My skepticism of the above concept is based on nationalism – so often – being grounded in opposition to what nationalists see as an unwelcome, unwanted, and alien force, whether it be external or internal, and this is referred to as “blood and soil nationalism.”
With regard to Scotland, the SNP has done much to promote itself and the separatist movement as being “civic nationalism” – supposedly expressing itself not so much as being against the United Kingdom, but for the idea that Scotland can better manage its own affairs and deliver social justice as an independent country. Furthermore, this nationalism supposedly promotes the ethos of the late SNP MSP Bashir Ahmad, who said in 1995: “it isn't important where you come from, what matters is where we are going together as a nation.”
However, as has been seen throughout the referendum campaign and since, the SNP’s style of nationalism at the very least has undeniable blood-and-soil elements. Some of it comes from the top – as when former leader and first minster Alex Salmond implied that Scotland is in “subordination” to England – and some tends to bubble to the surface from the rank-and-file, especially the so-called "cybernats" on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
This seemed to be the case on Thursday night during the BBC’s popular discussion and current affairs program, Question Time. Hosted by the venerable David Dimbleby and featuring a panel of politicians and commentators before a studio audience which puts questions to them, the program travels across the United Kingdom to be taped in different cities every week, and for last Thursday, it was set in Dundee.
The panel featured a representative from each party represented in the Scottish Parliament – Deputy First Minister John Swinney of the SNP, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, Labour MSP Jenny Mara, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, and Scottish Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie – as well as columnist and commentator Tim Stanley of the Daily Telegraph.
Now as a foreigner living outside the UK, I did not see and have not yet seen Thursday night’s program as of the time of this writing (YouTube, anyone?), but from observations on Facebook and Twitter, it appeared that the SNP had a challenging time as John Swinney faced questions from audience members regarding Scotland’s financial position following the release of the latest GERS figures (my views on it here). Panelists also rounded on Swinney and the SNP for making a case for separation and breaking up the United Kingdom based on rosy scenarios which have failed to pan out as Scotland approaches what would have been its formal independence day per SNP plans.
The fact that three of the four other politicians on the panel (Harvie being the exception) were pro-Union was enough to cause consternation among some Nats on social media, but it was the make-up of the audience which produced a substantial fuss.
Dundee was the city which produced highest “Yes” (to independence) result among Scotland’s 32 council areas at 57% during the referendum, the city council is SNP-controlled, and it is represented by SNP MP’s and MSP’s. Given that, one would think that the audience make-up would have been pro-Nationalist, but the audience apparently reserved much of its criticism and jeers for the SNP. Not only that, but it appeared that there were many people supporting “Brexit” (which is opposed - on the surface, at least - by the SNP) in the audience.
However, the biggest gripe appeared to be the accents of the people in the audience, and on Facebook and Twitter, many SNP supporters and sympathizers questioned whether the audience members were actually from Dundee, or even Scotland at all. Some even went so far as to accuse the BBC of busing in English people to Dundee to give the appearance of anti-SNP discontent in the “Yes City”.
Indeed, looking at some of the comments, one would perhaps come away with the idea that Dundee is an area free of anti-SNP sentiment or that Scots are 100% pro-EU and generally think in lock-step, or even that people outside of Dundee and/or Scotland are not welcome – especially those from England or with English accents.
SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire Pete Wishart appeared genuinely taken aback at the prospect that the Question Time audience did not conform to his worldview of how Scots and/or Dundonians should think in this tweet where he said: “Hi #bbcqt are you sure you're in Dundee? You've managed to find an incredible number of Tories and Brexiteers for your audience.”
Meanwhile Kevin Stewart, SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central queried about the supposed lack of local residents in his own tweet: “Can we please hear some Dundonian voices before the end of this #bbcqt?”
This edition of Question Time created enough “controversy”, that the BBC ended up having to defend it in a statement which in part said that all of the audience members “was a Scottish resident and from Dundee or the surrounding area” and were “chosen because they hold a spectrum of views on a number of topics, including the EU referendum and Scottish independence.” They even went so far as to add that one audience member was an Englishman who had moved to Dundee because he supported separation.
However, the fact that the Beeb felt it had to release a statement with those words in the first place is a sad indictment on the state of Scotland and Scottish politics in the wake of the referendum. It is a sign of an increasing inwardness and parochialism, and where paranoia and grievance appear to be the order of the day for a substantial part of the population. As much as it is simply ludicrous, for example, to believe that the BBC (or MI5 or whoever) bused or parachuted people into Dundee for Question Time (or even that the program was taped outside of Dundee altogether), the reality is that there are many people who either believe this or are willing to believe it.
They cannot believe that it is possible that there are some – perhaps many – Dundonians who do not worship at the altar of the SNP and have alternative points of view from the SNP, that some audience members perhaps came from the surrounding areas of Fife and Angus – where there are relatively substantial numbers of Liberal Democrats and Tories, respectively – and that in Dundee itself, there are still Labour stalwarts. Above all, 57% is not 100%, and so 43% of the city voted No. Perhaps they need to visit Dundee themselves and get a feel for the political pulse of the city and its surrounding area's. But then, what are we to make of them apparently not being able to fathom that (GASP!) English-accented voices may be present in a city within the United Kingdom? Just imagine the reaction if this had been the other way around.
This is blood and soil nationalism, pure and simple, and the contempt for “outsiders” was barely concealed. If the Nationalist's actually believed in what they preached with civic nationalism, there should have been no complaints about English accents on Question Time in Dundee any more than complaints about Scottish accents on Question Time in Liverpool.
As a British citizen or legal resident within the United Kingdom, it indeed should not matter where you come from.