If Scottish voters do a 1979 all over again and hand us over to a hard-right wing government, the day it happened was the morning after the Scottish independence referendum when David Cameron stepped out into Downing Street to declare civil war.
I’m not so ill-informed that I don’t understand that there’s a long history to the direction in which Scottish politics has been heading, most of it driven by forces within Scotland. I’m not ceding the credit to the Tory leader and unelected Prime Minister for rendering the name of the Conservative and Unionist Party an oxymoron.
But if you take the heat out of the issue, what Scotland’s political trajectory reveals is something that will also happen in England and Wales, too, over time. The remote and arrogant Westminster-dominated system has been losing legitimacy for a long time for many reasons, and a transfer of real power to other, sub-state tiers of government is long overdue. For the Scots, as the referendum result added to the independence debate showed, that meant “Devo Max”. For the rest of the island, it means a version of the same thing.
But the heat isn’t being taken out of the issue. The flames of nationalism are being fanned. I fear Scottish nationalism, and I fear English nationalism. (It’s quite hard to fear Welsh nationalism right now, but that could change.)
For nationalism is a dangerous force. It is powerful and often irrational. National identities, like ethnic identities, are not fixed, given things. They are latent, and capable of being mobilised for social and political action. And I prefer my social and political action to be based upon reason, not upon blood and soil.
I know that the SNP has stressed that theirs is an inclusive ‘civic nationalism’. But those words mean nothing. Civic virtues are inherently different from nationalism. The very phrase, ‘civic nationalism’ reveals unease at the forces that can be unleashed by nationalism.
That is why Cameron’s flame-throwing act with English nationalism is so very dangerous.
Though this script was not written by Cameron and Osborne; it is the brainchild of an Australian with no interest in what ultimately happens on this small island – Lynton Crosby. All his focus is on May 7th. He’ll earn his hefty fee, and then depart.
Another Australian whose patriotism knows only the colour of money is Rupert Murdoch. He was happy to jettison his Australian passport to amass riches in America. He’s also thin-skinned and revenge-oriented. He thought he’d got a lucrative Sky TV deal in the bag when Cameron messed-up by setting up Leveson, and Miliband courageously stuck the knife in to the man who’d turned politician-blackmailing into a business. Murdoch would be happy to destroy both men. Hence his cosy lunches with the SNP and the tartan turn taken by The Sun in Scotland. SNP beware.
Even in Europe, unleashing nationalist forces is potentially deadly. We see it now in Ukraine, we saw it twenty years ago in the Balkans. The high emotions generated by nationalist mobilisation can be powerful unifiers against what is held to be a common enemy. Political leaders are often unable to rein in those emotions in their supporters once they find expression.
The Scots wanted more devolution, not independence, and Cameron promised it to them. Reneging now, whilst calling in aid English nationalism, and demonising legitimately elected Scots MPs is not statesmanship, it is recklessness. And all for what? As Cameron inadvertently revealed in a verbal slip this week, it’s “career defining”. Bathetic.