There’s a considerable amount of uncertainty currently flying around on the internet with regards to Alistair Darling’s comments in an interview with the New Statesman which was published on the magazine’s website yesterday.
There seems to be no dispute that the “Better Together” leader compared Alex Salmond to dead North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, adding his name to the illustrious pantheon of assorted Unionist politicians and journalists who’ve likened Scotland’s democratically-elected First Minister to a series of genocidal murderers.
There is, however, something of a grey area around whether Mr Darling also accused the entire SNP of promoting “blood-and-soil nationalism” – an extremely offensive term normally used in reference to Nazi Germany, where it translated as “Blut und Boden”.
Well, let us clear that up for you. Yes, he did.
In the original version of the interview, the New Statesman attributes the words to Darling directly, quoting him as saying “The SNP does not offer a civic nationalism … at heart it is blood-and-soil nationalism” (the ellipsis is the magazine’s, not ours).
After several hours during which numerous No-campaign figures and spokesmen had hyped and defended the interview without raising any objections to the attribution, suddenly they denied he’d said it and the magazine abruptly claimed that the quote had been a “transcription error”, and published what it said was the real exchange:
“NS: Salmond has successfully redefined the SNP as [representing] a civic nationalism . . .
Darling: Which it isn’t . . .
NS: But that’s what he says it is. Why do you say it isn’t? What is it? Blood and soil nationalism?
Darling: At heart . . . [inaudible mumble] If you ask any nationalist, ‘Are there any circumstances in which you would not vote to be independent?’ they would say the answer has got to be no.”
We have no reason to disbelieve the magazine’s account in this regard, though it has as yet declined to release the audio recording of those few seconds. It wouldn’t be the first time a magazine or newspaper had tried to make an interview more readable by misattributing quotes in such a way, and while far from ideal or admirable, it’s not the worst of journalistic crimes so long as it accurately represents the interviewee’s views.
And that’s the thing: it did.
While social media have made great merriment with the “[inaudible mumble]” line, it’s a red herring. Because there are only two kinds of nationalism – “civic” nationalism, an inclusive creed in which a nation is defined by the simple geography of its location and which therefore encompasses anyone who lives there regardless of where they were born, and “ethnic” nationalism, an exclusive and hostile form where the nation’s supposed characteristics are held to be racial and genetic.
The Nazis, of course, were ethnic nationalists. All of the world’s genocides have (by definition) been based on ethnic nationalism. For the Germans, Jewishness was in the blood, and could not be removed either by racial intermingling or a change of location. In Bosnia in the 1990s, Serbians didn’t undertake a programme of “civic cleansing”.
I’m “ethnically” Scottish – I was born in Scotland to Scottish parents and grew up there – but not currently “civically” Scottish (because I live in England), so I don’t get a vote in the referendum because the SNP are civic nationalists. If they were ethnic ones, I’d get a vote and a Polish immigrant to Aberdeen who moved there two years ago wouldn’t. I wholeheartedly endorse the SNP’s policy on the matter.
But in saying that the SNP’s approach is NOT civic nationalism, Alistair Darling can only possibly have meant one thing, because there’s only one other kind of nationalism. Ethnic nationalism IS “blood-and-soil” nationalism. That’s what “blood-and-soil nationalism” means.
Whether he directly used the words or not, Alistair Darling clearly and unequivocally said that the SNP were “blood-and-soil” nationalists, by unambiguous and inescapable implication. In a binary choice, he eliminated one option, leaving only one other possible.
The media, of course, has frantically attempted to airbrush the reference out of history. The Herald’s report makes no mention of that part of the interview whatsoever. Nor do two articles in the Guardian – even though the second is a liveblog which you might expect to cover the story as it unfolded – one in the Scotsman, or one in the Express.
Only the Telegraph mentions it at all, although in a bold twist the paper also carries an extra-specially barking column from Alan Cochrane (no mean feat, that) heroically contriving to blame Alex Salmond for Darling’s abuse of him. It was also raised on Scotland Tonight, whereupon Labour’s Iain Gray astonishingly attempted to pass Darling’s comments off as a “joke”.
But there’s no room for interpretation. Whether the New Statesman releases the audio and lets us judge just how “inaudible” Darling’s subsequent comments were or not, Darling had already made plain the allegation that the SNP, and by extension the entire Yes campaign, is founded on the basis of racism.
It’s a disgraceful, shameful accusation for which any human being with a shred of dignity or decency would, at the absolute minimum, apologise. We are very confident indeed that Mr Darling won’t. And from that, readers can draw their own conclusions.