Let’s be fair, however, UKIP have not cornered the market in weirdness. One of the odder elements of the Scottish independence campaign is the manner in which so many Yes voters deny being nationalists: I support independence but please don’t make the mistake of thinking me a nationalist. I only support nationalist aims, like.
I suppose this is just about tenable if you are a member of the Green party or if you swim in one of the Yes campaign’s other minor tributaries but it’s a mighty rum thing to hear from members of the SNP.
Which brings us to Pete Wishart, member of parliament for Perth and North Tayside. The other day he tweeted that he has “Never much cared for any ‘nationalisms’ whether Scottish, British or Whateverish.” The referendum, he insisted, was only “about democracy”.
An ordinary citizen might think this a curious thing for a member of the Scottish National Party to say. A bit like being a member of Sinn Fein but insisting this should not be taken as evidence you’re a Republican.
Perhaps, however, Mr Wishart contains multitudes. There is the Pete Wishart who tells parliament “I have never felt British in my life” and that “I do not even know what Britishness is“. This Mr Wishart should not be confused with another Mr Wishart who wrote recently that: “Britishness will be a feature of an independent Scotland as we go forward and we are keen to develop and build new British institutions as an equal partner. I wholeheartedly agree with the positive historic image of ‘Britain’ that the Nos [ie, Unionists] present and shout a rousing ‘hear, hear’ when I listen to them talk of a Britain as the ‘idea’ that built the NHS and stood together in the war.”
Good golly. That’s not all however. You see: “Independence can actually even reverse the decline of the idea of Britishness, a concept that has consistently been on the wane and which I feared might eventually go in a devolved Scotland”.
This Pete Wishart feared a sense of Britishness might disappear? Apparently so. Titter ye not. Perhaps pro-British Scots should vote Yes to reverse the decline of the idea of Britishness. Yes indeed. In the same manner, I suppose, as an Irish Republican should cheerfully vote for the Democratic Unionist Party to reverse the decline of the idea of a United Ireland. Well why not?
This, remember, is the Pete Wishart who says “If someone had told me that I would now welcome my own Britishness a few years ago I would have almost choked on my jellied eels”.
A few years ago? How about 18 months ago? In October 2012 some other Pete Wishart was writing that “It’s time to reach out to that patriotic inner Scottish nationalist who resides in practically everybody who lives and works in Scotland” and “Our job is to unleash that inner nationalist”.
This Pete Wishart would have us believe Scotland is a stunted, crippled place. A kind of constitutional freak: “It is the ‘inner nat’ that longs to be like all those other countries in the world, normal and self-governing, peacefully patriotic and above all free and independent. The inner nationalist knows we are better than this.”
And what is the prize? “The inner nationalist is simply an emotional response that says Scotland deserves better, is better and deserves its national liberation, its independence and its freedom”.
National liberation? Can the Pete Wishart so full of praise for the United Kingdom’s history and culture be the same Pete Wishart who talks of national liberation and freedom? If the United Kingdom has been so splendid there’d surely be no need for liberation? And liberation from whom, anyway? Scotland has not been held within the UK against her will, after all. Rather remaining within its borders has been the settled will of the Scottish people.
But, hey, that was Mr Wishart 18 months ago and 18 months is a long, long time. So I assume it was another imposter who wrote in August 2013 that the great thing about independence is that “we will regain our national self-respect and dignity”. Doubtless one of the Wisharts can tell us precisely when we lost it. Some time ago, I presume, since this Wishart opines that “Our nation will belong to us for the first time in over 300 years”.
Well, perhaps. There is nothing reprehensible about that notion. But it seems modestly difficult to conclude it’s not a nationalist view. And, look, there’s nothing wrong with being a nationalist! At least nothing necessarily wrong. Unionism is, in some senses, a form of nationalism too. An idea that there is such a thing as a British idea and community over and above and beyond mere Scottishness or Welshness or Englishness or (some) Irishness and that this idea, this community, has some value. A value earned over centuries whose dividends we continue to enjoy.
Now you can disagree with that. You can certainly think Scotland is imprisoned, choked, held back or otherwise diminished by the Union. You can even think the Union used to offer value, security and opportunity but that it no longer does so, or only does so in ways less relevant to life in the twenty first century.
Perhaps you accept that the United Kingdom is a place from which Scotland must be liberated. After all, at the present time sad, wee, defenceless Scotland lacks dignity and self-respect. Anyone can see that. Only independence can boost national self-esteem! And anything that does that must, ipso facto, be a braw and bonnie thing.
Which, like, is fine. But it is difficult to square that with the notion that springing Scotland from its UK cage will produce a pleasing, overdue upsurge in British sentiment.
One of these many Wisharts may be right but it is very hard to see how they all can be proved correct. It’s almost – warning, cynicism ahead! – as if these Wisharts are prepared to say anything and everything provided, that is, their remarks nudge you towards endorsing independence. The reasons do not matter and nor do the means, only the end.
Which, again, is fine. If you like Doublethink anyway. As Orwell put it: “The secret of rulership is to combine a belief in one’s own infallibility with a power to learn from past mistakes.” That’s a lesson the SNP – and its multitude of Wisharts – has learned well.
The party retains a remarkable ability, as the great man put it, “To forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.”
It is quite a trick to pull off but the nationalists (sorry to label them such!) are as good at it as they are upset when these things are pointed out. Very good and very upset, that is.