Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Thoughts of Scottish Nationalism and pan-Saxonism

It's almost a decade now since the 9/11 atrocities. Perhaps the SNP victory at the local elections seems to be about as unrelated as any political event could be. Yet in my heart I do not think this is the case.

Maybe a decade is a long time to come up with something as trite as 'only by defending our best values will we prevail'. Yet it's the only moral I can draw from the ten savage years that have intervened. Christopher Hitchens described his response to 9/11 as a mood of exhilaration as everything he loved was pitted against everything he hated. I would disagree with the sentiments, but not the thoughts and certainly not his conclusions as to what course of action to take.

Still, maybe one should respect Hitchens for taking out American citizenship. Britain is if anything the chief political victim of 9/11. Whilst British soldiers are being killed and injured in Afghanistan because a group of Saudis massacred thousands of Americans, just look at what's happening at home.

I personally don't want to defend Britain's presence in Northern Ireland. I could make all sorts of far left arguments for this position, which would be good for self-righteousness but would be fundamentally dishonest. I just have to admit it's because I don't feel British. Whilst I tend to agree with David Lindsay on economics, the unborn and US-English relations, it is somewhat rare for me to agree on Britishness, but he does make an excellent point in saying:

'stretching from high letters and the theatre to football and horse-racing (in all of which fields England has significantly closer links to all parts of Ireland than to any part of Scotland).'

The simple fact is I'd be all for cutting off Scottish ties to Northern Ireland if only because I can't think of a more alien culture in either its Orange Order or Celtic Catholic tendencies. Like many Scots I'm of partial Irish Catholic descent. Like nearly all Scots of Irish Catholic descent I think my ancestors made the right decision in coming over to Scotland. Like many Scots of all denominations and none I think that any Irish immigrants of any denomination who want to take their bigotry with them should be forced to leave Scotland. How many people of any denomination wouldn't prefer to live in a secular Protestant social democracy than either a quasi Francoist Irish Republic or indeed Northern Ireland itself which contained the worst of imperialist bigotry and theocratic backwardness in one?

Some people may well object to my tone in saying this. But I wonder just what they think of our being sued for killing terrorists when spending a fortune on 'fighting terror'?

Furthermore, whilst 'British' identity takes upon itself a degree of responsibility for the thorny politics of Ireland, look also at Britain's relationship with Israel and England's ghettoised Jewish polulation, one of whom wrote about his 'pleasure' that a young peace activist was killed? The delightful editor who published the delightful Mr Alderman's views later attacked the reporter who wrote on the piece and then clarified:

'UPDATE: Ms Sherwood left me a voicemail after seeing my initial post below, complaining that she did not scream. And you know what, listening to the conversation, it's a fair point and I'm happy to change that. It felt like screaming to me as her voice was very loud on my phone. I've edited the post to take that out. I've also changed the post so that it's made up of verbatim quotes, now that I have been able to transcribe the conversation.'

After reading this, I checked The SNP line on Israel-Palestine:

"Things are going from bad to worse in the Middle East, and the EU as a whole continues to send precisely the wrong signals to the increasingly intransigent Israeli government. At least Mr Lieberman does not pretend to have any regard for human rights, where a number of his predecessors have pretended to talk about peace while all the while undermining any chance of a viable Palestinian state at all.
"The EU has to recognise that the Israeli government is not a partner in peace, it is the primary opponent of it. Until we use our collective economic and political power to bring them to the negotiating table we will only continue to watch things go from bad to worse"

Excellently phrased. How many English politicians would have the nerve to say that? How many English parties would have the nerve to post that on their websites?

The ironic thing is that they'd be too scared of the 'right wing media'. Ironic because the right wing media that whinges about a left that supports political correctness, multi-culturalism, ghettoisation, anti-Britishness actually uses these things as tools because they themselves are pretty ghettoised: upper middle class plutocrats who fear and hate the majority of the British population.

I've traditionally regarded myself as anti-nationalist because I find it so silly, that I should be proud that people living here might have worn nice clothes a millenium or so ago, or that I should somehow feel that I deserve some glory for Watt and Maxwell's inventions despite the fact I can hardly erect a clothes horse, or that I'd have kicked ass at Bannockburn despite having severe asthma.

I still do think that kind of nationalism is immensely silly. But I also think I was previously immensely silly to take Scottish values for granted and to assume that they are universal values. They are not values I share with Northern Irish bigots, they are not values that belong to Eire bigots, they are not values shared with any of England's many ghettoised populations, they are not values shared with America's Bible Belt white supremacists and fundamentalist Christians, they are not values shared with East Anglian uncle tom Atlanticists. Whether culture forms values or values form culture, the two are interconnected and subsequently I don't feel much cultural affinity for these people either.

Do I share values and cultures with the English as a people, when their national identity seems influenced by so many competing interest groups?

I really think it is up to them to prove it is the case.

To come back to the twin towers, I do again find it curious that Christopher Hitchens did sum up my feelings to a large extent. The coastal USA did make an invaluable contribution to Anglo-Saxon culture in the 60s-present. Whilst I agree with most left wing arguments about capitalist exploitation, it is the case that media consumerism did help to make African American culture more mainstream and to revolutionise music and culture and attitudes towards race (which were never as pleasant here as many nostalgic Brits like to pretend). It is also the case that the American film industry made many excellent and thought-provoking films. The American print industry provided the modern West with some of the most articulate criticisms of our government's action. And finally, and in some ways most importantly, the internet really revolutionised the modern world and spelled the death of mainstream political writing. It was this America that Bin Laden hated. It's this facet of Anglo-Saxon culture that we should feel obliged to defend.

Yet it is not one that we can defend by either being violent (dropping bombs, turning over civil liberties and human rights) or by bowing to numerous ghettoised populations or interest groups.

The simple fact is we can only defend our values if we use our values for defence. Our values were shaped in Ancient Athens, further refined in Ancient Rome, further refined by Christianity and further refined by modern Democracy.

I think in many ways the SNP does embody these values. Does any mainstream party in England? Does any mainstream party in the USA?

Could the SNP lead the way to more of a fracturing in the Anglo-Saxon world? Could geographical fracturing ironically lead to greater interactions as smaller more culturally homogenous states force themselves to appraise their values?


  1. Great post. I can understand the power of regionalism. I have to admit that I feel a certain antipathy towards the American South, as Southern politicians have tried mightily to destroy the almost social democratic political and economic culture of the Midwest and Northeast (I am from Illinois) by exporting their low-wage, anti-union, pro-ignorance model of politics to the rest of the country while receiving more from the Federal coffers than they put in.

    Essentially, the “Blue” Democratic states subsidize the “Red” Republican states via things like lavish military expenditure in the South and West.

    On the other hand, the South used to have a strong populist movement and I also agree with many Southern conservatives on some important social and cultural matters, such as abortion. Southern political culture would be better if it were not run by the same group of right-wing mandarins that have been running the region since the demise of the old rural political machines that, interestingly, were often supportive of New Deal economic reforms.

    Perhaps the hidden issue is that people in modern, industrial countries are so socially isolated and politically disengaged that it is easier for nations to become hijacked by special interests? Nationalism could be an interesting response to this dilemma.

  2. @John
    Thank you for your comment. I suppose the ironic thing is with America that if the states did separate that a lot of wealthier blue state liberals might move to the economic right if it's not full of creationists, homophobes, rapturists and that some of the poorer red state voters might move to the economic left if it's not synonymous with radical feminists, lawyers etc. Whatever happens I think that the right has played tensions rather more cunningly than the American left (which I suppose has all but thrown the fight). For that reason I do actually think a greater federalism and possible schism might be best for all involved. But that's just my opinion.