Scotland, according to the British media, has become a breeding ground for Nazis and gnats, and it has done this by adopting the friendly banter of terms like “Nats” and “Cybernats.” It is high time that we stopped them in their tracks.

On a day where Joan McAlpine has a spread in the Record addressing the nasty trolling she was subjected to after appearing in a photograph with kids wearing blue pullovers spelling out the word “Yes” during the 2014 independence campaign, the Butterfly Rebellion was pulling up yet another London-based journalist – Rachel Cunliffe – for her use of the word “Cybernats.” These two events are related, and speak to the unionist tactic of equating Scottish independence supporters with Nazis and insects. Fair play to Joan for writing this up, and indeed it is time that we all started to address this vicious and underhand tactic.

Cunliffe, in her Twitter exchange with the Butterfly Rebellion, insisted that she was unaware that “Nats” and “Cybernats” were offensive terms, and so we will give her the benefit of the doubt. Yet following the exchange she did enlist the help of her editor at Reaction, Iain Martin, who promptly tweeted a YouTube video of an SNP campaign featuring young people explaining why they were “Nats.” Yes, this is confusing; how this language is denied to unionists but is acceptable for self-identifying independentistas, but it has its equivalents in the use of the “N-word” by African Americans and the queer vocabulary of the LGBT community. Words used to oppress members of another group or community can be legitimately adopted by its victims as a means of subversion, but its use by the oppressor class/group/person remains as deeply offensive as before.

As a pejorative, the term “Nats” is remarkably versatile and has at least three appeals in its use – the equation of nationalism with all things bad and toxic, the attempt to relate the “Nats” with Nazis, and its use as a homonym for gnat – all of which are deployed to delegitimise the case for Scottish independence. It is for these reasons that the use of these terms must be considered grossly offensive and even racist.

Some will argued – no doubt – that calling this language out as racist is a bit of a stretch, after all Scottishness isn’t a race. But that’s not strictly true. Race is a social construct, a category of power used as a means of controlling a given population by another, more powerful population. That we ourselves, as Scots, identify as Scottish presupposes a recognised category of difference, an ethnic and cultural identifier by which we differentiate ourselves from other people. This lends itself to Scottishness – along with Englishness and Frenchness – being a racial category, and our mistreatment on the grounds of our Scottishness as being a form of racism.

Referring to Scots as “Nats” – regardless of this being directed at “nationalists,” because it is a term used only against Scots – is both dehumanising and racist. As a term coined deliberately to sound like the name of an insect it is painfully reminiscent of the language deployed against the Tutsis by the Hutu government in Rwanda, a language that ultimately legitimised genocide. It has also been used to perpetuate the idea that nationalism in Scotland – in spite of the fact that not all independence supporters are nationalists – is a form of Gaelic Nazism. The fight against Nazi Germany has become a potent symbol in Britain around which national sentiment rallies, but to insinuate that Scottish independentistas are Nazis just flies in the face of the facts. While in England Brexit has seen an explosion in racially motivated violence against vulnerable minorities, the rise of the independence movement has been coupled with a sharp drop in racist violence in Scotland. So where are the real Nazis?

Ignorance is no excuse for racism, and likewise journalists – who are responsible for informing the attitudes of the British public – must not be excused when they use this disgusting language against people with whom they politically disagree. Certainly, the preponderance of the use of these terms across the unionist media demonstrates the will of those in media and Westminster to make this language acceptable, and – quite frankly – it is utterly unacceptable, and it is our duty to remind them of this each and every time they think they can get away with it.

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