It’s not the first time we’ve had to raise this subject. But as the rhetoric ramps up from an increasingly nasty and unhappy No camp, we have to ask again – just what is the Labour Party’s problem with foreigners?
“My son, for example, who went to university in England, I think I’d be uncomfortable with the thought that he’s now a foreigner.”
– Margaret Curran, Good Morning Scotland, 25 May 2013
“If Scotland wants to be independent they have the absolute right to do so. But I think nationalism is a mistake. And I am half Scots and feel it would divide me in half with a knife. The thought that my mother would suddenly be a foreigner would upset me very much.”
– Tony Benn, The Scotsman, 18 August 2012
“We’ve got friends and relations north and south of the border and we don’t want to make each other foreigners.”
– Alistair Darling, Euronews, 31 August 2012
“We have the spectacle of a hard line nationalist saying ‘you will still be British after independence’. If you are no longer part of the UK how can you be British? Your friends in Wales, your family in England and your workmates from Northern Ireland will, effectively and overnight, become foreigners.”
– Alistair Darling, John P Mackintosh lecture, 10 November 2012
“In simple terms, why make Sir Alex Ferguson a foreigner?”
– Johann Lamont, May 2013
“The Aberdeen schoolgirl said she and her friends were going to vote to remain part of the UK because they did not want their relatives in England to become foreigners”
– The Telegraph quotes young activist Iona Macdonald (daughter of MSP Lewis Macdonald) speaking to the Scottish Labour conference, April 2013
“The nature of my work means that I am based in London, like tens of thousands of Scots now facing the same prospect of becoming foreigners in our own land.”
– slightly confused “Better Together” main donor Ian Taylor, 7 April 2013
It’s worrying enough that this blatantly xenophobic line is being repeated more and more often by the anti-independence campaign, almost always from the Labour side.
(The Tories, having rather more experience in the field, tend to be a little more circumspect with their casual racism. You wouldn’t catch any of them coming out with anything as crass as Ian “Poles and Pakis” Smart nowadays, say.)
It’s also concerning that – as far as we’ve noticed – they’ve never been challenged on it by a timid, compliant Scottish media. Curran’s interview on Radio Scotland at least took her to task over the technicalities of whether people would really be “foreign”, but not on her implication that being foreign was in itself a bad thing. (Because if it’s not, why would you be “uncomfortable” with it?)
Finally, though, it’s disturbing because it’s simply untrue.
The survey was carried out for the think-tank British Future as part of a wider 2013 ‘state of the nation’ report. Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, said: “Our polling shows that although some people feel the debates about devolution and an independence vote are divisive, there is a strong underlying connection between the people of this island. There’s something heartening about that.
It’s a clear endorsement of Alex Salmond and the civic Scottish Nationalist claim that an independent Scotland would still think about a ‘social union’ of history, geography and culture which would survive after independence, along with good relations with the neighbours to the south.”
– Scotland on Sunday, 13 January 2013
Time and again, those on the (notional) left of British politics attack the Scottish independence movement for “narrow nationalism” – including, with no detectable sense of irony, Gordon “British jobs for British workers” Brown – and the affront it represents to the values of internationalism they claim to stand for. But just how “internationalist” is it to paint being foreign as some sort of disfiguring, undesirable disease?
We’re all foreigners to someone (indeed, we’re all foreigners to the vast majority of the world’s population, even if we’re Chinese or Indian), and most people are entirely at peace with that fact. So why do Scottish Labour – in such distinguished company as the BNP, EDL and National Front – continue to insist on using the word as an insult?
And if these are the depths to which they’ve already sunk, how vicious and ugly might the independence debate be by next year? It chills the (rivers of) blood to imagine.