A WHILE AGO I was called an ‘ultra Britnat fanatic’ on Twitter. I forget who said it but it was one of the tribe of fruitloops who hover around the fringes of political debate. The compliment came to mind yesterday when I saw a letter from Alex Salmond published on The Scotsman website objecting to an opinion piece the previous week by their columnist Euan McColm.
At the conclusion of a long list of old polling data purporting to demonstrate that he’d not been a divisive figure as first minister, Salmond offered this comment on McColm:
My opinion is that for a good number of years Mr McColm has been unable to separate his ultra unionist views from fact.
This was interesting.
A word I’d never seriously thought about seemed to have migrated like a slippery eel from an anonymous cybernat to the pen of the nation’s former first minister and a senior Westminster parliamentarian of many years standing. Since he dignified the political art elsewhere in his letter as:
the expectation … that politicians will pursue principle[s]
I wondered what principle he was pursuing in his use of the word "ultra" about Mr McColm.
According to the Oxford online dictionary, an "ultra" is:
and it offers these synonyms:
radical, fanatic, zealot, diehard, revolutionary, rebel, militant, subversive.
Over on Google the first two hits thrown up for its political use include Wikipedia articles on "Far-left politics" and "Far-right politics."
Without going too much further into the detail, it seemed to me I’d pinned down what the word ultra means.
Which takes us quite neatly to what accusation Mr Salmond might be levelling at McColm.
He must be implying, amongst other things, that McColm is an extremist, a fanatic, a militant or a subversive.
If so, in what respects? Is he a member of a secret group engaged in subversion of the state? Does his fanaticism manifest itself in extreme left- or right-wing political activity? Does he don dark fatigues and make bombs in his kitchen?
No. He writes a newspaper column.
This perversion and debasement of the language legitimises what my mother used to call ‘insinnuendo,’ a conflation of insinuation and innuendo. It’s a snide way of saying something without actually mouthing the words. The trouble is, Alex Salmond knows exactly what he's doing and how he's encouraging others to do the same. And if that’s not divisive, I don’t know what is.
For more writing from Roger White visit his blog "The Nation said No Thanks!" where this article first appeared.