I do want to draw my own agenda in blogging not merely respond to what others say but when the belief of the largest section of the voting public at the last election is described by a constitutional politician as a virus, it’s difficult not to get side-tracked.
Vilifying opponents is stock-in-trade in politics and stuff like: Letting down the people, misleading them and getting priorities wrong is fine. It may even be right! I also think barbed and biting is good when anger is required but the insinuation that one creed is insidious, spreading among people who don’t want it, and is like an illness eating away at the collective psyche is quite a charge. It makes it sound as the voters are too stupid to be aware of what they’re doing.
Even the racial hatred of the BNP is unlikely to be considered a virus since it seems to be identifiable and contained, hardly spreading unseen throughout the land.
But nationalism – supported by the majority of voters in Scotland last time round – in the hands of Unionists becomes a sickness sneakily associated with…with what? After all a virus is a contagion that transforms those it touches even, in its political form, against their better judgment. Isn’t that what historians say happened to the German people in the 30s and 40s? Didn’t nationalisms erupt among the state-lets of the Balkans in the 90’s, a model beloved of George Robertson?
What did run through both these examples was hatred and an embedded and long-concealed drive for revenge for the wrongs of history. A warped version of common interest was imposed on those sentiments by the unscrupulous to give wings to the hate.
That nationalism can be abused is like saying socialism was distorted to justify Soviet communism, that capitalism can be turned from freedom of choice for the individual into a vehicle for the enrichment of a few at the expense of the many. Any common force or ideology falls prey to the unprincipled. Some even think that may have happened to Labour.
But what is nationalism? Is it Gordon Brown telling us all to run a Union Jack up the flagpole? Is it David Cameron telling us Britain is great during the Olympics? When British politicians talk of a history of fair play as a national characteristic, is that nationalism?
Just consider modern Germany as the best example of the transforming effects of this virus. During the national election this week there was a lot of talk about how the Germans organise their economy. A key element is the mittelstand, the vast array of small and middle-sized companies, many of them family concerns, generations old, often funded with equally long-term loans from regional banks, concentrating on quality manufacturing in niche markets. They provide local employment and stability in the community and healthy exports. It is a pan-German phenomenon for which there is no British equivalent. This system is an expression of German collective philosophy to which they all subscribe, a nationally agreed method of business which enriches all Germans, which is specific to them and from which they derive national pride. This is nationalism.
Over the border to the North is Denmark which has a century-old tradition of design in furniture, household goods, architecture and accessories. The people of Denmark embraced a functional design philosophy which still exits today and is supported by the government. Collectively, the Danes invested in an identifiable model of design which is an international badge of national identity. They take pride in it. It expresses something about who they are to the world and helps their economy. This too is nationalism.
Were you on the hill? (We’ll be asking that for a long time to come after the independence rally). When I was there I heard Elaine C Smith describe with blinding clarity what modern Scottish nationalism is about and she told the story of her family, of their aspirations, of the people of the east end of Glasgow with a barely-controlled fury. I realised as she spoke that there isn’t a single Labour woman I can think of who could have made that speech. She described a Scottish way of doing things which used to be owned by Labour but to which they have lost any rights. It was of a collective, a shared knowledge of need for all, a refusal to be dominated by the self-aggrandizing which first made its appearance in 1320 in the Declaration of Arbroath which warned that even the king would be overthrown if he defied the people. The concept of the people’s sovereignty was born. That is nationalism.
The only hatred I see is that – synthetic or not – generated by Johann Lamont and the British supremacists in the media whose cartoon bile this week showed how the Unionist image of a family of nations is a sick joke for a section of British society. I need to get on with the day now and I’ll come back to this later but don’t you wonder if Johann really believes this hate-filled claptrap? Or is it another example of someone perennially unsure of her own underlying beliefs searching for a way of getting media attention? If any of this really is her world view, rather than machine politics, you have to feel for her.