By Jason Michael

Events in England must be a warning to Scotland. We are not immune to the same diseases of intolerance and hatred, and our failure to address these issues – even in the independence movement – will only save this headache for our future.

Chronophobia – the irrational fear of the future – has, over the past number of decades, become something of a rational anxiety. We have come to appreciate the troubling fact that history offers no guarantees for the future. That we have grown up in a peaceful, politically stable corner of the world no longer promises peace and stability tomorrow. Everything around us is changing rapidly, and no one – not even our governments – fully grasps what is going on or where exactly all this change is taking us. As a culture and a society we are becoming more anxious about what the future holds, and recent events in Britain are leading us to the conclusion that we have good reason to be worried.

Brexit has opened up a whole can of worms. Nothing we are seeing in the post-referendum fallout is new; we’ve always been aware of a deep-seated racism at the heart of Britain’s half-baked identity. Notions of racial and cultural supremacy have been tempered by our middle class sensibilities of politeness and respectability. Yet this coating of refinement has, of late, come undone; permitting more of our prejudices and fears to be acted out.

Jo Cox’s murder on the streets of her constituency was by no means unrelated to the broader movement to the right in the United Kingdom, and the rapid escalation of racially motivated hate crimes in England and Wales since the Brexit vote are merely the extension of this climate of political permission. Britain’s media has always flowed with an undercurrent of xenophobia and intolerance, but only with the advent of political populism has this sentiment been lent social credibility. The result has been that non-nationals in the UK, together with migrants and refugees coming to the country, have become the scapegoats for England’s governance deficit.

Increasingly the United Kingdom, like other countries across Europe and North America, has become a state of exception; where government policy, both reinforcing and pandering to the fears of a more politically right electorate, is routinely suspending the usual demands of law and the civil, political, and human rights of “foreigners” so as to appear to be on the side of the voters. The cumulative effect of this vindication of racism and prejudice is an explosion of overt public hostility and violence directed towards those identified as outsiders, and, at the level of state, the creation of a de facto two-tier justice system – whereby non-nationals are denied proper protection.

It is no longer possible – or even legitimate – to suggest our fear that this dynamic of state-public behaviour is taking us closer to the collapse of democracy and law and order is irrational. This anxiety is established on historical experience. At any moment our democratic institutions are only as strong as the body politic, the judiciary, and the government’s will to protect them, and so they are indeed more fragile than we would care to admit.

England – where it is quantifiably no longer a joke to suggest that the party in government has gone further to the right than the fringe right-wing parties – is teetering on the brink of a democratically mandated totalitarianism. The exceptional suspension of civil and political rights has now become so commonplace that it is no longer exceptional, and the state’s desire to remove from the statutes the European Convention on Human Rights is but another verification of this trajectory.

Scotland has, in the main, taken another direction – that of civic nationalism, but in spite of the best efforts of the Scottish government and various cultural fora there is only ever a fine line between a nationalism of inclusivity and that resurgent nationalism of ethnic exceptionalism. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Brexit split in the country. Quite unlike the 2014 independence referendum, the EU referendum did not run between the independence and unionist factions, but through them. While this has opened up the possibility of cooperation between pro-EU independentistas and unionists, it has exposed the other nationalists.

Having been subjected to the complete dominance of British media for the past three centuries, Scotland has ingested and digested much of the same ideological and opinion-forming material as England and Wales. It is to be expected then that similar ideas of race and supremacy have developed within Scottish nationalism, and it is visible – thankfully in a small minority – in the pro-independence discourse.

History is contingent, and in this regard Scotland is no different from England. It is not impossible for the same racial and ethnic tensions present in England and Wales today to become a central feature of Scotland’s politics tomorrow. In fact – if we are on the verge of independence – this may well be likely with the inevitable political splintering following our cessation from Westminster.

At this moment in time the independence movement – the political leadership and the social movements working towards independence – may be thought of as a national renaissance in the process of becoming a state. Thus, as an embryonic state, it carries within it its highest hopes, dreams, and aspirations, and its worst nightmares. Now is the time to learn from the chaos into which our southern neighbour has descended and begin to address those same problems when we see them in our own ranks.

Acceptable racism on the BBC

Author: Jason Michael (@Jeggit)

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