Not exactly a promising title. And good to see The Herald not bothering with accuracy such as, you know, spelling their journalist's name correctly...
I DON'T know whether last week's Clan Gathering and "diaspora forum" made me want to reach for my revolver, or laugh at the obvious stupidity of it all, but it did give rise to thoughts about politics and Scotland's small place in the global economy.
In the wake of "David Kerr Gun Gate" is the gun metaphor a wise idea? Or simply aimed at shooting down the SNP's by-election candidate? (oh look, I can do it too...)
Cynicism first. Ten years on from the first Scottish parliament election, it seemed depressing that the electorate was being asked to re-engage with clan "chiefs" who had an alleged link to their families going back hundreds of years. Even worse was the idea that we should somehow shake the tin at the global Scottish community in a bid to fund God knows what.
Okay, I'll be fair. The Clan Gathering and tartan malarky is all very "kitch." But tourists - in particular, Americans - love tracing their Scottish roots. It's a very profitable opportunity.
But it did get me thinking about what has been the biggest political development since devolution. Most people say it is the smoking ban. Others believe it to be free personal care or the abolition of tuition fees. These are unlikely contenders as they were policies that were not linked to any larger script, and were introduced by different first ministers.
A more accurate answer may be the way our political culture has moved towards nationalism and embraced everything Scottish. From Holyrood debates on tartan registers and Scottish number plates, to funding our own international aid policy and clan gatherings, national identity has moved centre-stage.
I think that's a fair analysis. But bear in mind, the SNP were in opposition for 8 out of the first 10 years of devolution. That surely attests to effective opposition in promoting their agenda and forcing the government of the day to discuss (or, at the very least, recognise) their view.
This creeping nationalism is only noticeable these days when somebody goes too far, such as when a MSP complains about English cricket on television, or a row is manufactured over which flag should fly above Edinburgh Castle. Now that they're in power, the SNP can use the resources of government to go full-throttle on an idea they could never afford to promote with their own money.
Again fine. But let me ask this. Why, when Labour came to power in 1997 (or the Tories in 1979) were their policy goals not described as "creeping conservatism" or "creeping socialism"? Because they did the same thing - promote their idea of how governance should work by actually implementing what they could through their government status.
But nationalism, in whatever guise, is a distraction from the only debate that ultimately counts in politics: the distribution of power, money and opportunity. What is "Scotland", if not an invented community dreamt up by a bunch of white guys a few hundred years ago? A similar group of landowners invented other countries such as "Belgium", "Austria" and "Wales", but our national narrative is created to pretend that our bit of turf is somehow special.
Every national narrative does that. And it is - or it should be. It's home, Paul. Tell me you don't think of your house as special - or distinct - from other people's? It's the same principle really. Talk about "invented communities" all you want (by the way, I think the academic phrase you are looking for is "Imagined Communities") but I think most people would agree that they feel some kind of connection to some kind of community - whether that is family, village, town, region, nation, country, continent.
The con-trick of nationalism is to spin a fairytale that a country - Scotland, Timbuktu - has a specific set of characteristics that marks it out as innately different. Its "people" are then conditioned to feel pride in what is effectively an accident of geography, or get dewy-eyed about the random part of the globe they just happened to be conceived in.
And the "con-trick" of journalism is to stick a few words together in a newspaper and report an opinion as fact. See, I can twist things too. Fine, it's an accident of geography where I was born but I don't see what the problem is in wanting to see others from your own "community" do well and a sense of pride in their achievement.
Gordon Brown's promotion of British patriotism - a two-bit, dog-eared version of nationalism - made a laughable attempt at linking "Britishness" to respect for democracy. This in a country that still has legislators and a head of state based on heredity.
Agreed. Though I guess the problem for Brown in doing so is that "Britishness" has never been defined in the same sense that its component nations have - in a historic sense I mean. Their national stories are already constructed while Brown has to start at the beginning.
Salmond's insistence that Scots have always been big on compassion and "community" is equally absurd. A glance at Scotland's contribution to the British Empire, or the Sighthill residents' reaction to the arrival of asylum-seekers, should quickly challenge that perception.
Again, agreed. Reckon there are a few liberties being taken on that score.
Nationalism, including the civic Scottish version, is also a value-free zone. There is no logical Scottish position on wealth inequality, feminism or reforming public services. Most SNP policies are tactical compromises designed solely with the intention of promoting independence. Far from being a liberating force, nationalism is more akin to a ball and chain, or a set of blinkers that prevent people from seeing the world as it is.
Hold on. The SNP is a party. Scottish nationalism is a movement. Conflating the two doesn't help understand them. The SNP have evolved (2007 election) into a catch-all party - focusing not solely on a part of the electorate (the left, the centre, the right) but promoting policies which would appeal broadly across the political spectrum, just as Labour did in 1997. SNP policies are tactical compromises - absolutely - but the underlying principle of self-determination is not.
These gripes could be countered if Scottish nationalism was a movement based on social justice, but it is not. Around 50% of the SNP's election warchest in 2007 came from right-wing businessmen who supported the poisonous Keep The Clause campaign in 2000. The party's financial muscle also wants a continuation of the same economic philosophy that has dominated politics since the 1980s, the sole difference being that it should be wrapped in tartan bunting.
Again you conflate Scottish nationalism as a movement with the party machinery of the SNP. I accept that, as the main proponent of independence, the SNP drive nationalism in Scotland, but a movement and a party are two different things. On the point of funding, I suspect that those who supported the SNP - Brian Soutar in particular - did so for tactical reasons. They'd probably be more at home with the Conservatives but backed the horse likely to beat Labour in Scotland. But in politics, financial backing is important. I disagree strongly with Soutar's politics, but if he had not funded the SNP, would we be having this discussion?
As for the SNP's many broken promises since entering government, the one policy it did not ditch was the multi-million-pound tax cut for businesses, a policy that has not created any jobs and which did not have an evidence base, but was fully funded and pushed through as one of Salmond's key priorities.
Two things. 1) The SNP are a minority government but campaigned on the expectation that, at the very least, they'd be in coalition government. They can not be expected to deliver on every election promise on that basis. I suspect you know that, but that wouldn't sell papers. 2) Governments don't create jobs. Businesses do. Again, I assume you didn't get to where you are without knowing that. The business rates cut was designed to attract business to Scotland while giving assistance to businesses here in the hope that, yes, they'd be able to recruit more people. But then what happened? Oh yes, a recession - which the Scottish Government had no control over.
A plausible argument for an SNP government could have been that Salmond, a loner and political outsider, would use the levers of power to confront vested interests and take away decision-making from the cliques that dominate public life.
However, the opposite has happened. Rather than challenge the establishment, Salmond has tried to co-opt its leading members into his Nationalist tent. Sir Angus Grossart, Sir George Mathewson and Sir Tom Farmer are all Salmond confidantes, while at times it seems you need three letters after your name to impress our monarchist first minister.
I've heard similar reports from inside the circle.
A recent interview also confirms that Salmond is now supping from society's other poisoned well: organised religion. As well as cosying up to the Catholic Church and Muslim leaders, the first minister has taken it upon himself to declare that he, too, is a man of faith. Not that he takes it to ridiculous lengths, like going to church, but simply that Christianity has had a profound effect on his life.
This combination of nationalism and religion is a recipe for keeping people dumb, poor and unable to understand the rational world that exists outside of their wee bit of hill and glen.
Hang on. I'll accept that the First Minister's recent declaration of faith leave a little to be desired... but I think you are mistaking nationalism for socialism. You know, religion being the "opium of the people" and all that. I have more confidence in people as rational beings to judge for themselves whether religion or politics in important to them, and which road of faith (in religion or politics) to take.
According to this world view, it matters little that you work 50 hours a week for poverty pay, get treated like dirt by employers or are let down by public services, because at least you love your country and have Jesus in your life.
Drivel. Utter drivel.
For all his Europhilia, Salmond's influence on Scottish politics is pushing us more towards a US-style political culture, where discussions on wealth get less air-time than hand-wringing debates on identity politics and what it means to be an American. The last Holyrood election, like every presidential contest since 1960, was a political beauty contest. And Jack McConnell, let's face it, was no Jack Kennedy.
True - to an extent. But I think you forget Tony Blair. He was the one who originally made politics in this country a more presidential style. Salmond just used it effectively in 2007.
In a UK context, Salmond is perhaps the Tony Benn or Enoch Powell of Scottish politics: a maverick politician who, by force of personality, makes unreasonable ideas seem reasonable to large chunks of the population. Take him out of the equation, as was the case when he resigned the SNP leadership in 2000, and his party nosedives.
And there it is. Couldn't have an article on Scottish nationalism without bringing out the Nazis eh? Salmond as Enoch Powell? That's an unreasonable idea but nothing short of what you'd expect from the Scottish press. Associate the SNP with anti-immigration and right-wing politicians without actually examining their policies.
In the meantime, Salmond and his ministers are using the powers they have to pump nationalism into the water supply. It may not be poisonous, or even have damaging long-term effects, but the recipe will do little to cure the economic problems that persist in this and every other country.
I'm sorry - is that last sentence a cry that the Scottish Government should have more economic powers? Or simply a criticism of the SNP for not doing something that it can't actually do?
Oh well. I really do look forward to the day when the parties and the press can have a rational, grown-up discussion about the constitutional future of Scotland. Sadly, with articles like this and the reluctance of politicians - from both sides of the debate - to clearly articulate a positive case for their view, I'll probably be waiting a long time yet.