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Tuesday, 28 February 2017

My response to THAT Guardian Article

By right of reply to @claireshrugged 's article in the Guardian here

I've addressed my issues with it and offered my own thoughts in red.

Sadiq Khan was not wrong to compare Scottish nationalism to racism or religious intolerance (didn’t compare – he said there was NO DIFFERENCE) – at least, not entirely. Someone has to say it: the parallels are clear. There is an obvious overlap between nationalism and racism (Not a single person is arguing there isn’t – but that constitutes “A DIFFERENCE”): both mentalities are defined by a politics of us and them (Not true in the case of Civic Nationalism, but carry on…). Equating racism with Scottish nationalism is a massive false equivalence (Understatement), yet both perspectives are reliant on a clear distinction being made between those who belong and those who are rejected on the basis of difference. (Who doesn’t belong? How is this illustrated? Examples, please)

In the Daily Record, Khan claimed that nationalism is effectively the same (Said they were exactly the same, no room for error) as “trying to divide us on the basis of background, race or religion”. Predictably, SNP politicians and supporters alike (Many people who voted Yes in 2014 were not SNP voters, many people who disputed his claim came from more parties than the SNP) were outraged. How dare anyone question their vision of a progressive Scotland? (Nobody was outraged at him questioning a vision, they were enraged that their political beliefs were being directly equated to racism) But in their rush to condemn a Londoner (No one condemned him on the basis of him being from London, only in being absolutely wrong) – the mayor of all Londoners, no less (This is relevant, how?) – for his, in Nicola Sturgeon’s words, “spectacularly ill-judged” comments, nationalists missed an opportunity to recognise a degree of truth in Khan’s comments. (There’s a degree of truth that anyone who supports independence is no different to a racist? Those were his comments)

The SNP (You’ve mentioned the SNP twice now) is fond of talking about “a fairer Scotland(many Yes supporting groups not affiliate with the SNP share this ideal), playing on the popular notion that Scotland is by nature more egalitarian than England (Not everyone who wants independence says it IS – But everyone who does want independence says they want it to be). But this raises one unavoidable question: fairer than what?  England, of course. (Scots who voted yes in 2014 didn’t live in England. I think you mean fairer than the Scotland that exists as part of the UK)

In order to valourise Scotland, to present it as some sort of progressive utopia, nationalists must emphasise the difference between Scotland and our southern neighbour. (No, they need to demonstrate that outside of the UK we can have the freedom to effect meaningful change that we can’t do at present) The mythos of Scotland as a friendly, compassionate country is maintained with fervour – like any other fairytale, it needs heroes and villains. And Scottish exceptionalism – the idea of Scotland as a land of tolerance – is a fairytale. It is what allows Scotland to hold England accountable for all the wrongs of imperial expansion while denying this country’s own colonial legacy.(OK. What has this got to do with Supporting Independence being the same as racism?)

Before hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2014, “people make Glasgow” was announced as the city’s new slogan – a celebration of Glasgow’s reputation for friendliness. Yet there is a rift between Glasgow’s public image and history that remains unaddressed: the people who made Glasgow were 18th-century merchants who grew rich on the back of the slave trade. The wealth that built Glasgow came from the enslavement of black people. These atrocities are buried so that the legend of “a fairer Scotland” can survive. (OK. What has this got to do with Sadiq Khans speech?)

The 2014 independence referendumwas a time of unprecedented political engagement, but also extreme social tension (Define extreme tension– Northern Ireland Troubles tension or X-factor final tension?). Friendships cracked under the strain of differing opinions, and the inevitability of the referendum being brought up at family gatherings created a special sort of dread. Some remember this as a time of optimism. For me, in the lead-up to the vote, as discourse soured, it was a time of worry provoked by national discord. The relentlessness of nationalists’ need to distance Scotland from the rest of the UK (Not England? You said England earlier…) on the grounds that we were not like them filled me with anything but hope. The message of difference, that it must lead to separation, forced me to question how people of colour and migrants fitted into their idea of Scottish society at a time when purism governed understanding of Scottish identity and belonging. (And your insight is both commendable & welcome. But what has this got to do with Sadiq’s Speech equating Racists with Independence Supporters?)

Scottish nationalism in its present state rests on a fundamental contradiction: seeking separation from the United Kingdom, and unity within the European Union. (Technically, Scotlands sovereignty is ultimately tied to Englands voting record. Look at Trident. The EU wouldn’t force the UK to house nukes against its will, important distinctions on the unity you discuss)  If the first minister is to call a second referendum, as Theresa May reportedly fears, she must address why Scotland aims to build new political ties while actively dismantling our longest and most stable relationship (That is 300 years old & hasn’t changed its shape or form in that time – lot has happened since then, you know.) with another country. There is a hermetic streak to Scottish nationalism, small and inward-looking despite the SNP’s talk of a global Scotland, that persists beyond reason. (Hermetic yet small... that sounds like "room for error" and not independence supporters being no different from racists - as Khan said.)

This showed this weekend: a disproportionate amount of nationalist outrage towards Khan came from white SNP supporters. There was a lot of “How dare you call us racist?” and very little reflection on the possibility that Scottish nationalism could actually contain racism. (OK, but that’s not what Khan said. He never said “could contain” – he said NO DIFFERENCE) As is often the case, talking about racism became more controversial than racism in itself. Indeed, many nationalists are so deeply invested in the narrative of Scottish exceptionalism that they are unwilling to have a frank conversation about racism in Scottish society. (Not true. We confront it as best we can. It exists in all walks of political life, too – not least in parties most affiliated with British Unionism – UKIP, BNP, EDL, SDL, Pegida etc – but again – this is NOT what Khan said in his speech)

And Scottish exceptionalism is buoyed by white progressives even when they are not Scottish nationalists. Trade unionist Clare Hepworth tweeted that: “I have MANY SNP followers & friends. I have NEVER heard or read a racist comment from any of them!”

Hepworth’s approach brings to mind the old “tree falling in a deserted forest” puzzle – if racism occurs and another white person isn’t around to hear it, has racism still happened? (Yes, but this isn’t what Khan was saying in his speech) Comments such as Hepworth’s only make it harder for people of colour to come forward about the discrimination we face, increasing the risk of us being disbelieved when we do speak out. (I think this article has done more to increase that risk) Making racism invisible does not help those of us who experience it. (Nobody is trying to make racism invisible or deny it exists. This was also NOT WHAT KHAN SAID) If you argue there is no racism at all (Nobody has), it shuts down the need to talk about it. (So does accusing people of whitesplaining when they respond to accusations that they are no different from racists)  But if we don’t talk about racism then the status quo – in which white graduates are more than twice as likely to be hired as black, Asian and minority ethnic graduates in Britain – goes unchallenged. (OK, what has this to do with Khan’s speech?)

White SNP supporters and allies have never been subject to racism. (An outright untruth. Andy Murray received dogs abuse from English people for tweeting he supported independence - he gets it when he wins SPOTY awards too, bizarrely) Khan, a second-generation Pakistani immigrant, has. And so there is a certain irony to white people with progressive politics rubbishing what an Asian man has to say about racism. (Being PoC makes you the only true authority on what racism is? That seems… racist.) Khan knows first-hand how racism works. In the run-up to the mayoral election, his opponent Zac Goldsmith and then-prime minister David Cameron both suggested that London would be unsafe in his hands, playing on Islamophobia in an effort to discredit him. (OK, what has this got to do with…)

With this knowledge, Khan judged it appropriate to draw a comparison between nationalism and prejudice (Wasn’t a comparison – it was a direct equivalence with none of the “room for error” your piece has relied so heavily on) in order to highlight the risk carried by the politics of division. For that I will not condemn him, just as I will not condemn those people of colour who criticise him. Yet, as a black Scottish woman, I, too, fear the politics of division. Zeal for national identity invariably raises questions of who belongs and who is an outsider – even “civic-minded” Scottish nationalism needs a “them” to create a cohesive idea of “us”. (The “them” is us – it’s the people (of all colours) who live their lives in the current political settlement in Scotland. The "us" is an aspiration to what we could be if we were given the chance - glad I could clear that up for you)


  1. Hi Gary. Next time could you do your thoughts in blue? Red is killing my eyes. Thank you kindly.

  2. Good take down Gary. A woeful column from her. An extremely poor and cack handed attempt at analysing khan's speech. Although that could be dismissed as me being racist and sexist.