The SNP, Scottish Labour, Loyalism and Scotophobia

Striking fear in the hearts of Unionists

There are some folk, mainly Labour types, who have a visceral hatred of the Scottish National Party. I have heard all kinds of characterizations of the SNP and all of them are wrong. “Well, the SNP are a nationalist party and nationalism is bad” is one such complaint but is all nationalism bad? Isn’t there such a thing as left-wing nationalism? Then there were the many liberation movements in the former colonies. Weren’t they nationalist and left-wing? I’ve also heard people characterize the SNP as “Nazis” (melodramatic) or  as the “Scottish version of UKIP” (absurd). Hysterical, hyperbolic and delusional. But whoever claimed Unionists were rational? They will do anything to cling onto the leaky boat that is the Union.

The SNP was formed in 1934 through a merger of two parties: the larger centre-left National Party of Scotland and the smaller centre-right Scottish Party. The latter was really little more than a discussion group and was a breakaway group from the Unionist Party, the ideological cousins of the Conservative Party. Furthermore, the Scottish Party was not a nationalist party; it advocated Home Rule. The former was the older of the two formations and contained, among others, Hugh MacDiarmid, who was later expelled for being a communist. Ironically MacDiarmid would be expelled from the CPGB for holding nationalist views.

Initially, the SNP wasn’t always nationalist and advocated Home Rule in its early years. This changed in the 1970s after the successes of Winnie Ewing in 1967 and Margo MacDonald in the Glasgow Govan by-election in 1973. The Govan seat would later be won by her future husband, Jim Sillars, in 1988. Disgusted by the lack of progress towards devolution, Sillars left the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1976 and formed a breakaway Scottish Labour Party. This party, along with the 79 Group formulated a left-wing vision for the SNP. The 79 Group, which included a young Alex Salmond, Roseanna Cunningham and Margo MacDonald, attempted to pull the SNP further to the left. They were expelled by the SNP, though they would return in the late 1980s and their platform would be adopted as a political position first, by Gordon Wilson, the SNP leader and then, when Salmond won the leadership contest in 1990.

Currently the SNP is described as “social democratic”. They are to the left of Labour on many issues. This does not mean they are a socialist party. Far from it. However, they are genuinely progressive and offer the possibility of smashing the Westminster sham democracy once and for all. I am not an SNP supporter but I can see the attraction in voting for them and I can also see how an SNP majority in Scotland could lead to a change in the way the United Kingdom is governed. I am no supporter of the union and I believe that it has run its course. The countries of the UK need a new constitutional settlement and a different voting system. If the SNP are successful, then this is more likely to come about.

I have to laugh at those unionists who complain about Scottish and even Welsh nationalism, but unionism and its Northern Irish cousins,  Ulster Unionism and Loyalism, are actually forms of nationalism. There is no self-reflexivity on the unionist side. None whatsoever.

What struck me as odd is how Labour shared a platform with the Orange Order (and the Tories) during the Scottish Independence Referendum. Orangemen, Loyalists and Unionists are a backward-looking, nostalgic bunch who are forever trapped in their flawed rendering of history. It’s a version of history full of mawkish sentimentality and constant flag (or fleg) waving. And it stinks.

Some critics of the SNP may complain that the party has a distant history of anti-Catholicism, but that is nothing compared to the sectarian bigotry of the Orange Order. Yet, Scottish Labour was happy to jump into bed with the Orangemen and Loyalists.

Remember this scene after the “Better Together’ campaign won? This is what your union looks like.

Gerry Braiden, writing in The Herald wrote:

THE Orange Order’s anti-independence campaigning has support from within the Labour Party, a leading Northern Ireland politician has claimed.

 The DUP’s Sammy Wilson said one Scots Labour MP told him he was grateful to “see the Lodge on the street” in the weeks and months running up to the September 18 poll .

Just days before tens of thousands of Orange Order members take to Edinburgh’s streets opposing Scottish independence, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland’s most senior official, Dr David Hume, has claimed it would be “failing in its democratic duty” if it did not stage a Referendum rally.

I was probably about 10 years old when I saw the local Orange Order march through Liverpool City Centre. I asked my mother who these people were. “They’re the Orangemen”, she replied . “What’s an Orangeman, mum”? She had no answer. “Is grandad an Orangeman”? “No” my mum shot back. But I found the triumphalist spectacle rather threatening. Men in bowler hats and orange sashes marching as bold as brass along a main thoroughfare didn’t sit well with me. Many years later, I discovered what they were. I also learnt about Loyalism and how closely connected Loyalist paramilitaries were to both the state security services and the far-right. Britain First, for example, was founded by Loyalist and former Calvinist preacher, Jim Dowson, and uses Loyalist motifs.

In Scotland, the Orange Order was closely associated with the Scottish Unionist Party (now called Scottish Conservatives), but its influence has waned in recent years because of the Tories’ diminution of seats north of the border. More Orangemen are likely to be members of the Scottish Labour Party these days, Peter Geoghegan writes:

According to the current Grand Master, Henry Dunbar, the Order even encouraged members to vote SNP in the 2011 Holyrood elections in protest over a Glasgow City Council policy to reduce parades. The SNP won a number of Labour strongholds in Glasgow in its landslide victory, though it’s not clear what, if anything, the ‘Orange vote’ contributed to that.

But the relationship was short-lived.

The Order’s putative flirtation with the nationalists didn’t last long. Before May’s local elections, the Labour group leader in Glasgow, Gordon Matheson, appeared at an Orange Lodge hustings, apparently telling members that the council’s parading policy was ‘flawed’. The Orange Torch praised Matheson for his attacks on the SNP – ‘the kind of bullish talk we need to hear more of from unionist politicians’ – and claimed that Labour held control of the council thanks to the help of ‘thousands of Orangemen and their families’.

There are still people who will persist with the accusation that the SNP is fundamentally anti-Catholic. That accusation is feeble and the SNP’s critics will do anything to smear them.

The success of the SNP has brought with it a concomitant rise in anti-Scottishness.  Mind you, this anti-Scottishness is nothing new and has been around ever since the Middle Ages. Indeed, the stereotypical image (constructed by the English) of the Scots and other the Celtic peoples of these islands has been unremittingly negative. Ironically, no such stereotypes of the English exist. The Scots, however, are depicted variously as drunks, junkies and tramps, who are a drain on the UK economy. Ray Winstone, appearing on Have I Got News For You, infamously claimed:

“To be fair the Scottish economy has its strengths – its chief exports being oil, whisky, tartan and tramps.”

Kelvin Mackenzie, himself of Scottish descent, appears to hate his own genes.

Scotland believes not in entrepreneurialism like London and the south east… Scots enjoy spending [money] but they don’t enjoy creating it, which is the opposite to down south.

The myths and tropes keep piling up.

Only yesterday, while I was watching the BBC News Channel, a woman in a vox pop interview expressed her ill-founded fears that Scotland would “run the country”. Her level of ignorance and paranoia was staggering. Thus we find that the hatred felt by some English people isn’t confined to the SNP and extends to Scotland itself. The recent independence referendum has brought all of this hatred and bile to the surface and much of it is stirred up by the media and by English politicians. The Tories’ recent poster of Alex Salmond with Ed Miliband in his pocket was designed specifically to play on people’s ignorance.

The union came into being with the Acts of Union (1707 and 1800) and yoked Scotland and Ireland to England for the purpose of creating an empire. The ‘partnership’, as the Union is often called these days, is supposedly an equal one. But that’s not how many people in Scotland and Ireland see it. Even in Northern Ireland, there is a general feeling that Westminster doesn’t understand the Six Counties. In spite of protests to the contrary, England has dominated the Union politically, economically and militarily. It imposed direct rule in Northern Ireland and denied the right of the Scots to organize their own affairs, while Wales is practically ignored.

The union is finished and any attempt to hang on for dear life to, what is in effect, a corpse is only delaying the inevitable.

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4 Comments

Filed under General Election 2015

4 responses to “The SNP, Scottish Labour, Loyalism and Scotophobia

  1. Got a tune going round in my head…

    You might find the lyrics to ‘The Old Divide & Rule’ by Roaring Jack (a kind of Austrailian version of the Pogues, i think) of interest. I bought a copy back in the mid-1980s, so its been around a long time, but still seems little known.

  2. Pingback: The Hypocrisy Of Labour’s Anti-SNP Smears | Guy Debord's Cat

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