All Under One Banner (AUOB), a pressure group for Scottish independence, held a march and rally in Glasgow on Satuday 4 May (pictured). This was the organisation’s 40th event since 2014 and the second rally for independence so far this year.  A couple of weeks earlier Believe in Scotland held a similar march which was sponsored by the End Pensioner Poverty campaign. The speakers included Humza Yousaf, the then but soon to be former first minister, and Pat Kane, a former pop star.

Both rallies come at a particularly bleak time for the Scottish nationalist cause. The coalition between the Greens and the Scottish National Party (SNP) was in the process of collapse. This resulted in Yousaf’s resignation. These events reflected a general sense of directionless within the Scottish government itself, as underlined by the poor turnouts for both this year’s independence rallies. Only a few years ago AUOB could boast figures of 90,000-100,000 on its marches. Even the pro-nationalist Scottish media, not known for its humility in the overestimation stakes, could only muster “hundreds” in attendance at the 4 May rally. That the organisers could not even claim a 1000 is evidence that the independence movement is on its knees. This is a movement in its death throes but there are clear signs that it is morphing into something even more reactionary.

The low numbers aside, the most significant thing about both these so-called independence rallies were the number of Palestinian flags present. Anti-Israeli sentiment was a conscious factor in the mobilisation for the marches. It was reflected in both the visual presence and tone the marches took. AUOB even changed the colours of the branding used to promote its event to reflect the green, red, and white of the Palestine flag. Open hostility and bigotry towards Israel have become a worrying feature of leftist sentiment in Scotland. Anti-Semitism is becoming the new organisational principle of post-nationalist Scottish progressivism.

Scottish nationalism has a track record in anti-Semitism. Throughout the 1920s the poet and philosophical founder of modern Scottish (cultural) nationalism, Hugh MacDiarmid, was an open supporter of  European fascism. He published two pamphlets calling for a fascist Scotland. By the 1930s his enthusiasm for fascism had tempered but his anti-Semitism had not. MacDiarmid’s poetry drips with conspiratorial anti-Jewish tropes, many of which have become mainstream among Scotland’s nationalist elite.

In the run-up to the 2019 general election the SNP candidate for Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath, Neale Hanvey, was suspended by the party for anti-Semitic social media posts. These alluded to a Jewish global conspiracy and compared Israel to Nazi Germany. In March 2020 Hanvey re-joined the SNP fold. He told the media that he had been “tortured” by his suspension. Hanvey said that although he regretted the offence caused did not consider himself to be anti-Semitic.

In 2022 there were calls for local council candidate, Wullie Graham, to withdraw from local elections. This followed the discovery of a social media post stating that  he found it “Bloody sickening that Israeli Jews bring up their kids to hate and kill”. Graham now sits as an SNP councillor on Glasgow city council – which, since April, has flown the Palestinian flag over the city chambers.

In February an Aberdeenshire SNP councillor, Catherine Victor, was suspended for sharing images on social media depicting the Israeli prime minister as worse than Hitler. Again Victor, apologised for the offense caused but pointed out she was merely  voicing her opposition to the Israeli government.

These examples are by no means isolated incidents. They illustrate the worrying ease with which anti-Semitic tropes have become mainstream within supposedly valid criticism of Israeli policy. Humza Yousaf  was keen to emphasise the fact that his parents in law were “trapped” in Gaza, following Israeli retaliation for the 7 October pogrom. But the former first minister’s own parents openly displayed anti-Israel propaganda in the window of their Glasgow accountancy business. Posters reported as supporting  the “annihilation of Israel and Jews” had been up since at least November 2023. They were only removed in April after The Telegraph raised the matter with Yousef.

Today’s increasingly mainstreamed anti-Jewish orthodoxy has given a dwindling nationalist cause a new vitality. On the 4 May rally anti-Israeli chants were by far the loudest and most enthusiastic. “Freedom for Palestine, Freedom, for Scotland, Freedom for Everyone”, the marchers chanted. Everyone except of course for Jews. This sentiment was vehemently echoed by the rally speakers. To enthusiastic cheers Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign called for Israeli politicians to be held to the same standards of guilt as Nazi war criminals. In his view they should be tried and hanged. Yvonne Ridley,  a spokesperson for the Alba party, a nationalist splinter group, warned of the evil hold the Israeli lobby have over Western political classes. She asked the crowd to throw of the guilt of the Holocaust. Ridley, a former foreign correspondent for the Sunday Express, converted to Islam after being kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

In between speakers a man with a guitar led the steadily dwindling numbers in choruses of the anti-Semitic “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free” chant. He occasionally substituted Scotland for Palestine for good measure. A toxic mix of leftist sentimentalism – “Save the NHS” - and woke hate – “Smash Israel” -  at last Saturday’s independence rally represented a new low in anti-Jewish revisionism.  Even David Irving, found to be a Holocaust denier by a British court, would have found it hard to carry off.

Scottish nationalism has always peddled parochial cultural exceptionalism over a proper ideological investment in the idea of national sovereignty. Its politics have never developed beyond a Scottish identity predicated upon grievance, the myth of oppression, and a self-regarding sense of entitled victimhood. Over time, as the nationalist cause has steadily waned, the sense of victimhood has only intensified. 

This victim sensibility has made the Scottish left incredibly susceptible to the influence of contemporary identity politics. That is the easy, unthinking division of the world into oppressed and oppressor, victims and victimisers, and in particular the idea of white privilege.  

Arnold Brown, a Glasgow-born Jewish comedian, used to tell a joke about being asked what religion he was: “ I’m a Jew” he would say, "Aye but what sort of Jew are you Catholic or Protestant?" his questioner replied. Brown's joke is telling and speaks to a particular cultural invisibility within the victim culture that informs Scottish politics.  MacDiarmid’s overt anti-Semitism has consistently been passed off as minor almost playful dalliances by pro-nationalist historians. More recently, the examples of  anti-Semitism that have dogged the SNP, have been portrayed as individual lapses on the part of party members, rather than a reflection of a real bigotry. In Scotland's hate crime stakes Jews simply do not register. Is it any wonder that Scotland’s Jewish community have a long-standing suspicion of the SNP and the politics of independence?

Hamas and Scotland's independence movement draw their water from the same well. Both single out the Jew and  the existence of a Jewish state as the singular evils of our time. This is where the old identity politics of Scottish nationalism melds with the new identity politics. Jewish lives simply do not matter within each respective hierarchy of victimhood. According to both doctrines Jews are the wrong type of victim. They are white, they are apparently privileged, and what is more they are prepared to defend, with their lives, what is their’s. 

The ease at which independence has reinvented itself as an anti-Israel campaign illustrates not only its ideological bankruptcy but also its moral descent. It is a movement in its death throes which willingly calls for the death of Jews and the destruction of the Jewish state.

Over the coming period, as political instability becomes the norm in Scotland, this regrettable tendency looks set to intensify. Scotland is fast marching into a new dark age. 

Carlton Brick is a lecturer in social science at the University of the West of Scotland.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the Radicalism of fools project.

PHOTO: By Carlton Brick.