As Scottish independence once again rears its head, with SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon saying Scots have a right to opt out of Brexit, it’s worth remembering that a sizeable number of SNP voters voted for Brexit. According to the Lord Ashcroft polls, more than a third of SNP voters say they voted for Britain to leave the EU.
While there are always strange outliers in polls – who are the seven per cent of UKIP voters who chose Remain? – that 36 per cent of Scottish nationalists voted Leave is important. On the surface, it may seem strange. The SNP has been resolutely pro-EU. It has staked its bid for independence from the UK on its potential to remain part of the EU. So surely the fact that a third of its supporters want out of the EU is a little odd?
Actually, the nationalism of the SNP is itself odd. It calls itself a movement for national independence, but it seems to have little interest in independence. Its nationalism is less about Scots governing themselves than it is a desire for national recognition, for validation of Scotland’s specialness. SNP nationalism longs for recognition of Scottish national identity, without said nation actually exercising true independence.
Consider some of the disputes during the independence referendum in 2014, between the then Tory/Lib Dem coalition government in Westminster and the SNP. The SNP was adamant that, post-independence, Scotland would still be allowed to use the pound and be governed by the Bank of England. Westminster, of course, opposed this idea. Having your own currency, and exercising control over it, has historically been an important feature of national independence. (The SNP, it is reported, is now considering introducing a new currency pegged to the pound – but this looks more like a response to Westminster’s ‘No’ to Scotland using the pound than an expression of national independence.)
The ultimate aim of Scottish nationalism is to achieve ‘independence’ from the UK within the confines of the EU. Staying in the EU is now the SNP’s main argument for leaving the UK. Paradoxically, this pro-EU stance is common to many national separatist movements in Europe. Their demand is increasingly national recognition twinned with EU integration.