Independence, we are often told, is about our hatred of England and the English. In some quarters this may not be far from the truth, but it cuts both ways, and it isn’t really about nationality. Is it? It’s more to do with class.
Throughout the independence campaign, and still in the comments on pro-independence social media pages, a popular argument against the Yes movement was that its success was rooted in a deep seated resentment in Scotland for our southern neighbours. It’s true that a good proportion of us would support Iran and Saudi Arabia in the football if they were up against England, but this doesn’t mean we hate them. If anything it betrays a certain type of liking – we like to see them being beaten. Jokes aside, we’re all aware of a level of Anglophobia in Scotland, but to suggest that our drive to independence is based on something so puerile is shamefully ignorant of the reality of our national ambition and assumes – quite wrongly – that this cultural antipathy isn’t mutual.
While this assumption of Scots’ dislike of the English was being subtly stoked by the BBC and the British media something else was becoming apparent; their loathing for us. However, this wasn’t framed in terms of national or ethnic dislike, and nor should it be because that’s not exactly what it was or is. From its inception the mass activism of the Yes campaign was a stirring of working class identity in Scotland, a power in our politics that has been latent for years. What the British establishment press and political élite had identified in Scotland was a resurgence of the working class, and this gave us more in common with vast swathes of the English population – especially in the post-industrial north of England.
In a sense this is what many within the old guard of Scottish Labour and characters like George Galloway saw, and so found reason for an internationalist class-based Better Together movement against Westminster austerity. Theoretically, if we buy the classic Marxist thinking of worker solidarity, this makes sense and has its merits, but our history of working class identity and Labour politics in Scotland have already demonstrated that this could never work. When Home Rule was last on the table for Scotland, back in 1912 to 1914, before it was brushed aside by an imperial war, the Labour and trade unionist movements in Scotland had already determined that our separation from London was the only means by which the welfare of workers north of the border would be prioritised.
Westminster and the British establishment are well aware of this undercurrent of class conflict, not only in Scotland, but throughout the rest of Britain. They seldom talk about it. They don’t want to remind us. It was precisely with this in mind, when Scotland was being first devolved, that Tony Blair was so keen to emphasise our fictitious “class-less society.” Scotland’s national self-becoming, from London’s standpoint, could never be about class consciousness. This class war was what was coming to the surface from the British press in 2014, and it wasn’t by accident that Alex Salmond was portrayed in a Rab C. Nesbitt-esque string vest in a chipper. We were to be reminded of our class servility and mocked for our inferiority and chippiness.
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