When it comes to Scotland, the Guardian’s cartoonist Steve Bell is an uncomprehending humourless twank who long ago crossed the line between satire and a casual patronising racism. In his right on politically correct zeal to condemn everything he suspects may be nationalism, which is of course always bad when it’s not of the invisible British Labour variety, he traduces and shows contempt for an entire country. Steve Bell swims in his Labourite British nationalist sense of superiority exactly like a homophobic Ukip oaf wondering why there are no heterosexual pride marches, and displays the same blank incomprehension of a phenomenon he doesn’t understand yet which he feels threatened by.
As a result the drawings of the left wing cartoonist scourge of Thatcherism would not look out of place in the Daily Mail. Actually, even the Daily Mail might pause and consider whether to publish them – their racist contempt is that obvious. It’s sad and pathetic when a once loved cartoonist becomes an unfunny and abusive joke.
The alleged joke in the cartoon is that the core demands of the SNP are Scottish country dancing and incest. It’s a ham fisted play on the quip attributed variously to Sir Thomas Beecham, Oscar Wilde, or Winston Churchill: “Try anything once, except folk dancing and incest”, which may have been mildly amusing sixty years ago. Somewhere, buried deep below multiple layers of condescension and offence Steve is trying to make the point that the SNP are so unprincipled that they will try anything once, including folk dancing and incest. But the joke falls as flat as Steve’s chances of rescuing Jim Murphy’s band of chancers from electoral oblivion. Because just about everyone in Scotland knows that the real unprincipled party is Steve’s beloved Labour party.
Unforgivably for a cartoonist, the cartoon is poorly drawn. Steve seems to have got confused between Nicla Sturgeon and Susan Boyle. On top of that the cartoon is so poorly structured that the incest line seems to appear out of nowhere, tagged onto a tired old racist trope about kilts and Highland flings. There’s no clear reference to the original quote, no setting up of expectations to be undermined later and so provoke a laugh.
So all that leaves for the reader is the feeling that we’re meant to go ha ha it’s pure dead funny because they’re Scottish and have big hairy eyebrows and they’re wearing kilts in SNP colours and that. Let’s tag on a reference to child rape and fall about laughing. The only thing missing is a reference to sheep shagging – oh right, that’s the Welsh isn’t it. It’s easy to get your racist stereotypes mixed up – they’re all the same really those Celtic types. It’s actually the deep fried Mars bar Buckie cocktail that we’re missing. Here look at me, I’m a parody Scotchman being dour. I can say we’re dooooomed, and there’s been a murrrdurrr by a murrrdurrrurrr. Steve Bell has murrrdurrred a jock joke before even having time to squeeze in a Krankie reference.
Still we should be grateful. At least this cartoon is remarkably light on the Jockanese language, the collection of misspellings and invented words which English cartoonists believe to represent Scots, containing words like “poond”. Is that not the past tense of poon? I’m sure that’s a sexual practice – come over here Stevie boay, and Ah’ll poon ye.
I used to think Steve Bell was funny, and here I am giving him lessons in satire. Memo to Steve – satire doesn’t mean yelling out “You wear kilts and shag yer maw!” Likewise, “You wear Victorian costumes and cover up child sex abuse!” is not cutting edge satire about the state of the Westminster parliamentary system, even though – unlike Steve’s attempt at funny – it is actually true. However “Steve Bell is a snivelling cowardly middle class has-been that cannae draw Mohammed” probably is cutting edge satire. Not that I’d know, what with being a parody dour Scotchman. Tu n’es pas Charlie, Steve, et tu n’es pas drôle.
It’s just a bit of witty banter, not racist at all. But those Scots can’t take a jock joke. No sense of humour those Caledonians. Not like the English, who are happy to fall about laughing whenever a Scottish person makes a funny about their supposed stereotypical characteristics. No double standards there then. Not at all … Oh …
We’ve been here before. Before Ireland gained its independence, British newspapers were full of caricatures and cartoons which depicted the Irish as something less than fully human – not unlike what Bell does with his Scottesque scrawls. The Irish were told they were improvident, incapable of looking after themselves and dependent upon the tender mercies of the Union to supply their needs or face penury and despair – just like the Scots are being told nowadays. The Irish were told it was unthinkable that their Home Rule advocating representatives could have any influence in the Westminster Parliament. Substitute Alicsammin for the Irish home-ruler John Redmond and this cartoon from 1910 could have been published this week.
The fury and bile originating from the UK media vastly outstrips in volume and quantity any anti-English sentiment found in Scotland. That’s not to say there is no such thing as anti-English sentiment in Scotland, it does exist. But it’s identified for what it is – an unacceptable prejudice. Anti-Scottish sentiment is dressed up as fair comment and is plastered all over mainstream UK newspapers.
But folk like Steve Bell need to spout their bile, because they are incapable of understanding the most simple basic fact underlying Scotland’s entire campaign for home rule, for self-determination. And that fact is that it’s not about England at all. It’s about Scotland.
The Tory commentators and the Labour supporting Steve Bell – who is indistinguishable from them in this issue – find is easier to conceptualise being hated than then do being irrelevant. That’s what really scares them – in Scotland in 2015, they are no longer relevant, and we no longer listen to them, we no longer define ourselves by them or their words. So instead they try to provoke a reaction by insults and abuse in a desperate attempt to cling onto their self-importance. And that’s the real joke.
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