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Monday, 21 January 2013

The SNP and Racism

Ask one hundred Scots what the best thing about Scotland is and while you're not likely to get one hundred different answers, it won't be a kick in the backside away from that. Home towns; mountains; coastline; wildlife; literature; the Enlightenment; family and friends; golf courses; whisky; her inventive past; her exciting future; and a multitude of other things.

Ask the forty-one souls elected to the 2010 Westminster Parliament under the Labour banner and I suspect you may find a greater deal of unanimity.

Do they not agree with Samuel Johnson that "The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!"

It would certainly seem so. The suspicion that they send what they consider their best and brightest to Westminster rather than Holyrood is evidenced not only by the pitiful opposition benches in Edinburgh (with a few notable exceptions); but in the knowledge that progression from Holyrood to Westminster is considered 'promotion'. In recent years this has been a path trod by both Margaret Curran and Cathy Jamieson.

This in marked contrast, of course, to Yes Scotland Chairman Dennis Canavan who made the opposite journey to show his commitment to Scotland and Scottish issues. The First Minister made the same journey.

It is also clear from appearances on televised debates about the future referendum in Scotland, when few of the 'home team' are to be trusted as Labour's messenger. That duty normally falls to Anas Sarwar, Margaret Curran, Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy and, of course, Alistair Darling - Labour's so-called 'big-hitters'. These are also the personalities wheeled out when there is a tight or important election to be won.

The air-time allowed to Scottish Labour's 'Leader' - Johann Lamont - in comparison to the 'Big 5' only serves to confirm the assertion.

This mindset may explain a rather strange exchange during the Section 30 Order Debate in the House of Commons recently.

Jim McGovern, the Labour Member for Dundee West felt moved to ask Ian Davidson the following question:

"Does he find it somewhat odd that the former England football captain, Terry Butcher, will be entitled to vote in the referendum, but Sir Alex Ferguson will not?"

For the uninitiated, Butcher - in his playing days - was the epitome of the English bulldog and once completed a match for his country with a particularly serious head wound. The resultant photograph of him leaving the pitch, his head swathed in blood-soaked bandages, has gone down in English football folklore. He has, for some time, been the manager of Inverness Caledonian Thistle and he and his family seem very happily settled in Scotland.

Sir Alex Ferguson, of course, is the Manchester United manager and has lived in England for over a quarter of a century. He is, of course, a well-known backer of the Labour Party - something not uncommon amongst multi-millionaires in this day and age.

Terry Butcher's political allegiances are, as far as I am aware, unknown. That is, perhaps, why Jim McGovern was keen to question his right to vote in the upcoming referendum.

I sincerely hope that is the only reason because it would be worrying and somewhat insidious to question anyone's entitlement to vote on the basis of ethnicity or birthplace. Especially when the Scottish National Party are regularly characterised, by those on the Labour benches, as anti-English extremists. This, despite my own confident assertion, that amongst Scottish political parties the SNP will comfortably have the greatest number of members born outside Scotland.

To be fair to McGovern, I can see another reason he might be suspicious of Butcher. The Englishman was recently given the opportunity to move south and manage an English club (Barnsley) where, no doubt, he could easily have tripled or quadrupled his Inverness salary. This is clearly highly suspect behaviour to Labour apparatchiks who slaver for the chance to take Dr Johnson's high road to the promised land.

McGovern might even have worried that Butcher loves Scotland more than he and his colleagues do. After all, despite these arch-Unionists forever telling us how much they love their country, they are never slow in doing it down in public and in Parliamentary debates - along with the SNP, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament which they, to their eternal credit, effectively created.

But then I started looking at the debate again and discovered a number of Labour and Conservative MPs questioning the validity of non-Scots voting in the referendum. It became clear that the anti-independence parties have, at minimum, a significant minority of MPs who want the entitlement to vote in the plebiscite decided on ethnic grounds alone.

Labour contributors to the debate who espoused views along these lines in addition to McGovern included Ian Davidson and Andy Sawford. They were joined, perhaps less surprisingly, by Conservatives such as Eleanor Laing and Iain Stewart.

All of this putting the lie to claims amongst these parties that the organisation driven by considerations of nationality and ethnicity is the Scottish National Party.

I am proud of the inclusive, outward-looking and international nature of the SNP. I am proud, with two English grandfathers and three English sons, to join English-born members at my local branch meetings. And, indeed, with those born outside these islands - of European, Asian and African descent.

I am happy to accept that the contributions noted above were not driven by any racial prejudice and were made, solely, for political point scoring purposes. I will not accept, however, insinuations from the anti-independence parties that my own is founded on narrow, insular anti-Englishness - an insinuation of racism with which they have tried to poison the debate.

Wanting the best for one's own people is not racism.

Certainly not when one's own people includes all the people of Scotland - regardless of their origins.

Having pride in one's own country is not racism.

Certainly not when that country wishes to lower barriers to immigration and to engage with Europe rather than withdraw from it.

Desiring independence and self-governance is not racism.

Certainly not when that independence will be used to improve the lives of all the people of Scotland - keeping a public health service; providing free education for all; not taking part in post-colonial illegal wars; and removing a weapons system whose only purpose is to destroy civilians in other nations.

Among many bone-headed pronouncements, Samuel Johnson also said 'Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.' How little he understood of Scotland and the Scots.

Ask one hundred Scots what the best thing about Scotland is and one answer might come up more than once - that we are all Jock Tamson's bairns; our sense of brotherhood extends to all, of every colour, creed and nationality. And, for that matter, his station in life. 'A man's a man for a' that' as a patriotic Scot once wrote.

With the Westminster government pursuing attacks on the ill, the disabled and the unemployed, can the rest of the UK currently say likewise?


  1. Excellent piece

  2. Couldn't agree more. It is the opportunity to fix some of the neglect that blights us all.

  3. Appreciate your comments, folks.

    Onwards and upwards.

  4. A well written, thoughtful piece. As an SNP member for over 40 years, I agree with every word. More power to your PC.

  5. Thanks Will.

    As a fairly recent member (was always in jobs where political activity was outlawed), I'm always humbled to encounter those that have fought the good fight for so long.

    Unsung heroes like you are the giants whose shoulders the rest of us now stand on.

  6. Excellent post.

    It's depressing how often, if the independence debate crops up in conversation, how coworkers and friends will leap into the 'nationalism = racism' frame of mind. If the insinuation that I want barbed wire to instantly spring up at the border in 2014 isn't bad enough, my (English) husband's coworker made a horrifically racist comment about our potential future children which caused a few jaws to drop!

    For what it's worth, my husband is very sympathetic to the SNP cause, and a large part of this is due to my showing him blogs like yours and the equally-excellent Bella Caledonia.

    Boneheads there might be on both sides of the discussion, but it's great to know there are level-headed, articulate and just plain sensible Nats trying to sort out the debate. Keep it up x


  7. I hope you don't mind my quoting this paragraph from Patrick Nairne's 1996 report - The Commission on the conduct of referendums:

    "A related question is whether natives of the region residing elsewhere in the United Kingdom should be allowed to vote on an issue affecting the future of the region and held only in that
    region. If the eligible electorate is defined as those in the region eligible to vote in general elections then a Scot living in France while on the electoral register in Scotland would be able to vote on devolution, while a Scot living and registered in a London constituency would not.
    Indeed, anyone registered to vote in a Scottish constituency as an overseas voter, be they Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish or English, would be eligible to vote in a referendum held only in

    However, as there is no means of identifying a 'true' Scot, using the criteria of eligibility to vote in a general election is the only practicable approach."

    So - as this report, conceived and produced by and for the Westminster establishment, makes clear - the electoral register is the only available method of deciding eligibility to vote. Those who are seeking in some way to turn the referendum into an issue of ethnicity are talking out of their backsides.