What can we learn about the different types of nationalist?

This is the first of two related articles arising from challenges put to me occasionally about my views on Scottish nationalism. [The second article, as you’ll read below, was to have been about the question of a vision for the UK. I subsequently decided to take a different approach to that question, beginning here]

I have been challenged more than once about the extent to which the No Thanks! blog focusses on the SNP and some of its leading figures. The challenge is usually accompanied by an allegation that I must hate the SNP or that I am obsessed with it. Neither claim is correct.

The truth is two-fold. First, I am suspicious of political nationalism, wherever it manifests itself. I’ve touched on this in a number of No Thanks! posts over the past year or so. The reasons for my suspicion happen to be reflected in many of the characteristics of the SNP. Second, the reality is that if any political party is going to prise Scotland away from the United Kingdom, it’s the SNP.

But of course, nationalists like unionists include many different sorts of people. This is an attempt to classify the types of Scottish nationalist and then draw a conclusion helpful to those of us who believe in maintaining the union. Three points about the list:

  1. it springs from my own observation, there’s no science or academic research to back it up
  2. I’m sure many nationalists fall into more than one category
  3. I would accept that a similar list could be drawn up for those who believe in the union.

Here’s my list in no particular order.

The honest patriot. I am as suspicious of many aspects of patriotism (last refuge of the scoundrel and all that) as I am of nationalism. But while I rejoice in difference and variety I understand that many people do have a love of their own country and that they regard it as a special place. For many that love leads to the conclusion that their country should be separate, although others accept their love can be reconciled with being part of a larger whole.

The sentimental Scot. Living abroad in my youth and in England for many years I was aware that there is a sort of sentimental Scot for whom Scottishness is important in what might loosely speaking be called their exile. During the referendum campaign I became aware of a number of people in Scotland, one close to me, the others not, who realised that their positive sentiments about their country were leading them to a ‘Yes’ vote. I suspect they were sometimes surprised by this but certainly those who knew them well were.

SNP man and boy … (or girl and woman). If you’re a long-standing SNP member of course you’re a nationalist. You may have started with a more amorphous feeling of the need for change and you might have committed yourself to a different political party. But once in the party everything about it, not least your peers and longer-serving members, reinforces, some might say exaggerates, your belief in independence as a solution to many ills.

The career politician. This is a small but growing band of SNP members who wield disproportionate influence. As the party has achieved electoral success at successive Holyrood and now Westminster elections there are more nationalists who over time become, in effect, professional politicians. In the SNP’s case there also seems to be a disproportionate number whose spouses, partners or parents are also elected politicians or party officials. I would not be so crass as to suggest that the money motivates them. But a salary, possibly two, at public expense does provide a comfortable living. More importantly, while service is a great rationaliser for politicians, the sense of being close to and having power to achieve your goals is also a strong driving force.

I can’t stand Westminster and all its doings. Here is a type easy to understand in principle. Who wouldn’t be repulsed by some of the things our national politicians get up to? False expense claims, influence peddling, ‘illegal’ wars, elderly bra-wearing cocaine-sniffing peers, alleged ‘paedos’ and persistent economy with the truth are all grist to the mill. It’s easy to see the wrongdoing. The much reviled ‘mainstream media’ brings it to our attention all the time. And if you don’t look beyond the headlines it’s easy for even decent people to believe that that’s what ‘they’ are all like. It’s unbalanced of course. Wrongdoing is found in any national legislature, indeed has been found at Holyrood itself.

I can’t stand the Tories. A minority of nationalists seem to be motivated by an overwhelming loathing of Conservatism and Conservatives that goes beyond rationality. Professional SNP politicians may be more cynical and merely seeking electoral advantage when they call for Scotland to be made a ‘Tory-free zone,’ just as they’re now characterising the Scottish Labour party as ‘red Tories.’ But for some that visceral hatred overcomes any other political instinct and they believe (falsely) that independence will rid Scotland of right-wing politics.

I’m really green/socialist/whatever and independence fits with that. These are people whose prime political motivation is something else, sustainability, socialism or whatever. Independence may fit with their beliefs or they may see it as a way of achieving a sustainable or socialist Scotland. I suspect they would be disappointed and would remain a minority in an independent Scotland as they are in the UK.

Confused of Auchterturra. There are some people who are just, well, confused about what independence is and would mean (but note, naivety and confusion aren’t unique to nationalism).

We’ll be better off by ourselves. By ‘better off’ these nationalists mean economically better off. Oil, natural resources, renewable energy, the release of entrepreneurial spirit after independence and other factors are cited to support the belief that we’ll be better off after independence. Apart from the SNP themselves the main progenitor of this view is the Business for Scotland lobbying group although other players like the N-56 ‘think tank’ hover around the fringes. The fullest exposition of the case for a better economy after independence was set out in the SNP’s prospectus for independence, Scotland’s Future. It failed to address many of the criticisms made of its assumptions and proposals and was probably a significant factor in the referendum result (I am not aware of anything since the referendum that would make the prospects for the economy of an independent Scotland brighter than they are in the United Kingdom).

I don’t like the English. Civic nationalism it isn’t, but a dislike of the English does exist in Scotland and does motivate some people in their nationalism.

We never get the [UK] government we vote for. A common but, considered in the longer term, untrue belief. It really means ‘Some of us didn’t get the government we voted for this time round.’ It’s called democracy. It would hold true in an independent Scotland as it does in the UK.

Youthful enthusiasm.  Analyses of post-referendum surveys showed clearly that proportionately more younger than older Scots voted ‘Yes’ although the differences were not as great as some claim. At its more callous extreme some say ‘It’s just a matter of time as the old “No” voters die off to be replaced by younger “Yes” voters.’ Those relying on the grim reaper to produce a majority for independence should remember that youthful enthusiasm has a way of changing in the light of experience.

A touch of blood and soil. My understanding of ‘blood and soil’ nationalism is a claim that ‘We’re not only different, we’re better. Our identity is uniquely bound up with where we live, our land, and we’ll fight to maintain that.’ Maybe only a tiny minority of nationalists subscribe to this view but they exist, as a quick trawl of social media will prove.

The utter nutter. Overlapping with blood and soil nationalism is another tiny minority (I hope) of nationalists who seem beyond any rationality in their behaviour and beliefs. They are the shouters and ranters, the disrupters of non-nationalist political activity, the believers in almost any conspiracy theory.  Some are clustered at present around something called ‘The Scottish Resistance’ (if you doubt the capacity of some human beings for self-delusion visit their Facebook page).

By way of conclusion, this post has had two purposes.

The first was to counter the accusation that the No Thanks! blog focusses solely on the SNP. Some of the types of people I describe here will never vote SNP, some are floating voters who may vote for the SNP on what they see as a pragmatic basis, some of course will never vote anything but SNP. We need to understand that nationalism encompasses all these types as well as some I have probably not identified.

The second purpose was to understand different types of nationalism better in order to think how  each might be most effectively countered. For example, there is a wealth of data and research refuting the belief that ‘We’ll be better off by ourselves’ – one of the weakest nationalist arguments for independence in my view. Beyond evidence there is also the issue of how best to communicate it to those who are willing to hear it. Then again, there is a question of how to persuade people on the softer, more emotional issues. And finally, effective tactics are needed to expose and counter that part of nationalism that is inappropriate, and those who espouse it.

A lot of this is already being done and there are professionals and experts out there more able than me to make sure it happens. Let’s hope they’re as active as they could be.

As I said earlier, a similar list could be drawn up for those of us who believe in the union, although I would add one category to it almost entirely lacking from nationalism – the quiet pragmatist. A second related post will include consideration of those pragmatists in considering another challenge sometimes put to me – ‘What’s the vision that you unionists have, then?’ It’s a fair question.

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3 Responses to What can we learn about the different types of nationalist?

  1. Not an unreasonable grouping (though to be fair, I think a similar list should be made for the unionists) – I would say that there is a distinct group of ex-Labour voters that are now nationalists that don’t fit neatly into any one of those categories, though. It’s very much the “I didn’t leave Labour, Labour left me” I’m thinking of – people well to the left, like Tommy Sheridan and Mhairi Black. I would point out, though, that the polling with youth voters after the referendum may have been flawed – one of them suggested that over 70% of 16-17 year olds (or something) voted yes, and the sample size for that was a grand total of 14. I wouldn’t deny that youth voters would be overwhelmingly more likely to back the SNP than anyone else, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger White says:

      Thanks for the comments Joseph. I did actually say (numbered point 3.) ‘I would accept that a similar list could be drawn up for those who believe in the union.’ So I agree with you on that point!


  2. John B Dick says:

    Your approach is sound. It is also novel which it shouldn’t be but is. As a YES voter, but not a Nationalist, there are three categories or sub-categories to which I belong, none of which appear on your list, though you could have and should have included one under a general heading, Following on, the nextstep should be to try to evaluate the numerical significance of each group, rank them according to size and rate them according to amenability to change.Depending on what data is published from the survey, there could be useable information there. Only then would it be sensible to develop a strategy for accessing large groups open to change. For example, the YES side should say to the Man and Boy:: “we are going to ignore you in the campaign but that doesn’t mean we don’t recognise and appreciate your support and count on it,’ The NO side should also ignore them of course.


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