Vanishing Nationalism

Pompeii’s unluckiest man. Like Scotland’s liberty, he almost reached safety

Change without fear

2019 and Scotland is where it was in January 2014, but in a worse position.

All good debates begin with a strong statement. Here is mine:

The SNP at Holyrood is afraid of constitutional debate. Over past months, and now with their statement of intent for 2019, the critical issue of constitutional reform is absent from SNP goals. That does not mean they’ve dropped their central reason for existing, but it does mean they are showing a lot of cellulite. Obedience and passivity never won independence, only scorn. We are to ‘wait and see’, a feckless call to take up knitting.

By not discussing the constitution, by not building consensus, by prissily hoping Brexit will alter mind sets, the SNP encourage the nationalism they are keen to mute.

The last blast

No Prime Minister, no arrogant Rees-Mogg, can veto the right of self-determination vested in the people of a region or subjugated nation. Our rights are guaranteed by the Charter of the United Nations.

Confronted by the most malignant and determined assault on Scotland’s existence since 1707, our economy, jobs, civil rights, medical supplies, food imports, the printing of our own bank notes, are all threatened, yet the SNP feel vigorous discussion of radical change is not applicable. The impatience with platitudes and trite rhetoric emanating  manifests itself in militancy. The mass marches of last year were a sign of impatience.

Westminster SNP lead, Holyrood MSPs play party games

To be frank, with the odd exception, I see and hear far more inspiring speeches from SNP MPs in Westminster than is currently the stuff of Holyrood’s debating chamber. They beat the drum at every occasion.

Before alarmed authoritarians demand I button my lip, let me explain. ‘Essay’ comes from the French, essai – an attempt, and indeed that’s what my articles are, an attempt to understand what is happening by opening out to debate a feeling, an idea, a concern. I write intuitively. My obsession is in the future of my country. I would like to think it is shared by the one and only political party dedicated to it. Here, discussion is encouraged!

The unluckiest guy alive

The search for the bravura burst of energy that takes us to the ideal finds symbolism in everything. This week finds a metaphor in the ruins of ancient Pompeii.

The skeleton of a man was discovered lying under a huge rock that fell on him as he fled the fire and brimstone of Vesuvius eruption. The rock can be seen as the British state. It did not crush his skull, it only immobilised him. He died from the enveloping gases that rolled ominously and silently towards his stricken body. Archaeologists say study of his skeleton show he also had a limp and could not run fast – like a Holyrood hobbled.

The unfortunate man’s death is both comic and tragic in its timing, to my mind mirrors Scotland’s painful inability to throw off British colonial rule.

Norwegian and Swedish models

Last year the industrious journalist and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch presented two documentaries illustrating how small nations, The Faroe Islands and Iceland, manage to exist without being fat and rich and do not forfeit individual liberty or happiness.

Neither the Faroes nor Iceland waited until some external event had them become independent by default. They took their independence. Let us look at two more small countries similar to Scotland, Norway and Sweden.

Norway got independence from Sweden in 1905. It had first been under the hammer of Denmark and then Sweden. Both Norway and Sweden underwent a shift of power in the 1930s. They achieved it after a long battle and national strikes. They tossed out their overlords, an opportunity I thought we had in our hands when we banished all but one of our uncaring Conservatives, but sadly we doddled on as before.

Until the 1930s Sweden was ruled by an upper-middle-class, its aristocracy led by King Gustav V. Main political parties were the Social Democrats and the Liberal Conservatives who believed a man should not be allowed to vote until he owned property.

Sweden remained neutral during the Second World War, supplying steel to the German Army on its way to occupied Norway, balancing that pragmatism (Germany would have wiped out the modest Swedish army in a week) by rescuing thousands of Jews from the Holocaust, the hero of the hour Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. After the war, Sweden’s socialist ideals drove its principles.

The problems of population numbers

Norwegians had major problems organising people power. A population of three million spread over a wide and mountainous geographical area is a killer to roundup, rather like Scots in 1707 faced by the illegal sale of their country. Norway is sliced and diced by fjords, glaciers and isolated valleys.

Workers unions with a Marxist bent, formed in the early 1900s, their goal an equal society. The Norwegian Labour Party joined the Communist International organized by Lenin but surveyed the Bolshevik’s betrayal of the revolution with a jaundiced eye and decided non-violent methods the best to change society, along with an electoral system.

Norway was a shipping and whaling nation, not an oil rich state as it is today. Back in the day no one could call Norway or Sweden wealthy countries rich in natural resources. Poverty was rife. When the power elite ruled emigration was the order of the day. If you stayed there was every chance you’d starve.

People not party come first

Both nation’s social movements began with good housing – lots of construction jobs right there – then open and free universities, a free education is known to retain more talent for the host nation than leave. They introduced free health care, and almost eliminated the worst poverty.

During that transition no bigger state tried to impose an artificial model on their economic system. Norway and Sweden built upon their own histories their own needs. American world watchers, among the first to eye developing socialist states with suspicion, dubbed both “nations with an enviable standard of living.” (CIA.)

The backlash

Did those who held power retaliate? Of course they did. Strikes in both countries were often put down by police and army, the rich ready to protect their privileges. Some strikers were killed. The populace retaliated too, to the state’s brutality. A confident people protect the weak and ensures the wealthy do not become all-powerful.

When families were threatened with removal because they couldn’t pay rent for house or farm crowds appeared from nearby to protect them and thwart forced evictions. In Scotland we express anger at seeing forced repatriation of peoples who lived here for generations. We should not restrict ourselves to posting empathy on social sites. We must exercise our principles not mouth them.

Would mobilised constitutional outrage be suppressed? Not from the SNP unless action was violent. In that event they risk a split, a new independence party arising from conflict.

What would the British state do? Institutional takeovers, withdrawal of funds, and military intervention is almost unthinkable. Officially instructed aggression attracts international condemnation from the democratic world, backed by the United Nations. England depicted as a renegade oppressive state just as it isolates itself from world trade and EU cooperation – that’s a big risk. The stink would hang on it for decades.

Yes but no, but yes but no…

Norway and Sweden claim no Utopian status; they have modern-day issues with the influx of refugees and migrant workers, and both have a core of far-right nutcases. Visit either country and you’ll find politicians still pressing for ways to attain a free and just society despite right-wing fanatics demanding xenophobic solutions.

On the cultural side, Norway produces up to a dozen movies a year, box office profits ploughed back to the producer and national fund, and we enjoy well produced Sweden’s Nordic noir detective series. It takes a long search to find any Scottish filmed drama of recent times that has made headlines, if you discount the Hollywood made Outlaw King.

What Norway and Sweden have in spades in confidence in themselves. They do not question why they are independent nations.

England is far too mired in brutal neo-liberal economic dogma to be saved. Why are we wasting precious time (dear SNP!) running around making conciliatory speeches offering to rescue England from itself?

The British Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has no allegiance to Scotland’s political ambitions. None. We will help England in time, by then our mercy parcels will carry a Scottish Saltire flag on them not a Union Jack.

SNP – Scotland first, thank you

The big question for an independent Scotland is, how do we stop the English eruption of intolerance and hatred, and the removal of the few powers we have? We declare independence is the solution loud and clear, and for both nations, Scotland and England. Section 30, endorsed by the magnanimity of a British prime minister, is not the only route to a confident country.

We have a country to rebuild, huge tracts of it, some are inner city wastelands, crying out for attention and investment. The answer lies in a high degree of public ownership of the means of production, progressive taxation, publicly owned gamble-free banks, subsided transport systems, stringent business regulation for the public good and union representation made mandatory on company boards.

Polls showing support for independence standing firm presupposes support for a corrupt Union is doing the same. If we hang around waiting to see what happens after Brexit, letting Fate deal its hand while we compose Hallmark cards of affection to England’s woes, we will be consumed by the pyroclastic flow coming our way. Once it consumes Scotland entirely we can say goodbye to self-determination.

As one perceptive supporter put it, “Wheesht for Indy is not a strategy”.




1: Readers are encouraged to read more about Norway and Sweden’s road to independence and the aftermath in social equality movements. Aspects recounted here are by necessity attenuated.

2: Swedish filmmaker Bo Widerberg told his nation’s story in Ådalen 31, which depicts the strikers killed in 1931 and the sparking of a nationwide general strike.

3: Journalist Peter Bell has written an article in a similar vein here:

4: Readers unsure of  how Westminster’s has broken the Treaty see here:



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13 Responses to Vanishing Nationalism

  1. broonpot says:

    A cracking read and likely to provoke a reaction (positive or otherwise) in some patriotic quarters.

    I am convinced the current fire in the belly of our ScotIndy movement needs nurturing through focused positive action a well as more vigorous discussion and greater consensus. For example should local Yes groups have civil disobedience action plans with volunteers prepared to assist / support those under immediate threat of deportation where the law and / or Scot Gov action seems ineffective in the short term. There are plenty of other ‘reserved’ areas where citizen action could be co-ordinated to good effect to counter the most damaging excesses of the British State on Scottish citizens.

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    The SNP at Holyrood has got itself into a rut. All of last year the opposition was ridiculed for talking of independence, the SNP boasting it had said little on the subject. Wings thought that an SNP tactical win. I thought it bizarre for the party of self-governance. The public are not aware of what powers we have lost and what we will lose. Who’s to blame? Not bloggers!

  3. Tony L says:

    Another good article. So many issues, so I’ll keep it brief!

    It is difficult not to become frustrated by the political “wing” of the YES movement, the SNP. At a time of a serious and potentially calamitous situation for Scotland (Brexit – probably a “No Deal” variant) the SNP appear to be becalmed. Maybe there is a master plan or strategy, but if so, the slow pace of it is debilitating to those of us who are in the last autumn/winter of their lives and want to be independent before too much longer!

    How has this come about? In my opinion, we (i.e. many on the YES side – myself included) fooled ourselves into thinking that “a material change, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will” was a clever piece of political maneuvering. Unfortunately, we were up against people who have had decades of experience in these political shenanigans.

    By pushing back the final decision (latest ruse being the delay on a “meaningful vote” to 14th January – and what if May defers it again?) this closes the window of opportunity on which the SNP have nailed their flag.

    So, how to take advantage?

    If the vote goes ahead and May loses, call IR2 immediately as the terms of No Deal are known.
    If May defers, call IR2 immediately the rationale being , not Brexit per se, but the mismanagement of the Union for BOTH Scotland AND rUK. The simple message must be about WHO decides for Scotland? Nothing else.
    If May wins the vote (unlikely, but you never know) Call IR2 immediately and demonstrate how this will impact on hundreds of thousands of Scottish jobs, the economy, social division, democracy etc.

    In no IR2 is called by 17th January, then I fear the window will close. The rhetoric from the SNP in Holyrood and Westminster has to change NOW. Challenge the BBC and MSM, challenge the Tories and Labour, challenge Leavers and NO voters. Accept responsibility for taking forward the wishes of those who support Independence and TRY! Maybe we’ll lose again, it is possible, but the prize is worth the attempt.

    Sorry for the length of this post. One final thought:

    It is better to die on your feet, than spend your life on your knees.

  4. David Neilson says:

    I have for years proposed that the Treaty of Union is totally undermined by the total disregard for the needs and desires of the “minor” party and the various Acts of Union have in fact been implemented more in breach of their provisions than with compliance with the law. I again issue a challenge to the lawyers of Scotland to provide to the people of Scotland the arguments in law that would give us the simple solution to our predicament – Declaration of Independence by virtue of a legal breach of the Treaty and the Law. The ECJ and the UN would not (could not) argue against the realisation of the aspirations of the people of Scotland but we lose the ECJ on March 29th 2019 and with that the legal support within the EU who are sympathetic to our cause – we need to move with all speed.

  5. Iain Cormack says:

    Now is the best chance of freedom for the people of Scotland, we can and must call indy ref 2 right after the vote on the 14th of January.
    The treaty of union has been abused and if Nicola calls indy ref 2 Brexit will be put on hold. This will provoke widespread discontent in England.
    This is our best chance of winning our freedom as public pressure from the brexter masses will overwhelm the chaotic Westminster government.
    This is the time not to sit on our hands, it is time to be bold.

  6. diabloandco says:

    I sadly agree .I feel the fire that excited us all back in 2014 has had a pile of dross dumped on it and though it might be hot to handle has little life in it.

    I do not want Scotland to slip away into a region of Great England. I do not want to be lumped together with the worst of the xenophobic imperialists.

  7. Merkin Scot says:

    The Grousebeater pretty much nails it.
    We don’t ask another country for permission for a referendum. We announce it.
    Hopefully 29th March will be a good day for the people of Scotland after all.

  8. Thank you for this excellent essay, which provides much food for thought. The SNP have followed the same complacent route as Labour in Scotland, in taking their electorate for granted and occasionaly throwing them a few scrappy sound-bites to keep them in line, but never actually delivering on what they were elected to deliver.
    I have supported independence my entire voting life but am begining to believe that we are too pathetic to deserve it.

  9. Great read GB, another one! Your frustration is clear but there is still a lot to be said for “Never interfere with your enemy, they’re making a mistake.” Our imperial masters are making so many mistakes. These next weeks are going to be catastrophic. English nationalism erupts, as our tory rulers implode. Even if Teresa’s deal makes it, English nationalism will be way beyond the control of BBC in Scotland style msm attack propaganda, that they’re using to try and keep Scotland in her place.

    You can see this is why Corbynistas seem to be faffing around. They’re desperately trying to stand back, let the tories collapse, swing in to No,10, bayonet all tory wounded, brave new Corbynista brexshit UK world

    Project Fear clearly booting up now but we’ll hold Scots indyref2… calm, considered, sanity and hope.

    Keep calm, vote YES2, soldier.


  10. Charles Maitland says:

    I agree with you that the SNP are afraid. The SNP seem to be waiting on everyone other than themselves to create a situation that may, possibly, magic Scotland to independence. Whereas in 2014, Alex Salmond raised the independence vote from 25% to 45% by drive and determination. The SNP under the current leadership seem to be waiting on the polls increasing to 70% without actually doing anything to encourage independence support. The polls have only improved by 2-3% under the current leadership despite the absolute chaos and disrespect shown by the Westminster government and the media.

    It is high time the current SNP leadership started fighting for Scotland before it is too late. I do believe there is only a matter of days remaining before its too late. We are all waiting on your lead SNP!

  11. Grouse Beater says:

    In answer to Jamie McMahon – You’re welcome. I’m rarely ahead of anyone; more usually I’m echoing the public mood. I can’t understand a party that is brow beaten by the opposition into silencing discourse on nationalism, and actually boasts of how little it has discussed it.

  12. I think SNP are playing a tactical game.
    Going tooth-and-nail is divisive (Cf: Catalonia), causing people to choose one or the other. In the UK these days, people tend to find it easier to go *against* something rather than *with* it.
    Therefore, the full-on campaign we want would drive more people against it, rather than with it. However, leave it too long and any impetus is lost as people get bored of the ‘same old same old’ – this has been the Unionist tactic: get people fed up with indy talk – and it’s hard to get those people back onside again unless a new thing happens to refresh.
    This is where no-deal Brexit comes in.
    Is this the SNP target? Use irritation with Brexit to fuel the choice between ‘Brexit’ or ‘not Brexit’?
    SNP MPs are the irritation in London, constantly reminding of alternatives albeit in the background as WM’s 3rd or 4th (or 5th behind UKIP) ‘talked about’ party.
    Meanwhile, Holyrood MSPs ‘get on with the day job’, while waiting in the wings. Nicola Sturgeon gives the occasional reminder of SNP’s core purpose, primarily to keep supporters happy without irritating opponents or undecideds.
    When the Brexit faeces hit the fan, Holyrood suddenly becomes a wonderful government with an escape route away from the badness of Brexit.
    Indy therefore becomes the *against* option of that particular divisive issue; the alternative to a bad thing, therefore the preferred choice.

  13. Douglas Deans says:

    I, reluctantly, think it has been wise to show that as much as possible has been done to cooperate and save us from Brexit lunacy (including the option of saving the whole of the U.K.). If we had pressed ahead too early, a multitude of ‘why didn’t you try…’ would have been brought out against us. Incredibly there are still many who bury their heads in the sands and hope that the Brexit nightmare will not happen (that’s the only reason I can think of for the £ holding on… or maybe it’s confidence in Brexitania remaining a haven for dirty money).

    Mrs May’s plan seems to be to delay clarity as long as possible so that there is no time between clarity and crashing out. Once crashed out Mrs May will have unaccountable power.

    We cannot wait until the whole crash has happened but I think given that we have waited this long, another week is just about ok… maybe.

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