Foreigners 2

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.

Sun article with Miliband quoteI’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.

That’s what is facing us in September’s referendum. It’s a privilege that we have the choice to make.

8 thoughts on “Foreigners 2

  1. A lady in the audience at the West Linton debate on 23rd June said much the same thing. She was convinced that England would refuse to buy any goods from an independent Scotland, apparently out of pure spite. And the more people in the hall challenged that (including Ivan McKee), the more stubbornly she clung to her conviction.

    I wasn’t called ot speak, but if I had been I’d have said that as a long-time resident of England myself, she wasn’t describing the generous and tolerant people I knew. Sure, a few bitter individuals might be featured in the Daily Mail, but a few bitter people don’t wreck a country’s economy. One might also remember all the calls for a boycott of Scottish produce and travel to Scotland that were flying around when Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was granted compassionate release. Americans set up web sites to promote a South Africa style shunning of all things Scots. What happened? Nothing that anyone noticed. People get over these things faster that you realise.

    However, if it were indeed true that the people of England are as spiteful, petty-minded and vindictive as that, if that’s how they really think about us and how much they value us, why on earth would we want to stay in a political union with the country?

    Paradoxically, the West Linton lady who made the point was herself English, judging by her cut-glass RP accent.

  2. I would disagree that it is racism?
    It is a lack of trust.
    Successive UK Governments have chipped away the trust 5 million people should have in their ‘elected’ representatives to the extent that even people who intend to vote NO think they will renege on the Edinburgh agreement OR that they will cause further hardship to Scotland at the expense of their own voters.
    There is a real fear, not of the English, but of the people in charge of the UK government and THAT is incompatible with democracy at its heart.

  3. Your observations are so right. However, the annihilation of innocent people in Iraq and the lack of any meaningful acceptance, understanding and remorse amongst British people of their culpability in this, reflects how we have all been socialised to be xenophobic. The independence referendum is making me question what I have avoided questioning too much in the past. I am someone who has argued for over 50 years (half a century) for Scottish self government and it is only through the debate that is going on that I am understanding more fully why I have so wanted it. Just one of many reasons has been the readiness of the British State to turn to violence. Scottish people need to distance themselves from this. Somehow, that message needs to be got across to those who live in Scotland. They alone can vote Yes to stop Scottish people being recruited, trained and used as killers in the name of ‘British Democracy’.

  4. I think it is more sinister than that – Milliband’s xenophobia – not on a practical but on a psych level, and he is using his children in a powerbrokering way.

    Childrren are a currency worth more than an adult on the emotional market. Children in Need nets more than Adults in Need every would; pets are a slightly different matter but we shall leave them – no one has mentioned their pets in this yet although Kermit…

    We have opened this interlocution of the negotiations with the highest emotional currency: children . Not our own (grand)children – like Tom Brown or Sillars but Eds. Ed has amplified and inflated that currency – where Wiles attempted deflation of the YesChildren in her perversion of fact; the MacTrapped kids were relatively uninflated – of children with xenophobia, not just any xenophobia but Marks and Spencer’s children’s fears.

    What is decidedly bizarre is the subversion-inversion of – if you like – subject and object. We the Scots vote Yes, and the impact on the English (Object) is… With Milliband’s example we have the Millikids and Dad as Subject and us as Object. The exhortation is thrown out that our vote Self-Determination, that even Hillary and Obama, far less the Chinese Premier clearly tried to avoid saying was anything other than a matter for us, should be predicated not on the best interests of self, neighbours and nation but on the whimiscal impact on the Millikids (and maybe the Camekids – let’s not be exclusive; the name suggests Scots forebears). We become object and not subject.
    This really clearly underlines the perception of our nation, worth and resources by rUK: we are objects (of use and income), who should not vote on the grounds of our own best interests. It subverts Self-Determination as much as misappropriating of UKGov funds for the MacTraooed Children Brochure or for these polls which have not been published but have informed terms of discourse for the not-in-it-to-win-it officially UKGov, No Borders, and Better Together/No Thanks.

  5. Thanks for your comments thus far, folks.

    Roddy – well put.

    Morag – very odd. There’ll be worse scare stories to come, which I suppose means they’ll look increasingly ridiculous to folk in the middle ground.

    Siminstance – I see what you mean. Though there is a link between how we expect rUK’s (or any democracy’s, for that matter) government to behave and how we can predict its people expect that government to behave. Often trust (or lack of) can be extended to a whole nation, leading to stereotypes and prejudicial views.

    Arthur – yes, quite right. An insular attitude means we don’t care about foreign deaths quite so much. It’s a dangerous situation to develop such a complacency.

    Rosa – I’m afraid most of what you wrote went right over my head, but you’re right in that “think of the children!!” is always good for headline-grabbing political stances.

  6. Thanks for articulating the unease I’ve had about the tactic, and the divisiveness it fosters. That can only be negative whatever the vote in September.

    I’ll just float the flipside. English born people living & working in Scotland who (to me) have stated they’ll up and leave if Scotland votes yes. Implicit in that attitude is the view that Scotland is jolly nice when run from WM (they hold the purse strings) but not if run by the people who live here. Seems pretty colonial…

    I haven’t heard that kind of view from any of the Irish, Polish, Slovak, Swedish, French or Canadian people I know who live here. The opposite, in fact.

    What you articulated is closely linked to the “SNP anti-English” racism peddled by many in the No campaign.

    I’ve been active in the Yes side for over a year, and have never heard a single anti-English sentiment expressed. Anti-WM all the time of course, with particular venom directed at the Scottish MPs, Lords etc who are pro Union.

  7. Well put, Iain. I’ve heard it too once or twice, again from English people, who have said they’d leave. And it’s mystifying – why would a country need or depend on increased competences in order to discriminate? Which reserved power is the tipping point for racism – broadcasting? Defence? Welfare? Taxation? And if Scotland wants to be racist towards the English, surely we have more than enough ability at the moment through education, health, culture etc – not to mention human nature.

    While there is a minuscule under-current of anti-English racism in Scotland, not to mention anti-Polish, Irish and Pakistani (to name just three more), it’s all both negligible in size and also irrelevant to the referendum debate because it will (and does) happen whatever the political settlement.

    I think, as you suggest, such people wrongly conflate criticism of the (English-dominated) Westminster system, corporate elite, landed class and so on, with the English people. Which is manifestly absurd.

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