Sturgeon's Scotland offers a model for America’s enemies of freedom and order

Sturgeon's Scotland offers a model for America’s enemies of freedom and order

by Tom Gallagher
article from Tuesday 9, June, 2020

ON BOTH SIDES of the Atlantic, two sets of agitators are indulging in victimhood. Their aim is to try and acquire or consolidate power.

In the United States left-wing radicals are exploiting the presence of a divisive President to accumulate power and influence, first in disaffected cities and perhaps eventually across much of the nation.

In Scotland, radicals with an essentially nihilistic political and economic agenda already enjoy power. The prosaically sounding Scottish National Party (SNP) is busy trying to erect a new morality based on normalising ever more exotic forms of identity politics.

In a book called Scotland Now: A Warning to the World that I wrote a few years ago, I suggested that people elsewhere ought to pay attention to the dark clouds hanging over Scotland. I argued that jarring cultural and economic shifts had toppled the solid pillars of society which had given Scotland a historic reputation for being deductive, pragmatic and long-term in its approach to major problems. Indeed Scotland had played an outsized role in uniting countries on both sides of the North Atlantic in common civilizational endeavours. But in the early twenty-first century, society has become increasingly hedonistic and excitable as absorption in civic and community endeavours fades and education plummets in quality.

A large swathe of citizens whose politics are driven by shifting emotions and grievance has been ready to endorse a party with a low-grade approach to governance in a country with mounting structural problems, extending far beyond the economic. But it often displays skills of a high order in manipulating its large trans-class support base.

The response of the British state in London to the threat to the unity of the island posed by Scottish separatism for a long time, has been unsatisfactory.  Instead of mobilising against the danger, it made concessions to the current First Minister (FM) Nicola Sturgeon and to her predecessor Alex Salmond in the hope that they would shelve their militancy (as past radical challengers have done).

To rely on the ultimate rationality of the nationalists has remained the default position of London even after the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Boris Johnson’s government made available a £3.5 billion crisis grant from Barnett consequentials and a further £6.5bn in benefits and grants that enabled employers in Scotland to continue paying workers who had been forced to halt working owing to the virus. It did not make it a condition of the aid for businesses that it had to be spent in the way Chancellor Rishi Sunak had intended. Instead, the SNP government has left many businesses waiting for support, local councils  are owed over £100m by it, and quangos have been encouraged to exploit a loophole in the legislation to make big claims. 

Nicola Sturgeon’s unapologetic defiance of convention compares well with that of US radicals now disproportionately drawn from wealthier sections of American society. They play at revolution, fanning riots in the name of a slain black American George Floyd while it is often Americans from minority backgrounds who turn out to be the most prominent victims of their orgy of destruction. 

In Scotland the litany of virtue-signaling from the ruling radicals has gone on for years. A busy army of spin doctors has ensured Sturgeon is seen as the mother of the nation (‘First Mammy’) straining every sinew to shield her citizen offspring from the virus.  She invariably dominates the daily news briefings with her medical experts and the health secretary Jeanne Freeman very much in the background.

For every London-based journalist like Dan Wootton who spotted that she is more interested in ramping up her campaign to secede from the United Kingdom than in stemming Covid-19, there are many prominent broadcasters who invariably frame coverage of the pandemic in Scotland through the information Sturgeon and her team supplies. 

She is keen to build up a bank of soft power by insisting that she is mistress of her own domain even when it comes to  handling this scourge.  The firmly left-leaning media professionals who now dominate news broadcasting react well towards someone with the communication skills to present herself as a cross between Barack Obama and Greta Thunberg - a radical tribune of the people and one who will not be pushed around by failing elites in London.

Warnings signs that her mania for publicity and adamant desire to deflect criticism may be damaging the fight against the virus are ignored by the metropolitan media.  Thus it was no surprise there was little coverage of the main independent broadcaster in Scotland, STV’s decision to post an extraordinary video  of children thanking Sturgeon for keeping them safe (which it withdrew after a day). 

It has taken several months before the veneer of righteousness around the First Minister has dispersed  as it gradually dawns on some in the UK-wide media sector that the zeal she has exhibited  has involved boosting her own career far more than trying to save lives. The first really awkward fact to emerge concerned the spread of the virus in Edinburgh stemming from a gathering of people, many of whom turned out to be infected,  from different parts of the world for a conference of NIKE, the sportswear company, that was held in the Hilton Carlton hotel on  26-27 February.  The information was withheld from the public and no steps were taken to contact or shield all those who had faced exposure to the virus.   Not until 16 March would large gatherings be banned in Scotland.

Accusations of serious official malpractice have mounted as it becomes clear how high the death toll of  care home patients has been in Scotland. 1 in 20 of the total have died during the first three months of the pandemic, far above the normal figure. Nearly 1,000 hospital patients were discharged to care homes at the start of the crisis - without being tested.

According to Gabriel Scally, professor of public health at the University of Bristol, the lack of personal protection (PPE) equipment for health workers and the abandonment of contact testing on 12 March was instrumental in spread of the virus in care homes thereafter. He claimed that if the recommendations made to the Sturgeon government after the 2018 simulation of a pandemic outbreak had been acted upon, then deaths could have been significantly smaller

After the toll of Scottish care home deaths, far greater than in the rest of the UK, was revealed, Neil Findlay MSP tackled the First Minister about it at Holyrood on 9 May. He criticised her for allowing hospital patients to be returned to care homes in the teeth of the evidence that it was killing the elderly.  Instead of dealing with his point, she criticised him for his tone and for being unconstructive: ‘please do not ask such questions in a way that suggests that we are not all trying to do everything that we possibly can in order to do the right thing.’  

A well-worn tool in Sturgeon’s armoury is deflection, with England being the customary target. When the care home controversy intensified, she had no hesitation in suggesting on 31 May that such deaths in England were being under-estimated.  

By now she was being pressed to reveal written evidence showing her own  approach in handling key aspects of the pandemic.   She was obliged to do so under Scotland’s Freedom of Information (FoI) laws which she tried to dismantle for the duration of the medical emergency.  She was thwarted when  Holyrood overturned her move on 9 May.  Remarkably the First Minister has subsequently claimed that no records detailing discussions or decisions about handling Covid-19 were kept by her team headed by Liz Lloyd or even by the head of the Scottish civil service, Lesley Evans for the period from 24 January to  March. This was divulged in another answer to Neil Findlay MSP. He asked: ‘how can experts advise the government without issuing written advice.’ 

Paul Sinclair, a journalist who had worked as an adviser at the heart of government in the pre-SNP era, refused to believe the claim that communications were merely verbal and that there was no paper trail.  He and others have asked how the civil service supremo Lesley Evans could allow such a casual approach to what, arguably, was the biggest challenge of the devolution era.  She had already been embroiled in controversy when an investigation into the conduct of Alex Salmond while in office, authorised by her, resulted in him successfully suing the Scottish government and receiving damages of over £500,000. Political allies of Salmond who had served in government stated after his March 2020 acquittal in a trial arising from this investigation that her conduct required her to step down

On 3 June Paul Sinclair also retweeted a tweet from an SNP opponent, Scotland’s sole Labour MP Ian Murray who wrote: “Strange that Leslie Evans appears to have kept no records of briefings about Covid-19, but managed to dust off the files on Alex Salmond when it suit”. 

Like most of those around Sturgeon, Evans usually preferred to stay in the background but on 3 June  she tweeted a picture of herself kneeling in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. It was a gesture she must have known would have deflected attention away from the  furore about the lack of Covid-19 record-keeping.

The ruling party is adept at striking postures to show that it is populated by principled progressives in touch with the radical zeitgeist. On the same day, when normal business resumed at Westminster, Gavin Newlands MP flouted convention by turning up at the Commons chamber clad in beachwear. The next day, 4 June, his SNP colleague Alison Thewliss suggested to the Nigerian-born minister Kemi Badenoch that government scaling-down of the furlough scheme was racist because according to her disproportionate ethnic minority citizens would be affected. (The close Sturgeon ally was unhappy to be told by an alert minister not to heighten social tension in order to get cheap publicity on social media.) 

The SNP needs no lessons from angry puritanical millennials in the USA about how to deploy bizarre emotional manipulation tactics in order to try and assert their dominance.  For a long time, bolstered by a vast media machine paid for out of the public purse, it has refrained from displaying any self-doubt about its tactics. One Scottish minister, Michael Russell urged members of the public in Scotland to aggressively stare at people in enclosed spaces who were not wearing face masks.  (He would later concede in Holyrood that he was unaware of the contents of the regulations contained in the revised lockdown rules). 

Shortly beforehand, his colleague John Swinney, the deputy FM, summarily ended the drawing up of key literacy and numeracy figures in Scottish schools, making it extremely hard to compare Scotland’s performance in international terms.  The SNP is aiming to get away with being agitators in government for whom the normal rules don’t apply. It is likely that a searching public enquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic will be authorised in London. But by withholding data, or pretending it doesn’t exist, it will be hard to test the claims of the First Minister and her Health Secretary against the facts.

Unemployment is on the verge of soaring in Scotland as firms close down or else announce major redundancies due to becoming unviable as a result of the impact of the pandemic. Yet Sturgeon enjoys an 82% approval rating. Her good communications strategy, a weak opposition, and a compliant British-wide media ensure her ascendancy. She is even able to award senior civil servants an inflation-busting 12% salary increase without uproar ensuing.

She has acquired new followers among middle-or upper-class cultural sophisticates on both sides of the border who in the past might have looked at Scottish Nationalism with disdain. But these restless metropolitans are now drawn to Celtic radicalism in the way their predecessors might have been to the cause of Greek independence, Indian nationalism or Cuban freedom.  It is authentic-sounding and suitably exotic just as the Antifa-led protests in the USA appear to be, rescuing them from a humdrum existence.  Sturgeon’s implacable scorn towards the conventions they have grown tired of, increases her appeal and invests her with an  intangible sense of  mystery, a Caledonian Ho Chi Minh or Che Guevara in a trouser suit.  (The Times in Scotland increasingly appeals to this opinion segment and columnists like Alex Massie have ably articulated its disaffection with the majority British outlook on major issues like Brexit).

It is of course inspired hokum. Celebrities, radical scholars, and journalists are turned on by a slick exercise in propaganda. Privileged people are embracing a spurious liberation movement which is exploiting ordinary citizens who see little improvement in their lives under SNP rule and face the prospect of desperate hardship if the SNP’s plans to partition the UK ever get anywhere. It is no wonder that Sturgeon has been quick to jump on the protest bandwagonthat has got going across the West after the unrest in US cities. 

She must surely recognise kindred spirits in the nihilistic  radical offensive against a moderate system of liberal democracy that offers living standards beyond the means of any left-wing or ethnic regime of social justice. At least, the likelihood remains strong that in the USA left-wing extremism will be countered by efficient state action while Scotland endures the prospect of more years in power for chauvinists skilled at exploiting despair, social immaturity and irrational conduct for their own ends.

Tom Gallagher is Emeritus Professor of Politics at Bradford University. He has written 16 single or main-authored books on European and British politics and contemporary history. 'Scotland Now: A Warning to the World' appeared in 2016. His latest is a biography of Portugal's Antonio Salazar which is appearing in July on the centenary of his birth.

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