Thank God for the SNP.
They may be whiny at times, populist all the time, and social authoritarians even in their sleep but they’re not Ukip.
Whatever your constitutional politics or your thoughts on nationalism, we are blessed in Scotland to have a nationalist party that is driven more by jobs and public services than by blood and soil.
True, there is still a strain of Little Scotlanderism in the SNP. Former First Minister Alex Salmond, in traitor-baiting mode, referred to the Unionist parties as a “parcel of rogues”; South of Scotland MSP Joan McAlpine reckons her opponents are “anti-Scottish” and hellbent on “bring[ing] down our parliament”; and the patriotism card was oft-played during the referendum, with Better Together politicians endlessly accused of “talking down Scotland”.
But these are aberrations in the otherwise successful modernisation of the SNP into a civic nationalist party. It helps too that Nicola Sturgeon is a sincere progressive and a heartfelt social democrat and that her ranks are swelled with Left and ex-Labour voters for whom fairness comes before the flag.
Every now and then, some local chumps will give their leader a showing up, such as the Renfrewshire SNP councillors who publicly burned the Smith Commission report or the Edinburgh Western branch that encouraged supporters to take photographs of Labour politicians and put them on the internet. They are, however, swiftly slapped down. Ms Sturgeon’s own occasional slips – for example, impugning Scottish Labour’s patriotism at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday – are the exception rather than the rule.
What centre-left voters in England would give to face a nationalist party like that. Instead, they have Ukip to contend with. The contrast between the two nationalisms could not be more vivid after Nigel Farage called for the scrapping of laws against racial discrimination.
The Independent reports that Mr Farage made the comments in a documentary, Things We Won’t Say About Race That Are True, to be aired on Channel 4 next week. The programme is presented by Labour politician and former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission Trevor Phillips.
Mr Farage is quoted as saying: “I would argue that the law does need changing, and that if an employer wishes to choose, or you can use the word ‘discriminate’ if you want to, but wishes to choose to employ a British-born person, they should be allowed to do so. I think you should be able to choose on the basis of nationality, yes. I do.”
Pressed on whether Ukip would keep laws making it a crime to discriminate on the basis of race, he is reported to have replied: “No, because … we as a party are colour-blind.”
Explaining how his policy would work in practical terms, he is supposed to have said: “I think the employer should be much freer to make decisions on who she or he employs. I think the situation that we now have, where an employer is not allowed to choose between a British-born person and somebody from Poland, is a ludicrous state of affairs. I think that we have taken our relationship with Europe to a level that, frankly, has gone against common sense, and certainly against self-interest.”
Mr Farage has claimed that his comments were solely in reference to nationality-based preferences and not race. We will have to wait until next Thursday and the airing of the programme to see for ourselves. Quite why being permitted to discriminate against Poles in recruitment is a nobler cause than doing the same against Jews or Asians or Africans is not clear.
These comments are hardly without, well, pedigree. They are of a piece with his brand of dogwhistle politics. In February 2014, he raised the spectre of Britain “having whole areas taken over” by immigrants and questioned whether parts of the country were “a foreign land”. As proof, he claimed that on a recent train journey he had not been able to “hear English being audibly spoken”.
He wasn’t complaining about whispering. He was talking about people who were not born here speaking languages unfamiliar to him. This made him feel “slightly awkward” and he was sure “three quarters of the population” agreed with him.
In February of this year, Ukip called for a ban on kosher and halal slaughter in the UK. This was despite Mr Farage explicitly promising the Jewish community that his party would uphold their religious freedoms, including shechita.
Why the sudden about-face? The party’s agriculture spokesman Stuart Agnew gave the game away. ““This isn’t aimed at you, he told the Jewish Chronicle, “it’s aimed elsewhere – it’s aimed at others. You’ve been caught in the crossfire; collateral damage. You know what I mean.”
Yes. We know exactly what he means.
And the party’s MP for Rochester and Strood was accused of raising the possibility of repatriation of recent EU migrants ahead of the November byelection in the constituency. Mark Reckless said that EU citizens presently living in the UK could “have a work permit at least for a fixed period” if the country departed the European Union but that “people who have been here a long time and integrated” could be “look[ed] sympathetically at.”
A new immigrant arriving in Britain (to “take over”, presumably) could be forgiven for thinking Mr Farage’s party is called “Disgraced Ukip”, so often do news reports begin with the words “A disgraced Ukip candidate…” You can take your pick of Kippers who have embarrassed their party with offensive statements. One candidate was forced to withdraw after using the term “chinky” and calling Ukip’s LGBT group (who can hardly have their sorrows to seek) “f——— old poofters”. Another councillor had to be expelled after telling a BBC camera crew that she “had a problem with people with negroid features”. Another candidate still recommended that the comedian Lenny Henry “go and live in a black country”.
There are many more examples. Every party attracts oddballs, weirdos, and downright lunatics; Ukip has no monopoly on moon-howlers. But try to imagine anyone in the SNP, however low-level, saying any of the above. Even if you’re the most ardent of Nat-loathers, you would have to concede that it is unthinkable. Some Nationalist and pro-independence efforts to portray Scotland and England as fundamentally different countries are cynical, crass, or evidentially dubious. But we can say this: When it comes to the experience of nationalism, the two nations couldn’t be more different.
But, you might say, Ukip does suspend or expel candidates and councillors who make these reprehensible remarks. Surely that shows that it’s not a racist organisation. And you’d be right. I don’t believe Ukip is a racist party. Instead Ukip is a populist-nationalist outfit wedded to misty-eyed false memories of imperial glory and Great Britishness. It is the party that remembers when you could leave your door unlocked and children could play football in the streets till all hours and the local bobby could give them a clip round the ear if they got a bit impudent.
It understands better than the mainstream parties that there are people out there uneasy about the 21st century and the pace of change it has brought. The country they grew up in is less white, less Christian, less heterosexual and in some ineffable way feels less like their Britain. They are conscientious objectors to modernity.
Ukip is uncannily attuned to these fears and prejudices and exploits them without necessarily offering any practical remedies. The reason is that none of Ukip’s policies would restore this ever-gone, never-been England pined for by a certain segment of the population. Even if Ukip were to win an outright majority in every election from now until Judgment Day, Britain will only get more diverse and more different. The party and those who support it are on the losing side of economics, demographics, and social attitudes.
This is why outwardly bigoted figures within the party are thrown out. They give the game away. Ukip operates in the tall grass of bias and prejudice; it doesn’t have the stomach for open-air racism or the policies required to achieve its aims. They will poke, prod, stoke, and stir up for electoral gain but they’ll never actually do anything.
English nationalism is no less legitimate than its Scottish counterpart but where nationalism is an ideology of the mainstream in Scotland, south of the border Labour and the Conservatives have left the politics of national identity to the fringes. This is a function of the major parties’ neglect of the white working class vote and the liberal intelligentsia’s contempt for English patriotism and intolerance of the open discussion of “sensitive” topics such as immigration, integration, and social cohesion.
Mercifully, the SNP is miles from this brand of politics. But Mr Farage’s remarks are a reminder that stigmatising and stereotyping are still very effective tools and can bring handsome profits to parties willing to explore this territory. What a shame, then, that some Scottish nationalists have proclaimed themselves victims of racism on the basis of the jibes of a few newspaper columnists and a cartoon mocking the SNP.
They should study Mr Farage’s remarks to see what genuine prejudice and divisiveness looks like and reconsider their efforts to feign victimhood for political gain.