Written after the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, this chapter of Duerr’s book covers the history and character of the Scottish National Party. The SNP has a fairly long history, beginning in 1934 as a merger of two Scottish nationalist parties. It slowly became relevant by winning by-elections beginning in 1945 and peaking in membership in the 1960s, collapsing, and then very quickly growing again in the 2010s. It won a rigged game in the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood by creating a majority government in 2011 with a system designed to prevent such a thing, and was able to pass the bill that became the Scottish referendum. This book was apparently written before the SNP’s bloodbath of Labour seats in the May 2015 UK general election, with 56 of the 59 Scottish seats at Westminster.
Duerr spends a lot of time talking about the careful distinction the SNP makes that it is a civic nationalist party rather than an ethnic nationalist one. SNP nationalism isn’t even based on a distinctive national language, with Gaelic being spoken by less than 1.5% of the population. The SNP also denies a distinctive Scottish national culture, with one MSP Christina McKelvie calling Scotland “a wee melting pot”, although at the same time, MEP Alyn Smith says, “We’ve got a clear self-image since our borders haven’t changed for hundreds and hundreds of years…So we have a very clear concept of nationhood, which is distinct from our concept of statehood.” Given the ethnic homogeneity of Scotland (96% white and 84% ethnic Scotch) but the distaste that many have for ethno-nationalism, the SNP has to do a bit of a tightrope walk regarding this issue.
The SNP’s success at obtaining their independence referendum was many years in the making. A 1979 referendum to create devolved legislatures in Wales and Scotland failed for lack of turnout, and devolution did not occur until a second referendum on the same issue in 1997 was a success. The Prime Minister at the time, John Major, expressed the opinion that devolution “is the Trojan horse to independence”. This is more or less what Jason Sorens was talking about in Secession when he explained why governments often oppose autonomy movements, as they fear a slippery slope where confidence in self-government leads to growing support for secession. In this case, Major may have been right that the SNP’s success in Holyrood lead to the narrow 45/55 split during the 2014 referendum. However, the UK government and the Scottish government peacefully agreed to honor the results of the referendum, a very important and noteworthy difference from many historical and contemporary secession movements and the toleration of them by their ruling governments.
Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon may have been fictitious, but the religious sect that the narrator of the chapter is a member of, a branch of the Exclusive Brethren, is real. The defining feature of the Brethren is that they’re both very sectarian but also highly decentralized. Congregations of Brethren have no defined leader, and anyone may leave if they have a problem with the doctrine. Both the real and fictitious Brethren have had many splits, in the novel some of them are often regarding trivial matters such as being able to listen to the radio or if male children should wear onsies.
Although the sects themselves can be quite restrictive of people’s inner lives, the way the communities are set up make it very easy for members to secede and form new communities. All one needs do is get up and walk out, and indeed they are obligated to do so because of the so-called “Bedford Question” wherein association with those who associate with believers in false doctrine is forbidden. So much do the Brethren take to the idea of decentralization that they do not even seen themselves as one united denomination.
Although the Brethren do not completely segregate from the wider community of Lake Wobegon, Brother Louie for example working as a cashier at the bank, there are important ways in which they live apart from them. For example, marrying outside the faith is frowned upon and thought to lead to temptation to join churches outside Brethren. Non-members are also forbidden to participate in The Lord’s Supper as that is seen as a taint on the sacrament.
This story brings up an important fact about religious separatism, that it is very often an act of amputation by pure of what they see as the impure part of the community. The case of the Brethren is illustrative because of how much power their religious organization gives to this impulse, but the question of salvation versus damnation is a reason many choose to leave religious denominations and join or form others.
This is Nate Schnittman, a History major at University of Illinois Springfield. I was born and raised around Chicago but i spent a year abroad in Israel. My biggest interest is in early American history, and personally i find the political and historical contexts of secessionist movements extremely interesting, and I’m very much excited to take part in this program.
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