ONE of the great things about writing a newspaper column is the interaction with readers. My email is full of regular back-and-forths with readers – some agree with me, some don’t. The exchanges are always polite, always clever, and always make me think hard about positions I’ve taken. The same goes for The Herald’s letters page.

It’s all a world away from social media, where interactions come from people who’ve seldom read beyond a headline, have the intellectual hinterland of a two-year-old, and zero desire to do other than attack. If discussions with newspaper readers are a challenging and invigorating exchange after a good dinner, social media is a drunken punch up following a football match.

However, there’s one issue I need to correct that was mentioned by a correspondent to the letters’ page the other day. Following a column last week in which I discussed, as a Yes voter, the need for the independence movement to face up to hard questions surrounding issues like currency and borders, a reader wrote in describing me as a “self-professed nationalist”.

I’m not a nationalist, however. You don’t need to be a nationalist – or an SNP supporter for that matter – to favour independence. I’m not alone – there are many like me, I assure you.

I’ve endeavoured throughout 30 years in journalism to be as straight as possible with readers. In this era of distrust in journalism – driven by that most false of all delivery systems, social media – it’s more important than ever for writers to be transparent.

When it comes to politics, I’m avowedly anti-nationalist. I’m an old-fashioned internationalist. I distrust nationalism of all stripes. I’m a liberal-leftie who sees everyone as pretty much the same – so I’ve no time for the exceptionalism that nationalism offers. Just because I was born on one bit of land and you on another, it doesn’t make us different.

But my political view of the world has also been clear on one other issue for many years – Westminster has been a dangerous failure for as long as I’ve been alive. One of the reasons I support Scottish independence is because of my revulsion towards British nationalism – which has grown exponentially over the last decade. Westminster offers very little, if anything, to someone of my political outlook – xenophobia, austerity, and overseas invasions are not my bag, I’m afraid.

So come 2014, I didn’t need any persuasion to cast a Yes vote. I believe small nations can be great successes. However, as I’ve long argued, the Yes movement today needs to get real about hard questions – those matters of currency and borders again – rather than wrap itself in a flag, go on a march and shout ‘indy is coming’. That doesn’t just fail to persuade anyone that independence is a good idea, is actively deters swing voters.

Nor does anyone need to support the SNP to support independence. Let me be transparent with readers again. Have I voted SNP in the past? Yes. Do I always vote SNP? Definitely not. Will I vote SNP in the future? It’s highly unlikely. My voting history mirrors that of many readers, I guess. I was a Labour voter. Labour became uninhabitable after the Iraq War. I came to find the SNP an acceptable home for my vote towards the end of the 2000s. In recent years, however, I’ve found the party increasingly difficult to support.

Firstly, many prominent SNP voices embrace the nationalism I hate – flag-wrapped, bullying, exceptionalist. They cuddle up to extremists online. The tragedy is, I know plenty of really good people in the SNP, some of whom hold high office, but they’re silent.

Secondly, I find the SNP in government to be severely lacking. Heath and education are simply not good enough in this country. The SNP, as it often does, talks a good game when it comes to climate change – the most important political concern facing this country – but there’s not enough action. The party has also proposed deeply illiberal policies – like the Hate Crime Bill, and its flirtation with suspending jury trials amid pandemic.

Thirdly – and worst of all – is the attitude of the party. It’s become sneering of anyone with the temerity to question its authority – as seen from the behaviour towards the press during coronavirus. The SNP from top to bottom confuses questions with attack – mirroring many in the Yes movement. This smacks of fragility, and fragility implies someone isn’t confident in their own position.

The party is tearing itself to bits in a flurry of civil wars between the Sturgeon and Salmond wings, over ‘woke’ policies, over Plan Bs. The current Salmond inquiry leaves any decent spectator with one overriding opinion: a plague on both your houses.

The party has become secretive, complacent, entitled. It’s also now a vehicle for mediocre careerists who please the hierarchy. Kiss the right ass and you’re in with the bricks, seems to be the current rule of thumb.

So as I said, you don’t need to be a nationalist or an SNP supporter to back independence.

In newspaper terms, I’m sure this column will trigger more intelligent, nuanced debate about our fraught constitutional politics. On social media, it will go quite differently. Unionists will accuse me of being a narrow-minded nationalist, no matter what I say. And the extremists in the indy camp will hold another of their purity purges. You see, online if you don’t wear a day-glo badge which flashes ‘I’m a Yes voter’ every nano-second then your commitment is somehow seen to be lacking. You’re an imposter or traitor. It’s deeply pathetic.

Some online indy supporters remind me of how the writer Norman Mailer described America amid the War on Terror. The country, he said, was an Adonis – gorgeous, beautiful – but so lacking in self-belief it had to sniff its armpits every minute to check it didn’t stink.

I believe if you hold a political position, that’s worth holding, then interrogate it as ruthlessly as the opposing view. That’s not in vogue within the online indy brigade, so I await their judgment, and condemnation for heresy. Meanwhile, I put my trust in intelligent newspaper readers to get to the heart of the matter, whether they agree with my political views or not.

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