Quadrapheme, by Ronnie Smith
David Starkey was wrong, in June this year, to compare the apparent and disturbing hegemony enjoyed by the Scottish National Party (SNP) north of the border to the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Few of the important elements that would justify an analysis of this kind currently exist. While there is certainly a profound sense of historical grievance in Scotland that can be easily fanned, there has been no book burning, no private tartan-shirted army rallying at Bannockburn (yet) and no Krystal MacNacht.
No, I’m afraid that David Starkey’s comparison betrays his singular ignorance of Scottish political culture, things are more complicated than he would have us believe.
The key is to accept that Scotland remains a tribal society. Where England’s political dividing lines have become more fluid, with a large core of opportunistic ‘floating voters’, Scotland’s divisions can be identified by loyalty to particular causes. Some of these causes are historical, and thus we see the stubborn survival of 17th century Neo-Protestantism and its unfaltering commitment to the United Kingdom and the monarchy (commemorated each year in July with the Orange walk which celebrates the Protestant victory at the battle of the Boyne in 1690). On the other side the republican tribe comprises the significant Irish Catholic population and assorted socialist republican sub-tribes. These opposing groups cut across class boundaries but their members are still easy to identify by their attendance at ‘non-denominational’ or Catholic schools and their support for either Glasgow Rangers or Celtic.
During the past fifty years two modern movements have emerged to benefit from Scotland’s tribal tendency; the Scottish Labour Movement and, more recently, the SNP.
Taking the Scottish Labour movement first: compared to its counterpart in England, it has traditionally been more disciplined and focussed on its working class objectives. For this reason the relationship between the Labour Party, the trades unions and numerous other affiliated societies and organisations had always been very close: Neo-Leninist principlesThere is a profound sense of historical grievance in Scotland that can be easily fanned of political control from the top down were applied and accepted to a ridiculous extent. The movement achieved hegemony in Scotland during Margaret Thatcher’s period as Prime Minster when virtually no public appointment could be made in Scotland from beyond the Labour tribe.
Thatcher was Scotland’s obvious enemy and clearly any enemy of hers was a friend of the people and the Labour movement. The movement identified itself as the protector of Scotland and her people and thus a unity of tribe and nation was neatly drawn, so that even when Labour was in power at Westminster, Scottish Labour often opposed their own government—helping to develop the idea that Scottish interests and those of the rest of the United Kingdom do not coincide. This has, over time, become a tribal law, adding fuel to the bonfire of historic grievance.
More recently the SNP has taken this widely accepted tribal law and used it to undermine the solidarity of the Labour movement in Scotland, driving itself into the hegemonic position that Labour once held. Scottish Labour became detached from the idea of the Scottish nation and was therefore replaced as the representative tribe.
Alex Salmond first became leader of the SNP in 1990 when the party was a relatively loose group of interests, juxtaposing a surprisingly extreme right wing with a republican socialist left, glued together by the cause of an independent Scotland.
Now, after last year’s referendum on independence, when a large part of the Scottish left migrated from the feckless, collapsing Labour party, the SNP has become Scotland’s largest and most disciplined party, notably deploying the same apparently necessary neo-Leninist principles with intolerance of dissent within and beyond the tribe.
This movement of the politically active created a highly aggrieved and motivated tribal swell that now incorporates followers from all of the country’s social classes, the poor and the wealthy, all age groups and members of the business and political establishments in Scotland.
The dominance of the nationalist tribe includes a majority in the Scottish Parliament (due to increase at next year’s elections), 53 of Scotland’s 56 Westminster seats and control of all public appointments in Scotland. In government the tribe has centralised the Scottish police service, and the health and education services.
It has starved local government of funds and refused to deploy the full range of revenue raising powers available under the devolution settlement. Perhaps most importantly, neither the Scottish government nor the SNP wish to discuss their position on the unpopular growth in fracking operations in Scotland or their strategy on TTIP going forward.
Do the members and supporters of the party care about these increasingly undemocratic developments? No. The mentality of the tribe has taken over and their support for the Salmond/Sturgeon leadership is absolute. Within Scotland those who disagree or who put forward alternative ideas and solutions are condemned as traitors then ignored. It is to this state of affairs that David Starkey referred.
What David Starkey missed is that Scotland has given itself over to a dominant group that is unchallenged and is becoming authoritarian, that holds sway across all social classes and interests, whose leaders have no ideological base but follow tactical objectives and employ profoundly populist methods.
In effect Scotland is becoming an isolated Peronist semi-state while the rest of the United Kingdom visibly restructures its economy. This has been made possible by an ancient political culture that has tended to be tribal and non-questioning but which is certainly not, as David Starkey suggested, Nazi.