What a difference a decade makes thanks to the separatists

What a difference a decade makes thanks to the separatists

by Jill Stephenson
article from Tuesday 1, December, 2020

IT IS DIFFICULT NOW to remember what life in Scotland was like a decade or so ago. Part of this is because of the Coronavirus, but, even before it struck us this year, there were other factors that made c.2010 a foreign country, as in ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’ (L.P. Hartley, 1953). 

Chief among these is, of course, the continuing vociferous agitation for a referendum on Scexit. It has changed Scotland out of all recognition – and not for the better. Compared with circa 2010, we do things very differently in Scotland now. 

Recently, I was struck by an essay written by the late, great Kenneth Roy (pictured) in 2009, which he entitled ‘The New Terrorism’. He was writing about an episode which now completely eludes me, that of swine flu. His words are worth quoting: 

In July [2009] the UK health secretary, Andy Burnham, predicted that, by the end of the summer, 40 Britons a day would be dying of swine flu. Later that month, the predictions were revised sharply upwards. We were told to brace ourselves for a minimum of 19,000 and a maximum of 65,000 deaths from swine flu over the winter. We were warned that temporary mortuaries would be required…. ‘Social distancing’ was introduced as a concept. We were invited to believe that public events would be cancelled and that football matches would be played before empty stadia. A chief constable said that swine flu posed a greater threat to civilised order than terrorism. In short, Armageddon beckoned. 

It was something of a false alarm. By the time Kenneth was writing, on 9 December 2009, the death toll was 270, and the number of new cases had halved in a week. Kenneth’s main concern was that the ‘emergency’ had led the Department of Health to allow people in England and Wales with mental health problems to be sectioned and put on medication with the consent of only one doctor, and he warned against ‘oppressive intervention’ by the state on the basis of unreasonable fear. What he would have made of the restraints and prohibitions of the current crisis is anyone’s guess, but I imagine he would have railed against at least some of them. The Covid crisis is, of course, a different emergency, with a sobering death toll.  

Until this year, I had not heard of ‘social distancing’, yet Kenneth was writing about it in 2009. My preoccupations then were adjusting to retirement, travelling to Central America and later New Zealand, and making preparations to have my bathroom gutted and refitted while I was in New Zealand and the cat was in a cattery. My movements and correspondence betray no inkling of swine flu as a real and present danger. I knew no-one who contracted it, and no-one to whom I have spoken about this has more than a very dim memory of it. As it is, I still know of no-one who has contracted Coronavirus. Some of us lead a sheltered life. 

In 2010, I was not much concerned with politics. In the May 2010 general election, I voted Liberal Democrat, as usual, and was pleased that the result brought about a coalition in which the Liberal Democrats figured – their first taste of government since 1945. I wasn’t even politically active at the time of the 2011 Scottish election. After all, only 50 per cent of us cared enough to turn out for the Holyrood election of that year. The SNP’s ‘landslide victory’ was achieved with the support of 22.5 per cent of those eligible to vote, that is, 45 per cent of the vote on a 50 per cent turnout.  I do remember a heated discussion with a colleague – an Englishman – who said in 2011 that he would vote for the SNP. I tried to dissuade him, without effect. In 2014, he would express his regret at having voted nationalist.  

But it was after the 2011 election that everything changed. Alex Salmond’s determination to have a referendum on Scottish separatism, by whose result he had previously said publicly that everyone should abide, was treated casually by the prime minister, David Cameron. The Edinburgh Agreement was signed in October 2012, with a clause stating that all participants would accept the result. Cameron allowed Salmond to choose the terms of the referendum – the electorate, the question and, crucially, the date. Had Cameron insisted the referendum be held within a year of the Edinburgh Agreement, that is, in 2013, the pro-union side would have won a huge majority and we would not be in the position that we are currently in. As it was, Cameron allowed Salmond and his SNP team two years in which they flooded the housing estates, especially, with activists versed in the SNP’s lying, grievance-mongering propaganda, so that by September 2014 SNP lies were embedded in a significant body of the population. And there they remain, as anyone who encounters the cybernats can attest. The focus groups recently consulted by the These Islands think tank confirm that, once the SNP narrative and its associated dishonest grievances have been embedded in people’s minds, they are difficult to shift, even when hard evidence is produced to demonstrate that what they have believed is false. 

The gall of separatists who rail about Brexit, when they voted in 2014 for a course of action, Scexit, which would, as the then Vice-President of the EU Commission told the Scottish parliament in writing, have taken a separate Scotland out of the EU (without a deal) on 24 March 2016 – Salmond’s ‘independence day’ – is breath taking hypocrisy. Their fixation on the evils of the British Empire, in which huge numbers of Scots were either active or complicit, and their ignorance of the similar evils perpetrated by Spaniards, Portuguese, Dutch, French, Belgians, Danish, Germans and Italians in their overseas empires, is unflinching. 

The question that exercises me most, when I survey the iron grip established by the SNP on our country and its institutions and society is: how did we let it happen? Presumably it was happening ten years ago, when I, like so many others, was asleep at the wheel. In 2010, we still appeared to have a functioning democracy. The SNP was a minority government, led by Alex Salmond, and given ad hoc majorities on different issues by the Scottish Conservatives, led by Annabel Goldie. Scotland was a part of the UK, and the Union Jack flew over official buildings on public holidays and other significant dates. There did not seem to be particular friction between the Scottish executive and the government in London. A very small (6 MPs) SNP delegation sat in the Westminster parliament without disrupting proceedings and without its members proclaiming their right to speak on behalf of ‘the people of Scotland’. The streets of our major towns were thronged with shoppers of a Saturday afternoon. Our broadcast media questioned politicians freely. 

Now, the SNP minority government relies on six compliant Green list MSPs – with the Green party having won a princely 13,000 first preference votes – to pass its legislation (not that there is much of that) and therefore conducts itself as a majority administration. A couple of years ago, the SNP administration decided the Union Flag should be flown on official buildings on only a couple of occasions each year. There is a concerted campaign to remove the Union Flag and the word ‘British’ from everything in Scotland, and to brand everything as ‘Scottish’, with silly slogans such as ‘We are Scotland’ emblazoned on SNP executive propaganda. Ms Sturgeon and her colleagues do not miss an opportunity – and are creative in inventing opportunities – to insult and berate the government in London and the Westminster system generally. The 48 SNP MPs act as a wrecking element in the Westminster parliament, pursuing gesture politics such as the staged walk out after their leader, Ian Blackford, was ejected by the Speaker on 13 June 2018. Blackford had indulged in the usual SNP attention-seeking grievance mongering and had tried to disrupt the business of parliament.  

I did not notice ten years ago the flaws in the devolution settlement that have become only too apparent under a secretive, dishonest and domineering executive. Scottish nationalists like to contrast Holyrood with what they claim is a ‘corrupt’ Westminster system. Yet at Westminster there is a robust select committee system that interrogates government ministers and others and holds them to account. At Holyrood there are committees, but they are now dominated by the SNP, with their SPADS sitting in on them. The scandal of the contempt shown by the SNP leadership towards the Holyrood committee of inquiry in 2020 into the Salmond affair is an indication of how confident that leadership is of its total power and how arrogant it is in exercising it. At Westminster there is a much-derided second chamber, the House of Lords, which can question and to some extent obstruct government legislation that it regards as inappropriate. At Holyrood, there is no revising chamber. Nor is there an adequate system of audit, to scrutinise the SNP executive’s use of public monies. The respected Fraser of Allander Institute reports the SNP government has not spent around £1 billion of funding from HM Treasury and has not given an account of where the extra £8.2 billion of UK government funding for the Coronavirus crisis in Scotland has been spent. It is clear that some of the funds distributed to Scotland for the support of businesses in the Covid crisis have not been passed on to businesses at all. Where did these monies end up? 

Could these funds be being used for election bribes? Is that how the £500 ‘bonus’ to all full time NHS staff and carers – and the £100 Christmas payment to families eligible for free school meals – should be understood? By denying businesses the financial help intended for them, causing them to go bust and people to lose their jobs? 

At least Covid has spared us one innovation that the nationalists have inflicted on us in recent years: the ‘marches’, or rather ambles, around town centres of a Saturday afternoon by a weird bunch of woad-painted and disfigured saltire-bedecked supporters of Scottish nationalism. They form a kind of rent-a-mob of mostly the same people who turn up in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, Aberdeen and other Scottish towns and cities at weekends. Some of them also are the ‘Bridges for Indy’ clowns who wave defaced saltires from bridges at drivers of cars on motorways, without let or hindrance from our national force, Police Scotland, while acting dangerously in a public place. It is as if we live in an alien society, not the land of my birth. Covid has brought us an epidemic of deaths in Scottish care homes and authoritarian control by Ms Sturgeon. But even before that, the SNP had infiltrated all public and third sector life, and had become the dispenser of patronage to the arts – to the right kind of Scottish arts – and the somewhat heavy-handed patron of businesses who depend on government contracts. Woe betide them if they speak out of turn and criticise SNP policies, especially Scexit.  

What a difference a decade makes, and not in a good way. The end of Covid may be just about in sight, with vaccines in prospect. But, even when Covid recedes, we shall still be left with the other blight that disfigures our land: the SNP and its separatist project. Because the SNP will have been saved by the very people they despise and condemn, the Tories in London, who have sent shedloads of money to bail out Scots whose livelihoods – precarious as many of them are – would have been completely destroyed in the pandemic, where a separate Scottish government would have been able to offer no such support and would by now have been imposing austerity maximus on Scotland at the behest of the International Monetary Fund. 

Jill Stephenson is a former Professor of Modern German History at the University of Edinburgh.  

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