Wednesday 19 July 2023

The peculiarity of Scottish nationalism

There is something deliciously peculiar about the SNP. It can be illustrated in the following way. Let’s imagine hopefully a long time from now Alex Salmond dies. One assumes that he is mortal. Who would read the eulogy at his memorial service? Well, the obvious candidate might be Nicola Sturgeon who despite a police investigation that cost close to one million pounds was never charged with any offence. Or alternatively it might be Peter Murrell who although charged with various offences was eventually acquitted with one verdict of not proven if indeed that verdict still existed at the time.

Such scenarios may seem unlikely. After all it is hard to think of two greater enemies of Alex Salmond than Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon. But this again is the peculiarity of Scottish nationalism. The cause transcends enmity, transcends even the grave.

To explain this peculiarity, we have to go back further. After the Russian revolution there were of course lots of Bolsheviks. Indeed, it fairly quickly became obligatory to be a Bolshevik. But there was distinction between the Old Bolsheviks and the New Bolsheviks. So too with the Old SNP and the NuSNP.

There were those in Russia who had been imprisoned in the Peter and Paul fortress when the cause of Bolshevism was hopeless. There were those who had revolted for Communism in 1905 when no one else was interested in Communism. There were those who had been exiled when their cause was hopeless. These were the Old Bolsheviks.

So too there was Winnie Ewing who won a by election in 1967 in Hamilton when the SNP was a genuinely peculiar bunch of misfits led by Arthur Donaldson who had hoped that a German invasion in 1940 might lead to the liberation of Scotland from the hated English and had prepared à la norvégienne a leader and a government in waiting.

The SNP old guard was an odd bunch of political opinions ranging from the far left to the far right and sometimes meeting in the middle, because it fundamentally did not care about your politics, it only cared about the cause. It is for this reason that Ewing would have been happy to have been led by a man such as Donaldson and would not have cared about some of the dubious opinions of those who had founded the SNP in the 1930s of which extreme anglophobia was the mildest expression.

This old guard continued right up until 2007 when Salmond won an election. Up until then Scottish nationalism was for lost cause romantics. It was something you were born with, for which reason it tends to go in families.

Prior to 2007 the SNP’s goal was to win five seats rather than four at a General Election, but it had no chance of achieving independence, which is why the vast majority of present-day SNP voters (NuSNP) were uninterested.

It is I think this that has rehabilitated Salmond to the extent that he must have been invited by Ewing’s family to give the eulogy at her memorial service.

In Scotland we have long memories.

1 Bannockburn 1314 (no other European country except Serbia remembers such old battles)

2 The Highland clearances.

3 The massacre at Glencoe.

4 Bonnie Prince Charlie.

But we have very short memories indeed about Alex Salmond.

It is a point worth remembering in the context of Operation Branchform. I may commit a murder in the sense that I may with malice aforethought kill someone. But the police might arrest me and later decide not to charge me on the grounds that there is insufficient evidence. Likewise, I may be sent for trial, but a jury may acquit me. But none of these things change the fact that I did murder someone.

Of course, we have a convention of describing people who have not been proved guilty as innocent and we accept the verdicts of courts. But neither police investigations nor court cases change the truth. Someone who murders may not even be charged or may be acquitted, someone who did not murder may be charged with murder and convicted. The law is essentially uninterested in truth. It is interested in proving beyond a reasonable doubt.

We all know that Alex Salmond was acquitted, but there was to say the least surprise at the verdict. I’m sure Nicola Sturgeon was surprised. Many progressive journalists were surprised too. At the time there was a sense that Salmond had been lucky. How many witnesses do you need in Scotland to convict a man of sexual offences? If ten isn’t enough, would twenty not be enough and if twenty is not enough you might as well abolish the concept of sexual offences.

Everyone thought that Salmond’s political career was finished. Everyone except Salmond. But it is a little more than three years later, and it is as if his trial and the witnesses to his behaviour never happened. Salmond is an elder statesman. Salmond is respected. Salmond has his own new TV programme and appears to control like a godfather various SNP politicians including a leadership candidate.

If Winnie Ewing had died in 2020 it is unlikely that Salmond would have given a eulogy. It is more likely that Sturgeon would have done so. But here is the real peculiarity at the heart of Scottish nationalism. Three years later the Ewing family don’t give a damn about what Salmond actually did or did not do anymore than Winnie Ewing gave a damn what Arthur Donaldson did or did not do. What mattered is that Salmond had won an election, secured an independence referendum and came within ten points of winning it. This makes Salmond a modern-day Robert the Bruce. Nobody cares that he was also a murderer and was excommunicated from the church.

There are two types of Scottish nationalist. The old guard who were involved pre 2007 and the rest who are really not Scottish nationalists at all. The NuSNP is made up of Irish nationalists who hate Britain rather than England not because they are Scottish but because they still identify as Irish. These people prior to 2007 universally voted Labour because Scottish nationalism was hopeless and Scottish (i.e., presbyterian). To these have been added socialists, greens and those who hate Britain because of its involvement in various middle eastern wars and because of its leaving the EU.

But none of the NuSNP have anything much in common with the likes of Winnie Ewing, Alex Salmond and indeed Nicola Sturgeon who were fighting for Scottish independence when the cause was hopeless and Irish nationalists and others were voting Labour.

Ewing is in the Scottish nationalist pantheon because she won a seat when it seemed impossible. Salmond won an election when it was supposed to be impossible and very nearly won the war. It is for this reason that his sins have not only been forgiven, they have been forgotten.

Sturgeon’s sin is different and has nothing whatsoever to do with whatever she did or did not do for which she was arrested. It has nothing whatsoever to do with police investigations or court cases. Sturgeon’s sin is that she was not trying to win independence and was using the votes of the NuSNP neither to destroy Britain, nor to achieve a United Ireland, but merely to build a cult of personality, personal power and an influential international job when she quit.

This is why NuSNP is returning to Labour.

If Sturgeon had secured a second referendum even if she had lost it, she would be the one to speak at Salmond’s funeral, because she would be in the pantheon no matter the success or failure of Operation Branchform, no mater a guilty verdict or an acquittal. Some years later no one would care.

But the growing perception that she used nearly ten years in power for her own self-interest rather than to pursue the goal of Scottish nationalism is enough to cast her into outer darkness. It is for that she will not be forgiven by the old guard, because the peculiarity of Scottish nationalism is that it is quite OK to lie cheat, steal and kill so long as you achieve independence. In that sense it is a worthy successor to Bolshevism.