BBC Scotland’s James Cook caught up with Nicola Sturgeon today and asked her about the Telegraph‘s leaked memo. But he also told her that the story chimes with what he has been told by senior SNP figures – that it suits their wider purpose to have a Tory Prime Minister because it rallies support for independence. His asking this question infuriated the CyberNats who rounded on him. Rarely for a BBC journalist, he commented on it:
What an extraordinary level of vicious abuse I have received today for simply reporting the news. Is this the country we want folks? Is it?
— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) April 4, 2015
He raises a good point. In the final weeks of the Scottish referendum campaign, the uglier side of Scottish nationalism became visible – non-believers were treated as Quislings. That’s the problem with nationalism, it stirs these kind of sentiments: the idea that if you don’t agree with the SNP (or, even worse, rank amongst the 500,000 Tories in Scotland) you are a somehow a traitor, un-Scottish – even anti-Scottish.
Pete Wishart, a nationalist MP, once said that in Scotland, ‘we loathe the Tories’. I’m not sure what that says about his approach to the thousands of Tories in his own constituency. But this is where nationalism can lead. All politics is tribal. But nationalists can become so convinced that they speak for their country that they see opponents as being enemies of the people.
To nationalist zealots, a BBC journalist asking challenging questions of the Dear Leader is inherently reprehensible and demonstrates a collapse of journalistic standards. Today, even serious SNP-sympathising commentators have been demanding that the Telegraph apologises for revealing a leaked memo.
Sure, the temperature does rise during elections, but things get ugliest when nationalism is involved – as the appalling treatment of BBC’s Nick Robinson demonstrated.
Last week, I met a journalist who had worked in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and he told me it was polite and civilised compared to his experience with the Scottish nationalists.
So it’s worth keeping an eye on the mood in Scotland over the next few weeks. The SNP leadership are, in my experience, refreshingly open-minded, good-humoured and intelligent. But the problem with nationalisms as a creed is that it attracts, as its followers, an angry mob – in the SNP’s case, a digital lynch mob. I suspect we’ll hear a lot more from them before this campaign is out.