sunt lacrimae rerum. Do not put faith in the love of country, or in war, or in the perfectibility of man. See the sorrow and the sadness that shadows the pursuit of these ideals, the frailty and the fragility that dogs all human striving. Ideologies do not have souls. They have no life of their own. They consume and feed on the more powerful aspects of human emotions, the nobility of human aspiration or the base human desires for power and mastery. More and more, Scotland has become an ideology, an ideology embodied in the serried ranks of the SNP.
The SNP is predicted to be on the verge of winning almost every seat in Scotland. We live in extraordinary times. Just a few months ago, that party’s vision was comprehensively rejected in a vote of the Scottish people and yet now it has once more come to dominate the political landscape. One way of explaining this radical change is to understand the dangerous appeal of the party. “Your morality is not our morality,” crowed Nicola Sturgeon at one party conference, delineating what it means to be Scottish in contrast to our Anglo-Saxon neighbours. This attitude has infected the support base of the SNP. The SNP has become an identity-based affair. According to one poll, 51.7% of SNP supporters treat criticism of their party as a personal insult by contrast to 27.7% in the case of Labour and 24.7% in the case of the Conservatives. Part of this trend has to come from the party’s conflation of what it means to be Scottish with supporting Scottish nationalism.
An SNP-Labour coalition would be a disaster for Britain and for Scotland. We have seen a number of political narratives woven around a narrative that includes both elements of ‘civic nationalism’ and wishful and clouded thinking on the part of the left that it might push the Labour party further to the left because of Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘progressive’ approach to policy. Furthermore, I would like to challenge the idea that Scotland is naturally more progressive than England, an idea encapsulated by the concept of ‘civic nationalism’ advocated by the SNP. The SNP trumpets an exclusive and therefore harmful and intolerant idea of what it means to be Scottish.
To sidestep claims that the SNP represent a nationalistic movement with all the resonance of the word ‘nationalism’, the idea of ‘civic nationalism’ was born, a belief that Scotland is different because of its political values, because of its shared belief in progressive politics, equality and expansionary attitude to public services. Scotland will be united in tolerance. Of course this faith –for it is a faith – in Scotland’s superior moral aspirations is not a new one. Alex Massie points out that “The Church of England’s catechism begins ‘What is your name?’ The old Presbyterian catechism favoured in Scotland asked a better, sterner question: ‘What is the chief end of man?’” The values of the Kirk are alive and well today in the vision of the SNP.
To define Scotland by the political is to impose a necessarily monochrome definition of what it means to be Scottish, a definition which necessarily fails to understand the complexity of Scottish history. To say that to be Scottish is to subscribe to any agenda is necessarily intolerant. Scotland has a rich and dark history of political involvement, a varied political history that defies a narrow ‘progressive’ identity privileged by the SNP. Scottish views on politics are as a diverse as the landscapes of the land. Scotland is Adam Smith. Scotland is the Scottish Enlightenment, one of the greatest intellectual and liberal movements that laid the foundations of the modern world. Scotland is the social conservatism of the Kirk. Scotland is sectarian conflict, a place where religion and politics remain painfully entwined. Scotland is sink estates and poor health, and poor educational standards, the Scotland of grinding poverty and low aspiration. Scotland is many things to all people – it defies any singular creed or faith. Hugo Rifkind illustrates the dangers of the SNP’s beliefs: “It is the politics of people who claim to be defining themselves, but are actually defining everybody else, thereby cowing a majority into silence.”
For me, Scotland is neither a left-wing nor a right-wing entity, neither conservative nor progressive, neither liberal nor authoritarian. Of course, the history of Scotland is marked by all these elements, just as with most nations in the world. For me, Scotland is mountains and moors, the sunshine on the berks of Aberfeldy, high mountains, clean air, unique and startling beauty. That is my Scotland. I do not give a damn about the world of politics, ephemeral as it is. If there are Scottish ‘values’, for me they are a simple civility and kindness.
The Scotland I see now is not the one I remember, not the Scotland I knew in my childhood. It is a nation divided. Households, families, villages, towns and cities all lie divided by the ravages of a vicious ideology. But the soul of Scotland lies in its people and in its land, not in the coldness of ideology or in the hands of any politician. Sunt lacrimae rerum.