Never mind the facts, feel the faux indignation

Never mind the facts, feel the faux indignation

by Tom Gallagher
article from Thursday 21, June, 2018

IN A SHORT but devastatingly effective speech in the House of Commons on Monday the MP for Moray, Douglas Ross, expertly dispelled the torrent of lies that has spewed forth from the volcanic crater of furious Scottish Nationalism for a week past.   

There have been natural volcanic eruptions in Guatemala and Hawaii during this period. We know they are likely to abate.  But one iron law of North British politics is that the volcano of sulphuric indignation that is the SNP in all seasons will try and lay waste the political landscape far into the future.    

Any pretext will do. If Britain was mulling over joining the EU or becoming a founder member of a new NATO, then there would be stupefaction and invective from the SNP no matter where these developments left Scotland at the end of the day. The point at issue is that, irrespective of what a majority of Scots think, the advanced patriots of the SNP are right to remove the northern part of the island from the 211-year-long political union.    

The objective conditions in which this is pursued hardly matter. The agitation around Brexit is more extreme than normal because deep in her heart Nicola Sturgeon may fear that her internal critic Jim Sillars is correct and that outside the EU, the conditions are set fair for Britain to enjoy opportunities for an economic renaissance.   Any leader will be expected to perform the requisite dance of outrage with gusto - even the self-satisfied leader of the SNP at Westminster Ian Blackford. He has done well out of the British financial industry in a way he could never do if he was performing as an investor in the financial goldfish bowl of an independent Scotland.  

Now, with his fortune made, he wishes to indulge his hobby for separatist politics. Hobby is all it is for a phalanx of activists less materially well-off than he is. The spotlight has, however, switched to London because many people are weary of the endless separatist chest-beating at home.       

Many who might have been expected to dance to the music of nationalism before are refusing to get onto the floor. SNP support has fallen in most in the working class areas that had voted heavily for Yes in the 2014 referendum. Around a third of people who voted SNP in the 2016 Holyrood election went on to vote for Brexit a few weeks later, and many of those never returned to the SNP

Despite being the chief formulator of this strategy of tension, First Minister Sturgeon wisely remains in the background. Her hectoring style does not come over well in open-air gatherings and last Friday night it was left to the veteran attack dog of Glaswegian nationalism, Sandra White MSP, to harangue a small group of the faithful at the top of Buchanan street.   

Neither she nor anyone else would have known that just hours later, and a few blocks along Sauchiehall Street, fire would all but destroy a jewel in Glasgow’s architectural crown, the Glasgow School of Art. But Sturgeon and her intimates do know that events, mundane and dramatic, threaten to discredit her strategy of emphasising Brexit before all else. Her popularity has cratered as many watch how key public policy areas under her control are mishandled and neglected with real human life consequences for Scots.   

Operations or visits to consultants are not being delayed or postponed over Brexit. Arguably, it is the climate of economic fear and insecurity fuelled by the propaganda of her government, which is casting a wintry chill over the Scottish economy, while the rest of the UK’s remains relatively buoyant.     

Plunging ticket sales at home meant that mounting a London run for the SNP melodrama grew imperative. SNP MPs had been inactive for the previous three years. Predictions of insurgency modelled on Parnell’s Irish Home Rulers in the 1880s, never came to pass. When self-absorbed SNP politicians made headlines, it was often for reasons that hardly boosted the purity of the cause.  

Whitehall and the Scotland Office have bent over backwards to try and make time for the Scottish government in Brexit matters.  Yet it was synthetic outrage about insufficient time being available to discuss the Scottish dimension on 12 June that led Blackford and his 35 colleagues to try and bring the business of the Commons to a standstill and then walk out after an exasperated Speaker Bercow ordered the SNP leader to withdraw on account of his obstruction. The old card of denouncing the disrespect and arrogance of the English governing elite was played. Membership figures were juggled to announce that, within hours, thousands of Scots were joining the SNP (having remained impassive at all previous stages of the Brexit drama).   

Those in the SNP laboratory who had cooked up this operation very likely knew that a London media – itself spooked by Brexit – would make hay with the story. It would be packaged as ‘Scotland in Revolt’.  Broadcasters and press hacks would be unlikely to explore any backstory. And there was a very considerable one.    

With the Continuity Bill at Holyrood, the SNP has been trying to derail Brexit by preventing powers leaving Brussels and being exercised for a limited period in Westminster before mostly then being handed to Edinburgh. It hopes that a court will rule that this violates the 1999 devolution settlement. Yet the SNP had ignored the ruling of the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament thatthe Bill is beyond Holyrood’s powers, and it is not competent for theScottish Parliament to pass it.   

Similarly, much of the media ignored the fact that Sturgeon’s chief negotiator Michael Russell MSP had managed to beak the logjam with the Scotland Office on the distribution of EU powers only for the deal to be overruled by Sturgeon. Most powers would go automatically to Edinburgh but some would be retained by Westminster for a limited period to allow for the smooth working of the UK single market. It is a market worth four times more in terms of jobs than the EU one which Sturgeon is determined will continue in perpetuity.     

From Carolyn Quinn and Sarah Smith on BBC Radio 4’s PM to the 10pm World Tonight the story was presented and then debated over by talking heads in ways that legitimised the SNP perspective. Alex Salmond had never received such a windfall during all the years when he had denounced perfidious Westminster and understandably he was soon claiming that he was the one who had put Blackford up to the whole thing. The London media bubble cares little for Scotland and was using SNP histrionics to display its own fury at government attempts to leave the EU.    

The SNP then got a bonus with the intervention of the Scottish journalist Murray Foote. In September 2014, the then editor of the Daily Recordhad drafted what became known as ‘the Vow’, setting out a promise of expanded devolution in the event of Scotland voting to remain in the Union in that month’s referendum. Prime Minister Cameron and Gordon Brown, both nervous about the polls, endorsed the initiative.  

Analysis of the results show that the Vow had influenced relatively few peoplein making their voting choice on 18 September. The Smith report then rapidly paved the way for a significant transfer of authority to Edinburgh, including tax-raising powers and social welfare responsibilities. It helpfully buried the myth of the Conservatives being set against devolution. Instead, it was SNP councillors in Paisley who publicly burned the Smith report, perhaps unwittingly revealing the centralist and anti-devolution temper of the SNP. Foote, no longer editing a paper and instead dabbling in public relations, now has swallowed whole the SNP claim that the temporary delay in transferring a few EU powers to Edinburgh represents a gross betrayal of devolution and justifies a rapid acquisition of Scottish independence. 

He remains a dedicated Unionist in one sense. That is a partisan of the EU variety, far more intrusive and centralising than Westminster has been in many a long year. He will no doubt be used to try and persuade voters into believing that it is not the performance of Sturgeon’s government that really matters for them but leaving the EU which has so far had minimal impact on their lives.    

Few interest groups have benefited as much from SNP rule in material terms as the media has. Of course journalists wary of nationalism have often suffered in career terms but through special advisers, a bloated First Minister’s media department, and numerous PR openings, the SNP directly or indirectly employs hundreds of journalists. To get on in the profession, it is necessary to be sympathetic and it is only the very fearless who resist the pressures to conform.   

So it is not unexpected that the Scottish media industry has produced the individuals who parrot some of the most improbably claims of the SNP about power-grabs by Westminster and use their talents to embellish them and pass them on to a hopefully gullible public.    

But these crude efforts in simulation are unlikely to decisively turn the tide on Brexit and justify Sturgeon’s gamble to link the fortunes of independence with an all-out effort to stay in the post-national EU. 

It is not only strong-willed and eloquent MPs like Douglas Ross who can expose the nonsense behind the SNP theatrics but candid nationalists like Jim Sillars who despair at her misreading of the situation

He believes the leader of his party is doing enormous damage to the cause of independence by her Brexit mania. Many Scots now regard her as a leader shaped by complexes and driven by priorities that simply bear no relation to their own struggles for a dignified existence.  

It is a sad sign of the disconnect between the public and many of those in the Scottish political bubble that the desire of a majority for representative and efficient government now simply go unacknowledged in the Scottish media.       

Tom Gallagher is a long-term sceptic about Scottish nationalism as shown by two books, ‘The Illusion of Freedom’(2009) and ‘Scotland Now, A Warning to the World’. His 2018 political novel, ‘Flight of Evil: A North British Intrigue’, is available in bookshops but has been withdrawn from Amazon after a slew of fake reviews appeared within 48 hours of publication.

 

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