© Hat Trick Productions
Well, that was nice of the Scottish Labour Party. Last weekend, they held their spring conference and presumably, like any political party, they hoped they’d present themselves in a good light. Good enough to win a few new voters or, in their case, win back a few old voters. Because in recent years the Scottish Labour Party has haemorrhaged support – in 1999 it had 56 seats in the Scottish Parliament and another 56 in the Westminster one, compared with 24 Scottish seats and just one Westminster seat today. And a great many of those former Labour voters have defected to the pro-independence Scottish National Party.
So in their wisdom what did Scottish Labour do? They got Sadiq Khan, the Labour Mayor of London, to come to Scotland on Saturday and give a conference speech that accused the SNP of racism. Yep, that’ll win those old supporters back. Call them racists.
Specifically, Khan talked of “Brexit, the election of President Trump and the rise of populist and narrow nationalist parties around the world” and said there was no difference between the likes of the SNP and “those who try to divide us on the basis of our background, race or religion.” Which sounds like a pretty good definition of racism to me.
Admittedly, when Khan delivered the speech, he tried to tone it down slightly – but the damage had been done for it’d already been printed in the Scottish Labour-supporting tabloid the Daily Record. And it sparked a tremendous uproar from SNP supporters, furious that despite backing a party that’s probably the most pro-immigration and pro-European Union of the major parties in Britain today, they’d been told they were no better than, say, the British National Party, National Front and English and Scottish Defence Leagues. You know, real racist organisations.
One thing that stuck in many people’s craws was the fact that back before the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, while the SNP had campaigned for a ‘yes’ vote, the BNP, National Front, EDL and SDL had all campaigned for a ‘no’ one. Indeed, the racists’ campaign literature had often warned that in an independent Scotland the SNP would bring in more immigrants, more refugees, more Muslims, etc. Though I have to say this picture tweeted by ex-BNP leader Nick Griffin as a warning about how an independent Scotland would look is so cool it surely made more people vote for independence than against it.
Incidentally, Khan’s mention of religious divisiveness seems ironic too considering that there have been moments in recent history when his party in Scotland has cosied up to the pro-Protestant, anti-Catholic Orange Order – Labour councillors in Falkirk handing more than £1000 of public money to the Order in May 2016, for instance, or Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council throwing more cash at it in June 2012 so it could stage street parties in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Labour’s response to the furore was to claim that, because Khan comes from a British Pakistani family, anyone disputing his ‘SNP equals racism’ claims were themselves racist. Labour Member of the Scottish Parliament Anas Sarwar, also of Pakistani descent, tweeted: “Quite ironic that 2 brown guys are being abused / trolled by mob of angry white men in a racism row.”
Actually, the people who got angry about Khan’s speech included the correspondent Robert J. Somynne, lawyer Aamer Anwar, entrepreneur Yasmin A. Choudhury and SNP politicians Humza Yousaf and Tasmina Sheikh, none of whom are ‘white guys’. Not all of them are ‘guys’, either.
At least Khan received some backing from Scotland’s not-in-love-with-the-SNP mainstream press. Among those voicing support for him were Stephen Daisley, columnist for the totally non-racist, pro-immigrant, pro-refugee, pro-Muslim Daily Mail, and Iain Martin, former deputy editor, head of comment, columnist and blogger with the totally non-racist, pro-immigrant, pro-refugee, pro-Muslim Telegraph newspapers.
Then on Monday evening the Guardian newspaper poured fuel on the fire and published an opinion piece by a PhD student at Stirling University called Claire Heuchan. Baldly titled THE PARALLELS BETWEEN SCOTTISH NATIONALISM AND RACISM ARE CLEAR, the piece promptly started its own shitstorm. By the time the Guardian decided to close the comments thread underneath, two hours after it’d appeared, there were 1242 comments – many of them not written in admiration of Heuchan’s thought-processes.
Well, regular readers of this blog will know that I’m sympathetic to both the SNP and its goal of an independent Scotland and I have to say Heuchan’s Guardian piece annoyed me even more than Khan’s speech, mainly because her arguments were so half-baked. For example: “Zeal for national identity invariably raises questions of who belongs and who is an outsider”, which makes me wonder why this has to be a peculiarly Scottish issue. After all, zeal for national identity in Britain as a whole amputated the country from the European Union recently and left many EU nationals living in Britain fearful for their futures. Actually, if national identity’s so bad, shouldn’t Heuchan be petitioning for Britain to shed its borders and merge with France, Germany and everywhere else in Europe?
She criticises the independence movement for its supposed belief that that Scotland is better than England, which will be news to those who simply want an independent Scotland run by the people who live in it – including English folk, ethnic minorities and EU nationals – because they believe it would be better run that way than by Westminster. Not better than England or anywhere else, but just better than how Scotland is now.
She castigates independence supporters for holding England “accountable for all the wrongs of imperial expansion while denying this country’s own colonial legacy”, which forgets that prominent pro-independence Scottish historians like Tom Devine have written extensively about Scotland’s role in shaping the British Empire.
Then there are the claims that Heuchan, who’s a person of colour, makes about whiteness. Being white means your’re entirely immune and oblivious to racism, apparently. The trade unionist Claire Hepworth is criticised for tweeting that she’s never heard any of her SNP-supporting friends and followers being racist. “Comments such as Hepworth’s only make it harder for people of colour to come forward about the discrimination we face…” Suggesting that because she doesn’t know anyone who’s racist, Hepworth is an accomplice to racism. And a claim that “(w)hite SNP supporters and allies have never been subject to racism” seems unlikely considering that many SNP voters in Scotland are of Irish descent or belong to other white national groups and quite possibly have been subject to racism.
Soon after the Guardian’s comments thread was closed, Heuchan disappeared from Twitter too. I imagine certain newspapers like the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the also totally non-racist, pro-immigrant, pro-refugee, pro-Muslim Daily Express will soon be running horror stories about her being hounded off Twitter by racist SNP scumbags.
To be honest, I suspect the real reason why the Twitter account vanished was because people were reading her past tweets and finding items from before the 2014 independence referendum that showed she was a ‘British and proud’ activist campaigning for a ‘no’ vote. Now Heuchan is free to define her identity whatever way she likes. But it might have been wise to temper her piece with a wee bit of balance and admit that British nationalism can be racist too. Ask those many people who were abused on British streets for speaking a language other than English during the giddy days that followed dear old Blighty voting for Brexit.
No political movement consists wholly of angels. I’m sure a few racist bampots who object to both coloured people and English people do support the cause of Scottish independence. And I know that in the past the SNP had its share of anti-English bigots. (Though in the 1980s I knew some Scottish Labour supporters who’d mouth off about ‘English bastards’ too, on account of them voting Maggie Thatcher into power every four years.)
But if the pro-EU, pro-immigration SNP are going to be maligned as racists, what does that make Theresa May’s Conservative Party, hellbent on steering Britain out of Europe, using EU nationals in Britain as ‘bargaining chips’, ramping up the rhetoric against immigrants and refugees and toadying to a bigoted thug like Donald Trump? Indeed, what does that make Sadiq Khan’s Labour Party, now that at Westminster they’ve resolved to support the Conservatives over Brexit?
Worse, I’d say. Much worse.
© The Independent