Wednesday, January 18, 2006

SNP: Union flag a 'butcher's apron'

Actually in fairness, this was a press-release from Sandra White MSP who is, as the Scotsman put it, a maverick, left-wing MSP known for her strong anti-unionist views. It involves no exaggeration to say she doesn't quite share Gordon Brown's "it represents the gorgeous mosaic of our diversity" view of the union flag:
"The release attacked the flag as a symbol of centuries of repression, including the Highland Clearances, and for being at least partly responsible for the "disproportionate" number of Scots casualties in the armed forces.

It went on: 'Under the shadow of the Union flag, the first concentration camps emerged, the first civilian populations were gassed in Iraq, civilian massacres in India and Kenya followed and later again in Derry.'"
They try and keep a lid on it, and are successful most of the time, but inevitably it occasionally spills out - just how much some elements in the SNP absolutely hate Britain. We're not talking 'amicable divorce' here; these are the equivalent of those crazy separations where bank accounts get emptied, photographs defaced, boxes of CDs thrown out of the window, altercations the neighbours can watch because you're having your stupid argument in the goddam street. Know what I mean? If not, well, good for you - but suffice to say these dudes ain't going to want to meet for a civilised coffee a few months later once it's all done with.

Love it when some SNPer departs from the sanitised script and comes out with mental stuff - like when some loon went off at the party conference a few years back about 'taking direct action against the British state', or someone else who's name escapes me describing George Robertson as Lord Haw-Haw (for collaborating with the evil English, y'see). Which is not to say all of what Sandra White said was completely nuts - the stuff about the British setting up the first concentration camps and civilian massacres in India, for example, is perfectly true. It's her use of this that illustrates the way nationalism works: your nation symbolises, and is a repository for, all that is good, virtuous and noble (essential this involves suffering these days); the one you want to split from all that is bad, bloodthirsty and oppressive.

To do this, you need to massage the historical evidence a wee bit. The British Empire was indeed pretty bloody at times and it makes for some gruesome reading - and it hasn't escaped the attention of anyone who has broken open a history book from time to time that Scots were usually at the forefront of all this. How to square the circle? You have to pretend that the Scots were, despite ample evidence to the contrary, in someway reluctant partners in this. That would appear to be Sandra White's technique with this 'disproportionate Scots casualties' line.

Scots have had a disproportionate number of casualties in the armed forces because there are a disproportionate number of Scots in the armed forces. Now you could argue this is all the fault of the English because the Union meant the Scottish economy suffered, resulting in limited opportunities at home driving people to join the army. Problem with that is it's bollocks - and it does strike me every now and then that some people are desperate to avoid the more mundane explanation that there were lots of Scots at the forefront of the armies of the Empire because we had, and have, a flair for this soldiering thing.

I'm not blind to the attractions of Scottish nationalism because if you take Sandra White's kind of line, you get to completely disengage your sense of national identity from the crimes of Empire. And there were crimes - so it's an understandable thing to want to do. But it doesn't work for me. For one thing, as I've argued, it doesn't wash historically - and it doesn't properly grasp what an attachment to one's country is all about. I don't want to have to pretend that Scotland is blameless, that all it's misfortunes are the fault of the English. I prefer what I understand patriotism, rather than nationalism, to be about: in this world we find ourselves in - in which we move and have our being, it is those relationships you don't choose that are often the most profound - those to your family and the place of your birth. You love them, not out of a conviction that they come out the best in any comparison but simply because they are yours. It comes instead, as I've said before, from an affection for what is familiar.

And as I've also said before, the SNP would do better if they stopped trying to define the Scottish national identity in terms of victimhood. Not only is it historically unsound, it can't have escaped their attention that the Irish, with some justification, have cornered the suffering as national identity market.


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