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Patriot Games and Scoundrels - Spectator Blogs

14 August 2012

2:50 PM

14 August 2012

2:50 PM

The Olympics are over and, with grim inevitability, politics have returned. Not the least lovely aspect of the Olympic fortnight was the manner in which it eclipsed everything and anything our politicians had to say. They were not missed but now they’re back.

And so is Joan McAlpine MSP. As I’ve said before, McAlpine’s column in the Daily Record rewards careful attention, not least because it is a nationalist beach-head in hostile territory. Moreover, it is a weekly demonstration of how at least one influential nationalist thinks the SNP can appeal to working-class voters, principally but not exclusively in west-central Scotland. It is rarely, I confess, a pretty sight but that may be because it’s not written to persuade the likes of me. This week’s offering is no exception.

I hold no brief for the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster, far less any particular regard for that bumptious bampot Ian Davidson, MP. Nevertheless, it seems a stretch to suppose, as McAlpine does, that Labour MPs in London are doing “an excellent job of delivering for David Cameron”. Even if they were, it is not self-evidently apparent that this would be disgraceful. But there’s more:

These Labour MPs worked in tandem with the Tories on the committee to produce the shameful report.
Their true blue allies include Fiona Bruce, Conservative member for Congleton, David Mowat, Conservative member for Warrington South and Mike Freer, Conservative member for Margaret Thatcher’s old seat of Finchley.
Is this how low Keir Hardie’s party have sunk? They will use Margaret Thatcher’s successor to strip Scots of the power to decide their own future?
Johann Lamont, Labour’s leader in Scotland also stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories – at the launch of the anti-independence Better Together campaign.
She believes Scotland is better off with a Tory Westminster government slashing benefits for disabled people, squandering Scotland’s oil wealth on tax cuts for the super rich, and sticking to a lunatic economic policy of austerity.
But there are murmurs of discontent. One front bencher, Neil Findlay, recently had a go at Alistair Darling, Labour figurehead for the Tory Better Together campaign.
Findlay wants the Scottish parliament to have the economic power to protect the poorest – yet his party leaders are trying to block a second question on that subject.
Even more damning for Lamont was the verdict of one of her predecessors, Henry McLeish, former First Minister of Scotland.

Mr McLeish said last week the anti-independence campaign was in danger of also appearing anti-Scottish. We can only speculate as to what he meant.

Is this just the usual tabloid knockabout, designed to appeal to low-information voters? In part, perhaps. But there’s an ugliness here too. We are wearily used, by now, to the notion that Conservatives are aliens whom no sensible – and certainly no patriotic – person in Scotland could possibly support. (This, of course, is a view long-propagated by Labour too). Now, however, it seems that Labour Unionists are just as culpable and, therefore, just as treacherous as any Conservative. As best they are the evil Tories’ dupes; more probably they’re active collaborators with some kind of government of occupation.

How else to understand the accusation that the Unionist campaign is a Tory campaign and that Alistair Darling is just a useful “figurehead”? How else to understand the suggestion that any opposition to the Scottish National Party  is “anti-Scottish”? (And, incidentally, using Henry McLeish as a Labourish argument from authority is itself a slippery piece of sleight-of-hand, given how far the Bold McLeish has departed from mainstream Labour thinking.)

Again, just to be clear, it is impossible for Conservatives (in Scotland or elsewhere) to have Scotland’s best interests at heart. Equally, it is impossible for Labour unionists to have an honest or good faith disagreement with the nationalists. They must be fools or charlatans or the Tories’ useful idiots.

And this is the kind of positive, inclusive campaign nationalists promised? I’d hate to see them go negative if this is their idea of a healthy, forward-looking, confident case.

Moreover, McAlpine;s argument is illogical. As related here (and elsewhere), the argument for independence (which, again, is not an inherently disreputable one) is based on the need to protect poor Scotland from being raped by a Conservative-led government in London. As arguments for independence go, this is a poor one and not just because a Labour government in London (such things have been known!) puts an end to it. No, it is illogical because it implies that, were matters arranged differently, left-wing nationalists should actually be Unionists.

Consider an alternative land in which there was a Scottish majority for Conservatism (this too has been known!) but no conservative majority in the rest of the United Kingdom. If, as McAlpine suggests, resisting the Tories is every Scot’s patriotic duty, then in this hypothetical land the Union would offer Scots a sanctuary from Conservatism.

Now this may be a fanciful flight of wishful thinking. Nevertheless, it helps demonstrate, I think, the dishonesty of one strand of SNP thinking. Reflexive anti-Toryism is – or should not be – enough. The argument for independence should be robust enough to stand on its own merits, regardless of the composition of the British government. Viewed from this perspective at least, the SNP’s apparently increasing reliance on anti-Tory rhetoric is a demonstration of weakness, not strength.

It may poll well – I’m told it does – but sly and not so subtle accusations your opponents lack patriotism is a shabby way to make your argument. And while it may please some voters it must surely annoy and even appall some others whose support the nationalists can ill afford to lose.

If no man has the right to set the boundary to the march of a nation so no party has the right to suppose it possesses a monopoly on good faith or patriotism. The SNP is at its most impressive when it is at its most inclusive.

Perhaps that’s not enough for readers of the Daily Record. But if so that makes Scotland a pretty desperate place. Moreover, just as it matters how Unionists make its arguments, so it matters how the nationalists makes theirs. A generous nationalism is more persuasive than this kind of embittered, small-minded, negativity.

Now you may object that McAlpine does not speak for the party and, of course, that’s true. Nevertheless, her platform makes her one of the more influential voices within the nationalist movement and, frankly, if I were a nationalist strategist I’m not sure suggesting your opponents are motivated by treacherous, anti-Scottishness is really the wisest message to send. Most of them are likely to wonder who the hell you are to say so.

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