My mob originates, we have come to assume, from somewhere in Ireland, though exactly where we don’t know. Humza Yousaf, justice secretary in the Scottish government, was born in Glasgow to immigrant parents — one from Pakistan, the other from Kenya. We were contemporaries at university (Glasgow), I became a journalist around the time he became a politician (SNP, alas), and while I’ve long been impressed by his abilities, his smiley-sinister Hate Crime Bill confirms him to be a nightmarish fusion of Judith Butler and Mary Whitehouse.
What has never occurred to me is the notion that Yousaf is less Scottish than me. If anything, I wish he’d tone it down a bit. If he’s not ladening his every tweet with tartan slang like ‘wean’ (child) and ‘mince’ (rubbish), he’s extolling the virtues of Irn-Bru (which, for the record, is mince). Even this is not enough for some and a casual glance through social media reveals a minority fixation with Yousaf’s identity and, shall we say, allegiance.
Yesterday, George Galloway, who is fronting a Scottish Parliament campaign, tweeted this:
— George Galloway (@georgegalloway) March 17, 2021
Well #Humza you’re not more Scottish than me. You’re not a Celt like me. You’re not working-class like me. You didn’t go to a state school like me. You’re not more socialist than me. So stop pretending. You’re a poseur. @Alliance4Unity pic.twitter.com/90oPOc1KZA
Some Unionists would vote for anyone just to stick it to the SNP. Ladies and gentlemen, meet anyone.
It’s an open question as to whether anyone in Scotland is a ‘Celt’: genetic research suggests there is no single such group, only varying subgroups. Professor Stephen Oppenheimer says: ‘The genetic evidence shows that three quarters of our ancestors came to this corner of Europe as hunter-gatherers, between 15,000 and 7,500 years ago,’ roughly around the time George Galloway last had anything of interest to say about Scotland. Since we can probably assume Galloway wasn’t making a point about gene-mapping, what exactly was he referring to? Yousaf may not be a Celt but that surely has no bearing on whether he is Scottish, the subject of the preceding sentence. Unless, that is, you believe there is a hierarchy of Scottish nationality in which being a ‘Celt’ places you higher up the scale than those who are not. We have a term for this kind of thinking: ethnic nationalism. (We have other terms for it, too.)
Lamentably, the idea that Scottishness is a matter of heritage, rather than citizenship, is still the dominant view north of the border. A grim survey conducted by YouGov in 2016 found that ‘most Scots feel that being Scottish is a birthright’, with 87 per cent citing birth in Scotland and 71 per cent having two Scottish parents. Fifty-eight per cent don’t believe living in Scotland for more than ten years makes you Scottish and four in ten think having only one Scottish parent excludes you. This is an outlook that ought to be rejected as firmly as Galloway’s ‘not a Celt’ rhetoric. Whether Scotland becomes independent or remains part of the UK, the question ‘Who is a Scot?’ should be answered: ‘Whoever calls Scotland home’.
Galloway is back in the news as the face of a fringe outfit calling itself All for Unity (or Alliance for Unity). With Scots going to the polls on May 6, AfU is pitching for the rage-votes of Unionists frustrated by the mainstream parties’ failure to hold the SNP to account. AfU says voting for them will elect a real opposition. In fact, splitting the anti-independence vote across four parties is more likely to elect MSPs from one of the two pro-independence parties. AfU presumably hopes their target electorate won’t Google the D’Hondt system before casting their ballot.
When Michael Gove played Twitter footsie with Galloway on the independence question last August, I wrote a column in the Scottish Daily Mail warning Unionists against cosying up to him: ‘The fight to save the Union requires party politics and old enmities to be set aside but there are limits.’ This followed reports that Gove had been ‘in talks’ with the former MP on Union strategy. I rate Gove as a political tactician but how he thought Galloway would be an asset is beyond me.
The mainstream opposition parties in Scotland sensibly had nothing to do with Galloway and All for Unity. Their immediate concern is that this Twitter account posing as a political party could end up gifting Nicola Sturgeon a pro-independence majority. Still, opponents of nationalism should be as forthcoming in disavowing Galloway’s remarks as they are us-and-them talk from SNP politicians. Here is mine: I disagree with him on independence, Trident, Palestine, gender identity and his illiberal Hate Crime Bill but, Celt or not, I would rather have 129 Humza Yousafs at Holyrood than one George Galloway.