Poisoned politics

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  By Peter A Bell

There is a sickness in Scottish politics. A corrosive malignancy in the very heart of our nation. A debilitating malady that threatens to cripple our democracy.

Hatred!

Crude, mindless, intellect-sapping hatred. The seething hatred of the British establishment for the freely and democratically elected government of Scotland.

By Peter A Bell

There is a sickness in Scottish politics. A corrosive malignancy in the very heart of our nation. A debilitating malady that threatens to cripple our democracy.

Hatred!

Crude, mindless, intellect-sapping hatred. The seething hatred of the British establishment for the freely and democratically elected government of Scotland. The intense antipathy of Britain’s ruling elites for the largest and most popular political party in Scotland. The burning resentment of British career politicians towards Scotland’s rightful First Minister – a man whose ability and popularity provokes jealousy of truly toxic intensity.

This sickness has been evident to the honest observer for some time. It is always there, simmering just below the surface. It manifests at low level in various ways. We see it in the blatantly biased reporting of the BBC. We see it in the daily diet of “Salmond accused…!” headlines served up by the mainstream media.

We see it in the bilious ranting of journalists like Alan Cochrane. We see it in the incessant petty sniping of unionist politicians more concerned with scoring political points than with fulfilling their role as a democratic opposition.

We see it in the ludicrously one-sided “deliberations” of the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster, and in the shameful shenanigans that have become a distasteful feature of Scottish Questions in the House of Commons.

But it is on those rare occasions when there is a hint of blood in the water that this hatred comes fully into sharp, shocking focus. For that is when the feeding frenzy begins. The trigger for the current feeding frenzy was a TV interview back in March 2012. But first, the briefest possible bacground.

The Scottish government takes the position that on achieving independence Scotland and the remainder of the UK (rUK) will both be regarded as successor states in terms of their status vis-a-vis the European Union (EU). For those who have taken the trouble to look into the matter, this is an entirely reasonable not to say obvious position. The anti-independence campaign, however, as part of its scaremongering effort to make independence seem as daunting a prospect as possible, insists that only rUK will be treated as a successor state and that Scotland will be treated as an accession state. That is to say, that the newly independent Scotland will be forcibly ejected from the EU; its people stripped of their EU citizenship; and all existing treaties rendered null and void. A supremely implausible “year zero” scenario.

This scaremongering is usually embellished with all manner of tales about the fearfully onerous terms that Scotland will then be forced to accept in order to gain membership of the EU. All complete nonsense, of course, as is generally the case with stories intended to frighten the vulnerable and the gullible. But that is not the issue we are concerned with here.

What we are concerned with is the supposed Holy Grail of “The Legal Advice”. Anti-independence campaigners maintain the pretence that there is some definitive piece of legal opinion that settles the question of EU status once and for all. They claim to have such definitive advice supporting their rather ludicrous “year zero” position. Although nobody has ever actually produced it. Now, some time ago, as part of the general mischief-making pursued by the British parties, Labour MEP Catherine Stihler submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request demanding to know if the Scottish government had sought legal advice in the matter of Scotland’s post-independence EU status and, if so, what that advice said.

As I have explained elsewhere, this FoI request was entirely frivolous and vexatious and it was, as Stihler knew it would be, refused by the administration on the grounds of the principle – adhered to by all administrations in the UK over many years – that ministerial advice is sought and held in conditions of strict confidentiality. Cue much faux indignation, well-rehearsed outrage and a general wailing and gnashing of teeth amidst which might be heard the endlessly repeated mantra of “the public’s right to know”.

In the face of all this, the Scottish government maintained its adherence to established practice and its compliance with the ministerial code. The matter went to the Information Commissioner who ruled that the administration should reveal whether it held legal advice but not what the advice was. A cobbled-together compromise which the government then announced it would appeal in the courts – as, indeed, it was bound to do.

And so to the present. Yesterday (23 October 2012), in the course of announcing the publication of the results of the Scottish government’s referendum consultation, Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, let it be known that the administration had not sought specific legal advice on the matter of Scotland’s EU status. This provoked yet another maelstrom of ill-informed comment about Salmond having “squandered taxpayers’ money” by trying to conceal information for some never-quite-explained ulterior motive. Surprisingly, at least to those new to observing the antics of anti-independence pond-life, no mention was made of the individual whose efforts at petty politicking had necessitated this expenditure, Catherine Stihler.

Thus, the pack was primed. All that was needed was that tiny drop of blood to set them off. It came in the form of the aforementioned TV interview in which Alex Salmond spoke to the arse-clenchingly awful Andrew Neil. Being First Minister is not all beer and skittles.

The interview as whole was the kind of unsatisfactory shambles which invariably ensues when the interviewer considers himself the real celebrity and imagines that whatever few might be watching are doing so to hang on his every word rather than to listen to what is being said by that pesky distraction, the interviewee. In the course of this there was the exchange that induced the paroxysms of contrived, sputum-spraying indignation which were to follow.

NEIL: Have you sought advice from your own Scottish law officers in this matter?

SALMOND: We have, yes, in terms of the debate.

NEIL: And what do they say?

SALMOND: You can read that in the documents that we’ve put forward, which argue the position that we’d be successor states.

To the rational mind there is nothing untoward here. Although there is a suggestion that the two men may be talking somewhat at cross-purposes due to the incompetence of the interviewer, it is abundantly clear from the full exchange that Salmond is referring to already published material and not unpublished material. The conversation having previously flitted back and forth between the two.

We are not dealing with rational minds, however. We are dealing with minds addled with hatred. And those minds latched onto only the part of the above exchange which seemed to provide an excuse to vent that hatred.

The assertion being made by Salmond’s political enemies is that his words, “We have, yes…”, amount to a claim that the Scottish government had sought legal advice. A claim which, had it actually been made, would later be proved to be false when Nicola Sturgeon revealed that no specific advice had been sought.

In accusing Salmond of lying, the unionist politicians and their friends in the media choose to completely disregard most of the content of the exchange. They take only the snippet that serves their purpose. To any reasonable person this would seem dishonest, at best. But in the minds of these accusers, hate overrules both reason and truth.

In order to try and understand the extent to which all rationality has been abandoned in the frantic quest for a stick with which to beat their supreme hate-figure, let us examine what these demented minds have accepted – and what they want the rest of us to believe.

They want us to believe that Salmond, a man all but universally acknowledged as one of the most astute politicians of our time, having stood solidly by the ministerial code through several parliamentary interrogations and numerous public interviews, suddenly decides to breach that code in order to confide in a minor TV personality. Some may claim that it was wheedled out of him by an accomplished political interviewer. But it’s Andrew Neil we’re talking about, so that argument is hardly persuasive.

And look at the supposed lie! It’s not just any lie. It’s just about the stupidest, most ill-thought, most transparent lie that you might imagine. A lie that is absolutely certain to be exposed. Even inadequate politicians instinctively avoid such clumsy lies. What contortion of the intellect is required to suppose that a political operator of Salmond’s calibre might have so casually dropped such a flimsy falsehood into a televised interview?

And it is a lie that serves no purpose. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from it. Nothing!

Even Andrew Neil didn’t think he’d caught Salmond in an indiscretion. If he had, surely even he would not have been so distracted by wonder at his own superbness as to fail to pursue that indiscretion. It is clear from the way the interview proceeds that Neil is perfectly well aware of the fact that Salmond was referring to material already in the public domain.

Not only is the accusation of lying disproved by the facts, it is simply not credible on the face of it.

But that matters not at all to those whose powers of reason have succumbed to festering hate. They are in that feeding frenzy. No thinking is even possible.

This is the sickness in Scottish politics. Self-perpetuating, self-reinforcing, self-justifying hatred. This is what threatens to render rational debate on the matter of our constitution all but impossible – leaving us instead with an interminable round of empty, futile confrontations. And the great danger is that eventually the taint of this poison might spread from the British nationalist camp and come to infect all of us. I shudder to think what happens then.