The Problem With (Scottish) Nationalism

I'm not knocking the SNPs policies, its representatives, its priorities or it's values. I'm just a bit narked off that I'm putting all my energies into a stag hunt over here, and they've beggared off after a hare.

More and more, I'm being asked to 'imagine if we'd voted yes to independence' by Scots that are apparently doing just that. It's hard to tell in 140 characters, but I gather it's a specific outcome they're picturing. So okay, let's imagine that.

Let's say that the Nation of Scotland has been everything Nicola Sturgeon promised. A new kind of politics has taken hold, and is working flawlessly. Services are better than they've ever been, the economy is booming and traffic is at an all-time low. Meanwhile, across the border, there are more food banks than ever before, the NHS is on the brink of collapse and Katie Hopkins has just been given her own chat show. So far, we're all in the same daydream. Picture telling the smug English how right you were, imagine the collective I-Told-You-So.

Let's keep going. Let's imagine that thousands of 'hard-working-families' in the north of England are beginning to begrudge the injustice. They're ignored by the Westminster Bubble too, they're also lumbered with a Tory Government they never voted for, and yet they're stuck with it while people a few miles north are living the highlife. More and more of them contemplate a move. It's not far, it's barely foreign, and prescriptions are free.

Now the young and poor of London and Birmingham and Manchester begin to look your way. They've already left their hometowns for anonymous cities - why not Scotland, with its promise and hope? In they come, ten thousand, twenty thousand, thirty thousand.

Traffic builds up again. Suddenly there is a waiting list for a council house and a queue at the doctors' surgery. There are rumours of new charges that will have to be introduced.

What do you imagine happens next? Where does that 'Putting Scotland First' mentality lead you? Does it start to matter where a person is born? And how do you deal with the people that were born somewhere else?

I don't like nationalism. Regardless of their policies on everything else, it seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong with a value that only applies to one group of people.

I blame my A Level politics teacher, who taught me a different thought experiment. The first time I heard about the Stag Hunt I was baffled - why, when cooperation lead to the best outcome for both parties, would anyone choose to defect? I'm less naive these days and hence less baffled, but I'm still sure we'd be better working as a team than splitting into groups.

Many of the people voting SNP have more in common with the working classes of Manchester than the millionaires of Edinburgh, but they don't mind leaving them behind in the pursuit of local prosperity. How can you wash your hands of people just like yourself, and justify it because others were selfish enough to overlook you? If your manifesto promises prosperity and equality, then why don't you want it as much for Liverpool as for Aberdeen? Because you're alright, Jack?

There are two possible ways to look at this. Either, you're separating yourself off because you think you're fundamentally different from or better than other people based on where you happen to live. If that's you, then we have very little common ground to debate from - although you may have more than you'd like to think in common with UKIP.

The other way to look at it, is that perhaps it's a surrender based on practicality. Perhaps you're thinking that you'd love to bring the SNP manifesto to the masses, but you just can't. You'd love to let the poor and vulnerable of England into your utopia, but there are just too many. I understand the desire to retreat into smaller groups as things get tough, to define yourself more tightly as the world gets complicated, the impulse to look after yourself and your own.

But what if that isn't a mass of people to feed, but rather an army of brothers and sisters in arms? What if those aren't more people we have to fight for, but more people we have to fight with?

There are plenty of groups that managed to make change and take their place in politics against all odds. Had the prospect of creating a nation of women, ethnic minorities or homosexuals not seemed ridiculous (somehow more ridiculous than a loyalty based on place of birth...) it might have been quite tempting. Why bother trying to convince them, when we can create a society of the already convinced? They, like Scots today, could rightly say they'd been overlooked. They had been treated badly by the people they hoped to convince. But those groups proved it was possible to make impossible change, and that society as a whole can benefit when we do.

If we were to focus on our similarities rather than our differences, we'd be a formidable force. If we were to fight for the values we share rather than the people we live near to, the people we live near to would be better off along with everyone else.

I'm not knocking the SNPs policies, its representatives, its priorities or it's values. I'm just a bit narked off that I'm putting all my energies into a stag hunt over here, and they've beggared off after a hare.


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