There’s a bit of a tussle going on following the British Conservative & Unionist Party in Scotland (BCUPS) conference as two of their ‘big-hitters’ vie for the award for the most interesting thing said. Neither of them is Boris Johnson, who I suspect only bothered to turn up at the event because his job requires that he regularly remind the self-styled ‘Scottish’ Tories who their boss is. The Sweaties are an uppity breed and even among loyal British Nationalists that uppitiness can occasionally seep to the surface. As in Douglas Ross’s impertinent letter suggesting that being a mendacious arsewipe somehow disqualified Boris from being British Prime Minister. Ridiculous notion! Fortunately, Dross – as the locals call the little oik – came to his muddled senses sufficiently to claim that he’d had his fingers crossed or something when he wrote that letter and he didn’t really mean it and could he please be in Boris’s gang again.
So it was that Boris Johnson felt obligated to pay a flying visit to the annexed northern territories. But to hell with making any effort with the speech! A rehash of his predecessor’s “now is not the time” spiel would have to do. The democratic rights of Scotland’s people had to be set aside because there was stuff happening in the world. Blah! Blah! Blah! Not so much setting the heather alight as pishing on it. Nothing new. Nothing interesting.
The two contenders for the most interesting thing said at the BCUPS conference are the aforementioned Douglas Ross and Alister “Union” Jack. If you’re surprised that it’s these two that is hardly surprising as neither of them is exactly renowned for their erudition and eloquence. I should explain that the utterances in question were not intentionally interesting or interesting for any reason the speakers might have intended. They were interesting only inasmuch as they reveal something of the mindset of those who would administer Scotland on behalf of the British ruling elite. I think it important that we constantly remind ourselves of this mindset. The arrogance, entitlement and imperious paternalism of British nationalists is so familiar that we may become inured to it. It is not something we should ever consider normal. It is something that should always be offensive to us.
Alister Jack’s contribution to our better understanding of how British Nationalists view Scotland took the form of him explaining to us how fortunate we are that Scotland’s resources are managed on our behalf by the British government rather than the government which the people of Scotland actually elected. Apparently, one aspect of the much-touted but rarely spelt out “Union dividend” is that the Union allows a Tory British government to overrule the democratic will of Scotland’s people so as to save us from the consequences of our democratic choices. He didn’t quite use the phrase ‘white man’s burden’, but his rhetoric was redolent of that obnoxiously superior British colonialist attitude to the ‘natives’. We are assumed to be British enough to salute their flag and bow before their monarch, but certainly not British enough to be capable of deciding how to dispose of the oil under Scotland’s sea-bed. Luckily, we have the British government empowered by the Union to intervene for our own good. Never mind that this British government is under the control of a party that the people of Scotland have repeatedly and decisively rejected at the polls. Never mind that this party is incorrigibly corrupt and this government infamously incompetent. Never mind that this party and this government is led by a man renowned for his mendacity and ineptitude. What matters is that this government is British. And being British it must inevitably be superior to anything that is not British.
Were I given to the kind of crass comparisons favoured by Boris Johnson I might remark that Scotland is “fortunate” to have the British in the same way as a certain other nation is to have the Russians. Similarities there may be at the level of the anachronistic imperialism being exhibited. We should be ever mindful of the fact that tyranny comes in many forms. But the bloody rawness of Ukraine’s plight massively overwhelms such academic considerations and makes any suggestion of equivalence obscene.
(Gordon Brown was not invited to address the ‘Scottish’ Tories. Although he wouldn’t be at all out of place among fervent British Nationalists. Had he been there then he might well have outdone Alister Jack with his pronouncement that the British government should oversee the Scottish National Investment Bank. Different party. Same grotesque paternalism.)
Competing with Alister “Union” Jack’s delve into the language of 19th-century imperialism we have this contribution from Douglas Ross.
We need to take back Scotland from the SNP, and we know there is a majority out there to take us forward.
The same silent majority that said No to Nicola Sturgeon in 2014. Our goal must be to bring that majority together again to break this deadlock.Douglas Ross calls on silent majority to ‘take back Scotland’ as he sets his sights on Bute House
Superficially, this is no more than standard electioneering waffle. Go only a little deeper, however, and what we find is a statement that fairly oozes the British Nationalist sense of entitlement which supersedes mere democratic choice. Who is he referring to when he says “we”? From whom is this “we” to “take back Scotland”? What is the nature of this “silent majority”?
In all of this, we see how the British sense of entitlement takes precedence over democratic principles. The “we” of which Ross speaks is the “we” who didn’t get elected. It is the “we” which has no mandate from the people of Scotland. The “we” that acts not with the rightful authority of the Scottish electorate, but with the imperiously supercilious asserted authority of the British ruling elite. The “we” that pretends to democratic legitimacy by citing the “silent majority”. Whatever else this “silent majority” may be it cannot be a component of the democratic process. A democratic majority consists entirely of voters who have not remained silent, but who have formally expressed their preference by marking their ballot paper. The “silent majority” is a constituency of phantoms. According to Douglas Ross’s British Nationalist ideology, this ghost army carries more weight than all the living, breathing, voting people of Scotland. That ideology is not merely undemocratic, it is anti-democratic. It is an ideology that is prepared to tolerate democratic choice only where what is chosen favours the British ruling elite. An ideology that will casually cast democracy aside when its outcomes are ‘inconvenient’.
The idea of taking back Scotland necessarily implies that it is illegitimately held. The entity identified by Ross as illegitimately holding Scotland is the SNP – by which he means the Scottish Government. On what grounds is this government deemed to lack legitimacy? Only that it is not British. That it is not favoured by and nor does it favour the British ruling elite. Douglas Ross cites no other grounds for declaring Scotland’s democratically elected government to be illegitimate. Unless we take seriously the suggestion that the form of Scotland’s government was determined in perpetuity by the outcome not of the most recent election, but by a referendum held almost eight years ago. Ross’s contention is that because Scotland voted No in 2014 only the British parties (preferably Tory) have the right to govern in Scotland. If you voted No in 2014 did you do so knowing that you were voting for permanent Tory government?
We must be aware of the mindset evinced by Douglas Ross and Alister Jack – not to mention Gordon Brown. We must be conscious of it to be offended by it. And we must surely be offended by an ideology that so brazenly overturns every democratic principle. The danger is that this attitude of entitlement might become normalised. For democracy to be denied those that would deny it must first persuade some significant part of the electorate that democracy can safely be denied in circumstances defined as ‘special’ by those who would deny democracy.
Who ‘owns’ Scotland? Who has the best claim to ‘own’ Scotland? These are the questions Scotland must answer – while we still have the power to choose.
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