Rhetoric of Separatism

The official general election campaign begins at the end of this month, but anyone following the news or politics will know that we are well into the election season already.

We’ve had the debate debate, we have politicians promising things left right and centre should they be the chosen ones elected to govern and we’ve also had the political sledging that goes hand-in-hand with electioneering, in trying to portray all the other choices as wrong and that their party is the only one that will deliver what it says.

In Scotland, the SNP have become the dominant party in the opinion polls – with a 20 point lead over traditional Westminster winners Labour – as the aftershocks of the political earthquake that was the independence referendum continue to be felt.

This renewed ascendancy has led to predictions of a strong SNP contingent at Westminster after the General Election of 40 or more MPs.  However, with the prospect that they could become power-brokers in an almost inevitable hung parliament has come the scrutiny and attacks from other parties and the British media.

The threat of a strong Scottish voice represented by the SNP has the English-led parties and newspapers running scared.  Threat is a word that they use, not I, to describe the “dangers” of this bunch of “separatists” having a role in shaping the policy of the Government that still rules over them and the people of Scotland and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

This threat is something that is baffling to many of us here in Scotland, as the idea that our voices can be heard in a Westminster system that has ignored the needs of our country for a long time is actually a breath of fresh air rather than a curse.  We don’t fear the SNP here in Scotland, having twice returned them to Government in Holyrood, and almost half the population intend to vote for them in May.  We’re not scared of the SNP, but in the rest of the UK it appears they are.

The last few days have seen the rhetoric ramp up with the Conservatives launching a campaign of billboards featuring Ed Miliband perched in Alex Salmond’s shirt pocket, an article from Allan Massie in The Telegraph evoking the old immigration idea of the “Thames frothing with blood” to convey the “anger” that would be felt in England should the SNP gain any sort of power and a pair of incendiary cartoons (1, 2) in the Guardian from Steve Bell.

(Update 11/3/15: Two more newspaper segments in today’s English press have been devoted to rubbishing Scotland via the SNP – this from the Daily Star and this from The Sun)

Firstly, Alex Salmond being in control of the Westminster government makes little sense – with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon setting the course of the party, Deputy Leader and MP Stewart Hosie setting the policies and the party’s Westminster group leader Angus Robertson to be maintaining the post after the next election.  It also shows the disregard the Conservatives have for Scotland, where the focus on Labour’s downfall has masked the fact that the Tories are still as unpopular as ever north of the border.  Allan Massie’s article paints an entirely uninformed and false picture of Scottish politics from the referendum to now.  He even talks of English independence as a strategy to dispel the disquiet that Scotland having a say in its governance.  And the less said about Steve Bell’s cartoons the better.

These slurs on the SNP are illogical and misinformed at best.  Of course they have a right to hold and profess these views, but they touch upon a colonial and almost racist view of Scotland and its’ people that is rightly drawing significant criticism here.  Not so long ago there was a significant campaign to make Scottish people feel part of Britain and that we’re all in this together.  Not so anymore – the Scots are rebels that are daring to stand up and be counted rather than sit in the corner and eat their cereal.  We in Scotland do not have a right to be offended by these attacks at our country, masked behind the guise of our most popular political party, but we do have a right to criticise their ideas and their intentions in expressing them, especially when it caricatures our people and our culture so poorly.

It doesn’t seem as though anyone in the mainstream media or the main political parties are entertaining the possibility that the SNP might just be a good thing.  For all the talk and accusations of the SNP being dangers to the integrity of the United Kingdom, it is rarely mentioned that as a political party it is of course in their best interests to govern responsibly if they get the chance.  Their party is based on what is best for Scotland, and if they couldn’t deliver on that in their likely only chance to steer the Westminster Government they so loathe then the people of Scotland will not back them.  Surely those attacking the SNP can understand that premise at least when they talk of them trying to dissolve the UK by governing it?  The mainstream media is lacking in balance and while it is their right, and in some senses their duty, to take editorial and politically aligned stances it seems somewhat unfair that there is no paper, save The National, that promotes balance towards the third largest party in the UK.

What might be lost on some who lambast the SNP, and Scotland with it for considering voting for them, is the spirit of Scottish solidarity, or what they might call spite, in the face of attack.  If people claim that we aren’t with them, and that we are separate, and then go and tell us not to do something it’s more likely than not going to make us do it.  In the referendum the “Project Fear” strategy worked because for those who were swayed they did see themselves as belonging to the wider community and being warned by friends not to make a mistake.  For others, who didn’t identify with the idea of being as one with the rest of the UK, it likely drove their determination to work towards a Yes vote.  If the media and Westminster political parties continue to attack a section of Scotland which amounts to 45% plus of the population, then they could find that it could backfire spectacularly this time around.

So, the question is: are these attacks in fact the rhetoric of English will for Scottish separatism?  These aren’t the lovebombs that were printed and broadcast in the run up to the referendum with actors, writers, celebrities and journalist all asking “Scotland, please stay”.  These are the writings of a group of people who, having got what they wished for, are beginning to regret it.  Whilst Scotland is in the UK it deserves to have a strong say in how it is governed, whether or not that appeases the people of England or the mass media.  That is what the Union is about, whether or not it is a good thing.

Coming so close after the most monumental political event of our lifetimes, of course this General Election was going to mean something different to Scotland than it ever has before.  The problem is though that it is uncharted waters in UK terms as well, with the two main parties on course to almost tie in the number of seats won and the rise of third parties such as UKIP and the Greens, events unheard of in British politics.  This maelstrom of political change might be unsettling to some, but regardless of which parties you support it should be viewed as a real democratic boon for a country that so-often embodied a two-party system.  That’s not the way the media is embracing it though.

The next two months will be fraught with claims and counter-claims, attacks and counter-attacks and these will no doubt influence voters across the country before they decide who they will vote for.  But despite the attempts at scaring the Scottish people into voting for the Westminster attempts, the polls show that a large number will not be cowered into putting an X beside any alternative.

The rhetoric of separatism is working the other way now.  Scotland is having its “fool me once” moment.

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