Will Sturgeon’s totalitarian waltz speed up in 2021?

Will Sturgeon’s totalitarian waltz speed up in 2021?

by Tom Gallagher
article from Monday 11, January, 2021

THE NICOLA STURGEON of 2021 is no Adolf Hitler. But she is in the vanguard of an attempt to weaken and discredit democracy that is being rolled out across the world.  Democracy has arguably never been weaker since the German Fuhrer took his own life in May 1945 after almost beating Europe into insensibility.  

As the power of the slogan ‘Never Again’ fades other leaders have sprung up in our own day who have used his tools of manipulation and control to acquire domination over state and society. Figures like Erdogan in Turkey, Duterte in the Philippines and Maduro in Venezuela have ended the separation of powers vital for any democracy to succeed.  What follows is all too predictable. The civil service becomes  an extension of the personal rule of the leader. The armed forces and police are used to crush dissent and sow fear in the population.  Any resistance in the media is sanctioned first by threats and later by violence.  Systematic efforts are made to coarsen the citizenry by using propaganda to usher in a cynical, vulgar and destructive popular culture. If the standards of society are debased then there is likely to be little or no backlash if a vengeful or even paranoid leader tries to physically remove any competitor within the ranks of the ruling movement.  

There is mounting evidence that (in the words of Craig Murray) Sturgeon went to great lengths to try and ‘fit up’ her predecessor Alex Salmond. At least one powerful person at the top of the civil service seems to have been amongst accessories in this seeming act of personal vengeance, the police were less willing participants, and lately senior law officials have appeared ready to cast aside their neutrality to try and protect the First Minister’s flank after her operation effectively backfires.

Due to its position within the democratic United Kingdom, Scotland is constrained from gravitating towards outright authoritarian rule. But the standardisation and synchronisation of political control – resembling the gleichshaltung which emerged in Nazi Germany – has made fearful advances. Party and state are increasingly fused, the opposition fears to oppose, much of civil society has been absorbed into the ruling power structure, local government is suborned, and private institutions are coerced into hailing the new political order.

The pandemic has been used to impose sweeping restrictions on public life that make Scotland one of the authoritarian outriders in the Western world. At the moment churches are closed, outdoor activities by citizens are subject to police swoops, and increasingly the life is being choked out of thousands of small businesses by ever-tightening restrictions on what they are permitted to do.

The impact of the pandemic on the normal workings of society has been felt far and wide.  But in Scotland it has given a mighty push to normalise the abnormal in both daily life and politics. Hitler was able to do this thanks to the violent shocks Germany had endured in the twenty years before he came to power. Mobilisation of society for war, defeat and loss of territory, the rise of communism, endless economic troubles from runaway inflation to mass unemployment, weakened the hold of those old institutions promoting civility and restraint.

An ‘anything goes mentality’ increasingly took hold because given what it seemed the nation had already suffered, there wasn’t much else to lose. It all meant Hitler could be portrayed as a providential figure; his ways were harsh and often extreme but many were persuaded that the times warranted them.  A cult of resentment and grievance was spread through society by the latest mediums of communications even when Germany’s traditional rivals were proving accommodating to the new order.

It is not hard to see this spirit of grievance being manipulated during the pandemic.  Finance minister Kate Forbes has cast doubt on the positive motives of the senior government in London in supplying furlough money and business support designed to keep enterprises large and small afloat.  Hitler’s response was much the same towards constructive acts from Britain meant to bury the enmity of the First World War.  Forbes has accused the Treasury of withholding money or labelling funds already earmarked for Scotland as Covid relief. The evidence of course increasingly points to a sizable portion of the money that was to be channelled to Scottish businesses having been withheld or re-directed away by the Scottish Government from those it as intended to help.

The pursuit of political warfare during an acute medical emergency when it would not have been unreasonable to assume that political rivals would, for its duration, put aside their differences to try and protect lives and jobs, is ominous.  The SNP parliamentary party is uninterested in putting pressure on its leaders in government to try harder to break the hold of Covid. Instead, the preoccupation is with intensifying the mood of confrontation with Westminster.  On 8 January arch-Sturgeon rival Joanna Cherry MP suggested that Scotland would be perfectly within its rights to secede from the rest of Britain if  the SNP won a majority of seats on such a manifesto. The Irish parallel of a century ago was invoked and she was keen to assert that violence would have no role in forcing the British to the negotiating table.  But it was only thanks to the violence unleashed by the IRA that the British eventually agreed to negotiations.

She would be naive to assume, in light of the angry emotions whipped up by years of SNP propaganda among tens of thousands of Scots, that if the SNP staged what in effect would be a rebellion, violence from some would not soon follow. Parties with their fair share of narcissists like the SNP would of course disassociate themselves from violence against prominent Unionists or taking disruption to cities such as Newcastle and Leeds. Instead they would more likely seek to enlist foreign help to put pressure on London to cave to any militancy. What other purpose sees SNP ministers in Edinburgh reach out to foreign envoys beyond the responsibilities of a devolved domestic parliament?

The drive to desensitise Scots and get large numbers, especially the young, to see politics as first and last about national struggle, so that mass unrest or worse might secure independence, is like a dark cloud gathering before a storm.  Sturgeon, and Salmond before her, have carefully built up an army of people from the world of media and mass entertainment to normalise this debased form of politics.  Politics is seen as theatre, spectacle, subterfuge and trickery rather than as a means whereby the democratic process delivers responsible and effective government. 

This tribal and primitive definition of politics is what Erdogan has accomplished in Turkey today. Voters grow numb to the sinister antics of their rulers, whether it be fitting up a rival, or stealing vast amounts of aid money for businesses and using it instead for political warfare.  They instead are nudged into becoming the fodder for a kind of banal nationalism that in other countries has led to the complete downfall of society.   

Sturgeon is angling to place the interests of her own movement and its ideology above everything else. It will be a triumph for her brand of nihilist politics if people simply shrug their shoulders at the shambles Scotland’s biggest cities have become from ungritted roads to rubbish left uncleared for weeks and growing numbers of rats.  Thankfully, a full-scale totalitarian order where a leader shapes individual and collective action across the nation is still some way off due to constraints on her freedom of action.

The prosecuting service has already been used to put pressure on internal opponents like Jim Sillars who are keen to end her hegemony over the party. The timing of the parliamentary election (already delayed by one year) and whether postal voting will be the only way to cast a ballot, are also ripe for manipulation by a First Minister whose five years in power show a growing contempt for checks and balances. But on the positive side, more and more Scots are reluctant to be swayed by the SNP’s attempt to hijack their emotions. They see how their vulnerable loved ones have been let down by Sturgeon’s politicisation of the health emergency, small businesses destroyed by the failure to distribute the furlough money in the manner originally agreed, and retailers crushed by perverse restrictions on opening and what goods they could supply.

It may be that a new start in politics and administration will be required in Scotland just as occurred in Germany in the far worse circumstances of the 1940s.  Certainly, a good hard look at how devolution institutions have performed after the nationalists have wedded them to a confrontational purpose, is needed. Ensuring that police, civil service, the universities, the justice system, and the public media are no longer capable of being tools of politicians bent on internal confrontation and permanent strife with others in the rest of the island, must be paramount concerns.

Churchill and Attlee were unexpected champions and architects of a new Britain and perhaps it will take deserters from the nationalist cause, or campaigners like George Galloway and new Unionist voices like Jamie Blackett, both of the Alliance For Unity – but above all  people from beyond the world of politics – to put Scotland back on its feet. There is a pressing need for calm and authoritative voices to banish the hysteria and hype that grew up in the Salmond years.  The fear and clampdown on basic liberties that are likely to define the rule of his implacable and scary successor, make this task all the more urgent.

I hope I will be proven wrong but I am increasingly convinced that Nicola Sturgeon is creating a pre-insurrectionary mood by brazenly exceeding her powers, encouraging MPs to act as ruffians at Westminster, and above all diverting large amounts of UK pandemic business relief funding.

How keen the British government is to face up to the challenge of the separatists who have used the devolved institutions to entrench themselves in power, will probably determine whether Scotland can avoid  becoming a new European trouble-spot in which political fanatics use old hatreds and gangster methods to get their way. 

Most of the British governing classes eventually saw through Hitler and prepared Britain to resist his onslaught.  There is insufficient evidence that decision-makers in London properly appreciate the gravity of the situation in Scotland. Unless this changes, Britain could face upheaval and tragedy as a result of territorial politics being cold-bloodedly harnessed behind an extremist purpose.

Tom Gallagher is Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Bradford. He is the author of Scotland Now, a Warning to the World (2016). His latest book is Salazar, the Dictator Who Refused to Die, Hurst Publishers 2020 (available here) and his twitter account is @cultfree54 

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