Scottish Nationalism: A Movement Bereft of Ideas

Photograph: 'This morning in Den Haag:a march supporting Scottish independence' Tom Donald

What does a child do when it doesn’t get its own way? It has a tantrum. Lashes out. Its behaviour can get more and more outlandish as it constructs a delusional inner world to soothe itself to the harsh reality it finds itself in. But it’s just a developmental stage that we all go through. ‘The terrible two’s’ don’t last forever.

The same can be said of political movements, which are after all just another manifestation and outlet for human behaviour and impulses. In particular the nationalist cause in Scotland at the moment seems to be having psychological difficulty recognising reality(but some are at last recognising it) and rather than facing up to facts, like adults, many appear to be engaging in bigger and bigger stunts to ameliorate the harsh and unpleasant circumstances that they find themselves surrounded by.

With the ‘All under One Banner’ march through Glasgow last month and another in Dumfries, we can see this process in action. The campaign organisers have stated that they will march at ‘regular intervals until Scotland is Free’. Despite the mild public inconvenience caused to the people of Glasgow and Dumfries, no one would dispute their right to march; but this is all that they seem to do now: bombastic, visual stunts that look impressive, but with little of substance.

You can see this process in other nationalist stunts since 2014. First, we had the now evicted IndyCamp outside the Scottish Parliament that was disbanded as it jeopardised the political neutrality of Scottish parliament (the fact that they appealed to the highest court in the UK while trying to secede from the UK raised a wry smile). This was a legal case where the defendants tried to summon Queen Elizabeth the II as a witness and resulted in the literal revelation, during a procedural hearing, that Jesus had instructed them to stay. From some of the comments on social media at the time, you’d think that they had been moved on by a marauding band of sasanach interlopers and that they were the indigenous population who had settled on the land 3000 years ago. They weren’t and Police Scotland took care of it.

We’ve also had ‘Bridges for Indy’ who, unsurprisingly, ‘occupy’ (Interesting piece of military-derived terminology, there) bridges along roads and motorways, including the M8, one of the UK busiest motorways and the main artery between Glasgow and Edinburgh. They, of course, have Scotland’s ‘A’ roads covered as well. Also, being a safety conscious bunch they prepared a pertinent list of safety ‘do’s and don’ts’ or rather ‘gonnae no’s’ for anyone wishing to wave a pale blue ‘indy’ saltire at people in their cars. If you have children please remember to ‘leave them with a good indy babysitter’ before you come along to cause a possible RTA. Don’t leave them with a ‘No’ voter.

Another ludicrous ‘indy’ plan was to see the formation of a human chain to the top of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK. Below is text from the event organisers, ‘Epic human chain in support of Scottish independence‘:

‘To make this challenge happen we will need 9000 supporters of Scottish Indy to participate in what would be one of the best scenes ever witnessed in our country! So far, all of the YES movement’s events have been deliberately ignored [I wonder why?] by the UK’s mainstream media, I think it would be quite hard for them to ignore this one? however, we will have our own team of drone experts and photographers etc on the Ben filming to make sure the world sees this epic event and also to remind people that the YES movement is as strong as ever. As expected this was signed off with the obligatory, ‘SAOR ALBA GU BRATH.’

Apart from the slightly cumbersome name, the tourist route up Ben Nevis is just over four miles, but with significant variations of terrain along the way. They would need significantly more than 9000 people. Unsurprisingly, the entire enterprise was cancelled well before the proposed date of August the 25th 2018.

Frankly, these sort of activities are almost too numerous to even mention now. A cursory glance through Facebook reveals, ‘Scots Flag Display’, ‘Forward As One – Parade and Celebration for Independence’, ‘YesFamily Ben Nevis Climb’ and the ‘This Time it’s Yes Fundraiser’ in Glasgow and on it will go, ad infinitum.

Of course for the more elaborate activities, ‘plan’ or ‘enterprise’ may be giving these nationalist excursions more credit than they’re due. They are posted on Facebook usually, where they are met with a moderate response from the already converted. They then seem to languish in the ether until they eventually fade. But like the mythological phoenix, a new indy plan rises from the ashes of the old and the process of renewal begins again.

A lesson that many independence supporters failed to heed from 2014 is that being able to mobilise tens of thousands of already engaged people (some zealously so) might look good for a modicum of publicity, but it doesn’t necessarily conflate with political clout or persuasion.

Tactically, all these stunts are a great move politically and culturally. They create column inches in the press and ensure that the idea is at least kept alive in the public consciousness. Being able to mobilise tens of thousands of people is impressive for a photo opportunity.

Strategically, however, they are hollow gestures for the vast majority of Scots. The nationalist cause has shown itself to be bereft of new and dynamic ideas and those that they do have are largely unpalatable to the electorate. The recent release of the Growth Commision report by the SNP has underlined this. The release was underwhelming, at least compared with ‘Scotlands Future’ in 2013. But it should be applauded for at least being far more realistic and at least stating that post-independence Scotland would not necessarily be the ‘land of milk and honey’.

Because of this harsh political sticking point, the organisers of such independence flavoured events will continue on autopilot, marching, scheming and dreaming for the foreseeable future. What these future schemes are at the moment we can only guess at? An amateur rocket launch with an ‘indy’ saltire? A giant flag covering a hillside at a prominent location? Who knows.

I can’t help but feel that the cause of Scottish nationalism is starting to reach its decadent, terminal phase now. The famous maxim that when something is at its peak, it is already in decline seems to playing out here. Even on the ‘All Under One Banner’ media page, its all headlines from The National, the nationalist paper that was set up after 2014. No other Scottish media outlet is taking the bait.

And that looks like the future direction for Scottish nationalism at the moment. Preaching to the converted and most zealous, not reaching out, not debating, or formulating original ideas. Merely controlling physical space and organising rallies won’t be enough to cause the mass conversion that they require and so desperately want.

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David Bone 28 Articles
David is a graduate of the University of Stirling and holds a BA (Hons) in politics. Since graduating he has been employed in the third sector. His writing interests include Scottish and British politics, international relations, ideologies and megatrends.

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