Scotland’s civic nationalism is about freedom and equality

Nationalism as practised by the majority parties in Scotland is very different from that seen in other places, most notably in Downing Street.

English nationalism, which has become the prevailing philosophy of the Conservative Party, is exclusive, based on exceptionalism, and seeks to promote England’s interests and supposed virtues above all others.

However, Scotland’s civic nationalism is about freedom, tolerance, equality, the protection of individual and community rights and the rejection of prejudice and discrimination in any form.

While aggressive English nationalism is not a new phenomenon, it was, until recently, on the fringes of mainstream UK politics.

No one could have seriously thought that Nigel Farage and his saloon-bar prejudices would become the dominant political dialectic at Westminster, but that is what has happened.

Paternalistic, patronising, one-nation conservatism was never attractive, but it was better than its replacement ­­– the increasingly right-wing, xenophobic philosophy of a hard Brexit that has produced a Tory red-wall majority at Westminster.

Douglas Ross seems comfortable with it – a fact which speaks volumes – but nobody else in Scotland should be. It is inimical to who we are and the place we need to occupy in the world.

Scotland has a tendency to make its mind up slowly about governance and governing. The first stirrings of demand for administrative and then legislative devolution took more than a century to move from debate to partial delivery and then to a parliament, albeit one with limited powers.

There were 18 years between devolution referendums – years that included the decimation of our industrial base and the theft of our oil wealth.

It is now almost eight years since the first independence referendum and, although the lost years of Covid can be blamed for some of the delay, there has also been a collective national uncertainty about how to react to the increasingly ugly spectacle of a developing hard-line Brexit.

The attempt to seek a referendum in 2017 as the first signs of these changes emerged did not succeed and actually led to a diminution in support for radical change, which took time to reverse.

Brexit is the exemplar of what is wrong with the Union, but some still hoped – and against all the evidence still hope – that the Union could be reformed.

Some have found it difficult to believe the sheer hostility to Scotland and Scottish democracy (and the same careless approach to Wales and particularly to Northern Ireland) which now typifies Westminster Unionism.

Some have chosen to believe the lies and spin, carried along on a tidal wave of propaganda that comes from all the parties at Westminster (as it would, given their vested interest), and a media which is also in hoc to the Union.

And some still wait for the Labour cavalry to come over the electoral hill, though even if that happened it would, as ever, make precious little difference to Scotland.

All this means that the challenge facing those who support Scottish independence is now threefold.

Firstly, we must develop a case based not just on the reality of corruption and illegality which is the hallmark of the current government, but also on the diminishing place and profile of a UK that gives the worst support to its citizens of any of our neighbours and which is in speedy economic and social decline.

Yet, we must do so in a way that is never hostile to what Chesterton called “the plain people of England”. We are not responsible for them, but we should always wish them well.

Secondly, the case we promote must be hopeful and outward-looking, diverse and inclusive, rejecting prejudice but also accepting difference and the right of all individuals to their views and beliefs.

That type of modern, civic nationalist message reflects who we actually are and it chimes well with the European virtues which are worked out in the collaborative nature of the EU, which we should aspire to rejoin as soon as possible.

Thirdly, we must work together to build a new type of Scotland, ensuring constructive difference to be positive for our cause, not negative, and always mindful that we must draw in those who have not yet seen the need for a new way forward.

All these are big issues and we need a new type of collaborative grouping to address them, bringing together the independence-focused parties and groups across the country in order to develop and deliver our approach to the coming independence referendum.

Those from across the nationalist spectrum in Scotland that are willing to take the strength of the civic nationalist virtues which guide them – tolerance, equality, the protection of individual and community rights and the rejection of prejudice and discrimination – and use them as the foundations for what will be the next campaign need to do so now, in a spirit of mutual respect and collaborative determination.

The second independence referendum needs to be the last.

We must win what will be the biggest and most important contest of our lives.