Scotland centralised, censored or coerced under bullying SNP

Scotland centralised, censored or coerced under bullying SNP

by Brian Monteith
article from Tuesday 1, November, 2011

THERE IS a repugnant and sinister centralism in the SNP government’s behaviour that needs to be challenged instead of meekly accepted by Alex Salmond’s opponents.

Last week I praised the First Minister’s strategic approach that has put his party on the cusp of achieving at least more home rule if not full independence, but he is not God – as he would no doubt admit with one of his chummy 200-watt smiles. All politicians suffer from hubris and Alex Salmond reveals it with alarming regularity, but what appears like a bullying nature and a fear of losing control are the characteristics now coming to the fore.

Worse still these tendencies are being replicated across the Scottish Government, suggesting it is not so much Salmond’s problem as a trait of the SNP itself.

Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill both openly attacked the Supreme Court, the latter sinking to a tabloid taunt that its knowledge of Scots law was limited to visits to Edinburgh Festival. Such was the shock at their aggressive approach it took weeks and months before the judiciary began to answer back pointing out the absurdity of the claim.

When Alex Salmond berated a protester opposed to Aberdeen’s Western Relief Road the judge handling the planning appeal had to intervene to defend a citizen’s right to be heard through due process.

Salmond also attempted to deny a public information request for a paper by the Scottish Government’s own economic adviser that revealed the likely costs of a local income tax upon ordinary working families, going so far as to kick-off a very public fight with the information commissioner that ended up in the courts.

Then last week we had Alex Salmond’s apology to Parliament for claiming that a letter he read to members had been written by a leading academic when it was in fact a draft prepared by his own press spokesman that the academic was unwilling to endorse.

This followed the New Statesman revealing in June how Salmond’s infamous Celtic Tiger speech, the one that applauded the Irish and Icelandic economies and boasted about RBS and HBOS, had, unlike all the First Minister’s other speeches, disappeared from the Scottish Government website – only to suddenly reappear after its invisibility was brought to the public’s attention.

If this type of spinning and subterfuge continues last week’s apology may not be the last Alex Salmond has to make.

Looking at these outbursts in the round we see the worst aspects of Gordon Brown, Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher; anyone that is “not one of us” as Thatcher put it can expect to be ridiculed, pilloried or marginalised for simply having a different point of view.

It is an example that SNP supporters are all too willing to emulate as cybernat bloggers consistently play the man and not the ball as their posted comments on Scotsman.com reveals. After one of my columns questioning an SNP policy but not the party’s motives or the personalities involved it was at the 45th comment that one blogger asked if anyone would address the points I had raised rather than attacking Monteith personally.

Sadly, this style of intimidation is something one has come to expect from the SNP, it betrays an ugly side to nationalism that is as abusively sectarian as anything said at an Old Firm match, but don’t expect it to be banned anytime soon. Sectarianism against unionists is okay it would seem.

It all serves to inculcate a fear through intimidation resulting in Scotland’s MacChattering classes displaying an unwillingness to take Alex Salmond on. When the First Minister talks of Scotland being a Celtic country his tone sounds more like the BNP than the SNP. Were David Cameron to claim, “England is Anglo Saxon” justifiable shrieks of outrage would be heard pointing out our nations’ multicultural history and traditions. Scotland’s Norse settlers were not Celtic, not to mention the Angles and Saxons that came from the East and the South – never mind other welcome influences such as the settlement of Southern Italians that began two centuries ago, or the more recent influxes from Asia.

The lazy assertion that we are Celtic therefore we are different flies in the face of centuries of interaction that has ensured we have more in common with the rest of Britain than divides us – especially as so many of our differences had nothing to do with racial origin, such as our protestant reformation and its revolutionary change to our education system.

Even the nice Mr Swinney has shown bullying and centralizing tendencies that cannot be dismissed as mere political arm-twisting. His approach to enforcing a Council Tax freeze places local authorities in a vice – implement central government policies and receive X million, don’t implement them and receive X-minus-Y million – effectively nationalising Council Tax under his control. Swinney may support tax competition against England but he certainly doesn’t allow it between our councils.

Swinney’s punitive attack on supermarkets selling tobacco and alcohol is dressed up as a health tax, a ruse belied by the failure to tax all off-licenses and tobacconists. The policy was not included in the election manifesto and is not to be consulted upon, flying in the face of Salmond’s attack on the UK Treasury for failing to consult oil corporations facing a new levy. More bullying, more central taxes.

Meanwhile Nicola Sturgeon will reintroduce minimum pricing of alcohol despite all of the evidence debunking the claim that price is the main factor leading to alcohol abuse. Her bullying of smokers will continue unabated; not content with promoting on dodgy dossiers about health improvements that repeatedly fail to compare like with like in an attempt to dress-up the ban on smoking in public places, the SNP still plans to force cigarettes under the counter. Expect controls on plain packaging next, then eventually proposals to ban smoking in cars and outside the remaining public houses or bingo halls.

She also has commanded that any NHS capital receipts will go to the centre and not stay with the local health boards – more bullying, more centralisation.

Locally, councils are seeing the Scottish Futures Trust reaching into their PPP/PFI schemes while the Fire and Rescue services are being centralised under one management and, more alarmingly, the same is proposed for Scotland’s eight police forces. There is obvious merit in all public organisations looking to share the back office IT, HR and accounting services – but one Chief Constable being open to regular phone calls from the First Minister and Kenny MacAskill? Does the treatment of our judiciary not ring anyone’s alarm bells for what will be the new centralised state police?

In Education we can see an impatient if not arrogant Mike Russell dropping the arms-length principle; threatening the independent appointment of university principals and condoning the “merger by fax” of Dundee and Abertay universities, all while his policies are seeing student numbers in colleges being drastically cut while the number of Scots gaining entry to our universities falls. Russell’s central diktat extends to a moratorium on school closures, ending the availability of central records on placing requests, telling local councils how many teachers they should employ and the number of pupils to be in classes. It’s more bullying and more centralisation.

While Labour’s Iain Gray showed a willingness to attack the “vile poison” in the SNP through his valedictory address to a Labour leadership hustings he missed the point about its Stalinist centralism. No need, they don’t “get it”; Ken McIntosh, one of his possible successors, has shown through his call for the renationalisation of Scotrail that Labour is unlikely to offer the real challenge that the SNP’s centralism requires.

Fortunately the contest to decide the new Scottish Conservative leader has brought about a questioning of Annabel Goldie’s old-pals act with Alex Salmond. Murdo Fraser and Jackson Carlaw have now both attacked the concept of a single police force, challenging the compliant acceptance of it by their colleague John Lamont. Be it a new centre-right party or the old Tories the way forward must be to advocate localism not centralism as the true form of independence for families and individuals.

Whichever way we look Scotland under the SNP is becoming centralised, censored or coerced, is it any wonder so many question what independence would be like under an imperious Premier Salmond?
 

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