Sunday, 14 February 2010

I'm sorry - Nationalism is Not Acceptable

Nationalism - especially in its celtic varieties exudes a certain panache that chimes in with a lot of people. Moody landscapes, knitted Aran jumpers, hauntingly romantic songs, and maybe the odd rugged-looking native. What's not to like?

Since I've been living in Scotland, I was able to observe it at close quarters - and have totally changed my mind. Nationalism is based on the belief of the supremacy of one's own nation above all others. In its day to day appearance, it is ugly, spiteful, and hurts anybody who is not of that nation.

"Everybody here is nationalist, in one way or another", a journalist friend told me recently, "and everybody dislikes the English". Oh right. So that is acceptable to say things like that, is it? No way.

Whilst support for the actual Nationalist Party in Scotland has waned, this is just a reflection on the fact that most voters now know that secession from Britain is no longer economically possible. Nationalism as such, however, is on the rise. And there is nothing to curb it, as "everybody thinks that way".

So "everybody" here thinks nothing of it when obese thugs (nationalism is much stronger in poor, uneducated strata of the population) glower at people who, say, speak on the mobile in a foreign language. Bus drivers habitually profess not to understand you when you speak with an English accent. Any criticism, if only of the weather, is met with utter hostility, and a threatening glare. When two English people talk to each other in a shop, the other shoppers fall silent, and everybody stares at the offenders. Officially, the line about Eastern European workers is that they are very welcome. They don't feel welcome, I've spoken to many of them.

The hatred is sharp, visceral and ubiquitous. You don't have to go football matches or obscure pubs to feel frightened by it.

I understand that nationalism and chauvinism come about through feeling marginalised, economically disadvantaged and bitter. But bigotry, xenophobia and hatred of people who aren't like you cannot be an acceptable form of voicing your frustration.

For me, the ugly face of nationalism is definitely a big problem when it comes to living in Scotland.


  1. I know exactly where you are coming from here I see this first hand in Wales and it upsets me. I love to live here and I have many friends in the Welsh community, I mean by that Welsh speakers, who are fantastic with us. But there is an element and a large one that hate the English I was never aware of this before I lived here and was shocked at the viciousness and hatred that goes way beyond playful or amusing I find it very scary x Great post

  2. Bigotry is never acceptable and the examples you give are worrying, but, for me, that's not nationalism or national pride. As you point out, it's a defense mechanism, a reaction to seeing your culture and your heritage subsumed into one with which you don't indentify. I've seen similar reactions, for example, in the Spanish Basque country, where some people would rather speak to visitors in English than in Castilian Spanish (aka the language of the oppressor). The difference there is that the Basque country, as the region's industrial heartland, was, historically at least, richer than the rest of Spain and could have some sort of claim to economic independence. That's not the case for Scotland or Wales, unfortunately. Maybe it's because I'm half-Scottish, but I have some sympathy for them on this front, not that I would ever condone aggressive behaviour or racism. But I live in a country with a very strong sense of national identity - France - yet every day, we see that eroded a little more by the "anglosaxon" cultural and economic behemoth and I'm glad there are people out there fighting back. I love Starbucks but do we really need to have them in every country across the world? Likewise, I love U.S. and British music but, were I not a native English speaker, I'm sure I would resent the airwaves being dominated by songs in a language that isn't my own or that I don't necessarily understand. So while I might not agree with the actions of those you cite as examples, there's part of me that's definitely sympathetic to a degree.

  3. There are many threads that lead is to this juncture, Margit.

    I've often mused how I would feel about the English position in Ireland if I were Irish.

    The fact is "British" is defined by two things: first the group of islands in which we live; second our ethnic/tribal heritage. The Scots are British, The Welsh are British (probably the MOST British), The English (despite the intrusion into the DNA of the Angles and the Saxons)are British, and yes the Irish are British too. You reach that conclusion from either the territorial or the ethnic point of examination.

    The problem is that most of us currently associate "British" most directly with "English" (the most mongreloid of all of us :-) ... ).

    I DON'T support the view that we're all the same and that therefore Europe should be one joined-up mass state. I think that tribalism is a often a good thing. It gives us a sense of belonging. The problem comes when Tribes go into conflict with each other.

    Basically the early "Kings" of Britain fought to join up the tribes to defend more resolutely the shores of these Islands. If we live on one land mass (2 if you include Ireland), we ought to joined up about some things. But that doesn't mean we should lose our identity at a regional or tribal level.

    I know many, many Scots. I think it isn't the English they resent - its the rule of a governmental system they've never really agreed with. Even when the "King" is a Scot. As it is now.

    Big subject - could rattle on for hours ... gotta go for now.

  4. Finding your views extremely interesting!Thank you! I used to be quite batty about Irish nationalism myself, I doubt there is a book on "The Troubles" I haven't read. Suddenly being on the receving end of xenophobia (bearing in mind I'm not even English!) is a rather sobering experience....

  5. Anyone who is interested in the "tribal" or "DNA" aspects of this debate would do well to read "Blood of The Isles" by Prof Brian Sykes. Then read "Sevene Daughters of Eve" by the same author. Perspective on who we all are soon dawns.

  6. The little time I spent in Edinburgh was the happiest of my life but I often encountered the anti-English hostility. I felt a sign around my neck, saying 'I am not English, but Finnish' would have made encounters with local population much more pleasant. But I had Newly In Love-goggles on so didn't really suffer too badly.

    This kind of xenophobia is not limited to the British Isles though. In the Nordic countries anyone who's not blonde and blue-eyed can have a very bad time of it. Nationalities/ groups that are hated change as the economics change, when I was little it was the gypsies that were the criminals, now it's the Somalis.

    Lately in Finland, the Swedish-speaking population is frowned upon. Sometimes this almost institutional hostility against a minority who once used to reign the country (as in Scotland) is understandable. But still not acceptable.

    The more we discuss racism, act against it, and write about it, the better.

    Good, thought-provoking post as always, Margit.

    Helena xx

  7. I have never felt particularly patriotic. I don't know if I can add anything to this debate but I will tell you what I think.

    Nationalism is generally a good thing. Being proud of where you come from is a good thing. Feeling an inner passion about where you belong is a good thing.
    However making yourself or your country feel good by slagging off another is not good. Discriminating against those who do not fit into 'being your own' is not good.

    I feel that our nation being an island has got far too much to do with it, especially when it comes to Europe and our relationship with our actual neighbours.

  8. Margit I have sympathy with your plight …. I have experienced the same level of xenophobia from Welsh people and this is my native land.
    I believe the problem could lay in the quality of your speech rather than your nationality. Could it be that your educated, articulated speech makes the people you have encountered feel inferior? These people might be reacting to an inherent inferiority complex. This is certainly the case in my experience – just because I speak differently and dress differently, they feel the need to use threatening language and behaviour. It really is terrifying and the older I get the more threatening I find this unacceptable behaviour.
    I must tell you a story which might explain why some Welsh people dislike the English so much. It has to do with what happened a few generations ago when my great grandparents were school children. The Welsh language was banned by the English establishment – Wales was governed by the English Law and the overlords were English industrialist, so Welsh people toed the line if they wanted to stay in work! The children were ridiculed and cruelly punished when they spoke their native tongue, a language which is one of the oldest in the whole of Europe. This resulted in wiping out the language from at least two generations of people. Some Welsh people will never forgive the tyranny of the English in Wales.
    On a lighter note, one of my very best friends, an English woman long settled in Wales, is constantly taking the p… out of the Swansea accent (think Gavin & Stacey) by mimicking people who come to visit her Bistro. Now some people might take offence at this but I just tell her that she should ‘Shut-Up’ until she can get it right!

  9. Interesting post. the word "proud" is often apparent in this context - proud to be this, proud to be that. I always find it a bit odd, as one's identity is arbitrary - it's certainly not an achievement, of which one could be logically proud. Being proud of one' nationality per se is not bad, but if it's purely irrational, and linked in to hostility of others, then it's a dangerous concept. Parochialism plus nationalism sounds nasty - and mix in a tad of socialism, hey presto, pandora's box....

  10. Thank you all for your great comments, as ever there's a lot of wisdom and truth in what you're saying! The only thing I find a bit disappointing is that nobody who actually lives in Scotland or is Scottish was prepared to comment. I'm a firm believer in bringing things out into the open, however painful or unpleasant they might be... but maybe confronting the ugly side of nationalism is still a step too far!

  11. Honestly, I prefer nationalism over what I've witnessed firsthand in India - violence, xenophobia, hatred of people etc. between people from different states and religions WITHIN the country.

    I know this is a perspective you may find very different from your own. But I've seen the other extreme in India where people from the SAME COUNTRY bring each other down - verbally, physically, sexually, at the workplace, when you commute, at the shopping mall - just because you come from a different part of India or a different caste. And it amazes me that this happens even in the major metro areas. It amazes me further, that when I meet fellow Indians here in the US, a lot of them behave in the SAME way! Indian colleagues at the workplace go out of their way to insult you in meetings, they discourage you when you achieve another milestone in the immigrant dream, they look down on you based on which part of the country you come from, and they think they can treat you with disrespect because you're 'just another outsider like him in the US'. It's disgusting.

  12. I've lived in Edinburgh (Leith) for almost 11 year with my wife: I'm English, and she is Turkish (cute accent intact). I can't say I recall a single instance of open bigotry against the English, or Turkish, or our large Polish contingent down here.