Long long ago, back in the distant days of 2014 when Labour dinosaurs still stalked the Earth, or at least stalked Central Scotland, we were told that Scotland needed to vote to stay under Westminster rule because we benighted Caledonians require the tender mercies of the British state to provide us with the best possible bulwark to protect us from political extremism.
The implication was that being lesser and irredeemably parochial beings, Scottish types couldn’t be trusted with democracy, in case we broke it. Those making that particular argument conveniently overlooked the fact that Scotland was and is able to hold an independence debate, a type of political debate which in most countries is conducted with bullets, bombs, and internment camps, and yet the only casualties to date have been Jim Murphy’s dry cleaning bill and some unpleasantries on social media. At least, those are the casualties produced by those supporting indepedence, those opposing it have been responsible for unpleasantries on social media, and also some actual violence. Just ask anyone with a saltire who was in or around George Square in the aftermath of the independence referendum.
It has always been the case that the real threats to Scottish democracy come from the extremist wing of the anti-independence camp, however that didn’t prevent apologists for the British state making the opposite claim. However in the light of what’s been going on over the past few weeks, that claim rings bitterly hollow now, as the Faragists continue their rise. We have an actual party of Peronistas which has now landed in modern Britain, only instead of an Evita charming the masses, we’ve got the 1950s horror show that is Anne Widdecombe, Strictly Come Dancing on the grave of hope and progress.
The Brexit party is entirely a vehicle for the ambitions and ego of Nigel Farage, a right wing populist English nationalist. He is the shape of the UK to come, the future of a Conservative party that will reshape itself in his image in order to retain what it can of its haemorrhaging support. Nigel has announced that his party will never produce a manifesto. Manifestos are all lies, says Nigel, with the confidence of a man who ought to know all about political porkies. Of course the real reason he has no intention of publishing any policies for his egomobile is because that way he can continue to promise all things to all people. Right wing Ukippers can flock under his red white and blue umbrella, and Labour leavers in northern England can tell themselves that Nige is going to stick it to the man.
This is just as well, because on previous occasions when Nigel has voiced some policies, they have not been pretty. Farage has advocated banning people with HIV from entering the UK. He voices suspicions that climate change may not be real and despises wind farms. He cosies up to Donald Trump. He has mused about the desirablity of replacing the NHS with a US style health insurance system. He thinks that the UK’s ban on handguns is ludicrous. He is convinced that the campaign for Scottish independence is driven solely by an atavistic hatred of the English. And while vehemently denying that he is himself a bigot, he is happy to indulge in political imagery that dog whistles to your actual racists.
In Scotland we look upon what’s happening in Catalonia and console ourselves with the thought that this is the UK, that at least here we are allowed to campaign openly for independence without fear of prosecution. We operate under the assumption that it’s for the people of Scotland and the people of Scotland alone to choose the form of government best suited to their needs. All that will change in a UK that’s bent at the knee before the Faragistas with their fetishisation of English nationalism. Scotland will get what it’s given, and will be grateful that it’s being allowed to participate in England’s elections. The political future of the UK is going to be an increasingly unwelcome space for Scottish distinctiveness. That’s going to be true irrespective of what happens with Brexit.
There is however a sliver of good news. That home-grown proponent of policy free politics is being beaten at its own game. Ruth Davidson’s Ruth Davidson’s Ruth Davidson Vote Ruth Davidson for More Ruth Davidson Party seems to have had the wind well and truly knocked out its sails. Ruth has been more puffed up in the media than the England fitba team, only according to the most recent opinion polls she’s not even going to do well enough to be put out by Germany on penalties. One poll has put her party on just 10%. Despite the fact that Ruth has sold the Scottish Conservatives as being entirely her own creature, despite the fact that we’re constantly told that a vote for some random Tory is a vote for Her Ruthness herself, you can bet your last euro cent that she won’t be taking personal responsibility for the drubbing her party is about to receive in the European elections later this month.
The Scottish Tories’ electoral pitch in Scotland is to try not to mention that Scotland voted against Brexit, and definitely not to mention that Ruth Davidson opposed Brexit. They’re trying to repeat the trick of 2017 and make it all about opposing referendums because they’re divisive. Which means hoping that no one notices that it was the Conservatives who inflicted the EU referendum on us all in first place. By turning themselves into hard line Brexit supporters, the Scottish Conservatives have already started tacking to the right. They’re doubling down on that minority segment of the electorate which sees itself as primarily British, which vehemently opposes independence, and which supports Brexit.
The party has decided to make a pitch for Brexiters who oppose independence, but those voters overwhelmingly despise Theresa May’s deal and have zero confidence in the ability of the Conservatives to deliver Brexit. People who support leaving the EU and who are in favour of independence are hardly likely to vote Tory, so Ruth is fishing in a very small pond where there are far more voracious sharks. Her chances of becoming the next First Minster are smaller than my dug’s.
British politics remains uncertain, unstable, and insecure. All we can be sure of is that rise of British populism means that the UK is becoming less and less able to tolerate and accommodate Scottish political distinctiveness. Those values that we were always told were British, values of tolerance, fair play, democratic stability, inclusivity, acceptance of difference, are now most at threat by those who claim to love Britain. Paradoxically, if Scotland wants to guarantee those supposedly “British values”, we can only do so with independence. Because Nigel and his right wing English nationalist populists are looking over our shoulder in the UK.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
You can order the book directly from the publisher. Ordering directly means that postage is free, and for the next ten days Vagabond Voices are doing a special offer, giving you two pounds off the cover price. You can order here –
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