The rise of Scotland the terrible
Some elements of the Scottish pro-independence campaign have harnessed, for political purposes, the social volatility which until now has played out in gang warfare and football rivalry. Not a pretty sight; but telling
It only hit home last Monday that I was living in a transformed country. It was in Musselburgh, a neat, mainly working-class town at the mouth of the river Esk, unjustly overlooked by tourists who cram into nearby Edinburgh.
I was in the crowd at a rally being addressed by Jim Murphy MP, one of the few stars on the pro-Union side. He was assailed by a local SNP councillor and abuse was hurled from passing cars. It was a mild example of the ‘systematic manipulation of hatreds’ which is how the American Henry Adams once described elections, except that the referendum campaign on Scottish independence has been going on for nearly 1,000 days since the start of 2012.
One eloquent young shop-worker confronted Murphy about ‘foodbanks and the bedroom tax’. The verbally adroit MP was unfazed. Perhaps if the heckler had mentioned Labour’s inglorious role in the assault on young girls in its Rotherham stronghold, he might have been on the defensive.
But the Scottish National Party (SNP) and its far-left allies assume that the workings of an unwieldy state can only bring good outcomes.
Suddenly this pro-independence ‘yes’ supporter shouted out: Mr Murphy, just look at this town, it’s in a terrible state’. I looked and saw tidy streets, containing some attractive small shops; a theatre, a race course and impressive civic buildings were nearby.
Musselburgh gleamed in the sunshine but for this bright alienated young man it might as well have been Calcutta or Soweto. He is one of many Scots whipped up by non-stop agitation on social media and in the streets by a formidable Yes campaign.
The referendum tumult has been far uglier across in post-industrial Glasgow and its environs. For the first time in the history of Scottish democracy, a political party has harnessed, for political purposes, the social volatility which until now has played out in gang warfare and football rivalry.
It is not a pretty sight as dozens of Labour MPs up from England found when an open-air speech by Ed Miliband was disrupted by opponents.
On Wednesday, John Prescott, the Labour war horse, was trapped in a Glasgow cafe for an hour. Not everyone will be brimming over in sympathy. But no side is safe when restraints on political warfare are being swept aside.
As the hopeful birth of a new state inches closer, pro-independence leader Salmond looks indulgently at these tactics, talking of trespassers from Westminster. At a bizarre press conference on 10 September, his numerous aides were induced to applaud as he gave combative answers to the world’s press.
That there has been no outcry about the attacks on opponents, cars, the systematic removal of rival posters, and the bile coursing through the social media indicates how desensitised a place Scotland has become. The vision presented by the Yes side of a compassionate, original and outward-looking Scotland is tarnished by these strong-arm methods.
It is easy to dismiss this agitprop nationalism as archaic but it is very much in tune with events in Turkey, Thailand and of course Venezuela where countries have become playthings for demagogues.
Salmond is far from being a fascist and his desire to change the demographic profile of Scotland through mass immigration makes his nationalism suspect. To me he is an Ego-parochialist: he uses the latest media techniques to gratify his ego but his practical vision is parochial. He has no big ideas and is addicted to stunts and to expensive fads like renewable energy.
His new followers, mainly ex-Labour voters are also parochial. They refuse to ask what they want freedom from and what will be done with it if delivered by the SNP. How one of the most extensive public sectors in the West can survive in a tough, globalised world under an erratic Salmond is never asked.
In a recent speech, the veteran sports commentator Archie MacPherson warned of the Yes side: ‘The wrong road is the yellow brick road which they are riding, at the end of which, as you know from the film (The Wizard of Oz) and the book, ends in deception, deceit and fantasy.’ (See highly evocative clip here)
Scotland’s location in north-west Europe does not mean it can escape ending up like oppressive, crime-ridden Venezuela now even importing the oil which it has far more of than Scotland.
Scotland is already displaying the fractures which condemn Venezuela to a sad future. It has just been announced that the Yes side will abandon convention and march its supporters to the polling stations next Thursday from working-class areas. This is ominous and will be seen as intimidation towards those living in these districts who are absent from the procession.
It was clear from a BBC debate shown UK-wide on 11 September that many 16-18 year olds have been socialised into accepting the SNP’s world view.
Salmond gave them the vote in the hope that restless teenagers would boost the Yes cause. But it is actually middle-aged Scots, particularly low-income men who are displaying their self-absorption. The SNP’s core message resonates with men who have grown increasingly narcissistic due to cultural shifts which have weakened self-reliance.
In the 1940s, George Orwell wrote about the ‘blind zeal and indifference to reality’ of nationalists and little has changed. Salmond instructs his followers that they are a special people. They are misunderstood. They have been kicked around for too long. Now is the time to find space and neighbours should not be alarmed as long as Scotland’s needs are appreciated.
Until now, when multi-national states split, the causes have been fairly clear: defeat in war; incompatible territorial pressures; quarrels over distribution of resources. But in Scotland’s case low-income voters have been persuaded to rush down a path that clashes with their economic interests.
Unless major world states shower Scotland with goodwill, job losses, cuts in welfare and living standards seem unavoidable at the end of Salmond’s yellow brick road.
Unless enough Scots come to their senses very soon, then I fear that a disastrous example is being offered to the rest of Europe. There is no lack of places with much deeper internal tensions where the temptation to secede and walk out on national debt, may be irresistible.
For weeks, hundreds of pro-independence heavies have tried to deprive their opponents of the right to use public spaces. Inhibitions have been swept away thanks to the example offered by a seasoned political operator and his arsenal of state power.
The great Spanish painter Francisco Goya drew a set of prints, Los Caprichos, which showed the dark and pathetic side of human beings when the existing political order collapses as it did when Spain was invaded by Napoleon in 1808.
One print is entitled ‘The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters’ and that’s what’s happening in Scotland right now.
Tom Gallagher is an Edinburgh-based political scientist. Manchester University Press will publish his next book, Europe’s Path to Crisis: Disintegration Through Monetary Union, in October
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