Is Unionism the New Cover for Racism?


Humza Yousaf asked yesterday on Twitter if we thought Islamophobia was “just made up.” His question came in response to an image of his family that was posted online with the vile words, “The new face of leftwing Scottish National Party @theSNP @HumzaYousaf with his Islamist family of Sharia-Bolsheviks.” Islamophobia, which is racism, anti-Muslim racism, is alive and kicking in the unionist political discourse. While this particular tweet came from outside Scotland, a look over the comments section of the Scotsman newspaper – especially when Yousaf is featured – is enough to make one’s blood run cold.


Scottish unionism’s online commentariat swung into gear the moment Yousaf opened his mouth and said his parliamentary oath in Urdu, with many comments focussing mockingly on his “fancy dress.” Few of these people – remembering that they are real people – fail completely to see the glaring contradictions in the things they say.

An oft recited favourite of the unionist is the memory of what we have done together as a Union, conjuring up romantic scenes of the Empire upon which the sun never set. So when they tout this glory of empire rubbish they forget that many of the brown people they owned were Muslim and spoke Urdu. It wasn’t so much of a problem then. God never trusted the British Empire enough to let the sun set on it.

When our own Butterfly Rebellion keyboard warriors leapt into the fray they found themselves quickly bogged down with warnings of the coming “Islamification of Europe.” Good grief, if it’s not their chronic paranoia over their fictional Islamification it’s the even worse fear of Ulsterisation.

Few of them see the contradictions in what they are saying because racism, by definition, isn’t rational. So we have to ask: Why is racism so embedded in the unionist conversation? Well, for a start it has nothing to do with international terrorism; with what has happened in Paris or Brussels. If it were ever about the horror of war and its victims then they would be every bit as upset about what is happening in Damascus and Baghdad, but they’re not. In fact the Tories are still in favour of extending the very airstrikes which have been shown to be the cause of thousands of civilian deaths, and a significant factor in the ongoing refugee crisis.

No, the outrage has to be a selective outrage because it has to fit their racist narrative. David Cameron, a man from a family that profited from the British Empire’s slave trade and who talked down Jamaica’s request for compensation, can speak openly to Mrs. Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg and Gotha about “fantastically corrupt” former conquests of the British Empire; Afghanistan and Nigeria, without blushing over the global corruption of Britain and his own offshore wealth. This is of course how imperial thinking works – brown people are bad and white people (especially fabulously wealthy British people) are good.

Incidentally, this is also how our trickle down economy works. The economy of empire and its imagined superiority oozes down through the strata of unionist society, poisoning both the dominated fragment of the dominant class and the “lower orders.” British racism, the misguided pride in empire, and the mentality of unionism are inextricably linked. It is for this reason that Humza Yousaf and so many other successful British – and Scottish – Muslims cause unionists such anxiety (not to mention the less successful), they are a reminder that the brutality of their Empire failed.

Throughout the independence campaign of a couple of years ago the supporters of Better Together were relentless in their attempt to impress upon Scotland that this was a fight against the threat of “Nationalism” – a use of isms and ists that permitted them to cast Yes Scotland as a new Nazism. Sure, this tactic even made the headlines when the Glasgow rabbi Mendel Jacobs spoke of the Scottish Jewish communities’ fears of being trapped in an anti-Semitic independent Scotland. Weaponising antisemitism is a trick the Union has perfected.

All of this has come undone for the unionists, and this has happened because the independence movement was never about race or creed. It was only ever about Scotland and all the people who live here. Race and faith are hugely important issues, not because they pose a threat, but because racism and bigotry are still real problems in our society. Independence for Scotland is not simply the separation from Britain, Britishness, and the British Imperial mindset, but a real chance for us to liberate ourselves and our country from the narrowness that imperialism, unionism, and true nationalistic fantasies of superiority have foisted upon us.

The Butterfly Rebellion
Jason Michael
Ayrshire, Scotland

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10 thoughts on “Is Unionism the New Cover for Racism?

  1. I think the point you make is a very important one — which goes largely unrecognised: thank you for making it so clearly……….
    But I would like you to introspect a bit about what you are trying to convey/achieve by calling the queen ‘Mrs. Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg and Gotha ‘. What’s the jibe you’re trying to make against her?

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    • Andrew, thanks for the comment. It is an important comment to make, and it grieves me that the media have largely ignored it. I did of course think about my naming of “Mrs. Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.” No disrespect was intended. In fact this was giving her the highest title I could, in good conscience, give her, and no different from the title I would give your mother or any other older woman. This is her family name. I could have called her “Mrs. Windsor,” but that usage comes with too many Irish Republican connotations, which would touch on the disrespectful. I do not recognise the artificiality of monarchy or inherited privilege, and so I could not call her my “queen” or anyone else’s. My point was that she was in fact disrespected by the English First Minister. I do hope you understand where I am coming from.

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  2. Pingback: Unionism and Racism | Random Public Journal

  3. I’m not sure I really get what this article is driving at. The title “Is Unionism the New Cover for Racism?” implies that Unionism is somehow now the acceptable face of racism? Or is it that racists are using Unionism as a way of protecting (or covering) themselves?

    It goes on to suggest that racists (of the type that abuse Humza Yousaf on Twitter and in comments on the Scotsman) are driven by unionism and a deep longing for the British Empire. There is no doubt that racist abuse is real. In terms of what motivates them I’m willing to accept the theory in the article that they are pining for lost empire. However whilst there some racists that are unionists it doesn’t follow at all that therefore that all unionists are racists.

    Not that Unionism is defined at any point in the article. In the current discussion about Scotland, Unionism can be taken to mean anyone that doesn’t support Scottish Independence. It’s debatable whether that’s a useful definition but if that is the case then the question “Why is racism so embedded in the unionist conversation?” is a false one.
    Because I don’t believe it is deeply embedded in unionist conversation (unless the definition of Unionist Conversation here is just meant as some racists having a chat). Rather than examine whether racism *is* embedded in the unionist conversation the author has just asserted that it is and then looked at why.

    There are various other terms that are bandied about without definition or context. What is “British Racism”? What characteristic of this type of racism is peculiarly British? How does it different from French or Vietnamise versions?
    What is “Unionist Society”? Is that some particular section of society or just Britain as whole? Is every section of British society some sort of homogenous racist entity? – Despite the fact that rUK as a whole is more diverse than Scotland…

    The line “the independence movement was never about race or creed. It was only ever about Scotland and all the people who live here” seem to be a fairly meaningless platitude. Independence seeks to represent all the people yet the majority outed themselves as Unionists. And many would describe themselves as at least partly British.

    There is so much talk about political engagement in Scotland and yet I feel depressed when I see articles like this. I can’t help feeling that the author has imagined their opponent to be the worst type of person so that they can feel better about themselves. I don’t see how a few racists represents the Unionist Conversation any more than a few “Cybernats” represent the Independence Conversation.

    A couple of other asides – the line “weaponising antisemitism is a trick the Union has perfected”. Again not sure who or what “the Union” is here are but this seems rather glib and unsubstantiated.

    Also regarding the Empire – I think that an independent Scotland would still need to acknowledge its role in Empire. Expecting Independence to wash away the sins of the past seems to be wishful thinking. I don’t think you can liberate the mindset by pretending it was nothing to do with you…

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    • Thanks for the reply Steve. I’ll try to deal with your points here. Jason’s comment that “British racism, the misguided pride in empire, and the mentality of unionism are inextricably linked” makes quite clear what the article is driving at. Empire/Union as a construct is a racist ideology and informs those shaped by it. Yet you are right, and the article nowhere makes the claim that all unionists are racists, but that is in spite of the structural ideology.

      No, there is no definition of unionism in the article, much in the same way that you never took the time to define ‘Scotland.’ Actually this line of argument is quite disingenuous, attempting to bog discussion down in the technicalities of defining the terms we all know and understand within the Scottish context. So we shall just go ahead and dismiss your deliberate confusion of all No voters with unionists.

      You do the same thing again when it comes to your comment of racists. Quite clever actually, so we have to applaud you. Yet that takes nothing from the fact that the article is quite clear about the history and culture of British Imperialism and unionism as a shaper of popular racism within the particular context of these islands. So let’s not be trying to take this down side streets.

      As for your suggestion that the weaponisation of antisemitism was “glib and unsubstantiated,” all we need do is point you to the English press from the run up to the last election. Comment on Israel was deliberately used by the Union’s establishment as a form of antisemitism and weaponised in a political campaign. Nothing glib and plenty of substance.

      Your point about Scotland’s role in Empire betrays a misguided and distorted understanding of history. Scotland may have been a partner in the union, but – as we see now with 56 SNP MPs in Westminster – Scotland has never had a decisive say in British policy, and hasn’t even had the numbers in that parliament to end the union as an “equal partner.” So, yes, individual Scots unionists and financiers may have profited from empire, but Scotland certainly did not. We cannot blame Scotland for the actions of an Empire that took the nation along regardless of consent. So away with that.

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  4. Racism is a nasty theme that spreads across the political spectrum, regardless of support or otherwise for independence. There is a nasty undercurrent of racism in Scotland that none wants to address because after all aren’t we all Jock Tamson’s Bairns? As a Black woman, I have been told that I’m not Scottish purely because of the colour of my skin, so I would argue that the “yes” side have their fair share of racists as well..

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    • Davena, you are absolutely right. Racism – as disgusting as it is – is pretty much everywhere, and I don’t deny that there are supporters of independence who hold racist opinions. What I am saying with regard to unionism is that it follows an ethos of romanticised imperialism that fosters racism. Many thanks for your comment, and I am frustrated at you horrid experience.

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  5. Thanks for your reply….. I’m sorry if this sounds pedantic, but if you’re going to give her the title ‘Mrs’, then the convention is that she is taking the family name of her husband. And he, perfectly formally, years and years ago, declared that his family name is now ‘Mountbatten’.
    I’m no kind of royalist — , I well remember as a callow youth singing such verses as
    ‘We’ll make Princess Margaret smoke a Woodbine every day…
    When the Red Revolution comes!’ —
    … but I do think that everyone should be allowed to take whatever family name they please….

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    • This, Andrew, is a most salient point, and one I can accept. I am happy to give her any family title she desires. I do, however, draw the line at “queen,” “hrh,” or whichever. Still, certainly, I mean and meant no personal disrespect towards the woman.

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