Matt Gemmell

Nationalism

Politics 5 min read

I’d like to make a brief digression from my usual topics to discuss politics, specifically as pertains to Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Last September, there was a referendum here in Scotland regarding whether we should become a separate country, independent of the UK. I wrote about it at the time.

In that article, I discussed my conflicting feelings about the referendum, and my dual sense of cultural identity. I also talked about how I voted No, but acknowledged that there was a missed opportunity, and that my position was based more on uncertainty - and fear - than on a desire to remain part of the UK. The driving force behind the referendum, and the Yes campaign, was the incumbent Scottish governing party, the SNP.

The results of the referendum are well known: we voted No by 55% to 45%, with a turnout of over 84%. Any way you look at it, that’s a triumph of democracy. I’m proud of our participation.

Historically, I’ve been a Labour voter. I’ve voted in every election since I became eligible to. I’ve lodged a few protest votes, but generally I’ve supported a major party holding a substantial number of seats. The idea of wasted votes is as pragmatically true as it is dangerously undemocratic and status-quo-maintaining.

I’ve never felt aligned with the Tories. I’m uncomfortable with the UK’s current coalition government, marrying a Conservative cabinet of privilege and regressive social policy, with hamstrung Liberal Democrats whose credibility has been decimated. The coalition is a numbers game, and a partnership in name only. I think we’re all aware of that.

The UK has a general election this year, in early May, to elect its 56th Parliament. What we’re faced with is another coalition, of murky composition, but the political landscape has shifted. There’s a growing legitimacy to far-right elements as exemplified by UKIP, the rallying-post for the more presentable of erstwhile members of the BNP, EDL, and the like. The Tories have shifted their rhetoric to match, and even Labour are following suit.

As repugnant, disconnected and dangerous as David Cameron is, I don’t see Ed Miliband as a credible leader either - not of his party, and certainly not of the UK. Nick Clegg looks increasingly like a joke without a punchline, and I think his party have set themselves back about twenty years during the last five. It’s a deeply unsettling time for the UK.

Meanwhile, we still have staggering insults to the principles of democracy. We have the House of Lords, an anachronistic institution that serves as an international embarrassment to all of us. It is pure, concentrated class warfare, shameless abuse of privilege, and a threat to social justice. We have a pressing need for electoral reform. We lack a constitution. We find ourselves creeping ever closer to xenophobia, Euro-isolationism, and almost being left with stronger ties to the US than to our neighbours across the Channel and beyond.

Westminster is resolutely London-centric, carving out the capital as a personal fiefdom for Cameron, Osborne et al, and of course Boris. Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and indeed most of England outside the M25 are underrepresented. That’s not what any of us voted for.

A lot has changed for me.

I still feel British, though I’m Scottish first. My upbringing, personality, and environment owe a great deal to this union of nations. It’s the people and the customs that I’m connected to, as a second culture beyond my own. But I don’t feel politically connected. Westminster isn’t the government of my country.

I feel disenfranchised with the UK-as-government, whilst simultaneously still loving this shared place and history that we’ve built. That’s a sad thing. Our nominal representatives and leaders in the Houses of Parliament don’t feel like my leaders. Their policy, focus, and politics feel so out of step with the reality I see around me here.

So much of the No vote here in Scotland was based on fear: the uncertain future, and the unanswered questions. There are still questions to answer, and the future will always be uncertain. But my basis for comparison has shifted. What I now fear is a continuation of what we already have, as part of the vast swathe of the UK that’s a second-class concern for those who would make decisions for us.

If we have another referendum on independence, I will vote Yes.

That vote will be based on hope to some extent - something that’s been lacking in British politics for me during the past several years - but also on a basic belief that we must be represented by those whose interests align with our own.

The UK is a union of five nations: England, Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland… and London. That’s the political and financial reality. Westminster’s concerns are tied up in only one of those.

The aftermath of our referendum has been dramatic. There’s been a surge of support for the SNP, which I believe is due to a renewed sense of potential and possibilities, ignited by the closeness of the vote - and the general realisation that the No position was about the devil you know, rather than a positive choice. That’s a sobering but also energising thought.

I think that the only way Scotland’s interests can be represented is with a stronger Scottish presence in British politics, and with considerably more progress towards true home rule - and independence. The governing of Scotland is for the government of Scotland.

I think the same should be true for Wales and Northern Ireland, and I think there’s also a strong argument for a parliament of Northern England, in some form. I dearly hope that our friends - and sisters and brothers, in spirit - in Catalonia are given their own binding referendum, and their chance at the independence they want. Catalans, having stood with you on the streets of Barcelona on your national day last September 11th, I know your depth of feeling on the issue. It was familiar to me.

But my focus, naturally, is my own country. I’m deeply dissatisfied with where we find ourselves within the British political system.

I believe in Nicola Sturgeon, our country’s First Minister and the leader of the SNP. I believe that she has Scotland’s interests at heart above all else, and that she’s the strong leader that we need. I believe in her politics, and her focus on the social good.

And she is here. Her constituency is the one my father’s family came from, her official seat is ten minutes away for me even now, and our parliament is minutes from where my wife works. Sturgeon is a Scottish leader, for Scotland, and her party has my vote.

Her party is also mine.

I’ve never joined a political party before, but I’m now a member of the SNP. If you see a yellow ribbon attached to any of my online profile photos, that’s the reason - because this is an important time, and I think we need to be more vocal about the fundamental problems the UK has.

I don’t believe in segregation. I don’t believe in isolationism, or xenophobia. I disdain jingoism, and all the damage it does. I fundamentally do believe that cooperation and unity are the future of our species - on a large scale.

I also love this nation. It’s my home, and my cultural touchstone. It’s that one place - and you have one too - without which I cannot be the person that I am.

It’s the home of my family, on all sides. It’s where I grew up, and played in the street, and went to high school, and got my university degree. It’s where I live and work. It’s my wife’s home, too, and it’s where I married her.

It’s where I always return to, and it’s the one place that is entirely right for me. I’m comforted by the mere sight of it, when the plane once again descends below the clouds. We all have such a place.

This is my country, and we deserve a government of our own, with full powers to determine our budgets, and our policies, and our fate. We deserve to be represented by those who feel the same way about this land of ours. Everyone deserves that.

Scotland is the country that I love, and it’s to here that I thus give my voice, and my vote.

To me, that is nationalism. Not an ugly word, but an inevitable feeling for the place we call home.


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