October 16, 2012


There seems to be no conservative or “€œright wing”€ nationalism in Scotland. There was once a faction of the SNP called Siol Nan Gaidheal (“€œSeed of the Gael”€), darkly rumored to be “€œproto fascist”€ and which the SNP leadership accordingly proscribed in the 1980s. There is still an organization bearing this name, as their unexpectedly diverting site explains proudly:

In the New Year of 1997, a third manifestation rose from the glowing ashes of the old.

But if SNG ever was “€œproto fascist”€ in its first or even second manifestations, it would not seem to be today:

[W]e embrace identification with other dispossessed and disempowered peoples throughout the world and with the great leaders of the worldwide anti-racist and anti-imperialist tendency such as Mahatma Ghandi [sic] and Martin Luther King. Ergo, we are Scots, we are “black”, and we are beautiful.

The beautiful blacks in any case eschew politics to concentrate on really important matters:

[T]he bright burning concept of Templarism and the perfervid and yet fully rational belief that human spirituality can and does rise above the things of this earth, in order to make even simple sense of our condition as a species; this concept then has survived all the damage that ill-disposed Princes and their patronage could inflict. All the damage inflicted by successively and concomitantly the ascendant Bourgeoisie with their prerequisite pallid, trite and tedious respectabilities, the crass pseudo-intellectualism of the Gauchist revolutionary tendencies….

Back on our pallid, trite, and tedious planet, as the referendum nears, old resentments will reemerge on the Scottish side, because like all small countries adjacent to larger countries Scotland has historically been its powerful neighbor’s plaything and therefore a thronging nest of rebellion. Scotland has been handled roughly by Southrons at least since Hadrian tried to subdue the Picts before retreating sulkily to the Cheviots to build his wall. From then until well after 1707’s “€œunion,”€ mayhem and mosstroopers, riders and reivers rampaged repeatedly across the “€œDebatable Lands.”€ It makes for a sad and stirring tale in a lovely landscape, perpetually being reimagined in Hollywood as well as Holyrood”€”Robert Bruce, William Wallace, Edward I (“€œHammer of the Scots”€), the 1513 catastrophe at Flodden when James IV and all his knights fell on the field, which Scottish sports fans still bemoan when they sing “€œFlowers of the Forest,”€ Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Culloden, horror amidst the heather….

And after all that the “€œClearances,”€ a blandly bureaucratic word belying a bleakness of clan cleansing, dispossession, embezzlement, and humiliation at the hands of outsider usurpers who in SNP minds are somehow connected with modern Conservatives (even Scottish ones) who long to visit “Dickensian nightmares” on Caledonia’s children. 

There has always been and still is another story, a counter-narrative of Scots heading south, making good and making empire, but in even successful Scots there was often this nagging feeling that something special had been stolen”€”and as the empire dissipated this sentiment has strengthened. It strengthened further during the Thatcher era. Now with the recession, the Better Together campaign’s rhetoric about “€œcontributing to and benefiting from the multi-national, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural United Kingdom”€ seems unlikely to sway many Scots.

Yet like all national identities, Scottish national identity is shriveling in the face of globalization, internationalism, and migration, and the SNP has no strategy to counter these corrosions. It would be the saddest of ironies if independence were one day to be won against the odds, only for Scotland to lose herself in the achievement.

Image of mouth courtesy of Shutterstock 


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