Stranger than fiction: why the SNP seems to have a death wish.
By Graham Grant
YOU might not have heard of ‘alien hand syndrome’, but if you’ve seen the Stanley Kubrick film Dr Strangelove, you’ll know what it is.
Peter Sellers’ eponymous nuclear scientist has a black-gloved prosthetic arm that he can’t control – which tries to strangle him.
The classic 1964 cold war satire sees him desperately trying to stop the flailing limb, grabbing the pincer-like hand as it reaches round his throat.
Nicola Sturgeon, it seems, also has a Strangelove-style affliction, because her attempts to ‘sell’ Scottish independence are all too often derailed and sabotaged – by her own side.
She knows that broadening the appeal of separatism beyond an ideological hard core is central to its chances of longer-term success.
But her good intentions are subverted not only by grassroots activists – many of them veteran pub bores who migrated to Twitter – but also by some of her senior colleagues.
It is as if the bigotry and tribalism that have dogged Nationalism for so long are ineradicable, and active suppression only serves to make them stronger.
Chief among the SNP’s Strangelove self-saboteurs, of course, is the First Minister’s former mentor, Alex Salmond.
With his incessant talk of the ‘Yoon’ media – using the pejorative term for Unionist – he has given enormous succour to many unreconstructed Nationalists.
They are conspiracy theorists with an ingrained paranoia that is on full display on social media, where they rail against the British state and its supporters, including the BBC.
BBC Radio Scotland presenter Gary Robertson, a frequent target of theirs, tweeted last month a link to a story about the BBC helping students to detect ‘fake news’.
Edinburgh Pentlands SNP MSP Gordon Macdonald weighed in: ‘For this to be effective we need a logo to identify “fake news”’, then pasted a picture of the Reporting Scotland logo.
Even some of those who shared his suspicions about the BBC’s bias questioned the intervention, with one Twitter-user admitting he was ‘not sure [he was] happy with an MSP playing Trump’s game’.
(Besides, a party whose former leader, Mr Salmond, is now hosting a TV chat show backed by the Kremlin may not be in the best position to make such judgments about other media outlets).
The tweet, despite Mr Robertson’s protest (‘Really?? MSP?’), remains undeleted a month on, and gained significant backing, perhaps from those with fond memories of the separatists’ mass rally against BBC Scotland’s perceived anti-independence bias, in the run-up to the 2014 referendum.
SNP Dunfermline and West Fife MP Douglas Chapman, trying to recruit new members, tweeted on Saturday: ‘If you’re fed up with the way Scotland is portrayed by our own media, sick of the old Better Together parties doing us down, or disgusted with those “proud Scots” with a country estate thwarting our ideas for a fairer Scotland. Don’t get angry, get even.’
For a while, there were signs that some independence activists had got the message: last year, former Socialist MSP Carolyn Leckie warned that ‘Scotland has moved on and we won’t win this time round just by… chanting the same slogans and waving the same flags’.
Some are unlikely ever to heed such advice, including Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil, who once retweeted an internet ‘meme’ suggesting that Unionist Scots were suffering from ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, the psychological condition where hostages develop a bond with their kidnappers.
He also branded Scots ‘fools’ for believing official figures showing that the Scottish economy was worse than that of Greece or Spain.
And last week he criticised a Scottish newspaper which used the phrase ‘sixth form’ rather than sixth year, the more common Scottish expression for the last year of secondary school.
He tweeted: ‘6th form”!!?? Cover blown for Herald in this slip … It is like “Would you like a cigarette” in yon WW2 film’ – a reference to The Great Escape, in which British airmen fleeing Nazi captivity are found out when one of them accidentally speaks English rather than German.
The implication is that a Scottish newspaper has shown its true colours as an organ of the British state.
Rather more innocuously, you might think, the story itself was about school resources being drained by a rise in S6 pupils.
The Great Escape comparison is an odd one, but then Mr MacNeil did tweet that he spent some of New Year’s Day snarling at an angry seal he encountered on a beach (‘the wee tyke bowed his head then and shut up’.)
Last week Glasgow Cathcart SNP MSP James Dornan, convener of Holyrood’s education committee, criticised historian Tom Holland, who said British strategy in World War Two was ‘astonishingly effective’.
Mr Dornan said Mr Holland ‘appears to think letting other people die on your behalf is something to be proud of’.
He also said he would no longer read a newspaper which printed a story critical of an aspect of the SNP’s health policy on its front page.
This fuelled an absurd Twitter debate about Unionist media allegedly printing a disproportionately high number of such stories – having the temerity to hold the SNP to account – over the festive period.
Large numbers of pro-independence tweeters seemed to believe a concerted campaign was under way to destabilise the Scottish Government.
This missed the point that all parties have produced stories ahead of Christmas and New Year for use by the media over the holidays for as long as anyone can recall (including the SNP).
It also missed the point that the Scottish Government has done a pretty reasonable job of destabilising itself, as flu rampages through crisis-stricken hospitals – exposing the SNP’s calamitous stewardship of the NHS over the last decade.
Other Strangelove-like behaviour was evidenced back in November, when SNP East Ayrshire councillor Gordon Jenkins claimed online that ‘most Unionists appear to like hitting children’. He was later forced into a ‘wholehearted’ apology.
Last year actress Elaine C Smith, convener of the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC), told a conference that a large proportion of those who are pro-Union want to ‘bring back slavery’.
The SIC is the body that is itching for ‘indyref2’, and met Miss Sturgeon last year for a council of war.
Perhaps Unionists should be thankful that this is the standard of intellectual calibre at the top of the SIC.
It’s almost as effective as SNP Glasgow Shettleston MSP John Mason claiming that some of those who oppose the party’s immensely unpopular and chaotic Named Person policy (largely regarded as Unionists by many within the SNP) might be child abusers.
Inclusive, forward-looking, bridge-building – but it is often an older, darker Nationalism that lurks on social media and beyond.
The mask continues to slip, despite Miss Sturgeon’s publicly stated opposition to separatist bile online.
This is one of the reasons why the independence crusade will continue to fail (even as Miss Sturgeon insists that breaking up Britain ‘must remain an option’).
Its own supporters will go on exposing the movement’s baser instincts for what they are – and ultimately squeeze the life from it.