By Gavin Falconer
Recently I’ve noticed a strange duality in people whom I suspect of being closet racists: enthusiastically, and on occasion completely out of context, they proclaim their love of Jews. For the closet racist, there are several advantages to doing so. First, Jews have suffered a long and awful history of persecution, culminating in industrial murder. For many people, anti-Semitism is tantamount to tacit approval of the Holocaust, and no one in their right mind would wish to be associated with that. Secondly, the cultural differences between liberal Jews and gentiles are fairly infinitesimal. To harbour prejudiced thoughts against them suggests not merely the quotidian crassness that one expects of racists but a kind of diseased atavism bordering on mental illness. The above approach therefore protects the bigoted from the opprobrium of the wider community at little real cost, since they were unlikely to subscribe to the unfashionable prejudice of anti-Semitism in the first place.
A startlingly similar duality has recently emerged in the debate on Scots independence. Political parties willing to buy into the overheated anti-immigration rhetoric of their guiding lights in Fleet Street have taken to accusing the independence movement of anti-English racism, as if to reject the political domination of the territory to which one is appended were to reject the ethnic group living in that territory.
On several counts, that’s mince. For one, Scots nationalism isn’t ethnic, not only because of how it’s popularly manifested but because any overarching Scots identity is essentially political. The language and culture of Highland and Lowland Scotland are quite distinct, and the Northern Isles, which despite the feverish fantasies of unionists are unlikely to secede, differ from both. The forced depopulation of the Highlands and artificial concentration of settlement in the Central Belt through industrialisation may have led to the illusion of an ethnic Scottishness, but no single Scots ethnicity exists. Secondly, like all other Scots, many prominent nationalists were either born in England or have English relatives, and there are grounds to believe that the availability of Scottish citizenship and Scottish passports may lead to a decrease in the percentage of those in Scotland who define their nationality in ethnic terms.
Perhaps most telling of all, those who claim to perceive anti-English sentiment among nationalists while criticising the liberal immigration policy advocated by the Scottish Government neglect to mention the obvious fact that, of all the countries in the world, it is England that is most likely to provide the new immigrants Scotland needs. It certainly has so far, and with very little conflict.
People who believe in Scots independence are no better than any other human beings, and some of them may be racist, sectarian or anti-English. A shocking number — by which I mean “more than one” — have anti-Gaelic prejudices. That is not to say, however, that such peripheral bigots should be taken as defining, either for the movement as a whole or for its political leadership, which at every opportunity has distanced itself from them.
Though the unionist media like to portray Alex Salmond as some kind of Pied Piper intent on luring Scots into chauvinism and chaos, the fact is that neither he nor Yes Scotland can be held responsible for the social mores of over 40% of the population.
Indeed, it would be illogical to hold them responsible for the behaviour of even 1%. Independence, like any other political decision, should be judged not on the most egregious behaviour of a few supporters but on its merits, by weighing up the pros and cons, by debate, analysis and logical dissection. Scots Asians do that and, more often than not, support it.