There’s a strong smell of panic in the Brit-Scot establishment just now. Things have got so bad for opponents of independence and their desperate attempts to forestall an independence referendum that the SNP is even giving the Lib Dems a run for their money in the Shetland by-election. That’s like a leafy suburb in the Home Counties returning extremely promising canvassing results for Jeremy Corbyn. Shetland was the safest constituency seat in the whole of Scotland, and Shetland is – as we’re always being told by opponents of independence – so opposed to Scottish independence that it will secede from an independent Scotland in order to remain a part of the UK. Yet here we are with the SNP with at best a real chance of taking the seat, or at worst making a serious dent in the Lib Dem majority. If the forces of Scottish independence are on the metaphorical march in Shetland, nowhere is safe for British nationalism.
The crisis of confidence amongst a bunch of people who have hitherto been most notable for their arrogance is scarcely surprising. Lumbered as we all are with a lying Prime Minister who has just been caught telling pork pies about actual pork pies, a looming national crisis, and a resentful Scotland which is being dragged out of the EU against its will, it’s very difficult to put a positive spin on Scotland remaining a part of the UK at the moment. Search amongst opponents of independence for their vision for a better Scotland that’s a part of the UK and you will search in vain. All that you will uncover are a lot of angry narrow nationalists asserting their hatred of nationalism, while they’re proud-Scot-butting the same old threats and scare stories from 2014. But now thanks to the British government itself, those scare stories have lost much of their original force.
You can only get so far with frightening the kiddies about a deficit when a British government report is warning about possible food, fuel, and medicine shortages in the UK following Brexit. There’s not a lot of mileage in terrifying pensioners about their pensions when a think tank close to the British government is airing a plan to raise the state pension age to 75. The scare story that an independent Scotland won’t be allowed back into the EU loses a great deal of its force when you’re being told it by supporters of a UK which is hell bent on taking Scotland out of the EU.
There is very little left in the anti-independence armoury. All the while there’s a groundswell in support for independence amongst former No voters who are repelled by the yawning chasm between the UK that they were promised that Scotland would be a part of, and the tawdry reality that has been delivered. And Brexit hasn’t even happened yet. When it does, thousands of Scots will be confronted with a choice forced upon them by the UK between Europe or the UK. There’s no guarantee that they’re going to choose the UK, especially not given the casual disdain with which the British government has treated Scottish concerns about Brexit, especially not when they can contrast it with the respect with which the EU has treated Ireland. Claims that Scotland is a respected member of a precious union ring hollow, and that’s thanks to the behaviour of the British government and its ruling party.
The Brit-Scot panic is created in no small measure by the dawning realisation that they have brought all this upon themselves. Had the main UK parties actually ensured that the promises and commitments made to Scotland in 2014 had been kept, then we wouldn’t be in this position just now. Had the British government paid as much heed to the concerns of Scotland following the Brexit vote as the EU has paid to Ireland, there would be no upsurge in support for independence and no talk of another referendum. This current constitutional mess is owned by, created by, and the property of the anti-independence parties themselves. They are plummeting to their doom. Now they’d love to tell you that times of crisis like this clear the mind, that they laugh in the face of adversity, that it only gives them greater confidence in their ability to survive and to thrive. The truth is that the only thing that’s going through their collective mind is “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaggggghhhhh!”
We see the panic in an article written by Ed Davey of the Lib Dems in the Independent, pleading with people in England to put the unity of the UK before Brexit and to join together to reject the reckless English nationalism that’s turning its back on Europe. But he doesn’t actually have any concrete proposals other than a romantic and nostalgic appeal to a British past, and he certainly doesn’t propose any measures for Scotland and Northern Ireland that might allow them to protect themselves from that English nationalism that he decries.
We see the panic in an article by the former editor of the Scotsman, Magnus Linklater, in the Times, in which he bemoans the number of previous No voters who would now vote for independence in a future referendum. He was shaken by the number at an event in Edinburgh for the Festival who voted No in 2014 but plan to vote for independence next time, or who are now undecided. He claims that they are lost to reason and rational argument, but what he really means is that they’re no longer listening to the lies and deceit, the contempt and disdain, that has characterised the British government’s handling of Scotland. What Magnus forgets is that rational argument only works when those delivering it has a proven history of acting honourably and truthfully. That ship sailed the morning after the Scottish referendum when David Cameron told us all that it had really been about England all along, and announced English Votes for English Laws.
We see the panic in yet another Broontervention, as the Gordosaur accused the SNP of “hardline separatism” and attempted yet again to conjure up the federalism fairy. Hardline, because the SNP are now no longer pursuing the currency union that Gordie had ruled out the last time. He says no, and then blames the SNP for believing him. Nowhere in his speech was there the slightest recognition that if he himself had done what he’d promised to do, and had stuck around to ensure that the other party leaders would abide by the promises he told Scotland that he’d got them to agree to, if he’d ensured the delivery of that federalism that he’d promised in 2014, then he wouldn’t need to be Broontervening now and still trying to conjure up a federalism fairy that’s deader than Ross Thomson’s prospects of reelection. But then there never is. Gordie doesn’t do self-awareness any more than he does keeping his promises.
The panic is rising because opponents of independence in Scotland simply have no idea how to respond to the growth of English nationalism and how to deal with it. They have no answers, no solutions. All that they can do is to cross their fingers and hope that the genie that Brexit allowed out of its lamp will go back of its own volition. It’s like we’re living in the last week of the independence referendum campaign of 2014, and already they’re at a fever pitch of panic and alarm. It’s not sustainable, and they know it. Eventually you shriek at such a high pitch that the human ear no longer registers it. Magnus realised that for many, that point has already been reached. He doesn’t know what to do about it.
The panic is rising because it’s becoming increasingly likely that there’s going to be a snap UK General Election. All the polls point to a resurgent SNP that’s going to take seats from Labour and the Conservatives. In fact, both the Conservatives and Labour are facing the very real prospect of electoral annihilation. That’s going to make it extremely difficult for the proud-Scots-but to maintain the line that Scotland doesn’t want another independence referendum. The electoral landscape of Scotland will change drastically, and not in a way that’s beneficial to those who don’t want another independence referendum. The smell of Brit-Scot panic is the smell of a better Scotland that’s about to be born.
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.
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