The SNP and social authoritarianism in Scotland?

The Scottish National Party has been turning Scotland into one of the most socially authoritarian places in the Western World. A pliant media isn't helping. But is a revolt by the forces of freedom in the making?

Nicola Sturgeon says do as you are told
Tom Gallagher
On 18 July 2018 06:20

Leaving aside its increasingly confrontational approach to breaking-up the United Kingdom, the Scottish National party (SNP) is an unabashed devotee of social authoritarianism.

During its eleven years of rule in Scotland it has tried to alter the lifestyle choices of working-class citizens mainly on public health grounds.

After observing devolved Scottish politics from the inside as a 2-term member of the Scottish parliament at Holyrood, the political writer Brian Monteith has regularly challenged the mindset which arguably makes Scotland the greatest exponent of  big-state zealotry anywhere in the democratic West.

‘The McNanny State’, a  report he has just written for Forest (Freedom Organization for the Right to Smoke Tobacco) takes apart the new morality.

He shows how outright bans or strong curbs on smoking, alcohol intake, and driving speeds often fall well short of their stated goals. Like the SNP’s obsession with halting Brexit, they provide often low-quality legislators with an excuse to ditch the main tasks that they were elected to carry out – enabling citizens to be safe and have a civilized life and ensuring that the state agencies under their control operate fairly and with a minimum of efficiency.

He shows how a bossy and intrusive political elite has formed an alliance with rent-seeking professionals in the Third sector to drive forward a dubious new morality.

For these well-paid social activists, there is never enough money nor enough laws to ensure that Scots lead virtuous self-denying lives.

Allan Massie, Scotland’s most acclaimed living novelist, has written the foreword to the report and he accuses the political class of flirting with ‘social fascism’. He warns that Scotland will be in a bad place unless ‘we elect politicians who respect inherited liberties and speak up for the common sense of the people’.

The author of the report is more low-key but he admits that ‘if there’s one addiction Scotland must break, it’s our addiction to big government as the cure-all for matters that, in a more liberal society, could be settled without the constant intervention of politicians and rent-seeking professionals’.

The meat of the report shows that sweeping prohibitions are often not thought through.

In 2006 after a rigorous ban on smoking in public places was introduced, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Harry Burns, claimed that within twenty years, lung cancer would be reduced to just a few hundred cases a year. Instead the incidence of the disease has risen even though smoking rates have been falling for forty years.

Monteith contends that it is the urge to exercise control and not the beneficial health claims which is fuelling the state dogmatism. He assails law-makers and bureaucrats for outlawing smoking on hospital grounds.

In the often stressful hospital environment, visitors and staff have no recourse but to go further afield in all weathers. He warns that in order to try and eradicate smoking these guardians of purity are likely to ban smoking in the home.

Nor is it too big a step to imagine that parents could be threatened with the removal of their children if their behaviour falls short of official requirements  on smoking and drinking and their children’s dietary habits.

After all, the government of Nicola Sturgeon recently tried  to provide every person between the age of five and eighteen with a ‘state guardian’ who was required to monitor the well-being of the child. Only a campaign which drew mass support prevented the  ‘named person’ scheme going ahead in a highly intrusive form.

The momentum to be the first to introduce new prohibitions on consumption of food and drink remains undiminished.

‘There is rarely any trepidation that there may be good reason why no other country has gone down that road.’ To show their fidelity to the  devolved parliament whose usefulness they had long doubted, the Scottish Conservative members have often backed the illiberal consensus.

A compliant media, much of which is an echo chamber for a pushy nationalist regime, rarely challenges purity-driven bans however ill-founded.

Rent-seeking Third sector bodies offer a range of political services to the SNP in return for its addiction to public subsidies being treated.

Instead of turning large sections of the population into pariahs, sensible policies and not zealous overkill are required.

Loutish alcohol-driven behaviour needs to be treated strenuously by the police and the courts and over the longer term by intelligent educational policies. These are measures which Sturgeon flinches from.

Monteith sees the best hope for a rethink coming from the Conservatives, the main opposition since 2016.

They should give a voice to ordinary consumers so as to balance or reduce the influence of political lobbyists. The latter should be denied state money and instead grow accustomed to relying on voluntary contributions.

After all, polls regularly show hostility to the McNanny state as its tentacles grow longer. One carried out on the tenth anniversary of the 2006 smoking ban found that 49% of non-smokers supported pubs and clubs having smoking rooms (45% were against).

Unless the Conservatives embrace a philosophy defining the limits of the state, Monteith believes progress will be limited. But this well-researched and clearly written report is a powerful shot across the bows of a hectoring government which wants to bend citizens completely to its will.

Hopefully, it will prove a rallying cry for action as Scots in ever larger numbers grow weary of a ruling party whose arrogance has not been tempered by its incompetence and obsession with a sterile political crusade.  

Tom Gallagher is a retired political scientist who lives in Edinburgh. He published ‘Scotland Now’ A Warning to the World’ in 2016. His 14th single-authored book and debut novel, ‘Flight of Evil: A North British Intrigue’, came out in March. 

He can be followed on twitter at @Cultfree54

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