Separatism: it can be good and it can be bad, but it is what it is

Readers, help me out here. I used the word ‘separatist’ on Twitter today to describe the Scots who intend to vote for independence in the referendum in September.

It’s the word I usually use to describe them – alongside ‘unionist’ for those who intend to vote against independence and for the union. One side wants to stay in the union and one side wants to separate from the rest of the union so they seem to me to be the best short had descriptive words for everyone’s end goal.

Today, however, a few people got really very cross. I was told that calling people separatists is a bit like calling them racists. I was told that it is an “inaccurate” word. That it is “unnecessarily emotive”, “highly charged”, and “pejorative.”

I don’t get it. How can it be any of these things? Voting for independence is voting to leave the union. Nothing wrong with that (as long as you do it for emotional not economic reasons) but it does make separation a perfectly good word to use. So I pushed back on it.

What’s wrong with it, I asked. Finally one of my followers told me it was too hard to explain on Twitter.

Hmmm. A few months ago I wondered here why the SNP were making all this quite so complicated. Right now, Scotland is effectively a member of five unions: a union of the crown; a defence union (Nato); a monetary/currency union; the European Union; and a fiscal union.

If you listen to what the SNP say you will see that in the main they say want to keep the first four and only to turn the dial on the fifth (fiscal independence, as Mark Carney has made as clear as possible, is not possible without monetary independence). But that isn’t really going to be possible post a yes vote (which I why I am pleased to see that a plan B to sterling is now being worked on).

So here’s why I think that Scotland’s separatists don’t like being called separatists: the word makes it clear that voting yes doesn’t mean voting for a tad more fiscal devolution (as I imagine the SNP might like the undecided to think), it means breaking – or at least heavily negotiating to stay in – most of the other unions. It means separation. Separating can be good and it can be bad, but it is what it is.

PS Regular readers will know that I am generally a unionist (hard not to be when you are born in Ireland, part educated in England and married to a Scot) but with occasional sympathies towards the romance of the separatists. But you can read my interview with the firmly separatist Angus Tulloch here.

PPS One person told me on Twitter this morning that they preferred to be called a ‘civic nationalist’. This seems to me to be the political equivalent of the now famous phrase ‘conscious uncoupling’ – a euphemism used to make what is actually happening seem rather less dramatic than it really is.

  • commonman

    Hi Merryn….separatists is and always has been what Scottish Nats are about, call a spade a spade is how I have always thought so long as it’s not personal, rude or incorrect.
    Being English and an ex serviceman I have known many fine Scot, Welsh and Irish acquaintances over the years and I have to say that Scots in the main are the most nationalistic, proud and aggrieved.
    It’s a great shame that Scots living in the rest of the UK are not allowed to vote as they know that no one wishes the Scots to separate, although should they decide to do so then we wish them a successful journey into independence if that is what the yes vote achieves.

  • EM99

    The goal is to be independent. To enhance democracy in the country. To determine our own path. Separation is part of the process, but it is not the goal. We do not see the destiny of the country through the prism of Westminster and Whitehall. Perhaps that is why people think ‘Separatists’ is not an appropriate term.

    The FT, OECD and your own Dominic Frisby seem to think Scotland would be a rich country, so I think your assertion that it is just for romantic reasons does not hold true (you can find a lot more information on the business benefits to an independent Scotland here

    There are lots of English people living in Scotland who support independence. I don’t know where they born and of course it doesn’t matter, they live and work here and have committed themselves to the future of the country. You can find out more here

    I wish the No camp has something more interesting to say at times. Just because you think No doesn’t mean that you can’t have a professional hat that sees the positive (rational) case for Yes.

    Best wishes,