A couple of my best friends and some of my favourite people are Scottish Nationalists. There are decent and intelligent SNP MPs and MSPs who will in their quieter moments share a joke or an insight, even with a rotten old Unionist like wot I am. Although they are patriots and believers in their cause, they are not blinded by it into believing that their opponents are bad people or unpatriotic. In that vein I still miss the great Margo MacDonald, who died in April 2014 before the referendum. She was always ecumenical and interested in ideas, gossip and a decent lunch. Margo was a kind person full of good sense, and I regret losing touch with her after I moved to London. Even now I cannot hear the Proclaimers “Sunshine on Leith” without thinking of her and the sparse, moving way the band performed it at her packed memorial service held in the Church of Scotland General Assembly Hall.
Sadly, there is another kind of Scottish Nationalist. I am not referring to the s0-called cybernats, the unhappy people who shout and swear at opponents on social media whenever anyone asks legitimate questions, although I note that they were pretty quiet when it emerged last week that the SNP’s independence plan was built on a contemptible fiction, and a £15n black hole would have been Scotland’s inheritance if it had voted Yes. The other kind of Nationalist I’m thinking about are the blood and soil Nationalists, those who seem outwardly civilised but who descend rapidly into chip on the shoulder idiocy at the drop of a hat, or at the drop of a tartan “jimmy wig.”
I mention this because of last week’s row about the edition of the BBC’s Question Time, the political discussion show in which panellists compete to not get on the wrong side of the audience. This show came from Dundee and it didn’t go well for the SNP. After all, this was the week in which the £15bn black hole had been confirmed by the SNP-led government’s own figures. Awkward, as they say.
Now, the SNP is used to getting its way in Scotland, because it has almost half the votes and its opponents are split three ways (Labour, Tories and what is left of the Lib Dems). The publicity has all been up, up, up and wildly positive for several years, so when the Nationalists are criticised – by voters (the very thought!) or opponents – then something doesn’t compute. There must be another answer or reason for it, because the SNP is never, ever wrong.
On Thursday night, the watching eejits focussed on the composition of the Question Time audience. There were – the horror ! – some English accents and not everyone in the audience was a Nat. Some were for Brexit. Even the host David Dimbleby was astonished by that, which is bizarre. When polls suggest perhaps a third of Scots are for Brexit that’s a third of your audience even if they have no representation in the Scottish political class. Go figure.
So demented was the onslaught against the programme that the BBC had to issue a stern statement the next day saying that yes, this was a Dundee audience. The blood and soil brigade had trouble getting their heads around this having thought Dundee was an exclusively “Yes” city. Fifty seven per cent of the place voted for independence. But you don’t need to be Stephen Hawking to work out that 57% leaves 43% who voted No. It also just possible that a few of those who voted for independence found the revelation of the SNP’s enormous black hole, and the lies that preceded it, a little shocking, and their enthusiasm for the Nats might have dimmed somewhat. It happens sometimes in a democracy. People have their own brains and free will. It is not yet compulsory to support the SNP, even in Dundee.
The complainers also seemed to have no grasp of the fact that Dundee and its surrounding areas have benefitted in the last decade from significant amounts of migration from the rest of the UK, thanks to the place’s growing medical and technology expertise. That means non-Dundonian voices aplenty.
But the attack on Question was more than ridiculous, it was deeply embarrassing, and as a Scot I was embarrassed by these clowns who were complaining and making their country and mine look ridiculous in front of the rest of Britain. Scotland is a terrific country with a lot to offer. It has long been outward-looking, it ran a third of the Empire which never gets mentioned. It can blow its trumpet a little too much about its contribution to philosophy, economics, science and literature, but the pride is largely justified. Now it has some small-minded MPs who spend their time complaining about the BBC weather map being anti-Scottish because Scotland looks too small on the 3D map from space. Seriously. It is in that spirit that they attacked Question Time because their man, John Swinney, the Scottish finance minister, got beaten in argument and the audience didn’t follow the Nationalist script.
Where else in the UK would any of this, and certainly not in England, be an issue? Nowhere. There are southern accents in the North East (NHS consultants or business people or civil servants or whatever, who moved there.) There are accents of all kinds in London, yet no-one ever says that BBC Question time at the Barbican was obviously infiltrated by several outsiders from Manchester. It is what it is and the arguments are taken or not taken on their merits.
What do the blood and soil brigade really want here? Perhaps non-ethnic Scots north of the border or those with an ambiguous accent can be compelled to wear a badge (a yellow thistle?) so they can be identified? Just an idea.