Saturday, 26 April 2014

The description British nationalist is either trivial, offensive or false

I'm not blogging much at the moment as I have other work and writing commitments, but I keep coming across Scottish nationalists describing me as a British nationalist or a Britnat or some such. I've tried to explain on a number of occasions why this is either trivial, offensive or false, but it's rather hard to get the point across in 140 characters, so I though it best to write a little something which can be referred to when necessary.

I'm lucky enough to have access to the Oxford English Dictionary online and therefore will use that source. I hope Scottish nationalists do not consider the source biased, because it's from Oxford. I too have a certain prejudice against the Dark blues, but I try my best to overcome it.


A trivial definition of nationalist is someone who supports his nation state. The reason that this is trivial is that it applies equally to a citizen of Finland, New Zealand the USA and so on all around the world. When a word describes everyone it ceases to be descriptive and therefore drops out of common usage. We therefore do not describe Germans who want to maintain the territorial integrity of Germany as nationalists, nor do we so describe the French. This is despite the fact that some German citizens and some French citizens, no doubt, do not support the territorial integrity of their nation state.


Nationalist can mean someone on the far right politically. Thus the BNP are accurately described as British Nationalists as are the Front National in France accurately described as French nationalists. Neither side in the Scottish independence referendum is characterised by extreme right wing ideology and it is therefore offensive to describe either side as nationalists in this sense.


Here the OED definition will prove useful:

"An adherent or advocate of nationalism; an advocate of national independence or self-determination. With capital initial: a member of a particular nationalist political party"

There is nothing disrespectful about describing someone as a nationalist in this sense. It is ordinary usage and accurately describes a political ideology. But it is clearly false to claim that a supporter of the UK follows this ideology. I don't advocate independence, I have it. I've heard some Scottish nationalists object that I too am a nationalist because I clearly want the UK to remain independent and therefore advocate it. But if this sense prevailed, the word "nationalist" would once more become trivial. It would amount to the same meaning as wishing to maintain the territorial integrity of your nation state rather than have it taken over. For the word "nationalist" to have any meaning at all has to be limited to those who seek political independence from the nation state in which they now reside. I do not seek this, for which reason I am not a nationalist. Therefore it is false to describe me as a British nationalist.

I don't particularly care for flag waving and have a degree of sympathy with Samuel Johnson on that front, but when I lived in Denmark and saw little Danish flags flying from every house I would never have dreamed of describing the people flying them as Danish nationalists. I don't care much for patriotism for it always struck me as egoistical and foolish to feel pride in something I couldn't help, i.e. the place where I was born. I am more in favour of abolishing boundaries insofar as that is possible than in erecting new borders. It's for that reason that I'm tending more towards support for the European project, while wishing that it were more democratic. Everyone bases their politics at least in part on their experience. I've spent a lot of time in Russia and saw what happened when a land that had been together more or less since the year 882 fell apart. You don't have to feel any nostalgia for the USSR, I don't because I know people who lived there, to feel the folly and the tragedy of it all.