More lessons from South Africa for Scottish nationalism

A few days ago I asked Can Scotland learn any lessons from apartheid-era South Africa? My analysis was prompted by a friend who thought Scottish nationalists threatened to be like the former South African National Party (Afrikans, pro-apartheid), who

achieved so much of their agenda by ruthless chicanery without ever seeing the world they actually lived in, and ended up with so much less.

It would be fair to say that my analysis was met by resounding indifference. Now if I’d compared Scottish nationalism with German National Socialism (I did once, briefly) the cybernats would have been jumping up and down in outrage. Perhaps apartheid has faded from our collective memory in a way the far greater horrors of Nazism haven’t.

But I’m nothing if not dogged and it seems to me that there are further lessons the South African National Party can teach us. In the late 1960s/early 1970s they were riven into three factions, the verligtes, the verkramptes, and the herstigtes. Here’s how the Dictionary of South African English defines them:

  • verligte – one who is regarded as enlightened in political, social, religious, etc., matters; a reformer or progressive
  • verkrampte – one who is regarded as conservative or narrow-minded in politics, religion, social attitudes, etc.; a bigot
  • herstigte – loosely, one who holds extreme right-wing views.

For some time, the National Party managed to contain all three strands. Then the herstigtes broke away to form, surprise, the Herstigte Nationale Party. Their characterisation as ‘extreme right wing’ has to be seen as nationalistic, ethnic and racist: their philosophy wasn’t just a matter of economics.

For a long time the verkramptes held sway in the original National Party until the whole edifice of apartheid started to crumble under the impact of internal opposition, international sanctions, and its own illogicality.

This is how, roughly, I’d group Scottish nationalists at present.

The SNP contains both verligtes and verkramptes in its gradualists and fundamentalists. The herstigtes huddle elsewhere in groups like the Scottish Resistance and Sìol nan Gàidheal.

The interesting question is what might happen in future. One scenario might have it that the SNP, engorged by its increase in membership since the 2014 referendum, cannot hold together for the life of the next Scottish parliament. They will most probably have a majority in the parliamentary election in 2016. But their record in government, patchy at best (and that’s being polite) will get worse under the twin impacts of diminished funding and the ‘been too long in government’ syndrome that affects all parties in a democracy. The new members, many already discontent with lack of progress towards separation, will attempt some sort of internal coup with some of the fundamentalists and, however the detail plays out, we’ll end up with two or even three competing nationalist parties.

The end result may well be what my friend saw in South Africa, a movement (in this case Scottish nationalism) that achieves so much of its agenda by ruthless chicanery without ever seeing or understanding the world they actually live in, and ends up with so much less. That wouldn’t, as they say in the classics, be my problem although there will doubtless be a lot of turmoil and upset on the way for all of us

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