BNP and UKIP aside, politicians and party activists across the spectrum abhor racism. The BNP courts it openly and UKIP finds it far more effective to use the dog whistle of immigration. You’ll find unreconstructed attitudes around race, gender, sexuality and the rest especially amongst the older generation, of course. Within the boundaries set by human imperfection, though, most folk involved day-to-day in politics confront racism where they see it.
Of course there’s plenty that’s discriminatory, in all the ways, about our society and our institutions. Most politicians and activists of all shades try to do their best to change that. In fact, for a lot of them that’s the main reason they got involved in politics in the first place. One of the things that’s racist about our society, however, is an uncomfortably large minority of the voters.
Right now, whether they admit it or not, all the parties in Scotland are organising themselves around the simple binary divide of Scottish unionism versus Scottish independence. The model of independence chosen by the SNP and the Greens makes it in their interest to be as inclusive as it’s possible to be. And since they’re in charge in that devolved part of Scotland, and unlike the model the UK chose for the EU referendum, if you’re in Scotland you’re as much a Scot as anyone else regardless of your present nationality or anything else. Obvious benefits extend from this philosophy, but it does mean these parties accept that they are less attractive to racists.
On the unionist side, though, things are murkier. The BNP’s gone now, more or less, and the wheels are coming off UKIP. The Tories are bringing folk back from UKIP to the Tory fold by aping UKIP. So while it’s certainly unfair to claim that Tory politicians are racist, there’s no doubt that some are up for a bit of their own dog-whistle-blowing through deploying immigration as racism’s proxy.
But what of Scottish Labour? Well, Labour politicians don’t have a monopoly on this, but they go into politics to rid our world – or at least our own society – of injustice and inequality. Clearly, most Scots think they’re not to be trusted to do this job now or maybe ever, but few folk in their heart of hearts argue with that notion.
But take a look at a detail of early Feb’s Panelbase survey (here at the top of this interesting ’50 Days of Yes’ article….) for attitudes to immigration.
In answer to the dog-whistle question on immigration – “Broadly speaking, do you agree with or disagree with – ‘There is a problem with too much immigration in Scotland‘”; Scots as a whole (including DKs) agreed by a margin of 8 points that they do. Of 2014 No voters, this figure increased to a massive 27%. Meanwhile, for Yes voters it declined to -12%.
The gap between 2014 unionists and 2014 independence supporters on the subject of immigration is a staggering 39 points.
Of course, the great majority folk who are worried about immigration aren’t racists. But if you’re casting around for the racist vote, it’s the unionist pool you’ll want to fish in. Or to put it the other way – if you only fish in the unionist pool, you know you’re going to hook more racists.
Right now, the dominant narrative within the UK Labour Party is that it needs to concentrate on getting votes back from UKIP in ‘heartlands’ seats. We all know this is a vain attempt to mask its failure against the Tories, of course. But we also know that Scottish Labour is losing many voters to the Tories as well as the SNP. There is therefore a very serious risk that this ‘English heartlands’ imperative will transmogrify in Scotland into an attempt to be seen by working class Scottish unionists as more unionist than the Tories, with all the implications for ‘immigration’ and sectarianism that would bring.
Scottish Labour as the party of ultra-unionism (see last para)? Is that the way things are going?
Faced with unionist dogma amongst Labour’s present leaders, the many Labour voters with open minds need to chart a path towards realising their own social vision in an independent Scotland. Their leaders can follow on if they like. But, to be frank, if they pursue an ultra-unionist course they won’t be welcome.
Postscript (7 Mar) – Jack (see comments) drew our attention to something he thought he’d read recently recently by a key Better Together figure. We’ve found the article. It was published as a comment piece in The Daily Record last week. Look at the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th last paragraphs. Leaving out the disingenuous, butter-wouldn’t-melt stuff Blair McDougall writes;
“Given that so many of the undecided voters were so sceptical of immigration, why was there so little debate about it in 2014”? And; “I just wonder how with attitudes to the EU so driven by attitudes towards immigration and with Brexit being given as the material change that reopens the question of independence, could a debate on immigration be avoided”.
So that’s clear enough. Folk like Blair McDougall want to make Indyref 2 all about immigration. Cue those dog-whistles.