We saw a very interesting article on the London School of Economics website today.
It notes that in 2006, the year before the SNP came to power, 65% of Scots identified themselves as “Scottish not British” or “more Scottish than British”, but by 2014 – the year of the independence referendum – that number had fallen to just 49%.
It concludes, correctly, that just as we noted on Sunday, support for independence is fundamentally political in nature, not nationalist. But that only tells half the story.
Because at the same time as identification as Scottish has dropped, the percentage of Scottish people choosing what might reasonably be termed Unionist identities has risen dramatically – from 30% in 2006 up to 43%, an increase of almost half.
We were struck by the stat when we saw some tweets on the timeline of a particularly dim-witted “Rangers” fan calling himself “Churchill” this week.
As any semi-regular Twitter user will already know, we could post a thousand similar examples without breaking sweat. But the point is that the independence referendum DID lead to a significant increase in nationalism – just not the kind the media would have you believe.
British nationalism was stoked up massively by the No campaign. While almost never openly sectarian, “Better Together” and the various other Unionist groups also never publicly condemned the aggressive, usually Loyalist likes of the BNP, UKIP, Orange Order et al who also campaigned for a No vote.
Such groups, long starved of any sort of respectability, fed hungrily off the pro-UK propaganda that “Better Together” pumped out with the aid of an enthusiastic media, and the result was that as the Yes campaign moved independence support away from a small nationalist fringe and into the political mainstream, the Loyalist/Unionist side became entrenched, militant and emboldened, culminating in the triumphalist violence in George Square the day after the vote.
While skirting around that issue, the media has identified the offshoot of it – a strengthening of the Tory vote around an explicitly and pointedly Unionist message, which whether intentionally or not tacitly occupies the same space as the old 1950s sense of the term. (Detailed at fascinating depth in Iain Macwhirter’s splendid book “Road To Referendum”.)
It’s one of the great ironies that the No campaign actually brought about a substantial decrease in Scottish nationalism, yet by doing so it caused support for Scottish independence – finally freed from the fanatic fringe – to grow dramatically and build a political powerbase that swept away the Labour Party in Scotland and is now the dominant force and theme of Scottish politics.
Simultaneously, “Better Together” also gave the most toxic form of British nationalism a new lease of life, driving support for the Union out towards the margins and making it the province of the sort of groups few decent people want anything to do with.
Ethnic nationalism hasn’t gone away, it just switched sides. The political effects are only beginning to make themselves felt. Victories can rarely have been more Pyrrhic.