Crowning glory: royal legitimation for Scotland’s squadristi
ROGER KERSHAW analyses the putative ideological conflict between “ethnic Scots” and “ethnic English”
The Scottish political lexicon seems to have been enriched by two “F-words” during 2013: Nigel Farage through his attempt at making an electoral pitch for UKIP, in Edinburgh on 16 May 2013, with the dramatic attempt by SNP militants to drive him off Scottish streets; and the word Fascist, with which Farage attempted, just after the event, to discountenance and countervail Salmond and these supposedly Brown- or Black-Shirts.
It might be timely to consider, first of all, whether the greatest block to conceptualising the presence of “fascism” in Great Britain may lie in a difficulty about “ethnic” as a label for subjective differences of identity between the separate “nations” of this state. Such a difficulty, if it exists, may stem from the UK’s imperial experience, which taught the British that tribal and racial divisions are what subject peoples have. Such peoples needed, and benefited from, the arrival of a coherent and unified European people to teach or impose order among them. True, the English, Welsh, Scots and Irish have from time to time been dubbed “the nations” of Britain and Ireland, yet these distinctions were always deemed (excepting, now, the Irish Republic and sections of the Northern Irish population) to be subordinate to overarching British political identity, fortified by their shared “whiteness” and English tongue.
Among other initial points to make: note that Farage was not the first to shoot the “fascist” barb in the direction of the SNP. At Westminster in June 2011, the Chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee had detected the tendency, and the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, William Rennie, in September 2013 spoke of a disturbing, rising phenomenon of anti-English propaganda.
Meanwhile, it was not even on Farage’s agenda to expose “ethnic”, let alone “fascist”, traits in the Scottish National Party. He was caught out by the show of force, hence confined himself to hinting at “nasty elements in the nationalist wood-work”, with ne’er a murmur about Alex Salmond’s personal animus against the English. In fact his meaning of “fascist” seemed focused on the street violence as political method, not any ideology of nation or race, and he mainly condemned Salmond for not speaking out against attacks on freedom of speech by his fringe. Possibly the absence of a clear focus on definitions is connected with the fact that SNP would “not be found dead” employing the “F-word” or anything cognate as self-description, thus the new parlance resides almost exclusively in opposition rhetoric, while the SNP is, if anything, more ready to apply such a label to UKIP itself. This has the ironical consequence, however, that precious few legitimate markers of Scottish ethnicity are left to Salmond except modern English in residual dialect. Still, as suggested, Salmond’s caution also adds to the limits on Farage.
This said, a compliment is due for the way that the UKIP leader threw the protesters’ taunt of “racist scum” (leftist shorthand for a campaigner against EU legal ascendancy and uncontrolled immigration) adroitly back in their faces as “racists” in their own right, adherents of an Anglophobic ethno-fascism. At the same time, it was by a predictable reflex that Salmond called for the resignation of the Chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee for labelling SNP “neo-fascist”. And just to confuse us, he declared to New Statesman, 19 June 2013, that his identity is composite, both Scottish and British but also European. And his fellow Scots feel just as comfortable with E.U. membership, he averred; in fact they favour Scottish independence from UK ever more strongly as the UK’s future in Europe is questioned by the Conservative party. As statements of his earlier in 2013 elaborated, the E.U.’s open door to internal migration is welcome, not just because the Scottish economy needs “new Scots”, but because the Scots are a welcoming people. One is hard put to detect a note of chauvinism amidst such progressive virtue. Yet it is present as an anti-English sub-text, in the sense of laying down a cultural boundary marker between a “cosmopolitan and compassionate Scottish people” and a “reactionary Little England”.
This is highly reminiscent of the hymn-sheet from which Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill intoned in 2009, when exercising the power of compassionate release in favour of the convicted Lockerbie bomber, Megrahi, as a Scottish statute allows.
Similarly, the November 2013 White Paper on Independence vaunts the “compassion” of the welfare promised to Scots if they will vote YES and not query whether Scotland is rich enough to afford the luxury. Meanwhile, in defending the hustling of Farage off the Edinburgh street, Salmond contrived to portray “the defence of free speech” as a peculiarly Scottish custom.
At any rate, both SNP and UKIP had a better opportunity to set out their stalls in a TV debate staged in Edinburgh for newly enfranchised Scottish teenagers by BBC One’s Question Time, on 13 June 2013. This was the occasion of Nigel Farage’s “second intervention”, as one might call it. More notable, perhaps, was the appearance and performance of the Respect Party leader, normally left-leaning Glaswegian George Galloway (unenfranchised, as a London resident), who was totally in tune with Farage on the cherished Union and SNP’s undemocratic urge to deny speaking rights in Scotland to parties with low representation north of the border. This had been displayed on the streets of Edinburgh in May, without condemnation or retraction from the SNP leader, Galloway pointed out, but in the TV debate itself it emerged as the SNP defence spokesman, Angus Robertson, M.P., objected both to the BBC’s selection of four pro-Union parties to appear on the panel, and the fact that two of these (UKIP and Respect) had not yet won seats in Scotland. En passant, viewers were introduced to the irredeemable alienation of Scottish nationalism from the state and nation of Britain.
Unfortunately Galloway was on weak ground in condemning the exclusion of Scots living in England from voting in the Referendum, inasmuch as under the existing electoral register that will be used except for the teenagers, the huge English diaspora in Scotland (at 7.9% the largest ethnic minority: cf Poles 1.2%, Pakistanis 1%) will not be filtered out by a criterion of ethnicity. And Scots serving in the armed forces outside Scotland are entitled, as usual, to exercise their service vote if they have one (though being required to re-register at a Scottish home address for the Referendum if while based in England they had become registered to vote there). From this debate as such it was indeed not easy to depict Salmond as Godfather of a clan of ethno-fascist, tartan camicie nere. Nevertheless, it seemed telling that a Scottish journalist, Leslie Riddoch, after declaring her support for separation, proceeded to warn that the issue had already brought Scottish society to the brink of the kind of irreparable divisions that afflict Ulster today.
Riddoch’s warning will ring very true by now to any resident of Scotland who experiences the divisive effect, on normally unified neighbourhoods, of flapping Saltires and blue YES stickers in windows. That tensions had yet to peak at the date of the White Paper, November 2013, was predictable in retrospect from Salmond’s ostentatious contempt for an English rule-book at Wimbledon, the previous July 7th, when he displayed a Saltire behind the head of David Cameron to glorify Andy Murray’s triumph in the Men’s Singles. In the view of Alistair Darling, previous Chancellor of the Exchequer and now leader of the “Better Together” campaign (The Observer, 12 January 2014), nastiness had already increased and now included cyber-bullying of celebrities, but even worse could be anticipated. The crescendo of Salmond’s boasts that he will drag the fearie British Prime Minister in front of television cameras to attempt a defence of “rule from London” without compatible Scottish party representation in Westminster (and predictably be insulted for his pains), certainly speaks volumes about the vote-winning potential of ethnic vainglory and audacity, as also affectation of an already existing international parity (though moral asymmetry) of the two states, in the Scottish First Minister’s calculation. There is more than a symmetry between these postures and the ethnically supercharged choice, for the Independence Referendum, of the 700th anniversary year of Bannockburn: a victory over the English (on a site just up the road from Salmond’s home town, Linlithgow) which has not yet, it seems, fully avenged the execution of William Wallace in 1305.
Also significant, Scottish believers in the sanctity of established law, not least the Deputy President of the Supreme Court, Lord Hope of Craighead (one of its two Scottish judges), had been incredulous to find their constitutionalism under insurgent fire when Salmond and MacAskill rejected the legitimacy of the Court in June 2011. Lord Hope himself was particularly in their sights for disagreeable human rights rulings (too liberal, in this case!) with alleged ramifications for Scottish politics and Scots law. Voices in the legal profession called for Salmond to be arraigned for contempt of court. The attack on the British “Law Lords” (as they were before the rise of the Supreme Court) was given a class dimension to go with his ethnic separatism when “common man” Salmond mocked the Peers as holders of undeserved (by implication inherited) privilege, by quoting, on the floor of the Scottish parliament, Burns’s revolutionary-populist “A man’s a man for a’ that”.
In October 2012, tensions between the Scottish elective elite and eminent Scottish lawmen again came to the fore when Lord Wallace of Tankerness, Advocate General and one time Deputy First Minister in a Lab-Lab coalition government of Scotland, contradicted assurances by Salmond to “the Scottish people” (assurances claimed to be backed “by advice” – with stentorian amplification from his Deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, who was sent to Brussels to put the E.U. Commission in its place) that membership of the E.U. would transfer smoothly to an independent Scotland as a former component of E.U.-member U.K., not a new state applying for entry.
An un-nationalist nation
In the absence of both a unifying religion; a widely shared romantic culture (at least one capable of galvanising a twenty-first century European people for a new “conviction politics”); and a viable anti-monarchism; let alone memories of modern military glories except those achieved under the British flag, the idea of Independence is prone to fall flat with very many Scots. Particularly in an age of democracy and elections largely fought on the issues of full employment and incremental welfare, no diet of historical romance can expect to win 50% of the national popular vote in a national referendum. No, it was not perhaps completely outlandish in light of Scottish working class history that Tony Blair saw devolution as a way of heading off separatism in that stratum. But if such a latent tendency exists, why did he take the risk of fostering it further? It is in fact striking that the SNP itself is not placing its money on unearthing a substrate of historical romanticism, but prefers to make solid economic offers such as “every Scottish family will be £500 better off”! In the past two years the SNP has increasingly focused on economic issues: the alleged diversion of “Scottish oil” into British coffers, and the promise of a surge in economic growth from the mere fact of Scots “controlling the purse strings” and deciding economic priorities in Edinburgh – in place of the present decision-makers in London who “cannot represent the Scottish electorate” because their parties (not Scotland’s 59 M.P.s as such, we notice!) have gained no seats north of the border.
Increasingly the campaign has taken on the complexion of the bidding wars of those modern British elections which pitted the appeals of a populist or socialist Labour Party against the fiscally prudent but also growth- and welfare-promoting Conservatives, though with the special, added ingredient of a sulphurous battle between two concepts of nation.
At no point was the nature of the game more manifest than in the manifesto-like Scottish White Paper of November 2013 on what Independence means. Yet precisely on these materialist terms, apart from being shot down by taunts of “fantasy economics” from Alistair Darling, the SNP faces the chronic scepticism of a modern electorate towards the economic promises of all political parties. Such scepticism is stoked, for any who listen to the news, by the warnings of think-tanks and the British Treasury about the inevitability of either higher taxes or reduced services in face of the “black hole” detected in Scottish finances for the years not far ahead. Against all this, increasingly the SNP plays the ethnic card of taunting doubters as defectors from their “patriotic duty” of self-belief, while abusing the British government for both using scare tactics (“Project Fear”) and withholding the basis of its calculations in advance of the Referendum, which could so much help “the Scottish people” (virtuous and deserving brother and sisters as they are) to make their choice! Yet in spite of the vital psychological concession by the Unionist parties in the disunited parties of the “Better Together” camp (disunited because spread across the conventional, class-related spectrum), of accepting the unwonted primacy of Scottish identity as their slogan implies, while trying under sundry modifications of Devolution to outbid SNP with alternative economic scenarios (“Britain has broader shoulders and can take the strain”), SNP cannot easily override the nervousness of a comfortable modern population that is unused to making leaps of faith or dabbling in revolution. Hence in no small part the reassurances that “your pensions will continue to be paid like before”; “you can still have a social union with England”; even “you’ll still be able to see your favourite TV programmes, such as ‘Dr Who’”. Hence, in somewhat larger part, SNP’s improbable embrace of dual British-Scottish nationality for Scots who want it (improbable not only in terms of nationalist ideals but also the British government’s explicit refusal of such a concession); the decision to stick with Sterling and Bank of England cover (that is, intend to apply for these benefits?); its embrace of NATO membership (albeit, by some ingenious alchemy, not with “nuclear status”); and (earlier, but much reiterated) the counter-intuitive, not to say counter-revolutionary, contortion of opting for Queen Elizabeth as head of state after all!
At all events, the party’s belated commitment to a British monarchy seems even more revealing of the perceived risk-aversion, or chronic British identity, of parts of the Scottish population than any round of budget promises could ever be. Little wonder that looking beyond 2014 and on the assumption of a positive Referendum outcome for the nationalists, the party will set about a programme of cultural indoctrination in, and consolidation of, Scotland’s “strong and vibrant culture”, as the Scottish Government’s White Paper puts it, to build ramparts, one would guess, against, any further “colonisation” of Scottish minds by ideas of “Scottish inferiority”. Such “colonisation” features, one would also guess, as one element in SNP theory about why Scottish listeners and viewers record less than 50% satisfaction with the BBC – as the White Paper alleges without identifying the source of the complaints against this (some would say) already quintessentially Scottish broadcaster.
Anyway, what are the terms of this bizarre, proposed partnership between the Monarch and the independent Scottish state-to-be? Do they extend any freedom of manoeuvre to the present Monarch herself, or create a condition of conspicuous royal captivity to an elective institution and ethnic ideology?
Monarchy to the rescue?
Reflection on the proposal has become particularly relevant in recent weeks with a new outbreak of controversy within the SNP over this radical departure from its tradition. The arguments seem to focus on a proposed second Referendum, not much later, on retaining or rejecting monarchy as the source for Scotland’s Heads of State. In this contretemps, the ever pragmatic and diagnostic weather-vane, Alex Salmond, has taken the side of monarchy, while avoiding the kind of pronouncements and explanation that would stir his activists into angry life yet stimulate distrust of SNP among its worrisome bugbear: the more mixed-identity, less ethnically-inclined, or less republican-minded, Scots. In the absence of helpful exposition, let us glance critically at the pro-monarchy position as spelt out in a Scottish government document (published at taxpayers’ expense) with an eye on all relevant antecedents. Each of these is in some degree burdened with disability.
Given the embarrassingly high prestige and popularity of the present incumbent of the British throne, and the unavoidable imperative of perpetuating constitutional monarchy in an independent Scotland in order to have any chance of success in the 2014 Referendum, conceivably the sixteenth century offers the least contentious model for the party’s activists and ideologues: not a democratic regime but not an Anglo-Scottish crown that was de facto united (at least strategically) either, as between 1603 and 1707.
As a matter of fact, what the party proposes may indeed conjure up exactly the “one-monarch-wearing-two-crowns” formula of the seventeenth, not the sixteenth century. Yet clearly this cannot be quite the case if the future monarch of Scotland “Her Grace Elizabeth I, Queen of Scots” (the proposed title) (a) will explicitly reign with that title in Scotland only; (b) her governments (in the nature of the case) will have been re-separated; (c) in any case she reigns today, does not rule, with absolutist potential or pretensions alongside a parliament as in earlier centuries (the “ruling” will be done by the separated governments aforesaid); (d) will have inherited this modern, Constitutional status from post-Union (of governments) Britain, not partly the Scotland of any earlier period (Walter Bagehot’s The English Constitution is a study of the British Constitution, rather); (e) Her Majesty’s sixty years on this throne have constituted a British experience and constitutional upbringing (an “English” experience, dedicated Scottish nationalists would contemptuously maintain, but they would agree it has not been “Scottish” beyond the rituals of Balmoral and occasional ceremonies at Scottish palaces to bestow British honours such as M.B.E. ). This “Elizabeth I” would be thus titled fundamentally in order to inject some Scottish authenticity into the Scottish polity redux, through the reminder that her sixteenth century namesake predated Union (of Crowns) Britain and cannot be included in Scottish regnal lists as a basis for later reckoning.
But if the sixteenth century (of the Reformation, Mary Queen of Scots, James VI “And All That”) is being suggested as a model, once again a potential for revival of old religious animosities looms large, as if the SNP either has an incurable taste for divisive conflict, or does not understand the diverse layering of identities that is Scottish society, and will thus have no compunction in resorting to measures of totalitarian aspect, as the White Paper foreshadows, to force it into a more unified mould. More critical than this (and by extension of the above list): (f) the echo of Stuart legitimacy in the title “Queen of Scots” belies or denies the fact that the last serious Stuart contender, the “Young Pretender” (Bonnie Prince Charlie), had no agenda for undoing the union of governments in the name of Scottish independence, only the restoration of his dynasty to its sovereignty over the whole of Britain. Nor (g) does personal (Hanoverian) ancestry in the present monarch create an emotional obligation to revive a Stuart past.
Less edifying still, one has not heard about an approach to Her Majesty for consent to the vital role that is proposed for her; on the contrary, planning for a separate coronation has already been announced. Arguably, our sovereign is still a perfectly free agent, not bound in advance, in this matter, by her coronation oath to be faithful to her duties as then known. She had a duty of protection towards Scotland, of course, but by this very token, duty should not be overridden by the device of a pseudo-electoral referendum, leading to irrevocable constitutional change with highly uncomfortable implications for Scots who oppose it, downright ominous meaning for English folk who have moved to Scotland. In moving north, most of the latter believed in good faith that Scotland was part of their own country of Britain, could never have foreseen or even conceived that a British population could be reclassified into distinct ethnic blocs, set off against each other in mutual distrust and hostility by ethnic categorisation, Third World-style. After separation the English residents of Scotland would find themselves to be aliens in a foreign land. In her unique position of prestige and influence, Her Majesty might like to consider her duty to the two special categories of subject and loyal British here evoked, as well as, in broader terms, to the U.K. It is at least an agreeably piquant irony that the institution which Salmond cannot afford, referendally, to ditch – as, among other reasons, its prestige will foster myopia or disbelief in face of rising extremism – also happens to be the constitutional arbiter of last resort, enthroned in the uniquely powerful position of being able to say NO.
After the referendum
All this being said, the amorphous category of “Undecided” and “Don’t Knows”, often reckoned at around 30%, let alone those who feel “British” enough to be perturbed by the ethnic mobilisation and suspect that SNP will not abide a partnership with monarchy for long, may decide the issue in favour of the Union. “Decide”, that is, for 2014. For who will doubt but that SNP will bring its divisive agenda back to the table in due course, preceded earlier by a campaign of recrimination against “Scottish Quislings” and the “English Fifth Column” whom they blame for the referendum outcome? (Results in the Highlands and how they will be interpreted, given the astonishing 14.7% English complement up there, are a particular space to watch.) If the visit to Edinburgh of the Governor of the Bank of England, on 29th January 2014, called time on nationalist evasions over the fact that currency union implies sacrifice of aspects of sovereignty, not a gain (and Canadian Mark Carney does not even have “the courtesy” to be dismissable as a biased, ethnic foe!), a paranoid rankle may already be brewing.
A comparable dynamic can be imagined amidst persistent warnings from the E.U. that fee discrimination against English students in Scottish universities would be illegal after independence (assuming that Scotland consents to conform to E.U. procedures in order to gain membership in the first place!), because the English will be foreign, E.U. nationals – and hence entitled to equal treatment with Scots, being as foreign, in legal terms, in the new Scotland, as the SNP indeed regards all the English as being on the ethnic level. The same potential for rage (and accusations of “racism” against the NO camp) is discernible if the opposition chooses to play up the fact that under the referendum franchise (which does grant equality to E.U. nationals), a single Polish vote could tip the balance towards independence under the chosen simple-majority and no-thresholds rules. Yet another nationalist fantasy waiting to be exploded, at a heavy cost to the self-regard, liberal persona and self-restraint of those believing it, is the notion that oil-rich Norway is as eager to embrace a Scottish partner as Salmond and Riddoch themselves are keen for Scotland to join the Nordic Union.
One final, gloomy thought: even if Scottish ethnicity is an imprecise concept, a rising level of anti-English aggravation and exclusivity, amidst “Bannockburn parallels”, may yet persuade a few decisive voters that these are the keys to true Scottishness and future national greatness. On 12 February 2014, accordingly, Deputy First Ministerial vituperation reached a crescendo over the Chancellor’s and the Treasury’s firm stand against a currency union, which, she mocked, is mere bluff and bullying because Westminster will be forced to negotiate when Holyrood refuses to pay a penny of national debt.
ROGER KERSHAW is a former academic, and writes from Sutherland