Surreal Scotland


By Derek Bateman


Have we become Irish? I ask because there is such a hilariously contradictory mood around that it could be St Patrick’s Day. ‘Happy? Of course we’re happy. We lost our independence and our living standards are going backwards but isn’t the party grand?’


Makes you wonder just what we would be doing if we’d won the referendum… ‘Cabinet members arrived for their first meeting dressed in assorted onesies. First Minister Sturgeon came in a panda outfit accompanied by the Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band…The Cabinet sang Do They Know It’s Christmas before going into Bute House where they debagged Brian Taylor and threw his trousers on to the street. Reflecting off the windows were the flames of bonfires set by the mob in Charlotte Square gardens…’

Thousands of Yes Scots, many with no previous political history, clapping and stomping as political speeches are mixed with music represents a new and surreal Scotland. It isn’t simply a coalescing of the campaign, it is overtaking it in determination, identity and commitment to participate, even if the details of platform and policy are undefined. To be fair, the neighbouring RIC event was already past the hangover stage and into the tidy-up and allocation of cleaning duties. (The Left does planning ahead? Even more surreal).


I haven’t seen anything like it and with an awareness back to the days of Harold Wilson in government, my view is governed by grim experience. So, I am reduced to asking balefully: When does it all go wrong? And then I remember that I am out of time, that politics in my lifetime has been formulaic and only occasionally people-led and that I am forever cast in the role of questioning outsider, not joyful participant – the journalist’s fate.


The only real change in my 50 years of politics-watching has been the rise of the SNP because it, uniquely, threatens total change by forcing the disintegration of the British state. Even UKIP doesn’t offer such drastic revision. But for most of that time, although I knew it was my intellectual home, the SNP was, like me, the outsider. It was dismissed and reviled, consigned to popping up in sporadic outbursts before subsiding again. Devolution has changed all that and proved to be the perfect platform for power, forging the party into a national movement reaching into every corner of every home and street.


So why shouldn’t they be right now? Why should this not be a new politics, a new movement in a new Scotland? Maybe the balloon doesn’t have to burst and maybe the party, in every sense, will go on. After all, the national cause is still there to be the engine that drives ambition. Meanwhile, there is much to be done is reshaping the country with new laws and powers and a titanic struggle with Labour to hold the focus. Can I suggest for next year…St Nicola’s Day?


Others of course are not just puzzled but sneering. In one of those creepy London pieces by M25 media luvvies in the Times, there is an object lesson in why Scots feel aggrieved at their portrayal by an ignorant mainstream and why we need a media rooted in our own country. Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester interview Jim Murphy for the obvious reason that he’s the one they’ve heard of. He has a London profile so readers in Surrey might have heard of him.


The bold Murph is billed as ‘ the unexpected star of the referendum campaign’. In case you missed it, this is what he did…. ‘touring the cities and glens, street corners and village halls with his Irn-Bru crate. He was heckled, splattered with egg and had to shout his unionist message above baying Yes campaigners.’ What a hero! How the kilted peasants must have cheered and waved their sporrans in the glens. Our London feminists fawn over their subject oblivious to the contempt his juvenile antics are held in across Scotland. But see how the myth he created and our brave media perpetuated, is now standard usage in English journalism? Baying mobs, thrown eggs, defenceless, brave Jim.


They swallowed it whole because they are conditioned to do so. He fashioned a story they couldn’t resist because it fitted their prejudices and desires. No mention here of the provocation of a man with a mike shouting at passers-by, of three men and a dog and his own henchmen making up the numbers, of ignoring the question and insulting questioners, of seeking police protection and hiding for three days after having an egg cracked on his shoulder in what many of us regarded as the nearest act of cowardice to Iain Gray’s sandwich shop retreat. No mention of his two-faced policies like voting for tuition fees for English students and now, to get the job, opposing them in Scotland – an issue, by the way, that really does irritate Times readers in the south.


The interview wasn’t just to boost Westminster’s man in his bid to lead the branch office, it was to ridicule the post-referendum Yes success which has them deeply worried (not on our behalf but because it might mean Scotland matters to their beloved Westminster election). On Twitter this hagiographic twaddle was paraded by more London luvvies, Times colleague David Aaronovitch and Blair biographer John Rentoul of the Independent, who’d love a Blairite to help them understand Scotland and stop these bloody Nats from enjoying themselves so much. ‘Why can’t they stay defeated?’


PS. If you need a reason to buy the new National, it is surely David Torrance displaying more bile about Alex Salmond in the comment section of the Herald.


He has never forgiven his humiliation at the hands of Salmond who dismissed his attempt at biography so neatly. (His charge that Torrance doesn’t know him was echoed to me by a professor of politics who had read the book. ‘It is obvious he has no understanding of Salmond’s character or motivations’, he said).


In contrast we are told by Tory-supporting Torrance that Douglas Alexander is ‘typically thoughtful’ and Gordon Brown’s failings ‘were largely presentational’. Brown is full of substance in contrast with the mere presentational strengths of the SNP. (How gullible the stupid Scots are for not realising). Anybody outside the Unionist bubble agree?


In my memory Brown destroyed the pensions of millions of Britons, sold off the gold reserves at knock down prices to support the bankers’ profits, devised the failed financial services regulatory system, bailed out the same bankers and organised for working people to pick up the bill, ended the 10p tax rate, sacked 100,000 public sector workers, kept quiet about his concerns about the Iraq war, stabbed colleagues in the back and orchestrated a coup against the elected Prime Minister. But then to David Torrance, he is first a Unionist and anything is justified to preserve the mighty Union, even the reputation of the great deceiver that is Brown.


We need the National, not because it is pro independence but because we need balance in our media, never more so than today.