“Nigel Farage has a point”… isn’t a phrase that I thought I’d ever find myself thinking, let alone uttering in public.
There’s no doubt that there’s a delicious irony in Mr UKIP finding himself the victim of some - what shall we call them - intolerent views, robustly delivered.
There’s also no doubt that he’s milking it for everything that it’s worth.
As for UKIP themselves, and their views, I have no time for them*.
I’ve also no idea whether he was really barracked by genuine students, or a bunch of anti-English idiots (see here for my views on that sort of thing).
However, I do think that we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that Scottish nationalism is, well, nationalism. If Scotland were an independent country right now, and had been for ages, and the SNP didn’t exist, a new party calling itself the Scottish Nationalists would probably be treated with the same disdain as the BNP/EDL are in England, and other pseudo-fascist (or overtly fascist) “nationalist” political parties around the world.
Of course, Scotland isn’t independent, and is in the midst of an independence debate, and of course, the vast majority of the people who vote for the SNP are absolutely not right-wing bampots.
That doesn’t change the fact though that the nutters do exist, and that currently their existence is probably masked by the legitimacy of the independence debate.
Since moving to Scotland (I’m a Londoner, and I now live in Stornoway, in the Western Isles), one of the few things I’ve been genuinely dismayed by is the amount of casual racism that I see and hear around me. Not anti-English, incidentally, but anti-black, anti-muslim, and anti-immigrant in general. I’m not saying it’s endemic, but there’s definitely more of it, and it’s closer to the surface, than it was in London.
I’d like to think that mostly what I’m experiencing is just the difference between growing up and living in one of the world’s largest and most diverse cities, and living in a fairly small and still essentially quite rural part of Britain. I’d quite probably have the same experience in a small town in Norfolk or Northumberland or Wiltshire.
[To give some context: the comprehensive school that I went to had about 1100 pupils in it, including folk whose families hailed from pretty much every part of the world. That’s small incidentally, compared to many schools in big cities. The Nicholson here has about 1000 pupils too, and the pupils come from pretty much every part of… Lewis. It’s got to do something to one’s attitudes when you simply don’t grow up with other cultures all around you.]
I also think that there’s a real possibility that people here are no different in their views from people in big metropolitan areas, they’re just less guarded about expressing them. There’s a whole other can of worms there about social engineering and political correctness etc, but let’s leave that to one side for now.
Suffice to say that it feels to me that there is a general trend to be discerned. When you scratch the surface of the nationalist debate, you’re more likely to encounter some sort of anti-other sentiment amongst those who are strongly pro-Independence. Correlation does not imply causation, but even so - there may be a seedy underbelly to the independence movement.
If the vote next year is a yes, it’s something that’s going to have to be guarded against. It would be horrible to wake up on the morning after, to discover that we’ve accidentally also opened the door to a few crazed xenophobes and extremists.
*Although I do think that their current popularity is something that liberal and left-leaning types like myself have to actually think about. It’s all too easy to dismiss their supporters as right-wing nutters, but it’s not just the right who are voting for them, there are plenty too from traditionally socialist areas. Ignorance and bigotry isn’t the exclusive domain of the right, and we need to fight it with intelligence and education, not with a dogmatic ideology that falls into the trap of stereotyping these people.