I should not have been surprised when Douglas Alexander tweeted to promote his Independent on Sunday column today: “As a Scot I don’t want to retreat from vision of a multiethnic, multicultural, multinational, state My IoS piece http://bit.ly/yFSbLU. But I was saddened by it because I sympathise with his statement; I feel the same way.
And this contradiction may embody half the misunderstanding currently going on between proponents of both sides of the independence argument. I have no reason to suspect Douglas’ basic sincerity on the matter and, while I disagree with half that he says, I find him usually a more coherent, plausible proponent of the unionist side than those actually paid to do that job (for avoidance of doubt; Curran, Murphy and—sadly—Lamont all seem to fall into that category).
Unfortunately, unionists seem reluctant to examine in any depth what we nationalists are actually saying. They re-hash slogans from 1999 and accord us little of the consideration and integrity that would make for better debate. The implication from Douglas’ tweet is that any Scotland created by the SNP would not offer characteristics he considers vital. Let’s sidestep being insulted by that and consider each in turn:
- Multiethnic. Yes, we are. Apart from clear statements that anyone who lives or was born here qualify as Scots, I keep falling over enthusiastic nationalists of Asian, English and even Ukrainian origin. “Scotland was and is a mongrel nation”.
- Multicultural. Far from excluding people, the range of those attending Burns Suppers is a matter of pride. Yet, my local SNP branch thinks curry is the national dish. Unlike England, our cultures here are mixed in together, which may help explain why race relations seemed less of an issue in Scotland
- Multinational. What attracted me to study at Edinburgh decades ago was the fact that it had the highest proportion of non-Scots students. Before it was dominated by ‘British’ foreign policy, Scotland had a strong international presence, now continued in its diaspora. But, as the late (and sorely missed) Bashir Ahmed put it: “It’s not where you’re from but where we are going together that matters”.
It does not take long reading London newspapers, listening to BBC ‘national’ news or watching Westminster in action to realise the extent to which England suffers from a parochial, inward vision. Quite apart from the conflating of “English” with “British” interests, the tendency is to regard Britain as a collection of English regions—all the same really, bar quirky accents, whose importance is inverse to the distance from Whitehall. Though this has fallen from its 1950’s peak when received pronunciation was the badge of civilisation and good careers (those not involving dirty fingernails) could not be found outside London, the sense of cultural identity and nationhood that has permeated Scotland in the two decades since the Claim of Right has yet to percolate Boodles or the Carlton.
All this should make the likes of Douglas ca’ cannier. Born, like his equally bright sister, in Glasgow and representing Paisley since 1997, the pysche of West-Central Scotland should be no mystery to him. Its centre-left leanings and occasional socialist outbursts should be second nature. That Thatcher’s Little-Englanderism and New Labour’s pliant cronyism with Bush over Iraq/Afghanistan/nukes went down like a lead balloon there should be seared into his political soul. Yet, though he speaks better than his colleagues, he still speaks more like an outsider, a Mandelson baffled by Hartlepool mushy peas.
Because, though the Buddies were having had a hard time of it even before Brown’s much-vaunted prudence went oot the windae in 2008, they haven’t been blaming Asians or immigrants or the English for their dearth of jobs and future. They were looking for someone with a plan to give them jobs and hope. After decades of wall-to-wall Labour, these people who agree with Douglas’ laudable multi-ethic/racial/national beliefs voted to give the SNP their local council and both Holyrood seats.
The Buddies he currently represents are not stupid, any more than Douglas is himself. Their history and beliefs would not have let them vote for a party unless it demonstrated key principles that it shares with them. That includes the left-of-centre focus on community in which the Labour Party once led the world. Although Douglas’ tweet resolutely implies otherwise, the evidence for shared beliefs is all over his own constituency.
All this reminds me of the feisty mother of an early girlfriend. The family had relocated from Paisley to Haddington as part of the sixties’ slum clearance and she was visited by a local councillor who boasted familiarity with the area she was from. Not one to take him (or anyone) at face value and always impish when roused, she asked him to dance the Paisley Pattern with her. She proceeded to embarrass the bejasus out of the man, leading him in a complicated set of steps until he got flustered and left. Great entertainment and a lesson to all those who would try to take a len’ o’ a Buddy.
So, Douglas, since you’re already in a community that reflects your beliefs, why sacrifice all for that job in a country whose people think more like what you dislike? Ignore your London staff, re-think your tweet and, come 2015, avoid being led a merry dance.