London mayor backtracks after sparking row by likening Scottish nationalism to racism

London mayor backtracks after sparking row by likening Scottish nationalism to racism
London Mayor Sadiq Khan sparked a row in tweets preceding his latest speech by implying Scottish nationalism is akin to racism. He was forced to backpedal after Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, slammed his remarks as “spectacularly ill-judged.”

“The last thing we need now is to pit different parts of our country or sections of our society against each other – or to further fuel division or seek separation.”

“There’s no difference between those who try to divide us on the basis of whether we’re English or Scottish, and those who try to divide us on the basis of our background, race, or religion,” Khan said in tweeted remarks preceding his speech to the Scottish Labour conference in Perth on Saturday. He also implied that a new Scottish independence referendum would be destabilizing.

“The world is an increasingly divided place – with Brexit, the election of President Trump and the rise of populist and narrow nationalist parties around the world,” he said.

He then went on to stress the need to find an “antidote to Brexit and the rise of right-wing populist parties” that does not “break away or push our neighbors away,” but is based on unity.

SNP [Scottish National Party] leader Nicola Sturgeon branded Khan’s statements as “spectacularly ill-judged,” tweeting that Khan’s “intervention… is an insult to all those Scots who support independence for reasons of inclusion & social justice.”

Sturgeon was not the only one who found his words insulting. People posted angry remarks on Twitter, saying London mayor’s own policies are more akin to racism, while warning that Khan’s Labour party now has little chance of success in Scotland.

However, shortly before delivering his speech to the Labor conference, Khan clarified his statements with the BBC, insisting that he was “not saying that nationalists are somehow racist or bigoted.”

“Of course, I am not saying that the SNP are racists or bigots.”

“What I am saying is that the world is increasingly divided by Brexit result and the election of President Trump, with the rise of populist and narrow nationalist parties across the world, now is the time to come together, now is the time for unity, not a time for division or isolation,” Khan told a BBC reporter. 

While he followed his initial script during his speech, Khan also attempted to make his points more clearly.

“With the world becoming an increasingly divided place. Brexit. President Trump. And the rise of populist and narrow nationalist parties around the world. Now’s not the time to play on people’s fears. Or to pit one part of our country – or one section of our society – against each other.”

“In that respect, there’s no difference between those who try to divide us on the basis of whether we’re English or Scottish, and those who try to divide us on the basis of our background, race, or religion. Now, of course, I’m not saying that nationalists are somehow racist or bigoted – but now, more than ever – what we don’t need is more division and separation,” he specified.

Scotland voted 55 to 45 percent in favor of remaining in the UK in a tightly contested September 2014 referendum, but then largely opposed the UK’s decision to leave the European Union known as Brexit last year, with 62 percent of the Scottish population voting for Britain to remain in the EU. As the British government is increasingly leaning toward a “hard Brexit,” which would entail totally withdrawing from the European single market and customs union, the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) has intensified calls for a second independence referendum lately, publishing a draft bill for the vote last October. However, the British government could block the second referendum, according to Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, who said earlier this month that London would not allow a repeat of the 2014 plebiscite.

READ MORE: 60 percent of Scots want independence referendum before 2025 – survey

Scottish independence campaigners claim that an independent Scotland would continue to work closely with the rest of the UK, insisting that their civic nationalism is inclusive and non-sectarian.