Nationalism as a natural state of mind, not an anti-this or that


Commentary by Derek Bateman

A strength of Yes is that it is composed of different strands of opinion which all want better solutions for Scotland. I do too and put my faith in the Scots themselves to create the country we desire when we have the control to do so. We all have the right to our own nuanced version of political thought and to call it, and ourselves, whatever we choose and to be defined by that.

Derek Bateman
Derek Bateman

Each strand is interpreted according to our own education and attitudes. Therefore nationalism means different things to different folks. If you only think of it as an alien force, the chances are it means Irish Republicanism, any side you care name in the Bosnian conflict and, of course, to put the lid on it, Nazism.

If you see it as a natural state of mind, like me, you see nationalism in Mandela, Ghandi and Bolivar. In my personal experience, every time I’ve met people from other countries – usually asking them political questions in my role as reporter – their feelings for their home are painfully powerful, both in praise of, or in protest at, the state of their nation. In Russia or Finland. Czech Republic or Slovakia. The Basque Country. France. Germany. The USA. In Poland and Romania, it’s the same. It’s true people don’t tend to say I’m a Nationalist, or I’m a Patriot.

They say, with feeling, I’m Russian or Finnish in the same way we say we’re Scots. But for almost all of the above they don’t differentiate between nationalism and patriotism. They don’t say: I love my country but I reject the idea of my national government. To everybody I’ve ever met, their country is the whole kit and caboodle, the land, the people, the state and, crucially the history. Or, as I think of it, the legends they have spun about their country without which no nation survives.


The Slovaks didn’t say: I love the country but I preferred the government to be in Prague. Whether it’s little Slovakia with the same size population as Scotland or giant Germany with many times more, acceptance of their country as one sovereign whole is a given. Sharing powers through the EU is one thing but surrendering their national independence to Brussels is another completely.

We have to remember that our position in Scotland as a nation without statehood is rare indeed. We have assumed the role of regional authority like a German land or krajov of Slovakia when our history shows us to be much more – a former fully independent, internationally recognised state, in so far as descriptions applied three centuries ago. It is only here in Scotland that we pirouette on the head of a pin over patriotism and nationalism. Who else have you ever met who boasted: I love my country but don’t want it to govern itself? I much prefer it to be in a minority in another parliament where it can always be outvoted and where parties we don’t support will dictate our budget and policies. I don’t think my country should have independence because it really wouldn’t be able to do the job properly (unlike Slovakia).

Most foreign listeners would reply: Then it’s not your country at all. You can’t care enough about it to call it your nation. You may call yourself Scottish but you are in fact British. Britain is your country.

The years of Union have so seduced us that we can brag about Scotland without noticing we aren’t actually a country at all. We have every trapping and trimming except the one that matters – political power. Nationalism in Scotland is the completion of the logic that applies to every country in the United Nations – self-government. I don’t say, and have never heard a Nationalist say – that we think we are better than everybody else with the dark hint of racial superiority. The demand is purely that we be the same as everybody else. It is that we think we are as good as every body else. If we suffer any national psychosis at all it is surely the opposite of triumphalism – it is self-doubt and lack of confidence. Isn’t that what the basis of Project Fear amounted to? We’ll remind them we hold the power and threaten them with withdrawal? And did it work? Well, yes.


The meaning of nationalism has moved on from the 18th century definition, even if Unionists haven’t. Modern nationalism – in countries where self-government is taken for granted – means finding ways of collective national expression. A classic example I always give is the German mittelstand, the high quality manufacturing companies with a strong community and family ethic which survive for generations through wise, usually regional, investment; tight-run management and investment in the workforce. They resist foreign takeover. It is a German speciality, a unique type of working that brings money in and makes people proud – a collective expression of the German national character. That to me is nationalism in action, taking the best a country has and nurturing it, using it as a beacon of national achievement. In its way it also does what Unionists claim to abhor – it ‘others’ Germany’s neighbours and says: Look. We do this really well and you don’t. Nationalists, eh?

Some of you may have spotted at this point a wee contradiction. Britain too likes to boast on the international stage. When a new warship was launched last February, the government and the media went bananas on how wonderful the HMS Queen Elizabeth was – ‘the engineering equivalent of the Olympics’ (itself a ‘British triumph’).

Britain is probably the world’s most vainglorious nationalist nation, cleverly building a reputation out of cardboard while pushing nationalism into the realms of imperialism by claiming the right to hold mass destruction weapons and currently bombing a country without any legal mandate. But, oddly, you’ll look a long time for the word nationalism ever to be attributed to the UK by Scottish Unionist pundits.


The world looks to the United Nations for peaceful leadership. The UN is composed entirely of nations. Every one of them is nationalistic. Try goading Russia from Ukraine. Try filming China ‘growing’ its country with islands in the South China Sea. Ask an American if he believes in the USA. What do you think is being expressed when the French spontaneously sing the Marseilles? Is it patriotism or nationalism when Paris insists on keeping the EP in Strasbourg whatever the cost?

The desperate scraping and journalistic wheedling by Scots to justify their dual stance as proud Scots and good Brits has poisoned the meaning of nationalism for many despite being the natural state of affairs for 99.9 per cent of the world’s population.

There is nothing wrong with being a Unionist. It just means you put Britain before Scotland. But please stop insulting those of us who put Scotland and the Scots at the centre of our interest by pretending we’re lesser humans. It’s Unionism that is exceptional. We are the norm.