The Ethnic Card

Pic Bill FlemingPic shows  Yes Scotland supporters in St Andrew Square, Edinburgh

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.

There is, of course, also a third factor — a huge bonus — in that the self-proclaimed Jewish state Israel has a long-standing conflict with Muslims, members of a faith shared by a fair chunk of the non-white communities about whom the closet racist is likely to obsess.  Thus his or her prejudice can be successfully couched in the language of security and, in many cases, anti-racism.

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.[1]

A surprising percentage of English Scots do too.


Categories: Identity

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21 replies

  1. In 1996, I was living in Glasgow – I am English – and popped into a pub to watch the end of the England / Germany football game. I knew Scots supported any nation except England when it came to football, but in my naivete, I thought that the rule would be relaxed in the case of Germany – but not a bit of it! One Scot in the pub told me it was nothing personal and I believed him. I didn’t experience any other anti-English sentiment living in Glasgow for several years then although I enjoyed some banter with friends I made – taking the mickey out of each other’s accents and that sort of thing.

    Perhaps the origin of modern anti-English suspicions does come from the football issue. Though, to be fair, it’s no different in Wales or Ireland. It would be nice to see more stories from English living in Scotland now about how tolerant the Scots are towards the English. Janet Street-Porter did a piece recently for the BBC after visiting Scotland, which concluded the same thing.

    • Hi QZ Chambers – we are starting soon a series from English folk voting Yes – and welcome submissions to contribute to it …

    • You’re right about the fitba thing, it’s totally adolescent and counterproductive.

      Last night, I was smoking a fag at the front door of my house, talking to my neighbour in her garden. She is English and we were talking about the referendum. She is a don’t know, as is her husband, also English.

      As we were talking, I heard a cry of childish joy from her house. She has four sons and England had just scored.

      I said I hoped that England qualified for the next round, and she said, that that wasn’t a very normal view of the English national team in Scotland.

      I said that I thought all the “we want England to lose” crap had declined in recent years, despite the best efforts of Jack MacConnell when he was First Minister.

      Then about two minutes later, there was an enormous roar from the pub two streets away, a roar like a giant would make, a giant. Uruguay had scored their second goal.

      She just looked at me and smiled, and I felt embarrassed.

      It is good natured for the most part, but it is also a wee bit thoughtless and mean spirited and petty to always support whoever England are playing. I don’t agree with it.

      I told the story to one of my best friends, who is also English and has lived in Scotland for years, and he just laughed of course.

    • Not sure I count as English living in Scotland, I was *four* when my parents moved me up here.

      I did somehow manage to hold onto the accent though, and got a fair amount of hassle in school, though those may not be related, as I was also “the boy with long hair” and looking back at myself honestly, an insufferable stuck-up prig a lot of the time. (Hi there if that’s enough to identify me!)

      I’ve never had any hassle outside of the schoolyard though, other than seeming to have a big sign that says “I’m the comic relif” over my head, but that sign has worked on Americans, Germans and Estonians as well, so can’t be a Scottish/English thing.

      I’m also the grandson of an Austrian Jew who got out before the war, so I feel I should be relatively safe in saying this: Opposing the state of Israel is *not* anti-semitism (regardless of how much as they like to claim it is). Israel is an agressive, expansionist, and warmongering nation, hostile to every one of it’s neighbours, activly engaged in a war of conquest and ethnic clensing at the present time, and is the only nuclear-armed country in the area (and the only nuclear-armed country that hasn’t signed up to the non-proliferation treaties). It has an active aparthied policy on religious grounds, and as far as it seems to matter, is a theocracy. It also has the backing of the USA, UK, and other developed nations. Financial, military, political and media support, etc… In a lot of ways, I would compare it to the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

      Then again, they’re calling opposing Westminster being anti-English, and opposing Washinton anti-American, so I suppose they’re at least consistantly wrong.

    • Some years ago I was surprised to see one of my staff at the photocopier. Not the sort of job I would expect him to be doing. A cursory glance showed me he was copying the German national anthem. On inquiry I learned that England were playing Germany at football that evening, and he was going to the pub to watch it with his pals, and they wanted to get the words right!

      Of course we can now do the adult thing, and instead of ABE, we can vote “YES” in September

    • Janet S-P’s conclusions – that she was very, very wrong to believe what the London media have been peddling about Scots ‘hating the English’ is probably why the programme wasn’t shown on BBC One or Two south of the Border – but it was shown on BBC Parliament on Sunday afternoon when millions tune in to that station ……
      I’m English, and like thousands of other English folk a Yes Scotland activist. I attend as many public referendum events in this part of Scotland that my disabilities will allow, and the number of English folk at these events is growing.
      At a recent Yes Scotland event in Moffat the hall was packed, and most of the questions came from English residents who had moved to Scotland …. because they wanted to !
      They like it here and want it to improve – and they know the only way that can happen is with independence and a collective national effort.
      At the end of the evening an elderly man on a disability scooter saw me with my two sticks, and we started chatting.
      This will really shock Better Together – he was as passionate a Yes supporter as anyone I’ve met. He’s middle/upper class (by Scottish standards), and hails from leafy SURREY.

  2. I do wonder what England’s exit from the world cup will mean for the Independence debate. I think there is always an element of schadenfreude, where you try to keep up with the Joneses, and when the Joneses come a cropper… I put that down to a general Scottish lack of belief in themselves. The psychology of it is very interesting. “Aye, we’re crap and so are you..”

  3. Well two houses in my neighbourhood are sporting English Flags from their bedroom windows, all are unmolested as are the people supporting. I think most people wanted England to win this time, for no other reason than the press in England become unbearable.
    Most people I know who are English I like, some even more than my fellow Scots. This Referendum is nothing to do with nationalism in the way of ethnicity, it has to do with governance and the English living here understand it too well. We have always been an Nation if migrants and we also migrated all over Europe and that was before we had to.

  4. I think we need to stop asking Scots about supporting England. It’s a media obesession. I don’t support them because I am not English not because I hate them. If Scotland aren’t playing my opinion on another nation is irrelevent. Salmond should just have said I am not English so why ask the question it’s irrelevent. Instead he pretends dishonestly to kind of support them in a glib insincere manner. My support is no more relevent than asking a Frenchman if he is supporing Spain.

  5. Fortunately, modern science has shoved the “racist” term [race] with its super/sub associations in the bin. Humanity is a lot more complicated, therefore more interesting, than that. Jews share substantial DNA signatures with Arabs. I have seen red headed males in Damascus (Rameses II had red hair) and fair-haired Berbers in Morocco. What a joyous mixter-maxter. As for supporting England? there are sufficient of them to do that for themselves. Now Algeria?

  6. The anti independence mob are doing all they can to try and hide the fact thast a No vote is saying No Thanks to democratic governance in Scotland.
    This is just more obfuscation from them and doesn’t really deserve much attention.

  7. Nice piece

    the football thing is just that a footy thing . i jumped for joy watching wee Mo Farrah and the GB cycling teams will cheer for wee Mo again , and HE’S going to be wearing England colours this time.. … so what Go wee Mo.

    The English athletes will get plenty support in Glasgow this year and maybe then we can chill out. trying to force Scots to support England won’t work . many do in a quieter way.

  8. Reminds me of when John Pilger interviewed Jerry Falwell, the ultra right-wing preacher who helped elect Reagan

    Quote ”
    “Did you not say” I asked, “that God doesn’t answer the prayers of Jews?”

    “That was a theological statement made by another member of the Moral Majority. I love Jews. I Ilove em.” He went on to claim that Jesus wasn’t a cissy or a pacifist and we’d have a “nuclear holy war over Jerusalem, and the Russians would come out second best”

    From Heroes by John Pilger

    As Chomsky points out, these Christian Zionist people “love Jews” because they believe the policies of Israel which they support will bring about the Apocalypse. I suspect the right wing non-religious ‘supporters of Israel’ similarly secretly wish for the mutual destruction of Arabs and Jews in the middle east.

  9. I’m just reading the posts here when I just heard that England are out. Now I don’f follow football for if the truth was told I don’t particularly like the game, maybe that should be I don’t like the overpaid prima-donas that play the sport. As for England and I believe this is the nub of the matter, we hate having 1966 played endlessly at World Cup time and add to that the tribalism displayed by ‘Dead Heads’ whoops ‘Red Tops’ really does have me reaching for the bucket. Why is it that they never play the England v Scotland game in 1967, you know the one with Jim Baxter, I think, playing keepy – uppy???

    Auld Rock

  10. Suspected closet racists who start for no reason to proclaim their love for Jews but this love is the tell for their deep rooted Islamaphobia. Not really something I have experienced myself but I will watch out for it.

  11. “because any overarching Scots identity is essentially political” – I’ve no idea what that means. Identity is usually associated with a sense, and love of, place, formed while growing up.

    My children, born and raised in Kent used to say they were half Scottish ( my late wife was English ) which is silly since they felt English. I told them to be proud of their nationality which, after all, has contributed a vast array of art, science etc to the world.

  12. If anybody wants to see the “ethnic” card identified you need look no further than this piece of nonsense from the BBC editorial handbook http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-27939845
    It is an absolute disgrace that the BBC should be running a non-story like this, with all its implications

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