Why with Scottish ‘Nationalism’ we’ll escape the other populist nationalisms threatening our future


Niall Ferguson gave me the idea for this. I know, he’s an arrogant, imperialist, hawkish, US suck-up, whose speech is now a pompous pretentious disgrace to his home city, Glasgow, but. Though I strongly disagree with his conclusions about what we should do (military build-up and global bullying), I like his thinking about how we can learn from the past. In particular, I like his analysis of previous periods of populism which we can then use to understand why the current one in the UK need not harm Scotland unduly.

In a 2016 presentation (link below) he identifies 5 pre-requisites for the kind of situation we saw from the end of the 19th Century and into the 20Th Century, which resulted in global wars. I’ve replaced his US examples with UK ones and have added two, at Nos 2 and 3:

  1. Rising immigration into working-class areas: As with the Irish in the 19th Century, now Eastern Europeans and refugees from Iraq, Syria, Somalia;
  2. Media reports of ‘Asian paedophile gangs’, ‘Somali’ or ‘Albanian’ armed drug gangs and London stabbings.
  3. Terrorism – White supremacists, returning Jihadis and the New IRA;
  4. Increased inequality: Approaching that of the Victorian era as the Conservatives protect the rich and punish the poor;
  5. A perception of increased corruption: the bankers, MP’s expenses, links with private health-providers and weapons manufacturers;
  6. A financial crisis: As in 2008 which is still keeping working-class incomes low in real terms;
  7. A demagogue (a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument) who appears to understand all of the above dissatisfaction from your point of view: From Hitler to Trump but in the UK to merely to Farage or Johnson?

I’m not worried, much. Here’s why:

  1. Immigration is rising less in Scotland and the dominant media and political narratives are not negative ones – no hostile environment here;
  2. Crime, especially violent crime, is falling, dramatically;
  3. England is a parliamentary democracy long hostile to presidential-style leaders and which destroys them if they get delusional: Thatcher, Blair;
  4. There are no convincing strong charismatic leaders in the UK: look at Farage or Johnson and laugh;
  5. The EU is a powerful force against such leaders and will destroy them by undermining their economies;
  6. The EU, especially its strongest members are clear friends of Scotland and will protect it, once independent, as they are doing for Ireland;
  7. The SNP and Scottish Government remain popular and largely -free of the scandals which have damaged all of the others;
  8. Scotland is moving inevitably, if frustratingly slowly, toward independence as a model social democracy.

Thanks Niall but don’t come home.

Five ingredients for a populist backlash – Niall Ferguson – Zeitgeist 2016





7 thoughts on “Why with Scottish ‘Nationalism’ we’ll escape the other populist nationalisms threatening our future

  1. Alasdair Macdonald April 21, 2019 / 10:07 am

    A slight digression: A couple of years back Niall Ferguson was invited to make a presentation to the Glasgow Philosophical Society (an august and very well-supported organisation of pointy-heidit keelies, which has been in existence since the time of the Napoleonic Wars.) The talks range across the academic spectrum and many of the speakers are internationally recognised experts (i.e. the proper meaning, not the BBC one of someone with a fancy title that supports our mendacious conservative stance.) Whatever, else one thinks of him and many, including me, do, he has a substantial body of work.

    I attended the presentation, expecting a political rant such as we see in many of his TV programmes or in his insultingly shocking interview with Tom Devine. I expected bombast. I was pleasantly disappointed, because we had the rigorous academic. He spoke without notes or even recourse to power point slides. He spoke clearly and fluently, with wit, he had complete respect for his audience. During questions, when he was challenged on positions he had espoused on TV, he dealt with these courteously setting out the nuances of his argument. He was even self-deprecating on occasion.

    He clearly knew his audience and identified with them as fellow Glaswegians and spoke to them with the respect Glaswegians expect of each other – you might well be the CEO of a multinational and I work in an office, but we are both human beings of equal human worth. I got the impression he was sincerely honoured and, indeed, humbled, to be invited to speak in his native city.

    It was an eye-opener for me. There is much about his interpretations with which I disagree and the tele-personality is insufferably nasty, but I have a more balanced view of him as a man. I believe he supported Partick Thistle as a lad, so he clearly has a genuine soul. Arriba ra Jags!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Legerwood April 21, 2019 / 10:32 am

      I attended a talk he gave at the Aye Right festival a few years ago and, like you, was pleasantly surprised by him. I have not seen him on TV but have read some of his books which I have found to be well written and interesting although I don’t always agree with his interpretation or conclusions.

      Liked by 1 person

    • johnrobertson834 April 21, 2019 / 1:10 pm

      Partick Thistle not the Gers? He’s a Ferguson! Don’t they all support the Gers? Duncan, Barry, Derek, Ian…….and all pretty hard too.


      • Alasdair Macdonald April 22, 2019 / 9:38 am

        There was to be an Old Firm match at the weekend following his talk and he thanked the organisers for getting him a ticket. He did not declare any affinity, but was clearly looking forward to the emotional turmoil, into which it is difficult for even neutrals to avoid being affected. He possibly does have a tendency towards the Teddy Berrs, because of the political undertones. Sadly, for Jags fans, if we want to see European Football we have to attend the stadia in the east and in the south. The last actual competitive European match at Firhill was in 1972 in the old Fairs Cup, when we got gubbed 3 – 0 by Honved of Hungary. There were nearly 30 000 at the match. Since then it has been getting put through the wringer against Alloa and the like! Which means Falkirk are the most likely candidates for the drop.


  2. GentlemansFamilyFinances April 21, 2019 / 8:06 pm

    You mention the new ira but its hard to imagine that they have much of an infuence away from their home turf.
    The problems in NI are not new and don’t seem to be going away any time soon – brexit or no brexit.
    You didnt mention groups like Scottish Dawn – any reason why not?

    I would suggest that Scottish nationalism has a common enemy of Tories / the English / toffs. It’s that focus of distrust and grievance that allows it to not fester and become a populist xenophobic creation that you get in England and other countries.


  3. johnrobertson834 April 21, 2019 / 8:47 pm

    The New IRA have been getting media attention recently so I only included them in a list of groups contributing to the current atmosphere conducive to populist leaders.

    Are Scottish Dawn worthy of inclusion? Acts of terrorism by them?

    As for Scottish Nationalism not becoming xenophobic do you see a risk of that at all?


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