On September 18, the people of Scotland will vote in a referendum that will decide the country’s future — to remain part of the United Kingdom or to become wholly self-governing.
How should Scotland’s Jewish communities vote? While it may seem an unmitigated chutzpah for an English Jew to give advice to brethren north of the border, I propose to throw caution to the wind, because it seems to me, after talking to a completely unrepresentative cross-section of Jewish Scots, that there are some important questions they seem unwilling (or perhaps unable) to confront.
According to the 2011 census there were then 5,887 inhabitants of Scotland who identified themselves as Jewish — around one-tenth of one per cent of Scotland’s total population. Scottish Jewry is contracting by more than eight per cent compared with 2001. Communities this small, however vibrant and self-confident, are not self-sufficient. This must have a bearing on the independence issue.
Take shechita, for example. At the moment, there is virtually no shechita in Scotland: supplies of kosher meat and poultry are imported. Would the government of an independent Scotland permit this to continue? For that matter, would it permit shechita to operate? When I put this to the SNP, its spokesperson seemed genuinely perplexed. And this perplexity only deepened when I asked whether — supposing shechita did recommence in Scotland — the nationalist party would have any objection to the statutory rabbinical commission (based, it should be noted, in England) continuing to be the religious licensing authority for Jewish slaughtermen operating in Scottish abattoirs.
I then put a further question: if the SNP formed the government of an independent Scotland, would it expect Scottish Jews to appoint — and fund — a Scottish chief rabbi, or would it be content that Scottish Jewry (both Orthodox and non-Orthodox) continued to look to England for ecclesiastical guidance? I should point out that when southern Ireland achieved independence in 1922 its government reportedly insisted that its Jewish communities establish an Irish chief rabbinate – the first incumbent of which was Yitzhak Herzog (known for obvious reasons as “the Sinn Fein rabbi”), who later became the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel.
Then there are more worldly matters. What policy would an independent Scotland, under Alex Salmond’s leadership, pursue towards Israel? It’s true that the SNP has numbered some vocal friends of Israel, most notably Winifred Ewing.
But Salmond is on record (2010) as supporting economic sanctions against Israel; he condemned the Israeli interception of the Gaza-blockade-breaking Mavi Marmora as an “atrocity on the high seas.” Those of you who recall my June 2011 column on the antics of West Dunbartonshire Council, which contrived to institute a boycott of goods “made or grown in Israel,” may also recall that that local authority was led by the SNP, and that from Salmond’s office there came not one word of criticism. Little wonder that when Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, met Salmond in Edinburgh towards the end of 2012, he should have shared with him “concerns about the elements of extreme hostility to Israel in parts of Scottish society.”
In researching this column, I have been warned to differentiate between the SNP’s hostility to Israel and its affectation of friendship towards Scotland’s few thousand citizens of the Jewish persuasion. To do so would, in my view, be grossly irresponsible. The SNP emerged from a womb deeply infected with pro-Nazi and therefore anti-Jewish sentiment. From 1942 to 1945 the SNP was led by professor Douglas Young, an unashamed Nazi sympathiser, and during the 1960s its leader was Arthur Donaldson, whose ambition it had been to establish a puppet government in Scotland following a successful Nazi occupation of England. It is not difficult to imagine the fate of Scottish Jews had such a scenario come to pass.
In brief, if I had a vote in the Scottish independence referendum, I know exactly how, as a Jew, I would cast it.