I watched with keen interest our First Ministers speech at the SNP conference in Aberdeen last Saturday. I don’t really want to comment on the ins and outs of a potential IndyRef2, or of Brexit and everything else associated with it. There has already been enough said on that and I suspect many are already weary. Rather than offer a political opinion I would like to offer some broader observations on what was said – because important although the question of IndyRef2 and Brexit are, there is a danger that we will not see the wood for the trees. So let me try to see the wood, as there were aspects of Sturgeon’s speech which have profound implications, whatever our views on these lesser issues.
- The negative reaction from some to Nicola and her speech was ridiculous. On the one hand there are those who have an irrational hatred of, and abuse for, her. She is not an evil person and does not deserve the name-calling and threats that she sometimes receives. She is someone who is doing her very difficult job to the best of her ability and as far as I can see, she genuinely cares for this country and its people. We should respect and honour her for that.
- The adulation for what was at best a mediocre speech, well delivered but with minimal content, was also somewhat disturbing. There is an exaltation of the Leader that has worrying undertones.
- There was a fundamental contradiction within the speech. Calling for a country that would be defined by inclusion, tolerance and diversity is a nice soundbite, but what does it mean? If we go by the speech itself then it means that there are groups who are not to be tolerated and included in this ‘diverse’ Scotland. Diversity has its limits; above all it excludes Tories – now about 30% of the Scottish electorate – who are beyond the pale. It was disappointing to see the First Minister go back to the days of using the term ‘Tory’ as a swear word. This was done many times. I am not a Tory but I refuse to write of one third of my fellow citizens as some kind of ‘untermenschen’ and I feel this obligation to defend my Tory brothers and sisters – after all if they come first for the Tories then maybe I might be next! When the government of the day pronounce its Scotland v. the Tories – thereby excluding a significant proportion of the country from being ‘Scotland’ in the name of ‘inclusion’ you know that we are on very dangerous Newspeak territory.
On the one hand we were told that we were to build consensus, with courtesy, understanding and respect – on the other there was a continual dismissal and demonizing of ‘the other’. The mocking of Labour, the Lib Dems and of course, the Tories. It was always the other who has dug their heels in, the other who have been inflexible and condescending. It’s the other who are putting the interests of their party ahead of the people of the country. Only the SNP are representing the people of the country. This demonization of the other is bad enough when it is done in party political rallies in an almost pantomime style (‘Tories, yah, boo’), but when it becomes the doctrine of the State it becomes really disturbing.
- We are the People – This doctrine was expressed most chillingly when Nicola cited Canon Kenyon Wright who when asked ‘what do you say when they say we say no and we are the State?’ responded by saying ‘we say yes and we are the people’. This was roundly applauded without people seeing the problem. Because Nicola then went on to imply that the Scottish Parliament was the people, thus conflating State and People. As a result we are moving in an increasingly centralized state towards a position where the State and the People are one. One State, One People, One Leader. Every authoritarian leader talks about ‘we, the people’ and assumes that they, and they alone, are speaking of behalf of ‘the people’. Pete Wishart in a tweet suggested the coming battle would be the SNP, the Greens and Civic Scotland vs. the Rest. Civic Scotland is code for the media, academic, political, business and arts establishments – much of which is funded by government patronage. If that is true then we are far nearer a one-ideology state than I had thought. Those who don’t go along with the State become Enemies of the People. Those who don’t buy into the values of the State are going to be bullied and discriminated against by a State that controls academia, employs half the population and has significant influence on the media. The State itself becomes the sole arbiter of values and some almost begin to worship the State. Speaking of values…..
- The Conscience of the World – We are setting ourselves up as the moral arbiters of the world. Nicola said that we can choose to be a compassionate, open country where the best and brightest from around Europe come from around Europe to make Scotland their home. Incidentally there is a problem there already. Whatever happened to ‘“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”. Now we want the brightest and best and only from around Europe. There is to be no ‘freedom of movement’ from the rest of the world! Every country or collection of countries restricts and controls movement/immigration in some way, but these niceties of detail seemed to escape the rapturous delegates who it appears envisage Scotland as being some kind of Nirvana where all are welcome. Meanwhile back in reality. Or perhaps the simplicity of soundbite, virtue-signalling politics.
Tim Farron, the Lib-Dem leader, made a similar point at his party conference – the world is divided into those who are open and tolerant and internationalist, and those who are closed and intolerant and nationalist. This Bushlike doctrine of the good empire and the evil empire is dangerous in its simplistic outlook. Why? Consider this tweet I was sent – “Westminster gov is pure unadulterated evil. whereas Scot Gov is the complete opposite.” Westminster = pure unadulterated Evil. Scottish government = pure unadulterated good. Such fanaticism and irrationality is chilling.
- What happens when Utopia doesn’t happen? So we are marching to this modern, progressive, outward looking compassionate country in which everyone (except Tories, Transphobes and Traditional Christians) are welcome. There is little doubt that Teresa May will not grant a referendum and that the SNP and others do not expect them to. That is why anti-Brexit media in England and Europe are talking this up (see Tom Gallagher’s interesting article on this). I have real doubts about whether the upper echelons in the SNP really want a referendum that they are likely to lose. It suits the grievance politics to be able to blame the Evil Tories (the Brexiteer Stormtroopers led by Darth Teresa!). But the trouble is that if you build up people’s expectations, sell them a dream of Utopia and if it doesn’t happen, then the reaction can be fierce. If you combine that with a demonization of the ‘other’ then you end up with the opposite of what Nicola called for. Instead of respect and rational discussion – you get more abuse, name calling and verbal if not physical violence.
Here for example are only a handful of the tweets I have received from supporters of a significant Yes blogger – Wings Over Scotland.
For some reason he attacked me and when he could not answer my answers he blocked me. Then he continued to attack me to his followers (though being blocked I could not see what he said) who took it in turns to attack me. Apparently they hunt in packs. Here is a small example of the many messages I received.
A fibbing man of the cloth dear oh dear
stop taking utter rubbish you dickhead, here use this.
A minister who supports austerity, poverty, sanctions, disability cuts?.No thanks
Liar no way u voted yes or snp …. pathetic
He’s also a sanctimonious prick.
And a man of the cloth to boot. He is going to hell for that.
You’re a hateful religious zealot, you may not be intimidated but from this point on you will be mostly ignored and combated when required.
I’m now muting this idiot. His arguments, such as they are, are puerile and his statements contradictory and abusive
Its not so much the abuse, (that exists on all sides and some of it against SNP politicians is ugly), it’s the extent of it and who it comes from. Wings Over Scotland has been endorsed and followed by leading Nationalist politicians and even commentators like Iain MacWhirter of the Herald have sung their praises. They, or rather he (the ‘Rev Stuart Campbell – who incidentally is no Rev) is one of the largest Independent Indy groups. And his influence is seen in the sheer quantity of abuse I got. What disturbs me is the anti-religious aspect; (I have never claimed to be speaking on behalf of Jesus or the Church in my political views, but that does not stop them sticking the boot in); the ignorance and irrationality; and the sheer mob rule hatred. If Nicola Sturgeon wants her words to be taken seriously the SNP must dissociate itself from Wings Over Scotland and other such intimidatory online mobs. I have been asked by one TV programme to go on their show tomorrow – I have no desire to and I have other things on anyway, but they will have some difficulty getting ordinary members of the public, because people can’t be bothered with the hassle and are scared of the intimidation.
- La La Land or Reality – a disappointingly small part of the speech was devoted to the real issues. There was a welcome £35 million for more mental health workers, and a doubling of provision of high quality care for nursery children – with an extra £50 million to increase the pay of private nursery staff. But even that seemed to me to be tinkering at the edges. And that will always be the case because of two humanist doctrines that are delusional and dangerous. The first is that human beings are basically good, and the second is that when things go wrong the State can just fix it by spending a little (or a lot) more money and making some laws. As an example of the latter take the Scottish governments announcement yesterday that they are going to criminalise emotional abuse. As Iain Macwhirter points out in this article this is an approach fraught with danger. The State cannot police marriages and relationships with its all seeing eye!
These beliefs, coupled with with the dream of a Utopian State or Union of States, is really no use to the people of Scotland. In my day to day job I speak to worn out teachers, worried medical staff and weary social workers, who are struggling to cope with the many demands society makes on them, whilst they are both under resourced and over burdened. Long term solutions, preventive measures and critical thinking are ditched in favour of league tables, management targets and short term sticking plaster measures which end up being more expensive and less effective.
Incidentally if we are to build this brave new compassionate society with opportunity and equality for all, then we can ill afford to have our politicians spending two days debating about something when the result is already pre-determined, and the effects will only be negative. This new society does not come in a package from the EU (or the UK) – we have to work at it ourselves. All of us. We all need to get on with the day job!
- Scotland’s Future will be in Scotland’s hands. We were told that one of Scotland’s values was self-determination. “an unshakeable belief in the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to determine our own future. “ Leaving aside the contradiction involved in taking sovereignty back from Westminster on one hand, and giving it to Brussels on the other, I need to ask how true is that? There are surely things outwith our determination? If the Euro goes belly up, or Donald Trump decides to take on North Korea, or ISIS emerge in another form, or…..or…..or….
- Just as our personal lifes are full of unknown factors, so our national life cannot be self-determined. But the illusion that it can is dangerous. The notion that ‘we the people’ (aka the State in the form of the SNP, Greens and Civic Scotland) can control everything is a delusional concept that has Orwellian consequences. The SNP already controls its own politicians and party in an authoritarian manner that prevents dissent and disagreement. My fear is that it will try to run the country in the same way. The intimidation of the State/Civic Scotland Establishment, backed up by the intimidation of the mob is a powerful and frightening combination. This is especially true when there is significant control of the media – a control that goes beyond spin. My view is also that this is not just a danger for the SNP – its something that the EU anti-democratic establishment headed by Juncker delights in and it is a temptation for any political party. The main lesson from history and from knowing human nature is this – those who think they can control the future, always end up being authoritarian and despotic.
Where the Real Sovereignty lies
The great advantage in believing that God alone is sovereign is that you end up with greater political, personal and economic freedom. Samuel Rutherford’s great challenge to the authoritarianism of the King, Lex Rex (the law is King) was a significant factor in the development of real democracy both here in the UK and especially in the USA. My fear is that we are returning to the view that the King (i.e. the State ‘the people’) is the Law. Therein lies the path to tyranny. Beware.
I believe that Nicola Sturgeon is genuine in wanting a country that is characterized by compassion, freedom, equality and tolerance. The danger is that the way she is going about it, will ensure that does not happen. If you get rid of the roots (removing the Christian heritage and basis of our culture) you will eventually lose the fruits. Replacing belief in God as sovereign, with the belief that the State is the all-powerful sovereign, will inevitably lead to some kind of tyranny. The fact that you call it democracy and ‘the will of the people’ does not make it so – any more than calling war ‘peace’ makes it peace. The fact that your intentions are good, does not make your law and actions good. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. We need a greater awareness of what is going on, more critical thinking, and we need to preserve in reality our basic freedoms – freedom of the press, freedom of the family, freedom of conscience, a free political process and the one on which they are all based – freedom of religion.
St Peters Free Church
March 22nd 2017