5 reasons Scottish nationalism is different from UK nationalism | Autonomy Scotland

5 reasons Scottish nationalism is different from UK nationalism

UK nationalism poster

UK nationalism poster

Recently there has been a marked increase in UK nationalism. The movement, spearheaded by UKIP and usurped by the Conservatives, has resulted in a rise in hate crime and culminated in the vote to leave the EU.

We have long claimed that Scottish nationalism is different. That said, of late I have seen many people argue that underneath the veil it is the same. Many think that all forms of nationalism are ugly and that nationalism is defined by a group of people spinning a deluded narrative that they are exceptional. That it is about blaming others for problems of your own making.

While some supporters of Scottish independence definitely subscribe to an ugly ethnic nationalism, I would argue that the nationalism that drives the majority of independence supporters is benign and morally justifiable.

Here are the reasons Scottish nationalism is different:

1. Scottish nationalism has a fixed laudable goal

Directed at those in power

Directed at those in power

One of the weird things about Brexit proponents and about the rhetoric heard recently at the Tory conference was all the talk of taking sovereignty back and being a proper nation again. However the UK is already a fully sovereign nation, which is why, unlike Scotland, the UK parliament was able to hold their referendum without getting permission first. It is why the EU has no power to end the UK parliament in the same way that the UK could shut down the Scottish government.

In 1973 the UK took the sovereign decision to cede some power to Europe in return for the benefits that decision offered. This year it made the sovereign decision to leave the EU.

Scotland is historically and culturally a nation but it is in a strange situation in that it is not a nation state. In this respect the main drive of Scottish independence is nationhood, unlike UK nationalism which is driven by exceptionalism, the end goal of Scottish nationalism is to be like other nations. It is a drive to be normal not special.

2. Scottish nationalism is outward looking

Scottish Papers don't print this type of thing.

Scottish papers don’t print this type of thing.

The goal of the Scottish independence movement was to be part of the EU, an institution that most people in Scotland feel is important for peace, stability and prosperity here and around the globe. Contrast this to UK nationalism that wants to isolate itself from those institutions that the majority of us have benefited from over the last 40 years.

3. Scottish nationalism is inclusive

Scotland acknowledges the need for immigration as we are aware immigration benefits our society both culturally and economically. The Scottish government has complained about Tory changes to immigration policy making it harder for foreign students to remain in the country as well as making it harder for skilled workers to get a visa. This is different from the UK nationalism that stoked the Brexit result which was about stopping immigration.

EU citizens living in Scotland were given the right to vote in the Scottish independence referendum. They were excluded from voting in the EU referendum, even though the result will have a big impact on them.

4. Scotland’s nationalism blames the correct institution

The blame lies with our political leaders

The blame lies with our political leaders

While it is true that nationalists often blame others, that doesn’t mean that this is always wrong. While both forms of nationalism are stoked by a decline in living standards in the general population only one group is directing their anger at the cause of the problem. Supporters of Scottish independence blame Westminster which seems pretty reasonable as that is where ultimate power lies. UK nationalists blame external forces such as the EU or migrants.

As a result, Brexit actually rewarded failed UK politicians and a failed UK system by gifting the status quo more power over our lives. This is bizarre as it was ultimately decisions made at the UK parliament that have caused most of the issues that are making people so unhappy.

5. Scottish nationalism is peaceful

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Since the EU referendum there has been a shocking increase in hate crime directed at minorities in every region of the UK except for Scotland. During the EU referendum, a female pro immigration MP was murdered in the streets in Yorkshire by a man who held extreme right wing views.

There has never been one death linked to Scottish nationalism since the start of the modern movement almost a century ago. The Scottish independence referendum in 2014, although vigorously fought, was a largely peaceable affair.

In fact the most high profile act of violence was a riot in George Square which was carried out by the UK nationalist victors.

While people are correct to be wary of nationalism it is clear that our two most recent referendums have been driven in some degree by the phenomenon.

It is also clear that the Scottish variety is markedly more palatable and understandable than what has driven Brexit. Scottish nationalism is inclusive, outward looking and has a fixed laudable goal, whilst UK nationalism is exclusive, insular and has no discernible end game.

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This may sound petty but you fail to mention that Jo Cox was murdered by a Scot. You suggest that Scottish values are in some nameless way superior to those of England. That, in and of itself is ethnic nationalism. When the SNP administration stop speaking of “indigenous”languages like Scots and Gaelic being “oppressed” and forbid references to “Blood Scots” in Homecoming promotional materials only then will Scots nationalism be free of suspicion that it is not ethnic based. When someone like Alisdair Gray, arguably Scotland’s best author, is openly critical of English “colonists” while still describing himself as a… Read more »


I think you make some fair points here and I would never claim the Scottish independence movement was free of ethnic nationalism. I know there are elements of that in the mix. Many of them voted for Brexit and are now conflicted over what to do in indyref2. However, I think on the whole, the Scottish independence movement is more tolerant of other cultures than the movement that drove Brexit. Even critics of the movement, like Stephen Daisley would concede this point. This is actually a fairly good read by him. https://stv.tv/news/politics/1322184-essay-stephen-daisley-on-the-snp-and-the-politics-of-nationalism/ With regards to Thomas Mair, he may well… Read more »


Yeh it sounded petty and a bit dumb.


I think Martin has a good handle on the merits of Nationalism…..

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