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Referendum highlights nationalist divisions

ByTilda Gregg-Smith

Sep 23, 2014
image courtesy of stv news

The die has been cast, the votes counted and Scotland’s future has been decided. For better or for worse, the ‘No’ voters triumphed, and the Union will continue. Now that the chaos and intensity of the campaigning is over, it is possible to look back and see that the referendum debate inspired powerful reactions in a wide range of people, the most significant of which has been a rising sense of nationalism in Britain and Scotland.

Nationalism is a dangerous word with significant connotations, in particular when it comes to British nationalism. As a result of empire-building, and centuries of brutal repression of countries around the world, British nationalism is naturally associated with negativity. Outwardly-focussed and concerned with highlighting the inferiority of other nationalities, British nationalism is demonstrated through the xenophobic policies of aggressively jingoistic political parties, such as the BNP.

This has been manifested in the referendum debate, through the blasé and often patronising attitude adopted towards Scotland by people and politicians throughout the rest of the UK. Many Brits, in particular those living in England, regarded Scotland and the independence referendum debate as little more than a petulant child throwing a tantrum because it did not get its own way. In light of this prejudice, it is little wonder that many Scots were so keen to break away from the Union.

Scottish nationalism, by comparison, appears to be in general a far more positive force than its often narrow-minded British counterpart. Scottish nationalism is purely focussed on pursuing the course that would be best for Scotland’s future, but – and this is the key distinction – not to the detriment of other countries. As a smaller and less powerful nation within the Union, as opposed to the overriding force of England, Scottish nationalism prioritises breaking away from the historical cycle of repression and dominance, and forming its own identity in an act of self-determination. It is more inwardly-focussed, and inclusive of all those who live in Scotland, regardless of ethnicity.

Although, of course, Scottish nationalism is not all sunshine and roses. Nationalism will always be linked with aggression and will always come hand in hand with a xenophobic attitude. The ‘Yes’ voters are notoriously more vocal in their opinions, and were often seen to be intimidating and combative, even sliding into violence, with reports of bricks being thrown through the windows of ‘No’ voters.

Not that the latter are wholly innocent either, as evidenced by the support given to the ‘No’ campaign by the infamously violent Orange Order. Moreover, an English person living in Scotland will occasionally be subject to the anti-English sentiment which is often linked with Scottish nationalism.

Scottish and British nationalism, whilst being very different, do contain inherent similarities. Both have tendencies towards xenophobia and aggression, and both can provoke a sense of unease, or worse, in non-nationals. However, whilst British nationalism encompasses the UK as a whole, Scottish nationalism prioritises Scotland, to the exclusion of the rest of the UK. The BNP and the SNP do have wholly different approaches to the issue of nationalism: the British National Party places greater emphasis on the importance of race and ethnicity, whereas the Scottish equivalent is more concerned with where you are, rather than where you are from.

Ultimately, there is a fine line between being proud of your country and wanting what is best for it, and being outright xenophobic. Throughout the referendum debate, both campaigns have trodden this line, and both are guilty of being spattered with elements of negative nationalism.


By Tilda Gregg-Smith

Comments Editor.

4th year French & English Lit. 

Likes piña coladas and getting caught in the rain.

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