On a number of occasions in the House of Commons I have noticed MPs, usually Conservatives, referring to the Scottish National Party (SNP) as "the Scottish Nationalist Party", or just "the Scottish Nationalists", usually to angry remarks from said party. The usage of the term certainly seems to be done to be purposefully antagonistic.

The most recent example I can find of this is on Feb 27th; while responding to a question from SNP MP Steven Bonnar, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove used the phrase and was subsequently rebuked by the contingent of SNP members present.

Michael Gove

It is the case that the Scottish nationalist party—[Hon. Members: “National!”] I am sorry, but as Robert Burns said,

“facts are chiels that winna ding”.

I am afraid that the representatives on that Bench are nationalists. They put separation—the smashing up of the United Kingdom—ahead of anything else. Some of them are decent and kind people, but they are nationalists. The reason they object so much is that when the mask comes off and we recognise the ideological heart of the SNP, they dinnae like it up ’em.

Hansard - 27th February 2020

Why do the SNP object to the usage of the term? Surely their fight for independence can be defined as nationalism?


3 Answers 3


Nationalism today is mostly associated with ethnic nationalism, which the SNP as a center-left party does not wish to be associated with.

Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the SNP, has expressed displeasure with the name because of this:

Nicola Sturgeon has admitted she wishes she could change her party’s name because of the “hugely, hugely problematic” connotations of the word nationalism around the world. [...]

Ms Sturgeon, meanwhile, has repeatedly insisted that her form of "civic nationalism" is in start contrast to the ethnic nationalism of the BNP and white nationalism in the US. [...]

Defending the Scottish independence movement, Ms Sturgeon told her book festival audience it did not matter to the SNP where you come from, adding: “If Scotland is your home, and you live here and you feel you have a stake in the country, you are Scottish and you have as much say over the future of the country as I do.

  • 17
    That statement ties in nicely with the franchise for the previous Scottish Independence referendum. Which specifically includes EU citizens, in contrast to the Brexit Franchise
    – Jontia
    Mar 3, 2020 at 8:48
  • 5
    Alas the actual attitude toward immigration of Scots is hardly different than that on the English, so this is more of a "distinction without a difference". Mar 3, 2020 at 16:56
  • 23
    @Fizz But the attitude among SNP voters is better than the Scottish or British average (and of course better than that of the BNP or white supremacists in the US). So while definitely not perfect, the defense has some merit.
    – tim
    Mar 3, 2020 at 17:01
  • 2
    @Fizz which isn’t much of a surprise: the English and the Scotts live very close in a very similar environment - mostly governed by the same government. I doubt the attitudes towards immigration are that variable between residents of Spain and Catalonia, for example.
    – Tim
    Mar 3, 2020 at 19:07
  • Yep. SNP is practically Britain before Thatcher. They kept it alive in Scotland.
    – unity100
    Mar 5, 2020 at 15:49

It is one method of defusing the ability of the opposition of calling them ethnonationalists - and being able to present the SNP as an alternative in Scotland to the Tory (and Labour too) party without being branded antisemitic for example.

I believe that Scotland, due to the oil industry, has a number of ex-foreigners who after, say, 30 years see themselves as Scots.

Though, the Swedish Social Democratic Party can be characterized as nationalistic in that they supported state and communal support for everyone living in Sweden. But then we have the troubled relation with the Sami people in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, the Romani, Jews, and the locals in Tornedalen (who speak Meänkieli, a version/dialect of Finnish) which could be characterized as ethnonationalism.

The Sami group was one of the issues in 1905 in the discussion around the absolve of the Swedish-Norwegian Kingdom (a personal union).

The Swedish Social Democratic Party's name is Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti (SAP), to contrast against the Danish and German ones.

Nationalism can be said to be a part and motivator of the European welfare states ideology.

With regards to the Same people, they are named as Sami on Wikipedia about Scandinavia, so I changed to that. Ditto with the Tornedals.

  • Your example of the Swedish Social Democratic Party’s policy doesn’t strike me as nationalistic in any way. On the other hand, the only difference in the names of the Swedish, German and Austrian social democratic parties that I can make out is the Swedish one explicitly stating workers’ party – nothing in any way nationalistic.
    – Jan
    Mar 4, 2020 at 14:12
  • What’s the name of the German one?
    – Golden Cuy
    Mar 5, 2020 at 2:16
  • 1
    SPD sozialdemokratische partei deutschland Mar 5, 2020 at 2:20

Two reasons: (1) That is not its name, and (2) it doesn't like to be reminded of its history.

Its correct (English) name is the Scottish National Party, not "Nationalist." It was founded by the merger of the center-left National Party of Scotland and the center-right Scottish Party.

Until the 1960s the SNP did not have a clear ideology, beyond the vague notion of "representing the Scots".

In the 1960s and 70s the dominant political party in Scotland was the (UK-wide) Labour Party, and the SNP changed its position to challenge Labour from the left, with policies such as nationalization of industry, social housing, a minimum wage, nuclear disarmament, etc. In 1979, Alex Salmond, who later became party leader, was expelled for attempting to take the party even further to the left.

Its near-monopoly position representing Scotland in the Westminster Parliament, following the collapse of Scottish Labour support and the Independence Referendum, seems almost an accident of history, but the SNP doesn't like to be reminded of its back-story before that!

  • 6
    This is an opinion, not fact. Do you have any source for this?
    – Polygnome
    Mar 3, 2020 at 19:48
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    The first point is a good one: Similarly Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP, is unlikely to object to being called "a member of the female sex" / "a member of the Scottish National Party", while being called "a female sexist" or "a Scottish Nationalist" means something completely different. Point 2 could benefit from some sources being cited to stop being completely opinion-based, but I'm not sure it's actually relevant to the question even then. Mar 4, 2020 at 10:16
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    Point 2 does nothing to point out anything about the term nationalist being applicable to the SNP prior to them choosing to challenge Labour from the left. As it stands, there is nothing in your explanation that warrants the label nationalist.
    – Jan
    Mar 4, 2020 at 14:15

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