When the mask of 'civic nationalism' slips

Updated: May 29, 2018

I’ve managed to get to a few SIU events recently, and have been impressed with the dedication and positive spirit shown by SIU supporters. I particularly enjoyed returning to St Andrews, to hear an excellent talk from Professor Ali Ansari, and Jack Perry’s Edinburgh event was similarly interesting and informative.

On a less positive note, many of you will know that there was a nationalist march through Glasgow recently. Estimates of attendance varied, but it was a relatively large march, even though the attendees were only a tiny fraction of Scotland’s population. While the march was met mostly with indifference across Scotland, I believe two things are worth noting about the event.

The first concerns a large banner emblazoned with ‘Tory Scum Out’. The slogan treads the dangerous ground of dehumanising political opponents, but a logo on the banner is more worrying still: it was that of Siol nan Gaidheal, a nativist group described as ‘proto fascists’ by former SNP leader Gordon Wilson. The organisers of the march must have reviewed the banners and decided it was fine for them to be displayed, and for people to march behind them - demonstrating the end-justifies-the-means attitude which is characteristic of nationalist campaigns.

The second thing which struck me about the march was how it was endorsed by SNP politicians. Perhaps it is unsurprising that many nationalist MPs and MSPs joined in, but I find it worrying that people who are paid public money to represent all their constituents marched alongside Siol nan Gaidheal and other extremists. And then there was Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘thumbs up’ tweet. As First Minister, she should distance herself from events like that march, but her thumbs up probably shows she is under pressure from the hardliners.

The silver lining is that in these situations the ‘civic nationalism’ mask slips and we see Scottish separatism’s uglier face – and this gives people greater determination to oppose nationalism. But that silver lining comes with a very dark cloud for civilised political discourse in Scotland.

Alastair Cameron

Founder and Director of Scotland in Union