9 May 2010

GE2010: BNP in Scotland

On election night, constituencies flicker on and off the screen. Fleeting and sylph-like, if they're more or less safe houses, the cavalcade and hurly-burly of announcement and speculation  marches hastily by them. Triumphant horns are briefly tooted and the result is quickly reduced to just one pip in an accumulating partisan pip-pile. On Friday, one tiny detail in the Banff and Buchan result snatched my attention for a moment - and I made a mental note to return to the point once the Unseelie Court of election coverage collapsed into an exhausted pile, its pixie energy all spent. Obviously, I was exceedingly pleased to see Dr Eilidh Whiteford returned for the SNP. However, my grin slipped as my eyes bounced down the results - to see the BNP received no less than 1,010 disgraceful votes in that part of the North East. Surprised at the level of support, I betook me to wondering how the party did across the rest of the country. Here is what I've found.

In the full national results I posted up yesterday, you can easily spot that they gained 8,910 votes nationally, representing 0.4% of the total and an increase on previous levels of support of 0.3%. This looks significantly less than our last electoral outing. In the European Elections, the BNP received 27,174 votes - 2.5% of the national total.  However, in the General Election this macro angle is rather misleading. The BNP only stood in 13 constituencies across the country. In this sense, their national result isn't based on standing nationally. Here is how the far-right fared. The manner in which I've broken down the results should be reasonably self-explanatory.

% of constituency
+/- %
% of total BNP vote
Banff and Buchan
Aberdeen North
Aberdeen South
Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine
Glasgow Central
Glasgow East
Glasgow North East
Glasgow North
Glasgow North West
Glasgow South West
Glasgow South

If we focus on Glasgow's seven seats, they furnish 4564 votes of the BNP's total number - some 51% of their national total. Glasgow NE has the highest % of the constituency vote - however in terms of actual ballots cast, Banff and Buchan had the highest BNP turnout, 50 votes more than the second-highest, in Livingston. Interestingly as the +/- percentages make clear, most of these are seats which have not been previously contested by the BNP. However, in those seats which the BNP have previously contested - Glasgow North East and Glasgow Central - the BNP vote fell slightly. There are reasons to be happier than the slight reduction in Glasgow North East would suggest. The chart's +/- percentage figure is based on 2005 voting figures of 920 votes, not the 2009 by-election result that sent Labour's Willie Bain to Westminster. In 2009, the BNP took 1,013 votes in Glasgow North East on a much lower turnout that last Thursday. Seeing the vote drop significantly this time around is obviously welcome.

None of which quite explains to me why Banff and Buchan is the stand-out result. Presumably the party must have had some basis - some hunch - to justify standing on the shores of the North Sea. If I had to speculate, one answer might be found in the 2009 European election results. While we can't pin down the total for Banff and Buchan specifically, in the Aberdeenshire Council area of which it is a  constitutive part, the BNP took 1,167 votes in 2009. While 2.6% is admittedly a slim slice of the total - to receive 1010 votes is still vilely high. And all the more concerning, since there is no more a cardiac constituency for the SNP than Banff and Buchan. Some people are disposed to argue that we have a problem with racism in Scotland. That problem is not per se that a racialising analysis must be present in some quarters - that seems difficult to deny - but that societally, we will not, cannot face up to and concede its existence. We tell ourselves fond stories about being welcoming to immigrants and muse flatteringly on what a guid folk we are. Beneath this virtuous gloss, in the unspoken and unspeakable penumbra, lurks a reality in which discrimination and racist violence abounds. In a classic Marxist sense, our ideology of innocence masks our racist practice. On this account, the imperative felt by the clear-eyed Scottish critic, faced with this fond fiction of openness and anti-racism, is to rend and tear down our beguiling veils, dissipate our illusions and insist that Scotland knows and confesses its own corruption.

I'd reply, up to a point, Lord Copper. As I argued after the by-election result in Glasgow North East in 2009, these stories about Scottish authenticity serve more than one function. If taken as a representation of reality -  the denial of all Scots racism, whether historically or contemporarily, is patently absurd.  Just as it would be misguided rubbish to suggest the same saintliness about our attitude to women and  conduct towards those who don't cleave to the modalities of heterosexual love. However, as I've argued before, there is also an aspirational element to telling stories about Scottish openness which we ought not too hastily  squander. Concede, as we must concede, for the sake of honesty, that Scottishness can be no vaccine to racism, homophobia, vicious misogyny. Let's not turn our heads when we encounter these ugly, tragic sights.  Justice and compassion calls for sympathetic attention. So much, so easily admitted. However, it is certainly not obvious to me that in the final analysis of this recognition of fallibility, the best conclusion is to reject the political discourse which accounts for Scots authenticity in terms of openness, friendliness and crucially non-racism.  

Mythologies can be rejected, written off as unrepresentative bunkum, falsified by human wickedness. Crucially, they can also be lived up to. For reasons that cry out for closer examination, and a better explanation, the voters of Banff and Buchan aren't all living up to this better history. 


  1. As a North-East loon, I find this somewhat embarrassing, but nothing to be particularly worried about, and I'll explain why. I would say most of my family live in this constituency. They mostly come from farming backgrounds, where the only people you come into contact with are other North-East farmers, and I'd be very surprised if such a thing as a non-white North-East farmer exists. As such, the idea of living with other colours or creeds is still a fairly new concept to the older generations. When talking about people of other races they still use terms that the rest of the country stopped using 20 years ago, but not with the malice or hatred that someone from Barking or Oldham might intend - they think it's like calling an Australian an Aussie or an American a Yank; a slang term, rather than a racial slur.

    There's no excuse for it, of course; but it's important to understand the reasons behind it so we don't jump to the conclusion that the North-East of Scotland is set to become the new hub of racist activity. It's just full of old people who don't know any better being taken in by all the stuff on the news about immigration, and it's a well known fact that people get more right-wing as they get older. The things that the BNP stand for don't really apply there, so they don't quite understand what they're voting for. Younger generations are more informed, so once these old people leave this mortal coil, so too will their outdated ideas.

    I might sound like I'm being rather blasé, but there really aren't any gangs of skinheads waiting to rise in Buchan. It's just your stereotypical racist grannies, grandads and eccentric uncles, who forget that they actually get on really well with the few immigrants they interact with in their life. A typical quote I hear from one family member who works with a man from Bangladesh: "He's from Bangladesh, but he's actually a really nice man". It makes you cringe at the implicit idea that it's amazing this man from Bangladesh should actually be as nice as anyone else, but if you grow up with it, you know they don't actually mean any harm - they just don't know any better.

    There's a very quick fix though - ban the immigration-obsessed Daily Mail. That's where my dad gets most of his silly ideas. With any luck, an independent Scotland wouldn't even sell Tory papers, so old people wouldn't get confused by this most English of obsessions.

    It's entirely possible that I'm wrong and there really are proper racists there, of course...

  2. I'm interested in hearing any explanations of the phenomenon from those who may have a sense of the area. I don't think I've ever been to Banff or Buchan in my life, so my sense of the textures of its life, beyond generalities, is rather faint. In particular, I had rather assumed that immigration and racialising attitudes in that corner of Scotland would be something of a non-issue. When I was a young Worrier in Argyll, for example, I don't think I encountered any ethnic minorities - except for the odd Irishman or Englishman or Kiwi. Indeed, it was around twelve before I'd ever met, never mind spoken to and been friends with anyone who wasn't "white".

    Maybe the East differs from the West in this respect. Still, I'm sure any of my more silver-haired readers encountering your comment Doug Daniel, might rather take exception to the notion that ageing brings false-consciousness while the ever-renewing youth all see clearly!

  3. This is the thing, immigration is a complete non-issue - after all, if you've migrated to the UK, why would you go all the way up to Aberdeenshire? So these votes for the BNP aren't a symptom of people rejecting an influx of immigrants, they're reacting to an imaginary problem presented to them by the newspapers. I can't entirely explain it, I just know it's not the same as places like Oldham where you get the feeling there is real, racial hatred rather than just a bunch of farmers never having met an ethnic minority in their lives (although apparently the Chinese take-away in Ellon has become quite a hit with my uncles!)

    I can definitely identify with your youth in Argyll, as it was similar for me in Aberdeen: maybe three Asian kids in the whole of primary school (and none of them in my class), then meeting a black kid for the first time at secondary school where ethnic minorities were more prevalent, but still very much the minority. I remember seeing a new black family moving into my area a few years ago, and it just seemed a bit odd, and that was when I first realised that the black kid I knew at school was still the only black person I could think of in Aberdeen. Who knows though - when the North-East eventually catches up with the rest of the country in terms of multiculturalism, maybe it'll also start getting the same problematic attitudes. I hope not, though.

    As I say though, I could be wrong. In the past 4 or 5 years, perhaps there's been a mass influx of Polish immigrants and they've been taking all the manual labour jobs on farms or something like that.

  4. When the BNP membership list was 'accidentally' revealed on the internet, it showed very little participation in Scotland - except in the South West.

    That pattern is borne out by the historical record for Scotland in the 20th century, where it has been shown that fascism made little or no headway - except for down in the SW.

    Again, this tendency is reflected in the continuing (atypical) SW Tory vote.

    So, it would seem that something specifically different happened in Banff & Buchan to produce that result.

  5. Interesting ratzo,

    I didn't thumb through that list myself, so didn't spot that trend.

    Anyone else have any ideas about Banff & Buchan? Anyone with more knowledge of the local situation or what might have made the particular obnoxious bigot who stood more appealing than your average comedy fascist thug?