For some time, I’ve been tempted to write a follow-up to my 2012 post “Foreigners“, in which I query why certain key figures on the Left, including Labour leader Ed Miliband, are entering into the independence debate in a spirit of not a little xenophobia.
I’ve wanted to do a “sequel” largely because of the continued xenophobia emanating from certain elements of the No camp. But I was particularly motivated today due to a tweet I saw of an article in the Sun, in which Miliband yet again said something quite outrageous.
The tweet was from the uncompromisingly incisive pro-independence website Wings Over Scotland. Indeed, WoS asked to republish my first “Foreigners” post back when I wrote it (1|2), and has been doing a long-running feature called “foreigner watch” where it collects examples of pejorative statements about foreigners that emanate from the No camp.
You can read the Sun article for yourself via the actual tweet, or by clicking the image above, but the bulk of it was a quote directly from Miliband himself:
“I don’t want my kids to feel like Scotland is going to become a foreign country. I want them to be able to come here as I enjoy coming here in the future.
“Many families, probably every family in Scotland, has a connection to England and the rest of the UK. And therefore, why would we break apart?”
The words on the face of it seem innocent, even warm-hearted. But Miliband’s core assumption is unquestionable: he doesn’t think he’d come to Scotland (either at all, or as much) if it became independent, and neither would his children, because it would be “foreign”.
Now, Miliband is a supposedly intelligent man. He will know fine well that, just as there is no emotional, practical or legal block to him making regular visits to, for instance, the Republic of Ireland if he so wishes, so there will be a similarly free path to him living, working, visiting or holidaying in Scotland. Indeed, we might very easily adapt his statement to say that most if not all families in the Republic of Ireland also have family links to the UK despite it being an independent country.
One can only conclude, then, that the reason he and his children wouldn’t enjoy coming to Scotland is that he simply wouldn’t want to. Such raw, casual prejudice.
It’s only a few days after Miliband also said that, if he was Prime Minister of a reduced UK, he might have to install border posts at the Scotland-England border if Scotland took a radically different path on immigration. I’m not aware of him previously making any similar threat to the Republic of Ireland – and that suggests a certain vindictiveness towards and suspicion of Scotland that he does not have towards Ireland or indeed any other country.
It’s along the lines of some other views I’ve highlighted on my blog before, such as Theresa May’s extremely hostile statements about Scotland on issues of security.
This racism is not just coming from politicians south of the border, though. It’s something found up here in the No camp too. I stumbled the other day across this excellent and thoughtful blog post by the Scottish playwright Peter Arnott, in which he ponders on an inherent anti-English racism within Scottish Unionism. That sounds like an oxymoron, but for me the following extract is the crux of his argument:
“The very core of the fear in “Project Fear” is fear of English vengeance. All the stuff about trade barriers and borders and passports and no one ever buying whisky again are predicated on the same thing: on the apparently inevitable consequence that they will hurt us if we dare. This expectation which informs all the dire prognostications of economic boycotts and general administrative bloody mindedness, even of proper fisticuffs over the assets – is based on an image of the English as petty, spiteful, nasty and vengeful. The No campaign seem certain that the majority stakeholders in the “greatest multinational family” in history will react like vindictive children and deny us access to any of the joint assets in terms of property and currency and EU membership at the very least.
“What must Scottish Unionists think of English people that they really expect so petty a reaction? On the one hand they talk about partnership and family and community, and in the next breath they seem to picture our neighbours as a bunch of people who will want to hurt us so badly that they will hurt themselves in order to punish us. They are arguing for fellowship on the grounds that the “other fellows” are dangerous. They are arguing for family solidarity on the basis that Daddy is a psychopath.”
Now I’m not saying that all No supporters are racist, and I don’t think Peter Arnott is saying that either. Far from it. I think those who espouse views like those I’ve outlined above are generally in the minority (though, curiously, they seem to be prominent politicians rather than loose cannons in the rank and file).
But that “Daddy is a psychopath” line is an important one, because it helped me clarify an emerging fear in my mind that there is a hint of the language of domestic abuse inherent in a lot of the proclamations from the No camp.
I remember when “divorce is a costly business” was a political slogan being banded about by Labour in the run-up to the first Scottish Parliament elections in 1999, to deter people from voting SNP and taking us to the very situation we are in today in 2014. At the time, I remember one observer on the radio noting that this would have been rather hurtful for many people for whom divorce would be, or had been, the only safe option in life.
And so when the No camp tell us that the rest of the UK love us here in Scotland, but if we leave it’ll be a mess, I’m distinctly uncomfortable. It’s just like an abusive spouse saying “I love you, and I want you to stay – but see if you do leave I’ll make your life hell.”
That’s not love between equals. That’s not respect between neighbourly nations. That’s emotional blackmail; the language of control, of hate, of insecurity and of bitterness. Blame the other. Belittle them. Threaten them. Do them down.
It’s the sort of language we’re hearing more and more from certain limited corners of the No camp these days. Such folk are not just predicting conflict after a Yes vote; they actually seem to be desiring it. And I’m fed up of it. I want a Scotland where we love and respect as neighbours not just England, Wales and Northern Ireland but all other countries in the world.
For me, that idea was expressed best by Andrew Redmond Barr, National Collective activist, in a tweet earlier this year, and the words have really stuck with me.
Both Yes and No want Scotland to be "part of something bigger". For one side that means an island and for the other it means the world.
— Andrew Redmond Barr (@AndrewRBarr) January 28, 2014
That’s what is facing us in September’s referendum. It’s a privilege that we have the choice to make.