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In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr at the weekend, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged Theresa May to work towards a deal that would “keep the UK within the single market and the customs union.” Taken in good faith, Sturgeon’s proposed deal aims to preserve access to both entities, an unlikely fudge that is unacceptable to hard Brexiteers and many others too and could not pass the Commons. Scotland’s First Minister then refused to rule out “the option of another vote.” So she is for an impossible deal, and if not that a rerun of the 2016 referendum. Nationalists love – given half a chance – rerunning referendums in which they lost.
What is Sturgeon up to? Her potpourri of contradictory nonsense (although Corbyn would do well to learn from Sturgeon’s cunning and compelling presentation) makes much more sense when it is read in the context of the SNP’s blind drive for independence at any cost.
“Scotland’s interests have been sidelined” in the Brexit machinations, she said, in the most revealing part of the interview. In any negotiation in which all four constituent nations of the United Kingdom have a shared interest in success, she would always argue that Scotland’s interests have been sidelined. Look at the way the SNP leader reframes May’s success in negotiating control of our fisheries as the “UK government preparing to sell out Scottish fishermen”.
This is absolutely central if you want to understand how Scottish nationalism has developed over the past few decades. The core reasoning – that Scotland always loses when it’s part of the UK – is an expression of the constellation of petty grievances – its anti-English, conspiratorial worldview – that makes up contemporary Scottish nationalism.
It wasn’t always so. Before the eighties, Scottish nationalism certainly had its cod romanticising streaks – the modernist Orkadian poet Edwin Muir wrote drily in Scotland 1941 of the silliness of the popular Scottish imagination: “Wallace and Bruce guard now a painted field”. But mid-century nationalism was more properly understood as a strange, central belt-led coalition of high-minded Edinburgh and Glasgow intellectuals, such as the late Professor Sir Neil McCormick, who drew on the inheritance of the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18thcentury to make a principled case for a “Scotland in Europe” – a small nation, whose thinkers had in small measure contributed to the notion of a European ideal. There were also radicals like the poet Hugh MacDiarmid, who yearned for a Celtic brand of socialist revolution:“When was anything born in Scotland last? Risks taken and triumphs won?” he wrote in 1934.
But something changed during the Thatcher era. Scotland returned larger and larger majorities for Labour, while Thatcherism consolidated its grip over the English electorate. Heavy industry, for so long the lifeblood of the Unionist-leaning working class, disintegrated, and the American diaspora took on a renewed interest in Scotland with films like Braveheart and Rob Roy (both released in 1995) that dramatised, in a grand act of historical larceny, Scotland as a proud, wholesome medieval nation in hock to vicious English imperialists.
The modern SNP rose on the back of presenting itself as a better fighter for Scotland in an ever escalating arms race of grievances real, exaggerated and imagined. The result is the SNP facing several different ways on Brexit, pretending to be public-spirited, motivated only by wanting Scottish independence out of any resulting chaos.
Sturgeon arrived in London on Tuesday to meet both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. Speaking ahead of her visit, she called for “grown-up responsible governance in the public interest”. Stones and glass houses, Nicola…