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A lesson for Alex Salmond from George Orwell

23 October 2012

1:18 PM

23 October 2012

1:18 PM

I’ve written a piece for today’s Scotsman noting that there are some parallels between Scotland’s independence stushie and the pre-Iraq War rammy a decade ago. Only this time it’s the nationalists who are, if you will allow the comparison, the neoconservatives. Just as pro-war advocates back then (and I was one of them) cheerfully labelled anyone who opposed the war of being “objectively pro-Saddam” so the nationalists today essentially argue that anyone opposed to independence is anti-Scottish and, implicitly, objectively so.

This is as tedious as it is stupid and the kind of thing liable to further hamper the party’s already faltering attempts to win what the Americans call high information voters (that is: those on above-average incomes). Support for independence declines with wealth and this is, increasingly I think, a problem for Alex Salmond and the nationalists. They are not, at present, getting through to these voters. And part of their problem must lie in the approach they are taking. I’m not sure that telling Labour voters they’re really supporting the Tory party is the kind of thing liable to impress those Labour supporters. But, who knows, perhaps accusations of false consciousness will prove persuasive! I doubt it.

The SNP appear to have taken their text from Orwell’s famous line that: “pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other.”

Aye, well, but this leads you to a difficult place in which nuance is abandoned forever. Perhaps that’s to be expected in this kind of political debate but that don’t mean it must be welcomed. And anyway, as I say, in 1944 Orwell recanted this view:

“The important thing is to discover which individuals are honest and which are not, and the usual blanket accusation merely makes this more difficult. The atmosphere of hatred in which controversy is conducted blinds people to considerations of this kind. To admit that an opponent might be both honest and intelligent is felt to be intolerable. It is more immediately satisfying to shout that he is a fool or a scoundrel, or both, than to find out what he is really like.”

Lord knows, there will be grim nonsense from the Unionist side too in this debate but that’s a matter for another day. If the SNP want to persuade sceptical Scots they might remember that how you make your argument has some bearing on whether or not you will win it.

Anyway: whole Scotsman column here.

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