In June 2015 I wrote in this blog post about the ironic way that unionists pointed the finger of extremism at Scotland with out ever reflecting on their own prejudice. https://peoplesrepublicofescotia.com/2015/06/02/extremism-prejudices-and-all-of-us-together/
My June 2015 blog piece also pointed out that we are all racist in some way or other. It argued that our racism can be unintentional but it occurs because we can never fully understand every new cultural context we find ourselves in. In short, the complexity, insidiousness and unrelenting nature of normalism, standardisation, universalism and ethnocentrism means that we all have problems engaging with moments that require us to see the world from another person’s perspective.
So, when Sadiq Khan makes accusations of racism about people in Scotland, he is correct; but not necessarily in the way he intended. He intended to stigmatise a political grouping who support independence but in seeking to injure his perceived opponents, he actually fell into the ethnocentric trap of suggesting proindy Scots are a homogeneous entity. In so doing, he practiced the very racism he was seeking to oppose. He stereotyped a group who in the UK context are a minority and spoke as if all members of the SNP are the same or all independence supporters are the same. It may be that Sadiq Khan’s own recent experiences of racism (e.g. at the hands of Zac Goldsmith) had placed a veil over his senses, or (of more concern) it is possibly the case that people in the labour party asked him to say something like this because they have done the maths and realised that they need to peel off certain demographics from the proindy camp.
Could they really stoop so low? Unfortunately, we only have to look back at the last Westminster election to see that the Labour party have a problem concerning stereotypes, race and politics and are only too ready to stoop to the politics of the gutter in an attempt to appeal to an imaginary racist labour leaning section of the electorate. I wrote in 2015 that the Labour Party should be ashamed of this type of gutter politics:
It is ironic that Westminster establishment types point the finger at politics in Scotland when their own political sphere has become so extreme. Indeed, so extreme that Labour politicians are scared to voice support for immigration least it loose them votes with the English electorate. The labour party should be ashamed of its fear – it is this type of fear that enables extremists to flourish unchallenged.
This statement is as relevant now as it was in 2015. 2 years has not been a long time in the ground hog politics of unionist extremism. The labour party’s anti-migrant mugs at the 2015 election were very mind numbing examples of where nationalism stokes racism. The racist mugs fitted with Labour politics because Labour were desperate. The mugs were not only unacceptable, they were also stupid (they most likely cost the Labour Party core voters).
The reactions in Scotland to Khan’s comments are understandable. The labour Party have lost sight of their values and should sort themselves out before attacking others. The Labour party seem to have a problem standing up for the social justice and anti-discriminatory values their voters believe in. Labour party voters voted by over 60% for remaining in the EU but the Labour party fails to hold the Tories to account over Tory red, white and blue Brexit.
Scots have a point, when they suggest it would be worth the Labour party putting its own house in order before throwing muck at other people. However, Gerry Hassan also warns us not to completely ignore Sadiq Khan’s remarks see this link .
Some pro-independence voices will read and dismiss the above, comfortable in their belief in our civic nationalism. Well, here is a warning from these isles. British nationalism, historically, has been a civic nationalism – one which has articulated a multi-cultural, multi-national union of four nations. And look what it has descended into in recent years: regressive, reactionary, xenophobic and profoundly insular and nasty: something that is beginning to look like in places an ethnic nationalism…. … The politics of ‘my nationalism is more virtuous than your nationalism’ versus ‘our nationalism isn’t a nationalism’ isn’t a very attractive one. Or one that offers much guide to the future choices of Scotland – independent or not independent…. ….If we (the various peoples who live in Scotland) are confident enough about ourselves, we cannot just insist that Scottish nationalism is about the good guys and virtuous story of our nation. Instead, there has to be an awareness of the sociology of nationalisms which involves more than citing Benedict Anderson’s point that all nations and peoples are ‘imagined communities’ or continually referencing how ‘civic’ our nationalism is and how tolerant we are. We should inhabit this terrain, live it, while recognising that there are other nationalisms and Scotland’s out there.
No Nation has a monopoly on social justice, no political party is without its extremes and no one person is perfect, I wrote about this in 2015:
For example, I never thought of myself as a racist, I had black friends when growing up, play rugby with black players, my favourite sports starts were black (Muhammid Ali and Viv Richards), I had huge respect for political figures like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and I went out with a black girl friend, etc. (I came to realise later this was potentially tokenistic tosh). Whilst growing up, I had picked up some decidedly dodgy views about people from South Asia. Indeed, I lived in a community which celebrated black footballers but assumed people from India and Pakistan were not sporty and ‘all’ wanted to be shopkeepers or doctors. Our communities at the time were also populated with myths about arranged marriage, housing and food choices. It was not until my late teens that I started to realise that I had racist views. I learned from an excellent modern studies teacher called Mr Griffiths about the history of immigration to the UK and about political figures from South Asia who promoted Human rights and anti-colonialism. My education was furthered at university in Northern Ireland where I played cricket with South Asian cricketers who would educate me about their family histories and cultural differences whilst strolling round the boundary and lounging about in the sun. I studied anthropology and sociology and came to understand how stigma, generalisations and stereotypes were fostered as part of colonialism as a method of enabling the UK to do terrible things to everyday people in other countries, whilst ripping those countries off for their natural resources. On returning to Scotland in the early 1990s I was a very different person much more aware of the racist society that we live in and with a completely different view of Scotland to my 18 year old self who had once argued with a friend that Scotland didn’t have a problem with racism. That doesn’t mean I was or am cured of prejudice – the thing about prejudice is it crops up when you least expect it.
As Sadiq Khan has just demonstrated, even when we are attempting to combat racism we can unexpectedly and unthinkingly adopt racist positions. Gerry Hassan tells us that those promoting a notion of English racist bad and Scotland non-racist good, need to wise up to the reality of modern Scotland.
Numerous ‘us’ and ‘thems’ need airing. The writer Henry Bell said last week that anti-Englishness wasn’t racism – a respectable and understandable position – but did so as if there could be no debating of the matter, stating: ‘The English in Scotland – holding a culturally dominant, non-racialised identity – do not experience racism’. This was because, in his view, ‘racism is not just discrimination but power dynamic’. That’s one interpretation, but the racism Wiki entry opens with the following observation: ‘Racism is discrimination and prejudice based on their race or ethnicity. Today, the use of the term “racism” does not easily fall under a single definition’. At minimum, this means there should be a debate about what constitutes racism.
I have heard Henry Bell’s arguments many times. Put in simpler terms the position is that you can’t be racist against a majority – hog wash. As Gerry Hassan alludes to, definitions of racism are so much more complex than that.
In my 2011 book Integrated Children’s Services I describe a research project where I worked with colleagues to analyse black and minority ethnic families experience of early years services. One method we employed was a survey of professionals – some professionals made explicitly racist comments in the open question at the end of the survey, others lacked knowledge of how to promote anti-discrimination in their work place. A subsequent study carried out with the SSSC demonstrated that whilst qualifications had enabled leaders of early years, play, family centre and out of school services to gain knowledge concerning anti-discrimination some had difficulties putting this knowledge into practice and operationalising it when incidents occurred. It is important that politicians and professionals understand the different types of racism they might be promoting when they throw mud at their opponents:
Irish Mariian Young suggests there are differences between racism related to cultural difference and racism that is related to power/structural position:
In my observation, concerns and concepts more associated with the politics of cultural difference have tended to occupy political theorists in recent years, such as issues of autonomy for minority cultures or toleration of religious difference, than have concerns and concepts more associated with a politics of positional difference, such as the status meaning of occupational positions, and the normalization of attributes that count as qualification for them. Failure properly to conceptualize the difference between these two models of a politics of difference may lead to obscuring certain specific forms of group based injustice, such as racism or the normalization of certain capacities, which cannot be reduced to issues of cultural difference. I think that much recent political theory concerned with group difference has indeed ignored such issues, which were central to the problematics that generated theorizing on the politics of difference in the 1980’s. Both versions of a politics of difference are important, and they sometimes overlap. The politics of positional difference is broader in the scope of the kinds of groups whose concerns it brings under inquiry, I will argue. Both models concern issues of justice. I will suggest, however, that the politics of positional difference concentrates on issues of structural inequality while the main issues that arise in a politics of cultural difference concern freedom.
Hence discrimination occurs both when people try to inhibit our cultural freedoms (such as saying voting for independence is not ‘normal’) and when structural inequality disproportionately impacts on specific groups in society e.g. for 6 decades working-class Scots (both born here and migrants) have experienced the worst levels of health inequality in the UK because of the failure of unionist politicians to address issues of: poor housing, community powerlessness, poverty, joblessness and subsequent illnesses of despair.
Ideas of structural inequality encourages us to think about the positions and locations in which racism occurs but it does not legitimise the idea that its not racist to attack a majority. Firstly, analysing racism through the critical lens of power and structure does not take away the fact that in Scotland, English born citizens are a minority. Secondly, it is not racist for Scots to challenge Westminster institutions in relation to the way they exercise power but it would be racist to say that Westminster politicians do so because of their genetic and ethnic inheritance – People born in England (just as is the case in Scotland) are not all the same, biologically, socially, culturally or geographically. As Gerry Hassan points out, our story of civic nationalism requires us to avoid false dichotomies concerning insiders and outsiders.
In 2015 I challenged Westminster politicians and unionists who sought to scapegoat Scots voters:
The establishment’s modus operandi is to scapegoat people whether it be Scots seeking self-determination, people coming here from other countries, benefits claimants or those who experience ill health. Scapegoating occurs not simply because the establishment are so ethnocentric they can’t recognise their own prejudices but because the establishment require divide and rule tactics to keep us from recognising what the real problems are in the so very unequal collection of nations that make up the UK.
Henry Bell’s approach (potentially) reproduces the scapegoating in the other direction. Brexit (and the recent vote in Northern Ireland that puts the unionists in the minority) means that this is not a stereotypically English v Scots situation. We need to recognise the different ways that the Westminster establishment will seek to utilise approaches of divide and rule in the forthcoming independence referendum (whenever it eventually is) and ensure that our response is not simply divide and rule in the other direction.
An independent Scotland could act as a way of moving beyond entrenched politics in Northern Ireland but not if it simply reproduces ‘us’ and ‘them’ discourses that misunderstand the complex nature of racism. In my 2011 book Integrated Children’s Services I drew from a range of authors to explain different definitions of racism that emerged from the enquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s murder:
Davis and Hancock (2007) found that issues of racism in their study were not always overt. This is similar to other writing that suggests that underlying inequalities might remain hidden in early years settings and that disadvantage may be both intentional and unintentional (Siraj-Blatchford, 2010). This writing encourages us not to assume that all members of ‘structurally oppressed groups’ experience the same types of oppression because identity is multifaceted (Siraj-Blatchford, 2010). It also requires us to understand the different types of racism and that those that work with children may unintentionally undermine their self-esteem due to a connection of issues including gender, religion, socio-economic status, language or ethnicity (Figueroa, 1993; Siraj- Blatchford, 2010). For example, cultural racism involves a link between group identity, group worldview and group behaviour (Figueroa, 1993). Individual racism is associated with individuals who hold stereotypical views and interpersonal racism involves discrimination, harassment and the articulation during social interaction of racist terms (Figueroa, 1993). In the case above there were very few instances of interpersonal racism; however, if those members of staff (in private sector settings) who felt people should ‘learn English’ before they come here had articulated this (individually racist) position to a service user and not just written it on our questionnaire then this would be a clear case of interpersonal racism. Institutional racism manifests itself in the institutions of a society such as schools and functions to disadvantage certain groups by failing to take account of the needs of those groups (Figueroa, 1993).
Sadiq Khan probably demonstrated individual racism when he promoted a stereotypical view of Scots who vote for independence. If reports of his statements are true, he ignored the multifaceted nature of identity; the potential for ethnicity to be interconnected to other identity issues and for discrimination to relate to an intersection of issues including age, gender, sexuality, religion, disability, etc..
Sadiq Khan exhibited cultural racism by stereotyping a group of people’s world view (and promoting an alternative world view that proindy scots are racist). His comments have the potential to promote institutional racism if the people who work for and with him in the London administration utilise his views to change the way they treat Scots (who live in London) in areas such as housing, education, transport or children’s services. His comments could be interpreted by some as an encouragement to systematically discriminate against Scots in London. Indeed, the way that he unsophisticatedly articulated his views potentially smacked of interpersonal racism and an attempt to harass Scots who are thinking of voting for independence out of exercising their democratic prerogative.
Indeed, some of the comments on the internet, e.g. about ‘English’ people who voted yes (in 2014) being traitors, demonstrated a distinct misunderstanding of the notion of ethnicity and identity. Such comments seemed to reduce ethnicity to a singular simplistic characteristic. Such ways of thinking fail to account for the fact that (if you look back far enough) most people in Scotland are not one ethnic race (indeed because of the ice age we are all immigrants). I myself have a father who was born and brought up in Wiltshire in England. Which led me to tweet:
We do not have to share Sadiq Khan’s views concerning independence to be treated as non-racists but equally we do not have to adopt Henry Bells response and argue that anti-English sentiment isn’t racist. The 2104 Indy ref was not about English v Scot. Whilst on the Yes Marchmont stall at the meadows I campaigned with the next door stall that was set up by English People for Yes. My English born father voted yes and continues to aspire to vote yes. The 2014 referendum was about who would run Scotland and where we hold those people to account. It was about Holyrood v Westminster.
Can you really see the Brexit confused Westminster parliament trumping Holyrood next time? Most Scots would admit it is now a case of when, not if, Scotland becomes independent and the unionists in Northern Ireland have finally woken up to a similar reality – demographics are against unionists in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Scots and English people are not one ethnicity. All those who live, work and vote in Scotland are rights holders who can exercise their diverse political aspirations in whatever way they so choose. Scot are not a single group of people and In the 2012 book I wrote with Mary Smith we argued that the when professionals and institutions seek to reduce people to one identity they become part of the problem themselves:
In particular it has been argued that notions of equality do not mean that everyone should be the same and that the usefulness of a specific service provision is open to cultural interpretation (Young 1990; Thomas 2009). This type of writing calls for a recognition of a politics of difference (where the individual service user or professional is not reduced to one identity but has multiple identities across different contexts) and the realisation that the ways that institutions define and attempt to resolve people’s life problems can in themselves become further sources of exclusion
Sadiq Khan’s views, and kneejerk reactions by some in the indy movement in Scotland, are part of the problems that a future independence vote will seek to resolve. Scots feel that London centric and Westminster focussed politicians do not understand the realities of their identities, lives and aspirations. This is also the feeling expressed by voters in Northern Ireland.
The indy movement must avoid falling into Scots v English traps; they must put their own house in order and they must avoid reproducing the tactics of Sadiq Khan. How sad it is when Goldsmiths desperation leads to Khan’s chilling remarks, leads to indy movement intolerance. We, in Scotland, have to break such an inglorious circle and we do so by understanding the new political map of these islands and pointing out that unionism has failed (even in its heartland of Northern Ireland). The opposition are not a different ethnicity to us, they are a different political grouping that currently seek, and historically have sought, to exclude others.
An independent Scotland will celebrate inclusion, diversity, anti-discrimination and social justice in a way that Brexit Westminster Unionism can’t. We, (as Michelle Obama and Robin McAlpine encourage us to) will take the high ground, But, that high ground needs to include the recognition that racism exists in Scotland, if we are to come as near to eradicating discrimination as is possible in our daily lives.
This high ground also requires us to recognise that we are sometimes let down by proindy supporters on social media. If someone told Gerry Hassan (this week) that Stuart Campbell was a plant by unionists to discredit the indy movement, I wonder what his reaction would be. Slander and liable concerning imagined ‘unionist plants’ helps no one – so this blog is not making such a suggestions. But, it is important to note that paranoia during indyref 2014 did lead people (on some stalls) to pose questions concerning the motives of apparent indy supporters whose comments and actions (particularly on social media platforms) didn’t do our cause any favours. Gerry Hassan is frank in his criticism of the recent work of ‘Wings over Scotland’:
Then there was the pro-independence blogger ‘Wings over Scotland’ (aka Stuart Campbell) and his comments during the Tory conference when Oliver Mundell, son of Scottish secretary of state David Mundell, spoke. ‘Wings’ tweeted: ‘Oliver Mundell is the sort of public speaker that makes you wish his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner’. No doubt ‘Wings’ thought he was being smart, funny and snide all at the same time, but it is a revolting comment. This is the world of ‘them’ and ‘us’, where any comment is fair game about opponents, and Tories in particular, and one laced with connotations of homophobia. Revealingly, ‘Wings’ defended it by saying it was more ‘Toryphobic’, which underlines its ‘them’ and ‘us’ nature. Not one single senior SNP politician, many of whom follow or retweet ‘Wings’, condemned it or pulled him up, though a number of party members did. In a country which has only in recent years come to terms with homosexuality and gay rights, when previously it was a forbidden subject which produced a major cultural war with homophobes less than a generation ago, this isn’t good enough.
I would go further than that. I say to my fellow Yessers, ‘Don’t ask me to hand out wings material at your stalls, now, or in future’. Wings can produce its own stuff in its own democratic way (after all we are a nation that advocates free speech), but don’t ask me to peddle their materials.
Iris Marion Young’s work suggested that we can value the politics of difference and institutions should not require people to always come to collective consensus. So the tent should be big enough for everyone. But, even in my most liberal and ‘let us celebrate diversity’ moments, I have a limit on what I will put up with. The road to independence needs to be much better articulated if we are to gain our freedom. Attacking other people by reifying a single aspect of their (or their fathers) identity (satirically or not) just ain’t cool.
Homophobic, sexist, racist, sectarian, size-ist and/or disablist jokes have never been cool. I have been very critical of people who adopt the discourse of inclusion, social justice and anti-discrimination but do not practice what they preach. It would appear that ‘the Rev’, all to easily, falls (intentionally or not) into this category. If we are to gain our hard fought independence by garnering new converts to our cause, we not only have to be inclusive in our every action – we need to be seen to be inclusive in our every action . As Nicola said in her speech at last years SNP conference, the difference between her perspective and that of the Brexiters is the word inclusion. Sadly, ‘Wings Over Scotland’ seems to have as much difficulty with this concept as the angry Brit Nats.