Tag Archives: Scotland

Scottish scare stories

Funny. Labour is on the ropes, apparently, forced at every turn to deny that it would join in coalition with the SNP. It’s mischievous political reporting in my opinion, but the messaging used by the Tories in their briefings betrays an unease with the UK. Or, rather, with Scotland. The message appears to be, “Don’t ally with those people who want to tear this country apart”. So, when it’s not immigrants or the poor who are the outsiders of the day, it’s the Scots, whose democratic choices are seen as some sort of subversive plot to undermine the country. The SNP has more of a mandate than UKIP, who are deferred to as the self-appointed voice of England. Little England. A miserly, miserable, nostalgic England of moral pygmies. But hey.

The real, sobering fact shouldn’t be the prospect of a left-wing coalition, but that so many Scots feel ambivalent at best, hostile at worst, towards the UK. That so many feel that they would have nothing to lose and all to gain through independence. And is it any wonder, when the prospect of a coalition with a party that’s not in England stirs up this undercurrent of hostility, this sense that the Scots are outsiders here to rip up “our” UK? Why not build a country which offers a fair deal and a positive vision to all of its constituent parts?

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And I’m still writing

Still writing my dissertation. My brain is utterly addled. Thinking is like wading through treacle. I have had many shifting deadlines, but for now it’s Monday. Again.

But I’m still watching the news. My reactions, in brief:

Oscar Pistorius verdict: Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot.

Scotland: I actually think  the arguments for independence are very compelling. I also think that this issue is as much emotional as practical and all the whataboutery (Why can’t England vote? Why shouldn’t London vote for independence?) is pretty insulting and historically illiterate. This isn’t happening on a whim. The real question is, how can roughly half of Scotland (the polls change day by day) be so disenchanted with the UK? Why doesn’t the union work for everyone? (OK, let’s be honest, everyone who’s north of London) How can we be better? Even if you’re a happy right-winger, it says a lot that the Scots see this as the only way to realise some sort of social justice. (maybe social justice not a left-wing plot, guys?) Either way, a bum-squeak of a vote isn’t good for either camp. A slim yes vote means independent Scotland is bitterly divided at the outset. A slim no means that about half of Scots are “meh” about the union. That’s a real problem, whichever way you look at it.

IDS: Haven’t heard much from him lately, meaning he and DWP are probably out on the tiles, wasting money and making poor people feel bad about themselves.

Summer: Hello, my lovely. You’re back. I love your bright little face.


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Ukip is Racist now?

Weird blog of the day courtesy of the Telegraph: “UKIP is now a racist party” by Dan Hodges.  The charges appear to be as follows: off-colour racist jokes being told at the UKIP conference and defended by Farage as focusing on national stereotypes rather than racial stereotypes – something he condemned when he was mobbed in Edinburgh and upset by their anti-Englishness. Oh, and a story he told about catching his train home and not hearing English for a large part of the journey:

“So why did he tell the story? He told the story because the politics of division and subtle – and not-so-subtle – prejudice is now Ukip’s politics. There was a time when the party targeted elites and institutions. The European Parliament, the Commission, the Council of Ministers…There is no longer any point in attempting to deconstruct Ukip in a vain effort to legitimise them. The laughter at Paul Eastwood’s jokes was genuine. Its slogan “Love Britain, Vote Ukip” was not appropriated from the BNP by accident. Nigel Farage’s ludicrous tale about the silence of the English north of Grove Park was deployed for a purpose.”

The part that amuses me most about the article is the “now”. NOW?!

When it comes to racism, it seems there are two levels: skinheads and thuggery or uncomfortable jokes. I do think the jokes are off-colour and racist. But they’re not the worst thing. In fact, these fairly obvious things are often focused on because it helps us to overlook structural issues and insidious racism.

The sort of racism that lets you know that you’re not welcome, that you don’t fit in – and it doesn’t need to leave a burning cross on your lawn, scrawl on your wall or tell stupid jokes in your face to do it. It’s more slippery and more socially acceptable. It makes the “common sense” argument with coded language and appeals to people’s discomfort with change. It has a soft focus gilded image of a past that never was. And that past certainly didn’t include you. Along the way, this racism will try to chip away at your rights as a rant against “political correctness” and squeal about marginalistaion while ignoring the fact that it has the luxury of doing so frequently and loudly as it speaks from a place of power and in the majority. It wants to stop the world so that it can get off, because now life is more complicated with all these different people (and women and gays) wanting to speak up and be heard.

I am also not alone in being bothered for quite some time by UKIP’s sexism, homophobia… and racism. And that’s the real link to the Edinburgh incident with Farage. The Scottish reacted to many things I’m sure, but also to Farage’s narrow, stunted little-England schtick which basically excluded everyone outside the Southern heartlands. He seeks to project that peculiar take on Englishness as a vision for Britain and a definition of Britishness. The trouble is, that excludes pretty much everyone, not just people of colour.

It’s a vision that doesn’t touch the diversity of Britain – not just its racial diversity, but the diverse tribes and nations of this island. Yes, Dan, UKIP is racist. And has been for some time.Welcome to the party.

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Let’s Stick Together

It was a bit weird watching David Cameron make a speech in favour of the Union….from the Olympic Stadium in East London…addressing everyone else but the Scots.

I also saw Alex Salmond’s rebuttal, in which he pointed out that one of the most compelling arguments in favour of independence is that Scotland keeps voting left and getting Tory governments in Westminster.

I don’t have a dog in this fight and I understand both sides of the argument. Perhaps it’s because I live in England, but it seems like everyone is hell-bent on scolding or frightening the Scots into making the “right” decision. The BBC presenter’s response to Salmond was to point out that “business” wasn’t in favour of a split. Cameron is asking the rest of the UK to….what exactly? Pressure the nearest Scot?

Speaking as an African, I know that independence is as much an emotional issue as a practical one. Facts about the consequences of independence aside (and those are heavily disputed as it is), there is Scotland’s national story. No one has yet addressed this issue with a historical context, acknowledging that this is about more than just economics or brand UK. Or the rest of us that Cameron addressed today. It’s Scotland’s choice, and we would do well to start talking to people, rather than down at or about them.


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In Praise of Acts of Union and Disunion

“The divided and contentious nature of these islands is hardly exceptional and it’s hardly surprising. Although Britain is sometimes viewed still as an old and stable country, these in fact are selective visions. Historically speaking, Great Britain and still more the United Kingdom are in some respects recent and synthetic constructs that have often been contested and in flux in the past…as they are now.”

I am working my way through, and thoroughly enjoying, the BBC Radio 4 series with historian Linda Colley Acts of Union and Disunion – putting this country in historical context and looking at the national myths and heritage. In short, 15 minute bites, she looks at different aspects – being an island, this country’s relationship with the sea, the monarchy, etc – to explore what it all means. Timely, given Scotland’s decision on the future of the Union, but also comforting, given the raging anti-migrant rhetoric that refers to some homogenous, static Britain that never existed, being corrupted by voices from the old and new world.

It’s poetic and rather glorious. I find myself intrigued but also reminded of what I find so fascinating about the UK: its idiosyncrasies, its nations and countries, how it sees itself, how it sees the world. I also find it comforting to take the long view of history, the reminder of how much is contested and constantly being negotiated, and renegotiated, and constructed and remade.

Colley is a witty, engaging host, easily drawing you in to the themes of the programme. In particular, I liked her commentary on identity and the difficulty of applying fixed labels to people. We are very rarely ever one thing, and the same goes for our countries. She points out that it’s not the break up of states that’s notable, but their ability to cohere in the first place – and evolving and believing stories about themselves helps.

If African countries did similar programmes it would be so interesting. I will never forget my visit to the dinosaur museum in Karonga, Malawi last year. It was a small exhibit but it packed a punch and put more recent events, such as colonisation, in their place.

So often history is a battleground for jingoism and confected nationalism – but I am really enjoying this clear-eyed, sometimes humorous, rather affectionate reflection on these islands, her nations and her peoples.

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