Doth Protest Too Much

BY EFFIE DEANS

A Conservative MSP got into trouble this week for suggesting that Nicola Sturgeon might be anti-English. Sturgeon was pointing out that everyone who lived in Scotland was at home here, to which Tess White replied “except the English”. For this White was forced to apologise or else be suspended from Holyrood. Woe betide anyone who suggests Popes are Catholic or that bears defecate in the woods.

The point of White’s remark was not I imagine to suggest that Sturgeon was personally hostile to English people, but rather that the SNP has a problematic relationship with English people. The reaction to the remark shows how deeply problematic. The SNP and its supporters are universally portrayed by satire and humour as being anti-English. There are any number of examples of remarks made by SNP politicians and supporters which show a dislike of all things English. Yet pointing out that the SNP leader might be leading a party that is even the least bit Anglophobic gets you a ban unless you say you are sorry and promise never ever to say such a thing again. Really. The Sturgeon doth protest too much methinks. If this were a Danish play, we might wonder about her fidelity.

Sturgeon strikes me as not obviously anti-English. She has gone out of her way to criticise Scottish football fans for singing anti-English songs. But she does lead a party whose primary goal is to separate Scotland from England and it is reasonable to suppose that this party does not wish to separate because of love of England. After all, whenever there is a divorce, it is reasonable to assume that either the husband or the wife has ceased to love and may well now hate the person he or she is married to. Otherwise, why seek a divorce?

Sturgeon may be careful not to express hostility to England or English people, but I have never heard her state that she is British nor that she has any pride in the United Kingdom. I cannot recall her pointing out any great success that can be attributed to a joint British effort, nor thanks when something from the British Government benefits Scotland (e.g., vaccines). She continually seeks to blame everything bad that ever happens to Scotland on Westminster, Tories or that fact that Scotland is part of the United Kingdom. It would be reasonable to assume therefore that she dislikes things that are British and wishes the United Kingdom never existed.

But England makes up more than half of the land mass of the United Kingdom and 84% of the population. Someone who is hostile to Britain and the British – and Sturgeon undoubtedly is – can hardly avoid being hostile to England and the English. This might not mean that she treats individual English people badly. She may think that those living in Scotland are at home. But she still has devoted her life to breaking up the United Kingdom, the vast majority of whose population is English. If she had no objection whatsoever to English people, why does she continually complain about the Government they elect? Why indeed does she most wish to create a state where they don’t live?

The Scottish Government is keen to welcome people from overseas to Scotland because Scotland has a declining population. But it would be far easier for Sturgeon to try to encourage people from England to move here. After all, where they live is densely populated, while much of Scotland is empty. Sturgeon could give English people grants to set up a new Scottish city. It would be far easier than attracting them from further afield as there would be no need to teach them English. Why doesn’t she make this her next initiative?

The reason is that Sturgeon knows English people living in Scotland are the demographic least likely to vote SNP and for Scottish independence. Sturgeon would far prefer people from the European Union or beyond, because they are more likely to be grateful to her and her government for being allowed to live here. But if English people are Sturgeon’s opponents both in Scotland because they don’t vote SNP and in England because they vote Tory, the idea that Sturgeon loves them though they do their best to thwart her appears unlikely.

Sturgeon wants to appear to be a nice person who is not hostile to others on the grounds of nationality. But she protests too much about this, because her desire for separation only makes sense in the context of dislike. There isn’t a country in the world that has sought independence from another because of its love.

Scottish nationalism is built on the idea that we lack a common identity with the other parts of the UK. If we are all equally British, then there is no more need for us to separate than there is for Germans or French. It is for this reason that Scottish nationalists say “I am Scottish, not British” Sturgeon must agree. The British identity that sees English people as our fellow countrymen is rejected. She might like them individually as much as a French person, but Sturgeon must think that they don’t live in the same country as she does. It’s only on the grounds that England and the English are really foreign, that she can justify independence in the first place. For if we are all from the same country, there are no grounds to complain when you lose an election, anymore than there would be when one part of Scotland votes differently from another.

This is the hostility inherent in Scottish nationalism. It treats English people who see us as fellow country as if they were foreigners. It denies that we share the same country or identity. It says to the English person: I am not like you. We have nothing in common. We are not family. Just strangers.

Sturgeon may be happy to say English people are at home in Scotland. But they are not at home because they are British and she certainly doesn’t want very many more of them to arrive otherwise they might just vote against independence. But she is outraged when anyone uses the word “except” about English people. She protests too much because her whole ideology is based on hostility to Britain due to her refusal to accept that English people have the same identity as her and that we might owe them something as fellow countrymen. The rejection of our fellow countrymen is fundamental to the SNP. Without this hostility to Britain and its largest part England, the party would not exist at all.

The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.