The Union is Scotland’s Trump
It’s a bit of a chattering class hobby of late, to try to understand the rise of Trump, the Brexiteers and the Authoritarian Right.
A niche side game played by unionist commentators is to pat themselves on the back for helping to narrowly avoid the same evil forces winning the 2014 independence referendum. They think that the motives of Scottish independence supporters are the same goals that are energising the rise of populism across the western world at the moment.
This notion, that is normally encapsulated in the lazy mantra that all forms of nationalism are the same, has been thoroughly debunked elsewhere.
We ourselves have written about the differences between Scottish nationalism and other more odious forms. If you can’t think of any differences between what independence supporters were saying in 2014 and what Trump and the Brexiteers are saying now, then it’s not all bad, you are probably daft enough to get a job writing for a UK newspaper. However, if you don’t want to remain phenomenally ignorant, then just think about the contrasting messages that each side disseminated on topics such as immigration, inclusiveness and supranational organisations.
There is one connection between the rise of the right and the rise of independence supporters.
While both movements marched in strikingly divergent directions, they were both fuelled by a growing sense of disappointment in the status quo. Scottish nationalists tried to rectify this problem by constructing a detailed plan for changing and democratising the system in which that status quo operates. After all, Scottish independence was a fast track to constitutional change and more representative government. We wanted this but we also wanted to embrace the free movement of people within Europe and fulfil our obligations to our neighbours and to the important international organisations we belong to.
The Trump/Brexiteer solution was to have no plan whatsoever to fix the system, instead, they rose to power by cresting a wave of negativity.
For them, the system was OK, it was just that it was polluted by a corrupt establishment kowtowing to and enabling malign outside influences. Instead of having a plan to change the system, they had strongmen on hand to offer simplistic solutions as to how we can rid our systems of malignant strawmen.
Maybe we too should drop the positive case for self-determination in favour of empty emotional rhetoric?
We could ditch Sturgeon in favour of an alpha male leader willing to put his arm around a frightened populace in order to shepherd them away from the ills of the outsider. We could drum up hatred of those who live here but were not born in Scotland. We could tell people they come here to steal our well-paid jobs and stoke resentment that it was them who voted to keep real Scots in the UK in 2014. Maybe we could create a poster depicting hoards of the English middle-classes flooding across the border to run our arts scene.
While it would be morally wrong it might be effective and it would certainly make many unionist hacks look less stupid.
We can’t though and not just because it would be ethically repellent. We can’t because the UK is the ultimate symbol of that strong paternalistic leader with simple answers to complex solutions. The Broad Shoulders of the UK rest on the back of the consummate authoritarian strongman and all unionist arguments lead us to the safety of his bosom.
In their world, we can’t do anything about being dragged out of the EU because Scotland is dependent on remaining in the UK.
It is the strong central power promising less freedom and opportunity in exchange for protection from our mostly irrational fears. Even if we wanted to run a darker campaign next time we just couldn’t compete with an option that holds the ultimate appeal for those in need of an authoritarian comfort blanket.
So, again we will be left with a more difficult task of promoting those ideals that fade in times when people are threatened.
Our task will be to encourage responsibility and ownership in a world where so many are driven by fear and blame. We must be champions of hope, inclusiveness, freedom, equality and internationalism. It will not be easy, but unlike the arguments of the authoritarian right, at least if we win we will have a country worth living in.
Cover image Image via Nicolas Raymond / Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed