Sunday, 5 February 2012

Is it Possible to Have a Civilized Debate on Independence?

Mike Russell is one of the more able wordsmiths in the Scottish Government It is his ability with the spoken and written word that enabled him to be such an effective alleged "Hatchet Man" for Alex Salmond, earned him the sobriquet "Peter Mandelson" of the SNP and led to his being effectively de-selected by party members, who placed him so far down the "list" for his Parliamentary seat, there was no chance of his being elected. His absence from office lasted only one session. Joan McAlpine's use of the term "anti-Scottish" has ensured it has become toxic and the period between its first use by Ms McAlpine and its second, by Mike Russell, was long enough for Russell to appreciate how it is being used by the Unionist media. He should have known better.

If one reads what Mike Russell actually said, it bears little relation to the claims of what he said, made by The Scotsman and the Daily Mail. "Agree with me or you're anti-Scottish, says senior minister", so ran the headline in The Scotsman. Even a cursory glance at the article that accompanied the headline, confirms that  Russell said that the policies embraced by the Tories were "ant-Scottish". There is not a single word aimed at any Tory MSP, contained in the article that ran for almost two complete columns, although Tory and Labour spokesmen were quoted extensively. The Scotsman also carried a leader, "Nip this arrogance in the bud" which again railed against the use of the term, without providing a shred of evidence that Russell's remarks were aimed at a single individual but the paper then suggested the "victims" of the anri-Scottish charge, might "regard its use as little short of fascism". 

The price of The Scotsman was increased to a £1 a copy two weeks ago and the latest publication figures showed a steady and quite dramatic reduction in the daily sales of the paper over the past few years. If that is the standard of journalism, to which Scots are going to be subjected in the run-up to the referendum, the paper will be lucky to survive. As someone who has regularly been on the receiving end of the kind of abuse usually reserved for Unionists and those who are seen to have "deserted the cause", I can vouch for the stupidity and viscousness of some of the cybernats. I believe that at least some of it is orchestrated from party HQ, confirmed to some extent when Mike Russell's office manager, Mark McLachlan was forced to resign two years ago, when it was discovered  he had used the internet to smear political opponents. To the SNP's credit however, it has never based its Nationalism on racism or hatred of the English, something which has been acknowledged time and again by even its strongest critics. To even sugggest that the party displays a hint of fascism in its behaviour, particularly as the "evidence" consists of no more than political play-acting on the part of the opposition parties and the plastic hysteria of The Scotsman, is totally despicable.

Unfortunately it is the kind of journalism to which English readers of the trashier tabloids have been subjected for years. Alex Salmond, whatever one thinks of him and I am not a fan, is the First Minister of Scotland and he has been compared to Mugabe and even Hitler and has been sneeringly portrayed as a "fat fool". There would be an outcry, if any of the Westminster politicians in any of the other parties had been so regularly belittled, never mind the Prime Minister. The Scottish people are castigated as "subsidy junkies" no matter how many times it is shown that Scotland has regularly contributed more taxation than our population share. The English media see nothing wrong or unjust, in the way Scottish life is presented as being dominated by drunkeness and violence and we are considered to lack the talent to be independent. Would the English dare say that about the Danes or Norwegians or any of the small countries of Europe? Scotland places greater emphasis on education and health care than England but the fact that the SNP government has organised public spending to relflect those priorities, is used by the opposition parties and media in England, to claim the extra spending on health and education in Scotland, is being paid for by the English. Again, if any other ethnic group in the UK - such as the West Indians - were so regularly held up to ridicule, questions on racial prejudice would be raised in Parliament but I would never suggest that comparisons might justifiably be made with Germany in the 1930s, when the Jews were being targeted.

Any sporting event, where England is the opposition, will create excitement and anticipation among Scots. English football and rugby players know they will get a hot reception at Murrayfield and Hampden but for as long as Scottish players have plied their trade south of the Border, friendships between Scottish and English players have been forged, some of which last a lifetime. The BBC's Scottish director invited Alex Salmond to join the panel of commentators at Murrayfield for the international between Scotland and England on Saturday but Ric Bailey, the Corporation's political advisor reversed that decision on the grounds that "the BBC has an obligation to ensure impartiality". Salmond's assurance that he would not mention politics at all was to no avail. Despite the BBC's stated nervousness about inflaming the political situation, John Inverdale introduced the programme by immediately making reference to Bannockburn and Culloden. However, those naff sideswipes were as nothing compared to the remarks of a couple of English players and ex-players.

At the recent  Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, England's players disgraced themselves both on and off the field. Andy Robinson, Scotland's English coach, castigated the English squad for "the disrespect they showed Scotland" in that World Cup. Phil Vickery, former England captain, when asked to say how Murrayfield affected him, said, "I loved running into the cauldron - everybody hates your guts."  Chris Robshaw, the newly capped current captain of the England squad, spoke of the advice given to him by Will Carling, who reminded him "just remember, no one likes us but don't let it get to you." Mick Skinner, former England flanker, speaking about Scotland's Grand Slam win in 1990 and perhaps underlining the arrogance to which Andy Robinson referred said, "Scotland were irrelevant. We were going to win the Grand Slam. I did not even know that Scotland had won all their games." Is that how England players approach matches with Scotland? If so, I have never been aware of the "hatred" they appear to feel but it might explain their sometimes atrocious behaviour.

Two years of this and the realtionship between Scotland and England will be soured for a generation, despite the best efforts of the SNP Government to maintain harmony. To give Mike Skinner credit, he admitted the English defeat at Murrayfield in 1990, provided a "really painful lesson" "What I believed and who I was changed after that. I thought I was better than I was before that game. But what happened at Murrayfield that day made be a better person and I am grateful for that." A Scottish "Yes" in the referendum may make England a better nation.


  1. A Scottish YES in the referendum will make England a better nation - a people again who'll demand government represent their needs.

    At the moment the right-wing variants of Tory and Labour will not represent anything but a group of wealthy people who are doing very nicely and always are doing very nicely.

    1. I hope for the sake of the English people it will make England a better place. It will certainly create a new perception for those who still regard the UK as a world power.

  2. One reason (but certainly not the only one!) I support the SNP is because I think Independence will get rid of the "Scottish Cringe" forever.

    It will also rob the English of a focus for the xenophobia currently being less-than-subtly directed by Cameron and Co. - I mean, have you SEEN the Mail on Sunday front page? Thus both nations will perforce focus on the future not the past.

    Robbed of the distraction of so-called "subsidy-junkie" Scots to vent their spleen on, maybe the English will take a look at the self-serving political Mafia they elected recently.

    Maybe the English Labour Party will get its balls (and I most certainly DON'T mean Ed) back and become a radical progressive party once more.

    Personally, I foresee a period of turmoil before new political entities arise to take the place of the morally and politically bankrupt place-sitters they now have.

    An English Constitution granting the People sovereignty over the State would be a great start. They won't have the money to keep up the expensive pretence of being a world power, so hopefully they'll start to get their own house in order before meddling in others' affairs. And maybe they'll start making things again instead of relying on the insane vagaries of the financial sector.

    I'd really like to see "Made in England", "Made in Wales", Made in Ireland" and "Made in Scotland" labels proliferating on lots of useful, well-designed products that will ensure a sound base for all the economies in these isles. Then we'll all be able to stand proud as equals.

    I wish England all the best and trust that she'll eventually cast aside the petty hatreds that currently disfigure her political landscape.