Scottish Labour: The party for whom ‘nationalism’ remains a dirty word


Independence supporter and former MSP Campbell Martin takes a look at the Scottish Labour leadership campaign, now that the two candidates have been formally “launched. And he doesn’t like what he sees…

Campbell Martin

Firstly, there is no such thing as the Scottish Labour Party. ‘Scottish Labour’ is a ‘description’ registered by the Labour Party, which has its headquarters in London, England. Members of the Labour Party in Scotland can legitimately refer to their organisation as ‘Scottish Labour’, but the Electoral Registration Commission confirms there is no such body as the Scottish Labour Party.

Secondly, Britain is not, never has been, and never will be a nation. It is a geographical area that forms the largest part of a union-of-nations known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

With those facts in mind, let’s look at the comments by the two men vying to be the next leader of the ‘Scottish Labour Party’ as part of a British ‘national’ organisation. They both oppose ‘nationalism’ and state that, under their leadership, if elected, there will be no second referendum on Scottish independence.


The candidates’ positioning and choice of words is for them to decide. However, their statement on ‘nationalism’ is clearly, and deliberately, used as a way of attempting to smear the pro-independence movement in Scotland by seeking to draw a link to other known nationalist movements, such as the far-right, black-shirted, goose-stepping Neanderthals who can be regularly seen on our television screens in undemocratic Eastern-European countries and now, under President Trump, in the USA.

Few reasonable and rational people would disagree with opposition to the far-right concept of ‘nationalism’, which, history shows us, stems from a national chauvinism, an exaggerated patriotism that believes a particular nation is better than any other. This is the type of nationalism associated with British nationalist movements, which, actually, is more accurately related to a belief in English chauvinism, an imperialist legacy that asserts England is better than other nations, including its neighbour, Scotland. However, the whole point of the comments from the Labour leadership-contenders is to link this toxic ‘nationalism’ with the peaceful and democratic movement for Scottish independence.

Scottish ‘nationalism’ – the ‘nationalism’ to which the Labour leadership-contenders refer – could not be further removed from the far-right British nationalism we see represented today by organisations such as the British National Party, the English Defence League or the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

Waving byebye, in the nick of time.

The Scottish ‘nationalism’ espoused by the Scottish National Party is a moderate, centre-left political ideology, advocating an inclusive, civic identity that argues for the people of Scotland to be recognised as the sovereign power in the country. The SNP’s Scottish ‘nationalism’ seeks to represent the spirit and aspirations of the whole nation of Scotland, coming together to elect a Scottish Parliament that will govern in the best interests of all the people of Scotland, with the full powers that only come with independence, to deliver a progressive, radical society in an outward-looking, modern nation.


To argue against Scottish independence or to link the movement to toxic ‘nationalism’ – as British Unionist political parties do – is to say Scots should not be the sovereign power in their own country, and that almost half the population holds abhorrent far-right political views. Opposing Scottish independence is to argue for more of what we currently have – Tory governments in London imposing their right-wing policies on us, even after we have democratically rejected them at the ballot box.

Those of us who support an independent Scotland believe we are no better or worse than the people of other nations. We simply argue that the people of Scotland are best-placed to take decisions on the type of nation in which we want to live.

Supporters of independence believe it is in our best-interests to organise our society on the basis of the nation of Scotland.

The two contenders to lead the Labour Party in Scotland reject this argument; this is the position from which their opposition to Scottish ‘nationalism’ stems. As a British political organisation, the Labour Party believes it is best to structure society on the basis of a perceived nation of Britain, which, if we accept their ‘logic’ in relation to Scottish ‘nationalism’, makes them British ‘nationalists’.

Now, clearly, members of the Labour Party in Scotland are not bedfellows of the British National Party, the English Defence League or UKIP, but their party’s definition and attribution of the term ‘nationalism’ would appear to place them in such company.

The other statement from the prospective leaders of the Labour Party in Scotland – that there will be no second referendum on Scottish independence – is a worrying development.


In a week that has seen the Spanish Government send armed police to crush a democratic movement towards holding a referendum on independence in Catalonia, a statement from representatives of the British Labour Party, claiming they will prevent a similar plebiscite in Scotland, smacks of authoritarianism, even toxic ‘nationalism’.

Certainly, if the Scottish people, at some point in the future, elect a British ‘nationalist’ party to govern Scotland, a party like Labour – that is, one seeking to structure society on the basis of a perceived nation of Britain – then it will be perfectly acceptable for that organisation to adhere to its British ‘nation’ belief and to not hold a referendum on Scottish independence. However, while Scotland has a Scottish ‘nationalist’ government – one that seeks to structure society on the basis of the nation of Scotland – with a manifesto commitment to hold an independence referendum, then any attempt to block this would, again, smack of imperialist, authoritarian ‘nationalism’.

The Labour Party in Scotland, and its prospective leaders, really should be careful about using the word ‘nationalism’ in attempts to smear the broad-based, pro-independence movement. If supporters of an independent Scotland are to be pointed-at and branded as equivalent to toxic ‘nationalists’ simply because we see the benefits of building our society on the basis of the nation of Scotland, then surely those who adhere to a society based on a perceived nation of Britain are, by definition, British ‘nationalists’?


  1. I agree.

    You have summarised this well.

    The candidates and the Labour Party in Scotland have constructed a ‘straw man’ Scottish nationalism, based on its perception of ‘nationalism’ as espoused by the various ‘national superiority’ concepts which emerged in the nineteenth century and which resulted in many instances of genocide, of which the British Empire committed several. This is most certainly not the philosophy of the overwhelming majority of those of us who support independence, nor does it represent the position of the SNP as set out since Mr Alex Salmond became leader. However, by insisting on it, Labour in Scotland is providing a justification for its hostility to parties – Greens, RISE, SNP – who support independence, yet whose other policies are almost entirely those which traditional Labour supporters subscribe to.

    Secondly, the two candidates with their ‘no indy-ref’ stance have to consider their own position as self-proclaimed democrats.

    It is clear that that opposition to independence and a referendum on independence was always going to be the position of Mr Sarwar – he is the ‘continuity’ candidate. By aligning himself exactly with Mr Sarwar on this matter, Mr Leonard has deprived himself of any distinguishing plank. The contest can simply be defined as choosing between two privately educated men.

  2. These charlatans put their party first before Scotland – I’m looking for a party that puts Scotland first, front and centre while also CONTROLLING OUR OWN RESOURCES 😉

  3. Excellent article, Campbell. I’ve no hope that “chancer” Sarwar will change, but I hope that Leonard will think again- he should perhaps seek some advice from the members of Labour for Yes organisation, if he doesn’t then he’s not going to get wider support.

  4. A fine article. However I would argue that Scottish independence is not even about nationalism, it is about self-determination, about liberty, freedom, and yes also to some extent decolonization. Conversely, an aggressive, ‘ruth’less, unquestioningly ‘loyal’ (fanatical even?) British nationalism is all that the ‘union’ charade parties offer. The nationalist/fascist similarities between Britain and Spain are there for all to see.

    • Alf,

      I agree with you. The use of the word ‘nationalism’ in the context of Scotland, or the North of Ireland or Catalunya, for example, is principally by the opponents of self determination seeking to damage the case by associating it with a nastier concept, such as ‘ethnic cleansing’, KKK, ‘death squads’. It is used by the opponents as a dog-whistle, portmanteau word to create a bad feeling around an idea. They continue to use this charge because it has some success in preventing a drift of support away from their position. It is Project Fear against their own members: should they show tendencies to shift then by shouting this word at them, the person fears that people whose respect and support he once valued will now shun him or her. Peer pressure is potent!

      Independence supporters, including the FM, are right to be wary of the word.

      The real BRITISH nationalists, are, of course, PATRIOTS!! – a noble word, a word redolent of heroes standing firm against Nazi/Japanese/Frenchy/communist/terrorist/whoever the msm defines as the enemy at any time perfidy. Again, we have a dog whistle portmanteau word which sets a context.

      • Yes Alasdair, and similarly the term ‘unionism’ is presented as rather warm and cuddly when the reality is quite different, e.g.: “Unionism in the United Kingdom, also referred to as British unionism, is a nationalist political ideology…..”

  5. AB, I agree, it all seems like a wee bit of a distraction – no it’s not, it’s just the United Kingdom of London’s brazen attempt/version of subterfuge, as it seems like the Scottish electorate really are easily fooled 🙁

    • Yes Graeme, in reality us (Scottish) ‘nationalists’ are not nationalists, but the (British) ‘unionists’ are, not that the likes of Sarwar or Leonard are probably even aware of the grammatical subterfuge they and their like promulgate ad infinitum.

  6. Put simply your nationalism bad, our nationalism good.
    Mr Sarwar should be ashamed. Nationalism freed the south Asian sub-continent from British rule. How dare he smear the nationalism of his adopted country with the chauvinistic characteristics of the state he wishes Scotland to remain a part.
    The British Labour party does not understand culture, nationality or ethnicity. Its negative attitude to Scotland’s aspirations manifests a racial conceit redolent of the Herrenvolk mentality.

  7. We should be viewing the Labour party as a corporation, who are indifferent to their small shareholders (stakeholders post Blair) and only interested in keeping the big institutional investors happy (that is how things work in the UK).
    Corbyn might be successful in turning this corporation into a democratic institution but I doubt it because the neo liberal culture is now deeply embedded.
    In their sub office in Scotland,there is a vacancy for branch manager whose mission it is,should they decide to accept it,is to see if they can last longer than a year in that position.
    It might be an Anus Horribilis or perhaps something worse.
    Who cares?

  8. The choice for labour party members in Scotland is a man with a dodgey past and a man with no past.

    Interestingly Sarwar is being stabbed in the back by his own senior colleagues leaving the way clear for Leonard.

    Business as usual for labour, a complete mess, fighting like ferrets in a sack and unfit to govern a whelk stall!

  9. Richard Leonard made it very clear in his GMS interview on BBC Radio Scotland on 4 September that he believes power naturally lies at Westminster. He would be a reliable branch manager. It would be folly to expect any distinctive Scottish policy initiatives from him.

  10. I don’t concern myself with these people, every time they open their mouths to speak against the scottish government they put another nail into the unionist coffin.
    To me that’s a good thing and i welcome all their putrid comments, they must be very stupid to think
    they will get support for their narrow minded views and statements about scotland’s democratically elected government

  11. Ive never read so much utter drivel as on this article, Scottish Nationalism is backward looking pathetic nonsense, run by the brain dead grievance monger First Minister, UK is ok for me I will not be dragged back into the dark ages by such imbeciles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here