We must learn lessons from history and speak out against the Tories’ ugly xenophobia
The National, Mhairi Black
In my year and a half of being a politician I can truly say that I have never been more horrified or afraid of the rhetoric coming from the Conservative Government as I have this past week. To read the headlines of the major British newspapers felt like I had awoken in some dystopian, V for Vendetta-esque society. The Conservative Party’s mask as ‘a party of the common people’ has slipped to reveal the xenophobic, often racist, nationalist, ugly face beneath. The very fact that they now openly share the same values and policies as Ukip says it all.
Immediately, I know that unionists will cry hypocrisy when they see that I have labelled the Conservative Party as ‘nationalist’, so let me explain. I myself have never identified with the word ‘nationalist’ and if I am honest, the thing that irritates me most is that I am automatically labelled as such purely because I am in the SNP. I believe in independence purely for practical reasons rather than emotional ones. I want Scotland to have total control and power over its own policies, government and direction of travel. I believe the SNP is the best vehicle to achieving that goal, however, after independence, everyone’s vote is up for grabs (including my own), and that can only be considered a healthy thing.
I like so many others am incredibly proud to be a part of the independence movement. Mainly for its inclusive, pro-migration and diverse nature. I love the fact that Scotland is, as a whole, a welcoming country filled with people from different backgrounds embracing each others cultures. I am extremely proud that these are also the values of the SNP. The SNP label these characteristics as ‘civic nationalism’, others label it as ‘culturalism’. I personally label it as simply being a good and kind citizen. And yet, continually we allow our opponents and the mainstream media to label us as ‘divisive’, ‘petty’ and small minded ‘nationalists’, motivated by some form of ugly racism.
So let me be clear, I quite frankly could not care less about where I was born or where others were born. I have no care for what nationality people consider themselves as, after all, where you are born is down to total, random, pot luck. I do however care when that ‘nationalism’ is used as a motivation or an excuse for racist, bigoted and small minded policy, and this week we have seen the worst of it.
The Conservative Party’s conference has unleashed ugly and downright scary rhetoric that I was brought up to believe was to be left in the past. I am not exaggerating when I say that the policies being brought forward are reminiscent of early 1930s Nazi Germany.
This was best conveyed by James O’Brien on LBC Radio when he told listeners this was an extract from Rudd’s Conservative conference speech:
“For the state should draw the sharp line of distinction between those who, as members of the nation, are the foundation and support of its existence and greatness, and those who are domiciled simply as earners of their livelihoods of there.” Only for O’Brien to admit the quote was not from Rudd’s speech but rather Mein Kampf, the book written by Hitler during his time in prison before becoming German Chancellor.
We see the headlines that Amber Rudd and her cronies are attacking businesses over their willingness to hire ‘foreigners’, even going as far as to say that businesses must list all foreign workers. There have also been worrying reports that schools are now listing and logging the nationalities of all their ‘foreign’ pupils. What’s next? Making them wear a badge or carry documentation so they are easily identified? All I can think of is an extract I was taught at primary school when I was learning about WWII (apologies that I cannot remember who the quote is attributed to):
“I sometimes fear that people think that fascism arrives in fancy dress worn by grotesques and monsters as played out in endless re-runs of the Nazis. Fascism arrives as your friend. It will restore your honour, make you feel proud, protect your house, give you a job, clean up the neighbourhood, remind you of how great you once were, clear out the venal and the corrupt, remove anything you feel is unlike you…”
Fascism creeps up on us, and what we have seen this week can only be described, and must be described as the first steps of that.
We have seen people proudly professing, “British jobs for British people”. I have no problem with governments providing jobs for their citizens, in fact, I spend most of my days actively encouraging and fighting for it – but that is they key difference. Government should be providing jobs for people IN Britain, not simply ‘British’ people.
Our opponents label and criticise us as ‘divisive nationalists’ for speaking logic and sense, and yet when they themselves come out with blatantly small minded policy based on nationality, it is labelled ‘patriotic’?
Even more concerning is the fact that Michael Fallon has announced he will launch 150 new cadet units attached to state schools and claims this militarisation will, “instil British values”.
I saw a video by Akala for The Guardian which correctly dissects these ‘patriotic’ and ‘British’ values the Conservatives seem so keen to put at the heart of their policies. He states that we are taught British values and this is the reason we have won so many societal victories over the years, from the suffragettes to the abolition of child labour, to workers rights overall, when in reality that could not be further from the truth.
We have won these victories due to the determination and hard fought campaigns against the ‘British’ elites. If history is viewed accurately, we see that often these progressive, civil, anti-racist movements were labelled as ‘anti-British’ or ‘anti-state’ at the time and yet now they are portrayed as being the result of inherent British values as opposed to genuine political struggle.
Akala embodies precisely my feelings on the matter when he says, “Whilst I am not a nationalist, how national peoples and cultures see themselves undoubtedly has real-world implications. The question in these tumultuous times is: which British traditions will you be drawing on? The one that reinforces race and class oppression, or the one of relentless activism that secured for us the very fragile freedoms we have today?”
The only ‘nationalism’ I can see is from the British elites and right-wing political groups. The only racism that I can see is coming from politicians scapegoating ‘foreigners’ for the genuine difficulties so many communities in the UK are facing precisely at the hands of the Tories and their obsession with austerity. Does it sound familiar? History is littered with the establishment, the elites and the rich abusing and exploiting society and the individuals in it and then pointing the finger of blame at foreigners.
If there is one piece of hope that can be taken from the events of this week, is the number of people who are speaking out. The number of people who are calling out these politicians on their hypocrisy and we must continue to do so.
When Ruth Davidson claims that the Yes Movement tries to, “rile English [people] to win independence”, let us proudly refute it. When Theresa May labels us as, “divisive”, let us remind her that we are not the ones who want to segregate workers.
I am proud that Scotland has sent a clear message that all are welcome here. I am proud that so many Scottish businesses have outrightly said they will refuse to provide any form of lists of foreign employees, and I am proud that the Scottish government will give them our full support in doing so.
So let me finish with a poem by Martin Niemoller:
First they came for the Jews.
But I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists.
But I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists.
But I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics.
But I did not speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me.
And by that time there was no one left to speak out for me.
We are entering incredibly scary times and we are taking the first step to slide down that very slippery slope, when history has taught us exactly where this leads. We are better than this. Scotland is better than this. Let us speak out.