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Thu 9 July 2020
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James Melville explains why it might be time for the Scottish National Party to change its name.

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“Whether we have lived here for generations or are new Scots from Europe, India, Pakistan, Africa and countries across the globe, we are all of this and more,” Nicola Sturgeon has said. “We are so much stronger for the diversity that shapes us. We are one Scotland. We are simply home to all those who have chosen to live here. That is who and what we are.”

“Nationalism” is usually associated with a right-wing narrative of fake superiority against other nations combined with xenophobic insecurity against other races, nations or foreign citizens. It is a reactionary ideology which spreads towards isolationism and the exclusion of foreigners from becoming citizens or full members of a nation. It is narrow, insular and deeply divisive. It is ethnic nationalism.

This is the opposite of the brand of “nationalism” displayed in Scotland and talked about by its First Minister.

For supporters of Scottish independence and the Scottish National Party (SNP), nationalism is based on self determination as a nation, but with a progressive and inclusive brand of internationalism. It welcomes foreign alliances such as the EU and foreign citizens who aspire to live, work and study in Scotland. It is civic nationalism.

This defines itself by a shared set of outward-looking values and political institutions and an understanding of the citizen’s participation in those institutions as a good in itself – necessary for the common good of individual and community enhancement within a nation. This brand of civic nationalism also allows anyone to identify with the nation and its civic values, regardless of their ethnicity or country of origin. 

Civic nationalism in Scotland is based on the premise that being “one Scotland” is to be defined not by origin or ethnicity but by an attachment to Scotland and participation in its civic life. Support for the SNP is markedly high amongst ethnic minorities and Asians living in Scotland actually support independence at a higher rate than the rest of the population.

While Donald Trump wants to build walls and ban Muslims from entering the US and Nigel Farage stands next to a ‘Breaking Point’ poster designed to whip up scaremongering against Muslim refugees, the SNP openly endorses high levels of immigration into Scotland. 

Sturgeon has said that the UK Government’s post-Brexit plans for immigration would be “devastating” for Scotland, with the Home Office proposing to not give visas to low-skilled workers. “It is impossible to overstate how devastating this UK Government policy will be for Scotland’s economy,” she has said. “Our demographics mean we need to keep attracting people here – this makes it so much harder”. Sturgeon wants powers over migration to be devolved to Holyrood so a separate system can be established north of the border. This approach is open border civic internationalism rather than closed border ethnic nationalism.

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The term “nationalism” now sits rather uncomfortably within the SNP and its name because it carries unwanted associations with right-wing, populist nationalist movements elsewhere. Sturgeon has highlighted that the SNP promotes a “civic, open, inclusive view of the world” and declared in 2017 that “if I could turn the clock back to the establishment of my party, and choose its name all over again, I wouldn’t choose the name it’s got just now”.

Sturgeon is leading an independence movement that is fundamentally internationalist, rather than nationalist. Her party wants more immigrants to come to Scotland for diversity, economic and social reasons and it is a progressive brand of liberal inclusivity rather than xenophobic parochialism. 

Supporters of Scottish independence are often described in sections of a largely unionist media as nationalists or separatists. This is arguably a deliberate attempt to muddy the waters by falsely associating the movement for Scottish independence with the type of nationalist values that independence supporters in Scotland actually find abhorrent. People who back independence for Scotland don’t do so because of a hatred of others, they do so because they want the independence to welcome others.

Perhaps it is time for the SNP to change its name to the Scottish Internationalist Party – because it has a vision of Scottish society that isn’t dominated by fixed identities and is the opposite of the English nationalist forces driving Brexit.

Considering what is happening in many countries around the world and with Brexit itself, the SNP’s ideology of internationalist progressiveness should be seen as an emblem of political hope for millions of like-minded people.


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