The comments by Sadiq Khan (which were toned down in his Labour Conference speech but widely reported in the media nonetheless) show that the campaign for the new independence referendum has started in earnest and independence supporters are going to face even worse lies and smears than in 2014.
Make no mistake, this wasn’t bad briefing or a simple misunderstanding of the Scottish political landscape. This was tactics. You don’t get to the dizzy heights of London Mayoral office without a large measure of political nous and the ability to finesse your arguments. You certainly don’t get there by going off-message at party conferences.
It looked more like a very targeted message to a core group of No supporters from last time around. It was, in part, a reaction to the relaunch of the popular English Scots for Independence group and it sought to sow doubt and fear in English people who have chosen to make their lives here. Expect more from this playbook in the weeks and months ahead.
As tactics go, it is actually very disingenuous. By suggesting that the SNP and the independence movement in general is racist, it actually rather subtly equates them with the whole of Scottish society and blames them for its crimes. Ergo, if an English person living here was racially abused, they now have someone to point at, a focus for their rightful anger. It was the bloody SNP and their hateful mob of hangers-on, wasn’t it? No it wasn’t, it was a racist idiot and I and every single SNP member and independence activist I know would condemn them for it.
It’s not new for the SNP to be compared to racists, fascists or dictators by the unionist parties in Scotland. I saw Alex Salmond compared to everyone from Mugabe through Mussolini to Hitler himself. A lot of those who claim to detect an undercurrent of racism in the SNP resort to mentioning historical figures with whom they take issue, wilfully disregard the fact that the actual founder of the British Union of Fascists, Oswald Moseley, he of the infamous Daily Mail headline “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”, held elected office for both the Conservatives and the Labour Party in his day.
These vile smears also act as a diversionary tactic because Brexit showed where the most strident xenophobia existed during the European referendum. It takes a particular type of brash British exceptionalism to tell major newspapers that Scottish nationalism is inherently racist after what we have witnessed from them over the past few years. We have seen the Labour Party buying into the UKIP anti-immigration agenda, to the extent they produced mugs on the subject. We saw Theresa May when she was Home Secretary ordering “Go Home” vans to prowl the streets of areas with large immigrant populations.
We in the inclusive, open and welcoming Scottish independence movement will not be lectured and smeared by those in British nationalist parties on this issue.