The Scots had that ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ referendum in 2014, and already – according to Nicola Sturgeon – it’s time for another. Well, we know life expectancy has dipped in the SNP’s sunny uplands, but surely it’s not that bad. Perhaps Sturgeon sees the clear majority that voted to stay in the UK as disproportionately older people, who are making way for a younger, nationalist generation. David Cameron foolishly allowed the ballot to be extended to 16-year-olds, but hey, Nicola, why stop there? With your Soviet State guardian scheme, you can get schoolkids to vote for you.
Lauded by Remainers, Sturgeon hopes to profit from the political turmoil of Brexit. Yet unobserved by the chattering classes in London, the atmosphere in Scotland is changing fast. It would always be difficult for the SNP to maintain its amazing success in the 2015 general election, occupying 56 of the 59 seats, but the fall is coming sooner than many would have thought. Sturgeon has over-egged her cake, and is now seen not as the solution but the problem.
Southerners tend to regard the Scots as a uniform folk, just as the vast and varied topography is assumed to be enveloped by a single weather front. This simplistic thinking helps the SNP: they have successfully identified themselves as Scotland in the eyes of many English people (including some who should know better). Listen to the tussles between Sturgeon and Holyrood opposition leader Ruth Davidson. The latter is on an upwards trajectory, raising the spirits of long-dejected Tories while reviving the social conservatism at the core of Scottish life. Ruth knows that Nicola would find grievance in a Christmas present. Independence, after all, is the raison d’être of the SNP, so anything and everything is manipulated to portray a remote, uncaring Westminster establishment. Tony Blair thinking that devolution would quell separatism was one of his more excusable errors. The measured tone of Donald Dewar, the much-admired first Holyrood premier, contrasts sharply with his nationalist successors.
SNP support, which reached a high watermark two year ago, is now receding, but the sands have shifted. In the 1970s, when the SNP emerged as a political force, it wore Harris tweed or boasted of prosperity in oil-enriched Aberdeen. The independence referendum showed a quite different pattern. The few areas that wanted out of the UK were urban and in economic decline, left behind by the dynamism of Edinburgh. Among them was Glasgow, the second city of the British Empire. And it is in this landscape of gloomy concrete council estates where we can learn what is happening in Scottish politics.
Back in the 1950s the electoral map of Scotland was a sea of blue, but by the 1980s Labour was dominant, controlling the central belt. Glaswegians were united in their antipathy to Margaret Thatcher, but such consensus masked a deep, underlying schism. From the nineteenth century onwards, this industrial heartland had attracted droves of Irishmen, and the indigenous working class took umbrage. The troubles of Ireland and religious bigotry were expressed in the bitter rivalry of Rangers and Celtic, which continue to represent contrasting identities: the former Protestant, British and royalist; the latter Irish republican, Roman Catholic and papist. Most Scottish Catholics have moved on from the past, but a sense of otherliness is maintained by separate RC schools.
To live harmoniously, Scots made religious denomination a taboo topic (asking someone which school they attended is a loaded question). Rising above petty prejudice, Labour politicians brought people together in the unemployment blackspots of the 1980s, when the Tory Party was characterised as aloof, lording over a human scrapheap. From the red fiefdom of Glasgow emerged John Smith, who fell in his prime to the common coronary killer. Others who fought their way in feisty socialist machismo were John Reid, Robin Cook, George Galloway and Gordon Brown. After the New Labour landslide in 1997, the Scottish Politbureau was running Britain.
The former Irish diaspora was solidly Labour. The SNP, with its opposition to segregated schooling, did not lure the large Catholic community. But today, the separatists are courting any source of antipathy towards the union of Scotland and England. The SNP promotes a distinctive Celtology, and in power it has spent a fortune on bilingual signage for towns, irrespective of whether Gaelic was ever spoken there. Clearly the Irish Catholic narrative is closer to the SNP cause than ‘true blue’ Protestantism. The Scottish government passed laws against sectarian chants at football matches, but Rangers fans have been unfairly targeted. While Celtic supporters who sing the praises of the IRA claim to be expressing political views, the loyalist ‘Billy Boys’ is cast as hate crime. Union Jacks are anathema to the SNP.
Brian Wilson, previously a Labour government minister and now a director of Celtic FC, has accused the SNP of a ‘deliberate attempt to sectarianise Scottish politics’. Separatists have imported anti-British language from the Troubles, labelling any party opposed to independence as ‘unionist’. As Wilson explains, this is a sinister ploy to inflame sectarian tensions and to associate those wishing to remain both British and Scottish with the stubborn prejudices of Ulster and the Orange Order. The SNP, having failed to persuade Scots to leave the UK, is cynically exploiting Irish Catholic sentiment. Nothing good can come from reopening this old sore, and it must be exposed and confronted. Brian Wilson has bravely raised his head over the parapet.
There is cause for optimism for those who love Scotland as part of our British family. A petition against Sturgeon’s threatened second referendum is heading towards quarter of a million. Every constituency in Scotland has thousands of signatories, and the number in Alex Salmond’s constituency is raising eyebrows. This is what people are signing to: –
We in Scotland are fed up of persecution by the SNP leader who is solely intent on getting independence at any cost. As a result, Scotland is suffering hugely.
The SNP is fundamentally failing: it has wrecked education, policing and social services, engaging instead in divisive propaganda. This petition is the beginning of the end for the poison dwarf.