BY EFFIE DEANS
Penny Mordaunt’s appearance at the Fringe in Edinburgh proved controversial for her statement that the SNP’s approach to independence fails because it is based on bile and hatred. But who does the SNP hate? The answer would seem obvious. England. The English. But both the SNP and its supporters deny this vehemently.
There are two main hatreds in Scotland. Anglophobia and Sectarianism. The experience of both depends on where you live, the nature of your accent and how you behave.
I have never witnessed Sectarianism. In Aberdeenshire it simply does not exist. No one asks you which school you went to, because we nearly all went to the same school. No one knows who is Catholic and who is Protestant and no one cares either.
This does not mean that Aberdeenshire is more virtuous than parts of the Central Belt, it means simply that there was no large migration from Ireland to Aberdeenshire. If there had been there would no doubt be two Aberdeen football teams, lots of Catholic schools and also lots of prejudice.
Anti English sentiment is universal in Scotland though frequently mild. Our nearest neighbour is often described by the Scottish media as the “Auld Enemy”. Battles between Scotland and England are celebrated and remembered in a way that is peculiar in European terms. Few Europeans know about nor care about battles in the fourteenth century. No one describes their neighbour as an enemy, not even Poland, which suffered more than anyone between 1939 and 1945.
This sort of Anglophobia has existed in Scotland for centuries, but it hasn’t usually prevented friendly relations individually between Scots and English people. Lots of Scots live in England. Lots of English people live in Scotland. They marry. They have friends. Where is the hatred?
But the same can be said about sectarianism. Lots of Protestants marry Catholics. Lots of Celtic fans have friends who support Rangers. Many people living in the Central Belt don’t give a damn where someone else went to school. Much of the song singing and taunts are a ritual about asserting an identity and membership of a group. So likewise, where’s the hatred?
So too with Anglophobia. It is rarely if ever as bad as sectarianism, but banter about football matches and Bannockburn can sometimes turn nasty. A little English child is mocked by everyone at school because of his accent. An adult is told to mind his own business for expressing a political opinion on Question Time. An English tourist gets an unfriendly welcome and comments in a pub. These things happen. Someone is shunned by neighbours for his posh accent. To deny them is like denying sectarianism.
Anglophobia is not racism. I don’t believe it is sensible to call prejudice against someone of the same race racism. Neither sectarianism nor Anglophobia are commonly as bad as the experiences suffered routinely by ethnic minorities. It is harder to be a Muslim in Scotland than either an English person or someone from across the sectarian divide. We are not visibly different and that makes the biggest difference of all.
But even if it is wrong to exaggerate Anglophobia, it is still the foundation of Scottish nationalism. It doesn’t mean that every SNP supporter hates English people. They don’t. But without the basic Anglophobia that has existed in Scotland for centuries and which goes on about an Auld Enemy and battles fought in the Middle Ages there would be no motivation to put an international border between England and Scotland.
No one wants to put an international border between Castille and Aragon, Saxony and Bavaria or a number of other former enemies, because if they ever hated each other, they got over it centuries ago. We didn’t. That’s the only difference.
While Scots have in a relatively mild way hated England since 1707, it only became a political issue from the 1980s onward. Labour and the Lib Dems argued that it was unfair that Scotland voted Labour but got a Tory Government. That’s why we needed devolution.
In most nation states it is a non-issue if a part votes differently to the whole. It is a feature of democracy. We are citizens of the same state, fellow countrymen. It matters not one little bit if California votes Democrat but gets a Republican President.
But it does matter if the part that votes Tory is the Auld Enemy. It does matter if these are the people we have been fighting since 1314. In that case they are not our fellow countrymen. They are foreigners and worse than foreigners they are enemies. They outnumber us. They are oppressing us by giving us Tories.
It is this relatively mild Anglophobia that is the foundation of the SNP argument. This reached its peak when certain Scottish nationalists blamed English people living in Scotland for their failure to win the referendum in 2014. It is to treat fellow citizens in a way that is unique in Europe. It is to say they are illegitimate because of their accent and where they were born. No one else does this, because it is a form of bigotry. What does it matter where a fellow voter in a democracy is born?
There are two strands to the SNP. The main strand that goes back to its foundation is the denial that our fellow citizens are fellow citizens. This is pure prejudice because we all have the same passport and citizenship. It is a form of hatred. The other strand is from sectarianism and is based on the desire to destroy the United Kingdom not so much because of what it has done to Scotland but for what it has done to Ireland.
Scots of Irish descent don’t so much hate England and the English, they hate the Brits including if they are logical the Scots for the Plantation of Ulster, Oliver Cromwell, the Irish Famine, the partition of Ireland and the failure of the IRA to obtain a united Ireland by force of arms.
If SNP supporters in general feel victims, its sectarian supporters feel that they are the victims of the British for everything that happened to Ireland since the Norman Conquest. Their hope is that Scottish independence by partitioning Britain would unite Ireland and their revenge would be complete. Every taunt would be repaid.
Mordaunt therefore is correct. It does not follow that every Scot will treat an English person badly. But it does follow that without hatred of England and without hatred of Britain, there would be no SNP.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.