The Tories were right. Scottish politics is divisive and nasty. But the problem for the Tories is that it’s them who are the primary source of the divisiveness and nastiness. The thing is that when you spend your entire time screaming at the top of your voice that the normal processes of a healthy democracy are nasty, vile, and divisive, the people who believe you are your own supporters, and that in turn provokes them into nasty, vile, and divisive behaviour. You’ve just brought into being your very own self-fulfilling prophecy, and then you can pat yourself on your smug back about how right you were to complain that Scottish politics are divisive and nasty, because the nastiness of your own supporters is proof in your own eyes of the nastiness of the parties you oppose.
Of course the Tories neither support, condone, or are responsible for the events on Wednesday, an act which was most assuredly carried out by a single nutcase acting alone. But when you base your entire political strategy on stoking up fear and preaching hysteria, you bear a moral responsibility when the more extreme elements amongst your supporters go off the deep end. When you spend your political life screaming “There’s a monster!” you have a moral culpability when your own supporters get out the torches and the pitchforks.
On Wednesday a letter containing suspected anthrax spores was sent to the council offices in Forfar along with the message “Get SNP out, Tories in”. Police, ambulances, and the fire brigade descended on the town centre. The centre of Forfar was closed down to the public for a number of hours. Although there were thankfully no injuries and no one has suffered any damage to their health, the cost to the public purse of the emergency service operations runs into the thousands. Let’s be clear, this was a terrorist incident. If you send a package containing a substance purporting to be anthrax spores along with a message making it clear that your target is the SNP, that is an action designed to provoke fear and terror for a political end. That’s the definition of terrorism. That’s a threat to use biological weapons – whether the substance turns out to be genuine or not.
Wednesday’s incident came just a few days after a suspected package was delivered to the offices of East Dunbartonshire SNP MP John Nicolson. That, thankfully, turned out according to some reports to be a crushed biscuit and some glittery substance. Police say that the incident was definitely malicious. Although the package was nothing dangerous police are clear that it was sent in an attempt to cause fear and alarm. That too is terrorism. The identity of the biscuit has not been revealed, but this could turn out to be the world’s very first use of a Tunnock’s caramel log as a weapon of terrorism.
And the response in the Scottish Unionist media to these incidences of Unionist terrorism, one of which shut down a Scottish town centre and terrified council staff putting them in fear for their lives? Silence. Compare and contrast with the wall to wall coverage of suspected terrorist attacks directed against the British state.
The Scottish media gave more coverage to the appalling and terrifying outbreak of a Yes sticker on the door of Labour MP Ian Murray’s constituency office. Oh my god there’s been a sticker! That’s vandalism. That’s a crime you know. Some poor Labour person might have been badly injured when they attempted to peel that sticker off the door. Just think of the effort and the expense as they tried to prise a hateful sticker saying YES off that door, while blinded by tears of anguish. And will no one think of the paintwork! Have you any idea how much it costs to get paint matched in Homebase? Probably not, because you’re a vile and selfish nationalist.
But when the SNP are targeted by a Unionist with what purports to be an actual biological weapon, a weapon condemned the world over as a crime against humanity and which is legally defined as such, they look the other way. Well, it was just the actions of some isolated bampot wasn’t it. And it wasn’t really anthrax was it. Let’s get things into perspective eh? Anyway, yes supporters have no right to get upset, because their extremists commit crimes too after all. Look, someone put yes stickers on a statue of Donald Dewar. That’s vandalism that is. That was a real crime that caused real damage so it did. Nicola Sturgeon should condemn.
If an independence supporter had been stupid, selfish, and nasty enough to commit the exact same offence. If the only difference had been that the letter containing suspected anthrax spores had come with the message “Get the Tories out, SNP in”, you can be certain that it would be the lead item in the Scottish press today and for weeks to come. It would set off paroxysms of debate and discussion in which independence supporters were invited by the media to defend the cause of independence, a cause which so clearly would be associated with terrorism in the eyes of a media which would then define Scottish independence as a terrorist proposition, characterised by violence and extremism. The actions of a single nutcase acting alone would be taken to be characteristic of the wider yes movement as a whole. There would be tv debates and endless media discussion about how Scottish nationalism was inextricably linked to extremism and terrorism.
But this wasn’t an instance of pro-independence terrorism, it was an instance of pro-Union terrorism. Because it was pro-Unionist then the media refuses to see it as in any way characteristic of the cause of Unionism. That’s the cause of Unionism that’s supported by your actual fascists like Britain First. All movements have their nutcase fringe, but the double standards of Unionism mean that the independence movement is defined and characterised by the nasty words that its nutcases post on Twitter, but the cause of Unionism is not to be defined the the evil deeds of its nutcases. How very dare you imply that it should be.
The reality is that despite the claims of the Unionist establishment, despite the repeated and continual attempts to portray the cause of independence as nasty, vile and divisive, despite the constant characterisation of the entire independence movement by the words of a few idiots on Twitter or Facebook, when it comes to actual acts of violence, actual harm, actual crime, it’s the Unionists who have the problem. During the first independence campaign the sole violent attack carried out against a Unionist was the assault on Jim Murphy’s shirt with an egg. That got considerably more publicity than actual assaults carried out against independence supporters. It wasn’t independence supporters who went on a rampage of violence in the aftermath of the independence referendum. It wasn’t independence supporters who were jailed for making death threats.
It’s Unionism that has a problem with violence and extremism, and it’s high time that the Unionist parties condemned it, unequivocally, and clearly. It’s time we had a national discussion about the violence and extremism that lurks within the Unionist cause.
Audio version of this blog post, courtesy of Sarah Mackie @lumi_1984 https://soundcloud.com/occamshaver/wee-ginger-dug-27th-april-2017
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