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By Jason Michael

OWING TO THE SMALL NUMBER of likes and shares it received on social media, few may be aware of the robust discussion between Peter Bell and myself yesterday on the question of tolerating racist far-right groups likes Sìol nan Gàidheal in the Scottish independence movement. We both took different positions in the discussion; with Peter arguing that because of the special openness and inclusiveness of the independence movement excluding anyone would change its fundamental nature and turn it into an organisation, and with me arguing that we cannot tolerate intolerance – á la Karl Popper – and that we cannot defend the indefensible. Ultimately this discussion led to Peter blocking my account on Twitter, saying later that “after dealing with them all day, the liars have totally pissed me off.” I regret that this has upset him and that he has decided to take this step.

It is important to say that this – hopefully temporary – breakdown in our relationship does not mean that my issue is with Peter Bell. Few activists have done and continue to do as much for the movement as does Peter. I count him as a friend and an ally, and sincerely hope we can overcome this disagreement. Nor do I imagine that he agrees with or supports Sìol nan Gàidheal, in fact both he and I agree completely on the nature of this group. He writes:

As someone who self-identifies politically as a civic nationalist, I find ethno-nationalism totally alien and profoundly objectionable. Racism is, quite apart from any other consideration, intellectually offensive. The ‘blood and soil’ nationalism espoused by Siol nan Gaidheal is, from my personal perspective, an affront to science and logic. It is an ugly ideology.

Where we differ is in how each of us think such racist far-right groups ought to be treated by the wider independence movement. From history – and not merely from the history of the Third Reich, I argue that we must not and cannot tolerate those whose stated objective is intolerance. The dangers of this toleration – this appeasement – are apparent right now across the whole of Europe and the United States. No one imagined, seriously, that Donald Trump would ever become President of the United States, and now that he is in the White House it is this “ugly ideology” of racial supremacy and “blood and soil nationalism” that has brought us to the child separation policy and the unleashing of ethnic and racial hatreds all over that country.

Peter takes a different approach, writing that “the stuff peddled by Siol nan Gaidheal is rather too ludicrous to be considered dangerous.” Therefore, he thinks it is too “easy to dismiss,” and so will not dismiss it from anything other than his own mind.

Yet, neither is this – I suspect – the reason he objected so forcefully to my argument. Peter Bell, like many other independentistas, holds to an idea of the “special – perhaps unique” nature of the independence movement in Scotland. Much akin to Robin McAlpine’s expression of the “butterfly rebellion” – an idea to which I obviously subscribe, this special nature sees us as a leaderless mass movement for independence and change. Changing this in any significant way, introducing or imposing any kind of rule or limitation, they believe, will alter the essential special and unique structurelessness that gives the movement its strength. As Peter puts it:

It is this [openness and inclusiveness] that has made the Yes movement special – perhaps unique. Excluding Siol nan Gaidheal destroys this essential quality. Instituting a process by which any group or individual may be excluded necessarily transforms the Yes movement into an organisation.

It can only then be assumed that it was my insistence that at least some measure of regulation be introduced; namely the complete exclusion of Sìol nan Gàidheal and other openly racist far-right groups, associations, and parties, which caused the falling out. While I can respect this position as the conclusion of a sound logical argument, and it is logically consistent with Peter’s thinking on the special and unique nature and the unicity of the movement, I think it is dangerously – but not deliberately – flawed.

Previous to this in his own article he wrote:

What is proposed is that Siol nan Gaidheal be excluded on account of their motives for supporting independence. Which necessarily implies that their motives have been scrutinised and judged to be unacceptable. By whom?

This is correct. This is exactly what I propose, that we – as a movement, and by general consensus – exclude Sìol nan Gàidheal because of its motives for supporting independence. So, we ask: Why does Sìol nan Gàidheal support Scottish independence? This is a group made up of a relatively small number of members who have a multitude of personal reasons for wanting independence, but as a group it states its raison d’être on its website. “There can be no tolerance afforded to those,” it says, “who would bulldoze the myriad ethno-national phenotypes and practices of our kaleidoscopic world…” In plain English, ironically enough, Sìol nan Gàidheal says that it will not tolerate whose people who would eradicate their racialised order of the world, a world in which all “ethno-national phenotypes” are assigned their place. In short, Sìol nan Gàidheal wants independence because those who look different – “phenotypes” – should stay where they belong.

Sìol nan Gàidheal wants independence as a means to creating a white, ethnically Scottish, racially pure state. Recently the group tweeted that “only siol members know what siol is.” That would be true if it were not for the fact that it publishes its noxious political ideas online. We know what “siol” – “seed” – is about because it has told us.

Why do I want them excluded from our movement? It is true, this is a small group – but the size of a group says nothing about the harm it can do. Think of the harm done by other comparatively small groups in the United Kingdom; the BNP, the EDL, UKIP, and others. We can do little to remove them from society – certainly not from an open and free society, but we can remove their visible political presence from our spaces and platforms. Their ongoing inclusion – by design or otherwise – has the effect of normalising their image and discourse, and this we have seen time and again in the street and parliamentary politics of England.

Nowhere am I suggesting that their inclusion will mean that we will be overrun by Nazis, as Peter represented my case to be. It is not their size or direct influence that creates the danger – it is the process of normalisation, making their rhetoric and ideas more acceptable, that makes them dangerous. The racist far-right has demonstrated in England, Europe, and the US that it has the ability to shift the Overton Window; the parameters of socially and politically acceptable discourse, language, and behaviour. This is the true danger such groups pose.

Their size – their relative insignificance to the size of the rest of the movement – is irrelevant. Small groups can become big groups, and small groups – as we have seen elsewhere – can and do have a remarkable ability to box above their weight on the political stage. But more importantly, to me at least, the independence movement is not merely about the journey we are on. It is not a simple case of bringing all those in support of independence together for the purposes of winning – no matter their politics. The movement is about the goal. What this means is that we must be planning now for winning independence and making sure we are taking the right people and the right ideas with us. The seeds we carry onto the fields of independence will become the plants that will grow once we have achieved our goal. If we include Sìol nan Gàidheal in this project we will be empowering it and emboldening it, and – more dangerously – we will be planting it as one of the victors in the Scotland we have fought so hard to win.

One of the chief reasons I am so opposed to British nationalism is because of the fascism, bigotry, and racism that appears everywhere to be at its heart. This is where I am being consistent to my logic and line of reasoning: Why would I think any differently of Sìol nan Gàidheal when it is so obviously as fascist, racist, and intolerant as British nationalism? I can understand why people think that by excluding this ideology we are making ourselves intolerant, but this is a paradox we must answer. By tolerating the intolerant we sow the seeds of our own destruction.

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10 thoughts on “Safeguarding the Independence Movement

  1. In order to take this swivel-eyed scaremongering about Siol nan Gaidheal seriously, you have to believe some stuff that is every bit as crazy as the delusional drivel subscribed to by that insignificant band of brain-dead ‘blood and soil’ nationalists. You have to believe that Scotland in 2018 is just like Germany in 1928, with social and economic conditions and a political culture which combine to provide fertile ground for the rise of fascism.
    You must also believe that Siol nan Gaidheal is, not a semi-detached support group for the socially inadequate, scientifically illiterate and pathologically sad, but a terrifying reincarnation of Hitler’s Nazis, faithful to the obscene original in every sordid detail and just as politically effective.
    You then must eschew all further reflection that might risk exposing the insulting ridiculousness of this demented fantasy and proceed directly to death-camps on the outskirts of Auchterarder where Siol nan Gaidheal’s psychopathic minions implement the ‘Final Solution’ to the ‘White Settler’ problem with all the cold, heartless, mechanical efficiency for which the Gaelic master-race is renowned.
    Those who seek to put Siol nan Gaidheal on a historical pedestal alongside the Nazis would doubtless respond to my dismissive attitude by insisting that there are similarities between the ideologies and by incessantly referring to Karl Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance. But similarity doesn’t imply equivalence any more than correlation implies causality. And, while they bang on about Popper, they assiduously ‘forget’ to mention that what he was warning against was unlimited tolerance of the intolerant, Which, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has proposed. I certainly did not.
    At no time did Popper suggest we abandon all reason and sense of perspective and treat every instance of vaguely politically organised intolerance as if it represented an immediate threat to democratic civilisation. It is worth contrasting his reasoned argument with the grotesque exaggerations and frantic virtue signalling of the Angry Villagers.

    “Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”

    What Jason Michael and others are presenting is an absolutist perversion of Popper’s analysis in which suppression is the first resort rather than the last and rational assessment of the threat is foregone altogether. It is a form of madness on a par with anything spouted by Siol nan Gaidheal. and arguably more pernicious. Because, while the threat to democracy posed by Siol nan Gaidheal is too small to be measured, the absolute intolerance proposed by Jason Michael is a very real threat to the Yes movement.
    I repeat, with not the slightest hope that the import of the words will register on those intent on engineering an irrational fear of Siol nan Gaidheal, that nobody is suggesting unlimited tolerance of fascism. My own remarks on the matter (https://peterabell.blog/2018/06/26/not-so-easy/) are perfectly clear despite much malicious misrepresentation by others. Far from suggesting unlimited tolerance, I don’t suggest any tolerance at all. I merely point out that the Yes movement, as it is presently constituted, has no mechanisms by which to suppress – or exclude – any individual or group. further to this, I point out that creating such mechanisms necessarily and irrevocably alters the fundamental nature of the Yes movement – in ways that many might regard as unfortunate, if not catastrophic.
    Unlike Jason – who apparently believes that the people of Scotland are one Siol nan Gaidheal slogan away from descent into rabid fascism – I am totally confident that society as whole is perfectly capable of providing the appropriate level of suppression whenever it may be required. There is no need to destroy the Yes movement in order to save Scotland from the Siol nan Gaidheal bogey-man. Scotland does not so readily succumb to bogey-men.
    Which brings us to the final bit of Jason’s inanity which I intend to address in what will be my final contribution to an exchange which has been as depressing and dispiriting for me as I’m sure it has for all who value the Yes movement.
    In the article referred to earlier I set out what I consider makes the Yes movement special, if not unique.

    “The Yes movement that I have known and cherished is open and inclusive. It is totally open and inclusive. It is open and inclusive, not because those who are part of the Yes movement choose that it should be so, but because it is incapable of being anything else. By it’s very nature, the Yes movement cannot be other than open and inclusive. It is devoid of the capacity to be exclusive. It lacks the structures, the hierarchies, the regulations and the apparatus required in order to formally include or exclude anyone.”

    Jason, and others, are quite explicit about their desire to destroy the fundamental character of the Yes movement by creating mechanisms by which any group or individual might be excluded. They SAY it’s only in relation to Siol nan Gaidheal. But when did it ever happen that the power of patronage was left unused once it was available? Once mechanisms exist by which inclusion may be offered or exclusion threatened, that power will be used. That’s just the way the world is. That’s just the way people are.
    I then made myself unpopular by asking awkward questions about who exactly would wield this power of patronage newly created within what was formerly known as the Yes movement. Once the principle is accepted that inclusion in the Yes movement is conditional on satisfactorily passing a test of motives, then all motives must be scrutinised. And some authority has to do the scrutinising. Some authority has to administer the test. Some authority has to adjudicate on who is fit to be part of the Yes movement. Who would take on this authority?
    Jason imagines he gets around this issue by proposing that it should be a matter of “general consensus”. More acute readers would immediately think of the obvious question which Jason is at pains to avoid either asking or answering – who decides when this “general consensus” has been arrived at? All this does is shift the power of patronage dangerously towards anonymity. It resolves precisely nothing.
    Creating mechanisms by which any individual or group can be excluded and placing inclusion in the gift of some self-appointed, unaccountable clique spells the end of the Yes movement as we have known it. Worse! It destroys the essential inclusive character of the Yes movement for no good reason. At best, it is wantonly irresponsible. At worst, it is yet another attempt by some elitist clique to take ownership and control of the Yes movement. Either way, it is intolerable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Peter – I will not address these points. I have stated my case in full already. Neither will I comment on the directed personalisation of the comment, I take full responsibility for everything I have said. In short, we have both said our piece.

      What I would like to say, and in all sincerity, is that my thoughts on this were never a reflection on how I think about you. I had not imagined or wanted anything of what I have said to offend you – intellectually or otherwise. I am deeply sad and frustrated that you have come to see me as all that you have hereinabove described. I can’t tell you just how much – on a personal level – I did not and do not want that to happen. When I say that I admire you and like you, I am not trying to flatter. That is just a simple statement of the truth.

      We quite obviously disagree, and no one should think we must always agree. I would like to think friendship and the trust we have built up between us as people and fellow activists is enough for us to mend the anger caused by this disagreement on this one issue. I still owe you a couple of pints, and I would very much like to honour that debt when everything here has cooled down.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I disagree with the word “scum” on the banner and was disappointed to see it in Glasgow last year and subsequent marches. We, as a movement, are better than that. If “scum” hadn’t been on the banner we wouldn’t be having this discussion, Sìol nan Gàidheal would be marching without all this attention, and Peter wouldn’t have had a childish hissy fit and blocked you on Twitter. Our movement is of thousands of people and the only important thing we all agree on is independence for Scotland.

    If Sìol nan Gàidheal had their way they would rid Scotland of everyone not born in Scotland (if I have interpreted their ideology correctly). That would mean that my English born dad wouldn’t have been able to vote for the SNP in the almost 50 years he lived in the Scotland he loved so much, so, naturally, I don’t agree with their way of thinking. My knee-jerk reaction was that they can’t be allowed to march and represent Scotland as we don’t want people like that to have any prominence in Scotland. They are not my Scotland, the Scotland that is inclusive and welcoming. But Peter is right, we are an inclusive people and they have as much a right to march on the public roads as the rest of us do.

    First and foremost, we must get independence and then we can deal with Sìol nan Gàidheal however, we, as an independent country, see fit.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It seems so obvious.
    Those that are inclusive march “all under one banner”. However if someone or some people choose to exlude others as Sìol nan Gàidheal openly do then they cannot claim to be “under one banner” .

    They are on their own and thankfully few in numbers but we need to show those that are watching from the sidelines tempted even itching to join us that we do not include fascism.

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  4. You are right it is not wanted. Interesting though. Siol nan Gaidheal were there in the 70s with the rise of special branch activity and US bases etc but by the end of the 80s they were close to a myth. They haven’t existed in over 25 years. I would be suspicious of this and of anyone claiming membership of a group turning up from the dead more or less. I am very interested to see know how they have come to be after so many years.

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  5. Personally, I suspect SNG have been thoroughly infiltrated by SB and will be used as provocateurs by the British as their as yet silent war to retain Scotland intensifies.
    I wouldn’t worry too much about Peter. If you think he’s raging about this, get him into the subject of dogs! 😂

    Like

  6. Anybody who doesn’t think the British State isn’t capable of such mendacity is either fabulously naive or not reading enough.
    After all, they’re happy enough to destroy the reputation of a decent, honourable fire chief if it covers their collective arses…

    Liked by 1 person

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