The world of cyberspace can get pretty nasty at times. We’ve been on the receiving end rather a lot as of late. I guess, when the sign on the marquee says “trolls,” you attract a certain audience. When we’re not (pa)trolling facebook and twitter, we’re giggling at the constant presence on the blog of one particular individual, who’s been haunting us long before we found ourselves in this particular garden. Sometimes, we even present his pearls of wisdom to the public because they’re so hilarious, but it’s mainly just incoherent racism. Speaking of which, a rather strange story is doing the rounds at the moment. The controversy centres on an incident (or incidents) which may or may not have occurred over at the popular Wings over Scotland site, a pro-independence blog which has become a home from home for cybernatterers from across Scotland and beyond. The key player in all this is a councillor who claims she was the victim of anti-English racism by people commenting on a blog post about her.
I’m barely fit to manage my own wee web world, so I’m hardly about to pass judgement on what did or didn’t appear in comments sections on other blogs. We take intolerance and prejudice in our movement and our society pretty damn seriously – and prattle on about it in its various guises all the fucking time. Assuming any untoward comments were made, we‘d consider the banhammer the most effective tool to remove such troublesome trolls from our midst. What we don’t consider any of this to be, though, is news. Somehow (hint: because they’re Tories), Dundee’s Courier managed to make “person says person says nasty thing on the internet” appear in the guise of a ‘news’ story, allowing unionists to spam it everywhere as proof the independence movement was awash with bigots. It made me think about some of the other times when accusations of anti-English prejudice and racism have surfaced in the context of the independence debate.
Supporters of the union have been quick to shout “RACIST” at anyone who believes that none of the constituent parts of the UK or their inhabitants are benefiting from the economic, social and political turmoil we currently find ourselves in. George Galloway is big on the idea that independence is just a ploy to get rid of all the Catholics (in stark contrast to some more traditional and erm, loyal supporters of Britain, who see Salmond as some kind of secret Papal Trojan Horse). Nigel Farage managed to bring his unwelcome xenophobia to Scotland and, without a hint of irony, accuse those who objected to this of being… racist. There is constant chat of “darker agendas”, “balkanisation”, “division”, and “nationalism” levelled at independence supporters. Yesterday, we even had Andrew Marr stepping into the fray, using the Edinburgh Book Festival to declare that “Anglophobia” was rife in the SNP and could become “toxic.”
The biggest doozy recently came from Ian Smart, a top Scottish Lawyer and Labour hack. He interjected into a Twitter discussion with the line,
Better 100 years of the Tories than the turn on the Poles and the Pakis that would follow independence failing to deliver.
In response, his own brother wrote a blog piece which opened which opens with the greatest putdown I’ve ever read,
My brother Ian Smart is not a racist. He is worse than that
So is there really any basis for these constant claims? When I thought about the possibility of working with people from a “Scottish nationalist” background in the run-up to the referendum , I got the feeling I might spend a lot of time talking about claymores and Jacobites and hearing about how the English definitely smell. I’ve encountered these people before, don’t get me wrong. But they seem to have vanished almost completely since the 90s heyday of Braveheart bullshit and if they do exist within the independence movement, they are thankfully keeping very quiet. We always speak the truth whether it benefits “our side” in an argument or not, so if we ever catch a whiff of this kind of nonsense, we’ll be the first to call it out.
The anti-English stuff doesn’t really wash. For starters, it’s not like “Scots” exists as some distinct ethnic, social or cultural group, seperate from “English” people. This isn’t the “some of my best pals are English” defence , more “all of us are a wee bit English.” In my experience, English people in Scotland tend to be much more sold on independence than folks born in Scotland. This makes a lot of sense when you think about it; people who have chosen to call Scotland their home probably quite like it, they may even think it is, or deserves to be, a country. Opinion polls consistently back up my own experiences, with non-native born Scots more likely to view Scotland as deserving of independence than those of us who were born here. This also extends to those who can trace their roots to places far beyond these isles, many of whom may have links to countries who have first hand experience of overthrowing British rule. And you would think, given that the SNP are not some tiny fringe group, that maybe if they did think any of these things, someone might have slipped up and mentioned it by now. I coud cite numerous examples of nasty things some Tory has said about Scots or foreigners in any given week. The evidence that independence supporters are xeneophobes seems rather more thin on the ground, even non-existent.
Vague assertions that we are all secret racists don’t really carry much weight when they come from supporters of Britain. The desire for global supremacy has been the dominant ideology of those in charge for as long as Britain has existed. Since the recent rebranding of the imperial project as “the war on terror,“ the British political class has been openly pandering to racism and using it as a political weapon. The media frenzy about how immigration and Islam are coming to get us, combined with the current terrible economic climate, creates a breeding ground for such ideas. Successive governments have been prattling on about getting tough on immigration, cracking down on “benefit tourists” and how generally amazing it is to be British. Labour introduced derisory citizenship tests which no native-born Brit would pass, Gordon Brown rambled on about “British jobs for British workers”, intensive police monitoring of minority ethnic communities under the guise of “counter terrorism” created a culture of mutual distrust between the police and those who are paying them to keep them safe.
These divisions have become more ferocious under the Condems. The outrage at the UK Border Agency’s recent anti-foreigner hate campaign, dubbed “racist van” by the press, looks like a minor infraction compared to reports of what they are up to in London. Officers have been obstructing and questioning non-white Londoners at public transport hubs in plain sight of the general public. This behaviour is totally illegal of course: in order to be able to question anyone, the police need reason to believe that person is breaking the law. But obviously the police and the Tories care not for the law when there is an election to be won. This climate of fear is aimed squarely at tabloid editors, UKIPpers and paranoid xenophobes who all the unionist parties seem to think are definitely the most important people in the land. Labour are more than happy to play this game, constantly saying that the reason they aren’t in power anymore is that they were insufficient nasty and racist.
And the Lib Dems? Well, before the last election their former shadow home secretary, Chris Huhne, was every bit as objectionable as his Tory or Labour counterparts – in some debates even more so. He condemned Boris Johnson for discussing the possibility of an amnesty for those living in the UK for a certain length of time and said the Tories election promise of an absolute cap on immigration was “too lax” for his beloved South East of England. We wholeheartedly agree with his suggestion that Scotland could benefit from more immigration but we’d rather be given the power to encourage people to want to come and live here. His idea seemed to focus more on keeping immigrants out of marginal Tory/Lib Dem constituencies than on making immigration work better for all of us. The idea his party has done anything to alter government policy on immigration is laughable while racist van drives around the streets of South Britain. Thankfully, the van has gotten into quite a lot of trouble and we’re unlikely to see it driving about any time soon, much like Chris Huhne.
For me, the funniest thing about the last UK election was the “bigotgate” scandal. It was a most illuminating moment, when it comes to demonstrating that what our politicians actually think/know has no bearing on how they behave. Gordon Brown could probably have answered “where do Polish people come from?!?” and gotten on with losing the election. But instead, he was forced to writhe around in full public view, apologising for his rare moment of honesty. This perhaps shows that Gordon Brown is not a racist. He is worse than that. Indeed, the willingness of all the constituent parts of the UK political class to pander to the fear of fannies makes them much worse than the people they are pandering to. This isn’t a secret plot, it’s not a stray miles out blog comment, this is the toxic policy of Britain and all of its mainstream political parties – and we don’t want fuck all to do with anymore.
The core argument employed in the South East of England about why immigration is definitely bad just doesn’t work in Scotland. We are not full up. In fact, until a few years ago, we were set to be a declining, aging nation increasingly (not) occupying what is basically a massive empty space. A few arrivals from the new EU nations and more importantly, the fact some of them had kids, has turned the tide ever so slightly. So immigration hasn’t just been beneficial to Scotland in recent years, it’s one of the things that has given us a bit of hope of being a viable nation.
This discussion is not about whether Scotland is more or less racist than England, whatever that means . There may be less of open expression of racism within our political dialogue but there are also far fewer people of colour. The Scottish Defence League may not have made anything like the inroads made by their English chums (in fact, they are fucking tiny) but then, we already have an organisation for drinking and declaring undying loyalty to your “culture” which roams the streets of Scotland.
Things haven’t been easy for immigrants or asylum seekers in Scotland and a series of horrendous evictions, detentions and deportations of Scottish residents are a stain on our nation. The SNP have talked a big game and written some letters once in a while but they could do so much more. They may not control immigration policy but the Scottish Parliament does have both a budget and powers over housing, so we could be making life so much easier for our new citizens and for those seeking asylum in our nation. Those who need our support most can’t wait for 2014. We are not “all Jock Tamson’s bairns,” so there are no grounds to be smug.
The most important thing isn’t posturing about who is or who isn’t a racist to win support in an argument, even one as important as the debate about Scotland‘s future. Our priority must be building a nation which respects, supports and empowers all of its citizens to speak up and speak out. We could reject the Tories and racist van, turn our backs on the divisiveness of austerity. We could enshrine the basic economic and social rights of all our citizens in a written constitution. We could actually give communities back their power and begin to deal with the underlying causes of the many divisions in our nation. We could make a bold statement by granting citizenship to everyone who inhabits our land. We must always argue that being a Scot is being someone who has ended up in this grey, wet and dreary country and somehow stuck it out, maybe even liked it. Oh aye, and we can stop toddling off around the world bombing the fuck out of places in an attempt to show their inhabitants just how great our country is and stealing their stuff, then acting all surprised when they end up seeking refuge here.
These things are not possible when our political class is waging a war against all of us and has no hesitation in cynically exploiting divisions to win votes in marginal constituencies. The swing voters of South Britain matter because our political system is designed to make them matter. We can build a political system to make all of us matter and maybe even force England to come to terms with the need to do the same. Project Fear is not a label which only applies to the specific tactics of the unionist parties in this referendum. The Westminster class are in a never ending battle, running scared of the fear they themselves create and then attempting to use it against us. We need to break the cycle and say we aren’t scared of ourselves or each other anymore.
Independence doesn’t guarantee any of these things will happen of course but remaining in the UK pretty much guarantees none of them ever will. Things won’t change overnight but if we listen and learn from those who’re most effected by the divisive policies associated with the British state and give them the power to challenge and change them, we may just get there in the end. The people who Britain has thrown in the gutter are the people we need most to make Scotland’s star shine.
We need independence in Scotland, not because we hate or distrust people who are English or people who want to call Scotland home. Rather, because we owe it to all those people to break with Britain before it breaks us all.
Britain is engaged in a race to the bottom and it’s trying to drag the rest of us down with it. It’s slowly turning in on itself and increasingly fixated with turning us against each other. It’s already toxic. Clearly, many within the British establishment and the unionist camp have a deeply racist agenda and many more are playing a dirty game to defend their ill gotten gains.
Britain is not just racist. It is worse than that. It’s time for Scotland to do better.
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