22 October 2015

Shouldn’t Nicola Sturgeon be expelling some Nationalist extremists?


It has been an interesting week at CapX since I decided to publish a piece on Mhairi Black, the MP for my home town of Paisley. The response from the Nationalist hordes on social media (“social” media, how hollow that sounds in light of the sewer that parts of Twitter are becoming) was quite something to behold. They aggressively wanted to know: Why was I questioning Black’s credentials? When was I last in Paisley? Answer: A few weeks ago. What’s with the English RP public school accent, pal? Answer: What is this? School break-time? I was born in Paisley and my father’s work meant we moved south when I was a year old, returning to Paisley 14 years later. By that point I had an English-ish accent that stuck. I went to a comprehensive school, like most people. But in among all the swearing and shouting and abuse from SNP-supporters, the major gripe was that I had dared to challenge – again – one of their great heroines.

I do not doubt Black’s sincerity and the extent of her achievement in winning a seat that had been solid Labour since nineteen canteen. But if her pitch, her key thing, is authenticity, then it matters that she is consistently misrepresented as a paragon of the “schemes” (council estates), and that when she speaks to SNP conference she made great play of herself being a chip shop fryer turned MP. We all had part-time jobs in our youth, but they’re hardly relevant. All that is required when an interviewer asks Black about the supposed squalor of her surroundings is for her to say: “Actually, Jeremy, I was lucky. My parents were teachers and we had a nice house in a nice neighbourhood called Ralston next to the golf course. I got to University. I want those life chances for young people from much more deprived neighbourhoods in my constituency.” That’s the truth.

But the row on Black was as nothing to when my friend Alex Massie wrote a piece for us praising J.K. Rowling a day later. Rowling had come under fire from Nationalist extremists for the heinous crime of supporting Scotland at rugby, and she had zapped the scumbags who attacked her online magnificently. If the army of Nationalists in their underpants wanted to take on one of the world’s best writers, they should have been ready for her to be good with words. Anyway, why should she take abuse for supporting Scotland? She lives in Scotland, pays a lot of tax and gives much to chairity. Who – via her books – has done more for Scotland and Britain’s reputation in the  modern age than Rowling? Precious few.

But Massie’s piece prompted more outrage from Nationalist extremists of the kind dished out to anyone these days who dares ask questions of their leadership or causes mischief for the all powerful Nat elite.

This sinister abuse – targeted at non-Nationalist activists, hacks doing their job, independent-minded public officials and writers – is becoming a serious matter and the SNP leadership is not doing enough to stamp it out. It starts to look as though they either a) think it suits their purpose by dampening dissent or, b) are too scared to take on rogue elements in their midst who are out of control.

It is not just the work of a few deluded people on Twitter, although there do seem to be a lot of them and they do seem well-organised. At SNP conference there was a packed fringe meeting on the future of broadcasting north of the border. An SNP councillor – a councillor – angrily denounced BBC Scotland bosses as being Goebbels, producing Unionist propaganda.‎ In this way, journalists and their bosses are seriously compared to the henchmen of mass-murdering tyrants, when they went out of their way to be fair (too fair, some Unionists thought at times) during the referendum. Remember the march of thousands on the BBC headquarters during the referendum to demand the sacking of Nick Robinson, then the BBC’s Political Editor?

This stuff doesn’t happen in a normal political culture. Tory councillors do not stand up at fringe events at conservative conference and call BBC reporters Stalin or Trotsky. If they did the audience would raise their eyes to the ceiling on the basis that the councillor had probably imbibed too much free wine at the West Midlands area reception. If a recording of such a rant appeared, the party would disassociate itself from such behaviour and people would be disciplined or even taken off the candidates list for discrediting the party. The same applies to Labour, or at least it did until the Corbynites (cousins of the Nats) took control.

There was a comical aspect to the complaints aired at that SNP fringe meeting too. Even the BBC Weather map is biased against Scotland, it was claimed. When it was pointed out that Scotland’s land mass is smaller than England’s this was reportedly disputed by members of the audience. Wilder Nationalists now do not even accept basic facts of geography if they conflict with their prejudices. Everything is a plot. The whingeing is endless. Westminster stole Scotland’s fish and chips (seriously). The whisky export tax punishes Scotland, said an MSP again recently. There is no whisky export tax.

The meek response from SNP ministers is that everyone should calm down. Yet, they hardly ever directly challenge extremists on their own side or defend democratic opponents from the mob. Isn’t it about time the SNP started investigating those in their ranks who are behind the worst abuses, and, if they are revealed to be members‎, start expelling them or at least issuing meaningful warnings. Isn’t proper action by Nicola Sturgeon – who is much more reasonable and sensible than the ego-maniac Alex Salmond – overdue, to clean up her party?

This problem now cuts across party or ideological lines, threatening basic freedoms and eroding civic norms that were taken for granted until the madness and bitterness of the referendum period.

As Kenneth Roy – a man of the left and a great writer – explained in his latest piece for the Scottish Review, those in what terms itself the Nationalist movement now seem ‎to operate on the basis that if someone is not completely for the SNP and independence then they must be completely against. Those who dissent from the true faith are to be hunted down, Roy among them, who bravely refuses to be run out of his own country, along with Muriel Gray, another target for the extremists. Her crime? Backing J.K Rowling.

In the face of bullying and tin-pot tyranny, who will defend freedom?

The Scottish Labour party is in no fit state to do it. A few journalists in Scotland get stuck in, although more broadly the press is supine and in decline. The noisiest newspaper is a propaganda sheet called “The National”, a new tabloid that trumpets the Nat line in the most sheep-like manner. The only good thing about the National is that so few people read it.

Could it be the Scottish Conservatives who emerge to defend freedom and democratic norms? Don’t laugh. The Tory brand has been so trashed north of the border – and the party’s activist base so depleted – that it will be a big achievement if they get into the low twenties in terms of share of the vote in next year’s devolved Holyrood election. The Nationalists are polling above 50%.

Yet we have seen in the last year how volatile politics is, in a period when parties and candidates can rise and subside rapidly. With the right campaign, and some luck, the Scottish Tories young leader Ruth Davidson has an opportunity to break through.

None of that will be enough to prevent the SNP being by far the largest party in Scotland. But it might be sufficient to build the beginnings of a proper, moderate, pro-dissent, pro-enterprise opposition.

Davidson does not need my advice. She is strong-willed and smart. ‎But in among all the policy development, and necessary promises that will be made on improving public services, another area in which the SNP record is woeful, I wonder whether she might emerge as the main figure prepared to stand up to the Nationalists in defence of freedom. Not as piece of positioning, but because it is right and needs doing when a bunch of extremist clowns are creating the most appalling image of Scotland and endangering its future with their sheep-like behaviour.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX