SCOTLAND is now the only country in the democratic world where conversations at home can bring the intervention of the thought police. Remarkably, not only the Scottish Nationalists voted for this unique state of affairs but also the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
Under the new Hate Crimes Bill (still to receive royal assent and become an Act) it has to be proved, of course, that anyone accused of having ‘stirred up hatred’ against a slew of minorities would have to have done so in a manner that could be reasonably interpreted as intentional. So what? Nearly all these terms are ambiguous. What does ‘stir up hatred’ actually amount to? How do you prove intent? Can we all agree on what is reasonable? And, fundamentally, why is the state being allowed to breach the privacy of Scottish homes?
Quite clearly free speech is under threat in Scotland from a new form of government censorship. Journalists and broadcasters will now think twice about what they write, say or print. Individuals will do so too, even with friends, children and relatives in their own home. State censorship will be accompanied by self-censorship. Who, people will ask themselves, will now run off to report my criticism of homosexuality, Islam or transgenderism to the tartan Stasi? Surely, they will only do so to harm me? Who will I be able to trust?
I remember having dinner with Joachim Gauck (later President Gauck of Germany) when he presided over 69 miles of files in the Stasi Archives. He confirmed the old story that most victims of the Stasi had also been informants. The East German Government encouraged everyone to report on everyone else. The same had been true of the Gestapo as a former PhD student of mine, Tillman Remme, discovered while researching a famous television series called ‘The Nazis: A Warning from History’. It turned out that the Gestapo files in Hamburg had survived the war and showed how the secret police merely waited for ordinary members of the public to report on their neighbours. There was no need for intricate investigations.
Tillman himself interviewed an old lady who had reported her neighbour whom she had suspected of being a lesbian. That neighbour, as a result, died in a concentration camp. But the old dear, who herself survived the war, brushed the whole matter aside, preferring not to believe it. She showed absolutely no remorse.
Could Scotland ever reach such a stage? Well, we have definitely made a start. Just imagine how under the present law you could entrap a political opponent. All you would need do would be to invite him or her to dinner, start a controversial conversation and then along with your two accomplices (you would need witnesses to convince the police) report the victim for stirring up hatred. With luck you would get the unfortunate imprisoned. I wouldn’t accept invitations to private dinner parties in Scotland with political opponents any longer.
If you think all this is all fantasy just think of the case of Alex Salmond. It is now quite plausible to believe – as he himself certainly seems to – that political opponents inside his own party set him up on fourteen serious sexual charges including attempted rape, for which, had he been found guilty, he could have spent maybe the rest of his life in prison. Moreover, both the justice system and the civil service in his view were complicit. And Sturgeon was willing, if he is right, to spend over half a million pounds of taxpayers’ money to speed the process along.
Not quite the same as the Czechs pushing their foreign minister out of a high window after the war (a long-established tradition in Bohemia) but not too far from it. Yet what happened to Salmond might well happen to you or me under the new legislation. If a former first minister could be set up, why not the rest of us?
The trouble is that most Scots and most Scottish political parties didn’t take the Salmond case seriously. Nor did the British press or Westminster politicians. Whether several women were seriously assaulted or whether an innocent man could have spent years in prison seemed to be beside the point. (Women, it should be noted get no special protection under the new Hate Crimes Bill.) The whole affair was treated as a game, the aim of which was to overthrow the former first minister. The parliamentary enquiry was embarrassing. Most MSPs on the Committee were second rate at best. If found guilty of breaking the ministerial code, Sturgeon will probably refuse to resign and our toothless, useless Parliament will most likely either back her or do nothing about it.
The SNP is, after all, hardly a democratic party as its previous political initiatives demonstrate. These include banning offensive songs at football matches but much more worryingly attempting to give every Scottish child an officially appointed ‘state guardian’, something right out of the North Korean playbook. The party also keeps an iron grip on its party members as well as its MPs and MSPs, a quarter of whom are former party bureaucrats. It also tolerates an unusual amount of nepotism among its candidates. And it looks after MPs and MSPs who are accused of sexual improprieties (including a former Finance Minister at Holyrood and a Chief Whip at Westminster) – so long as they are not called Salmond.
Nor does it care that its true colours are revealed from time to time. The Stirling MP, Alan Smyth, for example, told a constituent she was a troublemaker and the SNP kept a database of such people. (Does the SNP or Alyn Smyth really keep such a data base? If so, who authorised it and why? How does it operate?) Sturgeon herself did little to discourage the Saltire-bedecked heavies who patrolled the border during the pandemic telling English ‘plague carriers’ to ‘return home’. It is no secret that many English people have been harassed in Scotland by nationalist supporters. Perhaps the Hate Crimes Bill should have included the English as a special category in need of protection. But it didn’t…
So clearly the first delusion about Scottish politics is that Scotland remains a functioning democracy. It isn’t.
The second great delusion concerns independence itself. On any rational basis this would bring about an economic catastrophe. At present Scotland is only kept afloat by the support it receives from English taxpayers through the Barnett Formula. In fact each Scot is subsidised by about £2,000. Today thanks to the money poured in under the Furlough Scheme the figure is more than twice that much. And of course many Scots owe their very lives to the huge success of the Oxford vaccine and its uniquely efficient rollout across the UK. This also has been largely funded by the English taxpayer. In fact, the Scottish national deficit is by far the largest in Western Europe. Last year it was put at £15.1 billion or 8.6 per cent of GDP by the SNP Government’s own General Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) figures (nearly three times the 3 per cent maximum required for EU membership). Worse still, the Institute for Fiscal Studies believes the deficit will hit 28 per cent of GDP this year and will still exceed 11 per cent in 2024/5. Over and above its own national deficit, of course an independent Scotland would be liable for its share of the British national debt which would today amount to hundreds of billions of pounds. How could an independent Scotland even begin to finance any of this? It would have no independent currency, no central bank, no foreign reserves and a very small taxable base.
The financial services industry would almost certainly decamp to the City, defence contractors would close, the richest would flee South, property would lose its value and the vast majority of those left in public service employment (not to mention the unemployed) would have to cough up or give up. Given the Scottish Government’s lack of assets most people would soon become unemployed as taxes (in whatever currency) would cripple textile, Scotch and any other remaining industries. The sad conclusion is surely that given mass unemployment and government bankruptcy, there would soon be a political rebellion with Scots pleading to rejoin the Union.
Meanwhile – the third delusion – no matter how many EU flags were flown on public buildings there would be little chance of Scotland entering the EU. At present there is a moratorium on new membership. Spain has issued international arrest warrants for Catalan leaders in exile abroad (one is in Scotland) who held an illegal secessionist referendum there. Five member states do not recognise the independence of Kosovo which split from Serbia. Finally, Scotland does not meet the economic criteria for membership and has been continually warned by the EU Commission that it would not be treated as a special case. There is no real reason to suppose that this situation has changed.
It might of course turn out that EU resentment of Brexit would allow Brussels to change its mind. However, it would still expect Scotland to be legally independent first.
Here we encounter the fourth delusion, namely that Scots would actually support independence in a referendum. The latest polling figures suggest they would not. Previous ones have suggested that without the pound as a currency or outside both the UK and the EU any bid for independence would fail. Again the prospect of any hard border with England – an inevitable consequence of EU membership – also seems a dealbreaker. Finally, the terms of any second referendum would be very different from the last one. Besides, there is not the remotest chance that Boris has any intention of offering one, whatever the results of Holyrood elections.
The last delusion I want to consider here is the view that the alternative to SNP rule in Scotland, should Sturgeon be forced to resign or lose her majority, is rule by the traditional parties. The new Labour leader has supported the Hate Crimes Bill and so has lost credibility as an alternative first minister. Poor Sir Keir Starmer, who has no appeal to anyone either, will not be rescued by him. The Liberal Democrats, like Labour, are also a party without a purpose or a future. The Scottish Tories do not seem to have much wind behind them either. Unsure whether to position themselves as a Scottish or a British party, they may be rescued by the British government and its success with the vaccination programme but everyone knows that Ruth Davidson and Douglas Ross are not natural allies of Boris. Both as former rampant Remainers are in many ways SNP-lite, not heavyweight defenders of the Union despite their virulent opposition to a second referendum. This ambiguity undermines them while, despite the best efforts of a servile Tory press, Ross still to me appears a lightweight.
It seems poor Scotland will continue to fester under an SNP-Green coalition while the SNP descends into civil war and madness from being unable to procure the referendum its supporters have been promised. They will need more than the present political porridge to keep them happy. A full-scale tartan banana republic will probably emerge. We may, unfortunately, have seen nothing yet. Wallace and Bruce would be ashamed.
Alan Sked was educated at Allan Glen’s School in Glasgow, before going on to study Modern and Medieval History at the University of Glasgow, followed by a DPhil in Modern History at Merton College, Oxford. Sked taught at the London School of Economics where he became a leading authority on the history of the Hapsburg Empire, also teaching US and modern intellectual history and the history of sex, race and slavery. Alan Sked is now Emeritus Professor of International History at the London School of Economics. @profsked