This post is my response to a recent post in Bella Caledonia by David Morgan, entitled I am a Nationalist, which you can read here. David Morgan is none too keen on those who say, I am not a nationalist, but …… This of course is exactly my position. I am not a nationalist, though I have always been in favour of an independent Scotland. Morgan’s article is very interesting and well worth reading. I agree with much of what he writes. My prime objection is that he conflates two very different meanings of nation – nation as a country and nation as a people who claim a common descent. This is clear when he writes, Put simply nationalism is the extremely dangerous idea that countries should be governed according to the democratically expressed wishes of their citizens and not in the interests of a miniscule power elite. Here we have what is for David Morgan the basic, but erroneous, equation, namely that nation = country. This is just not true. For example in Canada, the indigenous people of the Americas are known by the term First Nations. Yet of course the First Nations peoples have no country of their own. Most do not even have a province of their own. A nation can exist without the need for it to have its own state or country.
We have two recent reminders of this. The annual Tartan Day celebrations in New York came around earlier this month. This was about celebrating Scots and perhaps Scottishness and was open to all who regarded themselves as in some way Scottish. It is not primarily about Scotland the country. It could though be regarded as a national event inasmuch as it is to celebrate all who belong to the Scottish Nation. Nation here in its original sense of those who share or claim to share a common descent. In March many parts of the world were celebrating St Patrick’s Day as a celebration of all things Irish. Again this could be regarded as a celebration of the Irish Nation. What it could not be reduced to was a celebration of the Republic of Ireland. For the very good reason that many people who consider themselves to be Irish do not live in the Republic and have no desire to do so.
I also dispute the second claim expressed in the sentence quoted above from David Morgan’s article. The bit where he asserts that nationalism means that countries should be governed according to the democratically expressed wishes of their citizens and not in the interests of a miniscule power elite. Again I would contend that this simplistic equation is not borne out by history. Even in the case of Scottish history. The Wars of Independence for example were fought and led by the country’s or should that be the nation’s miniscule power elite. While many outwith this elite also fought for the nation’s independence, the nation remained under the iron rule of this miniscule power elite.
There are more recent examples of where nationalism had little if anything to do with the democratically expressed wishes of citizens as opposed to a miniscule power elite. On the anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War we should not need reminding of the crucial role that Serbian nationalism played in detonating that war. The Serbian elite in the pre First World War Kingdom of Serbia expressed and promoted, at times violently, a rather extreme notion of nationalism. This Serbian elite wanted the Kingdom of Serbia to expand to include all Serbs within its new expanded boundaries. Which was not necessarily an ignoble aim. What was a lot less noble was that this elite were none too concerned about how this Greater Serbia emerged. They were also somewhat inconsistent in their claims for a Greater Serbia. They not only wanted all areas where Serbs were in a majority to be included, they also wanted all areas where only a minority of the population were Serbs to be included. Furthermore they wanted areas where Serbs had lived in the past, but no longer did so, to be included in this Greater Serbia. Not exactly an example of nationalism as a promoter of democracy.
It is this not so positive side of nationalism that David Morgan just simply ignores in his article. Now Scottish nationalism has nothing in common with Serbian nationalism of a hundred years ago. My point is that you cannot simply deny the existence of this side of nationalism. I have no problem with people like David Morgan who are happy to call themselves nationalists, as he makes it clear what kind of nationalism he supports. What I object to is the lazy claim that all people who support Scottish independence must be nationalists. The basis for my support for independence is democracy, not nationalism. I have written about this way back in 2012 in a post entitled Is Scotland a Nation?- see here. My conclusion to that post still stands and I am happy to quote it now – Scotland the country, Scotland the land has existed for centuries with its own distinctive customs and laws. It is on the basis of its continuing existence as a distinct entity – a state – that I support Scottish Independence. Let it be us – the people of Scotland, wherever we come from – who decide our future. Some of my more recent thoughts can be found here and here.