youth that, whatever anyone else thought, our composite flag was the wave of the future. And yet the “nationalist” label rankled and didn’t quite fit the right-on image.


The SNP’s formal campaign platform of “Independence in Europe” was still a couple of years away, but the early idea of Scotland participating as an equal within the European framework persuaded me self-government was a forward-looking process and not regressive: internationalist rather than parochial, inclusive not separatist.
None of that seemed “nationalist” as I had generally understood the concept but I grew to live with the tag and it didn’t unduly bother the older me.


I accept that the aspiration to statehood for Scotland reflects a form of political nationalism. It would be foolish to deny it, and it has led to predictable jibes from the SNP’s political opponents over the years about an alleged ethnic rather than civic basis to the party’s politics.


But observing the immigrant prejudice on which the Brexit referendum was won, watching the Conservative Party conference last week, and listening to the irrational hostility shown towards people from other countries who have come to live in the UK, I am left asking the question: “Who are the nationalists now?”


Britain has developed a political discourse in which “foreigner” has become a dirty word.


Doctors who are vital to our health service have been given notice to quit, and take their families with them, when they are no longer required to save and repair British lives.


European Union nationals and their very future in this country are to be treated as trump “cards” by the UK in Brexit negotiations, rather than as human beings with friends and dependants, hopes and dreams. That sort of dehumanising attitude is nationalism in its basest form.


The idea that employers must keep lists of foreign workers and will be named and shamed for hiring too many, has been proposed by none other than Amber Rudd, the home secretary.


Academics at the London School of Economics specialising in EU affairs, who have been briefing the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Brexit issues, have been told that submissions from non-UK nationals will no longer be accepted. There seems to be no end to the xenophobia and paranoia.


The nationalism of the SNP seeks to transform Scotland into an independent country, and use the powers achieved to effect social and economic change for citizens.


The difference with what is happening in the UK since the referendum is that Britain is creeping towards becoming a nationalist state. That’s what Brexit means.


I never want Scotland to be a nationalist country, or part of one. That’s why I hope that there will be another independence referendum before the UK leaves Europe, with a “yes” vote. Incidentally, given Theresa May’s intention to invoke Article 50 before the end of March, it’s possible and appropriate that Britain could quit the EU on April Fool’s Day 2019.


The Tory conference heightened the political temperature about where the UK is headed. There will be an intense focus on what Nicola Sturgeon says at her own party conference this week about when or whether Scotland goes to the polls again on independence.


In the 1960s the SNP toyed with rebranding itself as “SNP: The Democratic Party” to communicate a social democratic rather than nationalist agenda.


Should Scotland become independent, I think there is a case for the SNP to be renamed as a new party with a new purpose. The constitutional question would be removed from Scottish politics forever, and removing the word “national” from the name would underline that nationalism had no further role to play.


Such a change would also emphasise that gaining independence would not be a partisan victory for the SNP. How could it be, when the party would not exist in its current form?


I would stay “for auld lang syne”, as I’m sure would most members but no doubt some would leave to join other parties. While SNP membership soared after the “no” vote in 2014, it might diminish in the aftermath of “yes”.


That’s all for the future. Right now, we need to challenge British nationalism in UK politics.