When Stirling University PhD student Claire Heuchan, who is black, wrote this comment piece for the Guardian, some independence-minded folk criticised both her and the Guardian. At the core of her piece was:

“Equating racism with Scottish nationalism is a massive false equivalence, yet both perspectives are reliant on a clear distinction being made between those who belong and those who are rejected on the basis of difference”

For a lot of Scots, Heuchan missed the fundamental point that the ‘difference’ she refers to in respect of independence has nothing to do with ‘othering’ within Scotland. It’s that many folk want Scotland to be different from England, and they want that for everyone in Scotland.

England is on a journey to the far right and a lot of Scots don’t want to be part of that. UK government departments are comprised entirely of English politicians responding to their own constituents’ imperatives. England voted decisively to leave the EU and for the right wing conservatism which dominates that place now. England is likely going to get the tough, low-tax, low-spend economy and society it voted for. There is no meaningful political opposition in England and so if Scots permit it, England’s dominant neoliberal values will be forced upon Scotland for years to come and this will change Scotland’s culture forever. So there’s that.

The Guardian followed up with this very well-put together piece by Edinburgh’s Robert Somynne, who is also black. Somynne’s well-constructed counter-piece to Heuchan’s makes the points above and others, of course. But because Heuchan’s piece was wobbly doesn’t  reduce her right to put her perspective as a black woman living in Scotland. In fact, when a woman from a black and minority ethnic background writes about inclusivity and colonial heritage then it really is incumbent upon the rest of us to pay attention to what she’s saying. And of course she was correct about Scotland’s colonial heritage – it’s just that this obviously isn’t disputed by independence supporters.

Wee Ginger Dug says all of this and more in a typically intelligent response, which is at once both passionate and thoughtful. Notably, he points out that Heuchan was a ‘Better Together’ activist and the notion that her piece is underpinned by academic method is not sound at all. Academia is often mis-used in this way in the Scottish independence debate; phoney professors abound. Perhaps most importantly, Wee Ginger Dug points out that if you’re looking to link nationalism in Scotland to the ‘othering’ of ‘outsiders’, then you really do need to cast your eye to Scottish unionists like UKIP and others. Heuchan, as an apparently committed unionist, says nothing of this.

The Guardian has a lot of readers in England who support Scottish independence, by the way. And the point of then Guardian editor CP Scott’s famous 1921 line – “Comment is Free, but facts are sacred” – is borne out in the Guardian’s CIF (‘comment is free’) pages today. The Guardian’s editorial line is usually not discernible in the comment pieces, which are commissioned to reflects all sides of intelligent debate. That what makes CIF often so compelling.

Where the Guardian might be criticised is in running a news piece headed; “Woman who linked racism with Scottish nationalism quits Twitter over safety fears”, which contained no actual evidence of the tweets or messages which would have reasonably led to the safety fears the piece refers to. It isn’t abusive to attack a person’s argument – that’s presumably why a person writes a CIF comment piece. And is it really necessary for the Guardian to explain to anyone submitting a piece that if they read below-the-line comments or look at social media they’re likely going to see themselves being called rude names? Discriminatory language won’t be published by the Guardian, and of course it’s to be condemned on social media. ‘Dickhead’, though, is definitely fair game in open public discourse.

The Herald followed-up the Guardian piece with a little more detail. Although journalists have not yet seen evidence, Heuchan says she had racist messages posted on her blog and that she was terrified because people were trying to work out her location. To be fair on The Herald, and indeed the Guardian, the allegation of racism is a very serious one and therefore newsworthy. Yet it’s true, of course, that some folk may well have been trying to identify whether she was writing the piece from personal experience of Scotland or was instead doing what many in the London media do and banging out their strong opinions without bothering to buy a train ticket. That, too, is fair game and doesn’t imply a threat per se.

It’s quite clear that Claire Heuchan is an intelligent commentator with a strong opinion which should be accommodated by media outlets – if that’s what she wants. Some academics might take the view that such activity might distract from PhD completion, but in any case she says she wants to be a cultural critic and Scotland can only benefit from her black, feminist activist perspective. It’s to be hoped she’s back up and blogging soon.

Meanwhile, though, independence supporters just have to accept, as ever, that where they post anything which can be presented as being out of line then it’ll be monstered by the media. When unionists do it – not so much.

Rigorous criticism mustn’t be shut down. Being called a tosser isn’t the end of the world, and folk who feel passionate about independence do so because of the great magnitude of the historical decision soon to be before Scotland (we hope…). Meanwhile, of course, some No voters are just waiting to be persuaded to vote Yes and where we can be nice about it, well, that’s good too…..

[Thanks to Steve and Morag for corrections….]



25 Responses to The Claire Heuchan episode is an early warning to independence supporters
  1. […] current Scottish nationalism is more about rejecting the British state than British people, while Eric Joyce links it more to rejecting more worrying forms of nationalism pursued by parties like […]

  2. […] independence with racism, as well as the volatile comment pieces that sprang up as a result.  (See http://www.ericjoyce.co.uk/2017/03/the-claire-heuchan-episode-is-an-early-warning-to-independence-su… for a timeline of the most significant contributions.) The resulting field of commentary resembles […]

  3. I read her piece but can’t agree it was intelligent comment or worthy of publication. It was really badly written. As Iain MacWhirter pointed out. Poorly constructed (she kept returning to the same points, meandering without tight focus) and offered not one shred of evidence to support her assertions, because that was all they were – unsupported assertions. You are giving her too much credit for ‘authenticity’ just because she’s black and a woman – two things which you are not. Her piece was simply full of Better Together cliches and empty of any kind of meaningful content. And poorly crafter to boot. As for the vile abuse she received, I don’t doubt it, and I condemn it, but it bears all the hallmarks of internet trolls who target females. This abuse has nothing whatsoever to do with the issues Heuchan raised about supposed nationalism. The common thread is simply that she is a woman, a woman who has stuck her head above the parapet to say something controversial. She could have said something controversial about the 5p plastic bag charge and she would have got the same abuse, like the woman who got abuse and death threats for suggesting Jane Austen be put on bank notes. There are just a lot of woman haters out there. As opportunities for women continue to widen the hatred of a tiny but increasingly vocal minority of men towards women seems to deepen in the same proportion.

  4. […] condemn any abuse, racist or otherwise and threats to safety that occurred. Although evidence of threats and racist abuse was not […]

  5. I am sorry but she quite clearly stated in the second article these words

    “I’m studying to be a critical race theorist,” she said. “I can’t help but think it’s very significant that the people most clearly against Khan’s comments, the majority were white. There seemed to be a contradiction between them claiming on the one hand to be in favour of progressive politics, but being unwilling to listen to what Sadiq Khan, an Asian man, said.”

    the implication there is utterly clear – you know I could deal with being accused of having to do comparisons – despite the fact that our independance campaign was and always will be positive – it didn’t require to scare the crap out of pensioner over their pensions

    it didn’t require to scare, only to ignite hope

    but the hurt I suffer at the amount of unjustified and unmitigated racism……because thats what it is………her statement above is racism, pure and simple just because she got more comments from “whites” in a predominately white society she just tarred us all as racist

    really sickened by this and yes it hurts – you did not expect us to analyse our beliefs a million times over and still come up with the same answer……we are not being racist or hating of the english


  6. In response to Heuchan’s piece and other issues I have given up on the Graun. I left in the latter stages of the last IndyRef both in exasperation at their inability to recognise a progressive movement of the sort they supposedly support and because I was far too busy campaigning with RIC to bother.

    I went back afterwards, my username was unused so I reoccupied it to hold the bastards’ feet to the fire. But hell mend them.

    I’m gone in advance of expecting the trigger to get pulled on a New IndyRef anytime now. After we vote Yes I will drop in in the same way I drop into the NYT, the Sydney Morning Herald etc. I’m a regular at Stuff.co.nz because I grew up there and our youngest is there now.

  7. Agenda driven piece by Heuchan it most certainly was, proven guilty by omission, followed up by agenda driven press, jury’s out whether the main agenda was unionism or click bait from the press, i suspect a bit of both. Bottom line is they (UK Unionism) have nothing in the way of a better future to offer Scotland, which leaves them trying to smear & discredit their opponents & as we all know, the Brit establishment & it’s well oiled propaganda machine are experts when it comes to sewer politics & black ops

  8. Think lionised might actually have been the right word as far as the image her supporters want to portray goes.

    There’s obviously an attraction in any nationalist movement for bigotry but unlike UKIP , if not the whole of those in the Leave campaign, the SNP and Yes do their best to distance themselves from that and not let it take control.

    My objections to the initial Khan speech and more the article it provoked are the attempt to silence any debate based on racial or national profiling. Modern day scots aren’t allowed to voice dissent based on things people who most probably weren’t even their direct ancestors did. We’re all guilty by association.

    The Tweet of hers sneering at the audacity of the Afro Caribbean Society asking her if she wanted to join because she was black and her insisting she was British does seem to indicate a disturbing intolerance to the idea that you can celebrate more than one cultural heritage.

    • Thanks Iain. I think the independent movement, and the SNP too mainly, does try hard not to allow the bonkers side too much space. it’s all anyone can do in such emotive areas, really. I don’t know about the tweet, but most of the African-Caribbean people I know who feel a close association both with the Caribbean and Africa were born in the UK.

      • I understand she was born in Scotland into a very affluent family, and as I said has been described by people who knew her as a child as “a cradle Tory” “out with her blue rosette even as a schoolgirl.”

        It’s still hard to see why she woud be offended by an invitation to join an Afro-Caribbean society, especially as she’s now using her racial heritage as a political lever. Couldn’t she simply decline politely and say no more about it?

        • It’s up to folk to make their own choice and of course, but I imagine the African Caribbean Society were probably just being nice. Easy to say ‘No thanks’.

  9. The trouble with believing that Ms Heuchan quit twitter because she was threatened to the point she feared for her personal safety is that if you google an advanced search on her blog you’ll find that she seems to make something of a career out of feeling threatened to the point she fears for he personal safety

    Google: threatened site:sisteroutrider.wordpress.com

    This would appear to be far from the first time…

    “I am not doing, because I am curled under my desk having a panic attack. The abuse I receive online has reached new heights. For the first time (and probably not the last) I feel physically unsafe because of it.”

    Which is from August 2016.

    Now I’m not saying she didn’t feel physically threatened, but when this is a recurrent complaint that someone then uses as a springboard to write articles and lectures one is entitled to raise a somewhat cynical eyebrow,

    • It’s difficult to understand where she’s coming from. A secure childhood as part of an affluent family (including being out on the streets in a blue rosette campaigning for the Conservative party), a university education and a post-graduate studentship don’t seem like a background conducive to someone curling up under a desk having a panic attack because of what some troll might have said on the internet.

      Come to that, if she was so disturbed by what someone said on the internet, why on God’s green earth was she back on that internet telling everyone about it – and by doing this potentially inviting more of the same from the trolls who are always with us?

      It really does have a feeling of faux-outrage, contrived for publicity purposes. But no doubt it’s forbidden even to say that, on pain of being branded insensitive to the poor dear snowflake.

      • I’ve asked around for evidence of the offensive messages/Tweets. I’m sure they exist – but no-one’s been forthcoming yet…..

        • I’m sure you’ll find it in the same place BBC Newsnight Scotland found the vile death threats Susan Calman complained about in the spring of 2013. They must have been there, because the presenter said on-air (wearing a disgusted expression) that he couldn’t read the messages out because they were too vile even for that time of night.

          See here.



          The parallels are striking. Lesbian woman from an enormously privileged background and upbringing, university educated and pretty obviously well able to handle herself, turns into a whining snowflake because of “abuse” by vile cybernats that nobody can actually find. She then deletes her twitter account and the independence supporters go into paroxysms of self-righteous blaming against anyone who has the temerity to suggest the abuse was imaginary and being hyped up for political ends.

          Only difference seems to be the colour thing. As far as I can tell, Susan Calman is green….

  10. I have read both Claire Heuchan’s piece in the Guardian and Robert Somynne’s response. It is clear which has the objective look at Scotland today. Somyyne was up front about his outlook, his background and his position on independence and Heuchan was not.

    This hidden agenda becomes clear afterwards when we find out that Heuchan took part in Better Together videos and is essentially part of that machine. Her activism was hidden and that makes for a non objective review of Scottish politics.

    Somyyne on the other hand was critical of aspects of the independence movement and admitted that it has much to learn while Heuchan was just critical of Nationalism, which she branded rather gratuitously as Anti English. Of course there are those who are Anti English, but the independence movement is all anti Westminster rule. Being pro Scotland is not anti England..

    Abuse is never acceptable and, while we have not been witness to any, as far as Heuchan is concerned, we should have an open mind about what has been attempted here with her piece. She has sought to reinforce a view of Scottish independence and its supporters, as racists, as Sadiq Khan inferred in his speech. Racism is no laughing matter, nor are accusations of it. False accusations are as bad as the racism itself. They diminish reports by anyone who experiences it. Peter crying wolf, in other words. Racism is a blight on lives and false accusations can ruin people’s credibility and careers which can never be regained once the press regurgitate the falsehoods over and over.

    Finally, seeking self rule is a normal process. UK is unique in the world by not having its component countries independent like all the countries of Europe. Trying to ‘other it’ is like racism. After all, France, Germany, Italy etc are not racist countries, yet they celebrate their individuality, culture and customs separately from the EU union, to which they belong. It is time all of the UK accepted that Scotland can be like this too.

  11. Not sure you’ve quite got the dictionary definition of “lionised” there, Eric. Did you mean “monstered” (the exact opposite).

    More to the point, the evidence for this alleged “shitstorm of abuse” is entirely lacking. Just as it was in the case of Susan Calman, when Newsnight Scotland got round that by declaring that the supposed (nonexistent) comments were too vile to read out on air. And yet everyone is supposed to line up to condemn the unseen abuse or it’s “telling”.

    Many people made much of the apparent number of critical messages, but that’s entirety missing the point. In a single article Heuchan grossly offended about 1.6 million people. If less than one per cent of these people are angry enough to respond, that’s a lot of replies. But it’s still individuals (who don’t have a CiF column to reach out with) reacting on their own account.

    I don’t know what right colossal egos like Vonny Moyes think they have to tell these ordinary people that they’re wrong to respond in the only way they can, for fear that the mega-privileged snowflake who started it all might get a bit upset.

    • Ach, you’re right. Changing now…..

      And Yes to all the rest! 😉

      • I hear the lady in question has been an active Tory campaigner since her schooldays, in addition to being a prominent Better Together face.

        One might be forgiven for wondering how long it will be before she pops up as a candidate for political office.

    • Spot on Morag, I was on the receiving end of a Vonny Moles take down for daring to question the authenticism of both the comments she linked to me on Twitter.

      I’d asked her how on earth she knew that these posts (that weren’t particularly offensive on their own, I have to say) were genuinely from Nats? After her initially rant about daring to imply that they may have been written by someone ‘other’ than Nats, she eventually told me that of course, they were genuine as Claire is one of her good friends and wouldn’t lie… I then suggested that if Claire had made the entire episode up and Vonny defended her right to free speech, does this then allow her to say or insult anyone she cares to by merely producing a couple of tweets from God knows who to corroborate her story?

      I was then told by that defender of free speech Vonny Moles to ‘Fuck off’, and was unceremoniously blocked on her Twitter account.

      • She blocked me from a previous twitter account because I tried to persuade her to stop tweeting random stories about how people had belittled her when she was a child. I can’t remember what the context was but she seemed to think that an appropriate response to something that had happened to somebody else was to tell all her followers about how an uncle had said she didn’t have nice legs or something.

        I actually said, look, write this up as a proper article, just don’t flood Twitter with it on a Saturday night. She got massively offended because I was denying her the right to express how her self-esteem had been damaged in childhood and actually deleted her account right there and then.

        She came back of course but I don’t seem to be blocked by the new account. I didn’t follow her again and we haven’t interacted, but her behaviour is getting closer and closer to Angela Haggerty by the day. With allies like these, who needs enemies?

  12. I am getting fed up with the term racist being bandied about by supposedly intelligent people.
    DNA tracks most of us back to Africa (Tories excluded who originate from another planet) and there is a theory that when our primate ancestors descended from the trees to the plains of Africa,they were in fact white and only became black because of exposure to the strong tropical sun.
    What a can of worms that is for those who play the racist card.
    There are only two races,humans and Tories.
    Most of us Scots are simply sick to death of having English right wing governments and their idiotic policies being foisted upon us when we have voted at the ballot box to reject them.
    Why do some English people get so upset when we tell them that we do not agree with them and want to do things differently.
    That of course,unfortunately,also applies to Scots who support the present dependency culture imposed on us by unionists (aka Tories).
    No more racism nonsense,let’s get on with the real debate about what’s best for Scotland’s future.

  13. Oh this made my blood boil. The initial smear by Khan/Labour. The Guardian follow up, closing down CiF as they realised their mistake. The ‘Better Together’ campaigner given a platform to support Khan/Labour … and then the follow up.

    I have several comments ‘moderated’ because I linked the official BetterTogether video with Claire Heuchan as the opening speaker.

    She had an agenda, the Guardian failed to investigate this or report it. The reports of ‘abuse’ – laughable until evidence appears. Of course, she deleted it beforehand (twitter) .. yeah, I trust a person with a solid agenda.

    Just clickbait effectively for them, but as you have noted before, the media is not Scotland’s, it is fighting independence all the time.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *