Extreme Scottish unionists and nationalists

At a time when the Scottish government was flirting with the possibility of “indyref2”, I explored the extreme fringes of both sides of the debate, which I felt were not adequately reported on in the wider UK discussion of political extremism.

Extreme Scottish unionists: how the hard right has muscled into the independence debate (11 April 2017)

Extreme Scottish nationalists: hunting lapdogs and traitors (11 April 2017)

Depending on who you speak to, the Scottish independence referendum was a wonderful awakening or the most traumatic moment of a generation. The deep antipathy many pro-union Scots feel to having another referendum is often partly a reflection of their memories of the campaign:

“One day, David found himself in Kirkcaldy, a coastal town north of Edinburgh once known for its linoleum factories. The Yes supporters were waiting.

“It was genuinely terrifying,” David remembers. “The Nats had formed a tortoise formation the way Romans do with shields, but with Yes placards. They were just advancing towards us.

“You just think ‘this is mental’”.

It’s important to stress extreme Scottish nationalism is only one strand of the Scottish independence movement, which includes anti-nationalists on the left who believe independence is the first step towards radically devolved power, and many moderates who stress civic nationalism (including the current Scottish government leadership).

Equally, the less well-documented extreme Scottish unionism is a fringe group that many in the wider anti-independence campaign do not want to be associated with. It tends to combine Union Jack paraphernalia with a strong Protestant identity and an unsavoury streak of xenophobia and intolerance.

Glasgow SNP councillor Austin Sheridan, who is gay, was at the City Chambers that day, an imperial building on George Square. He left the building to see what was going on. “All of a sudden a guy came up and shouted at me,” he remembers. A video he made on his phone shows middle-aged men calling him “fucking poofter” and “nationalist scum”.

Sheridan believes the homophobic attack was “clearly organised”. He says: “The group of people arrived at the square all at the same time.”

Scotland continues to be dominated by moderate politicians, from Nicola Sturgeon to Ruth Davidson, but these grassroots movements are important for understanding some of the pressures they face and the different directions they might take to tap into populism.

PDF: Extreme Scottish unionists: how the hard right has muscled into the independence debate

PDF: Extreme Scottish nationalists: hunting lapdogs and traitors