We should all fear the SNP’s vice-like grip on power

By Graham Grant

AMID the hysterical clamour and playground taunts of social media over the weekend, Scotland’s greatest living composer asked a striking question.

‘Is it possible,’ Sir James MacMillan tweeted, ‘to have a public life (necessary if you are an artist in Scotland, even although the interior life is more crucial) if you are not part of the pro-government Nomenklatura?’

He was referencing the Soviet system whereby influential posts in government and industry were filled by Party appointees, ensuring ideological consistency in every area of the vast bureaucratic machinery of the USSR.

Sir James said he believed it was ‘looking less likely now than ever before’ (an opinion some of his followers backed up) – a bleak conclusion from an artist who clearly believes he has paid a heavy price for his strongly held Unionist beliefs.

In an essay earlier this year, Sir James spoke out against the hijacking of the arts for political purposes, lamenting that the crisis-stricken Creative Scotland quango (‘crisis-stricken’ is now an almost obligatory prefix for most quangos in Scotland) was ‘tied by government restrictions’.

Artists, Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop has declared, ‘don’t have to be close to government. They just have to have a common understanding of what the country wants. This is a way of bridging, of helping ambition for the country’.

That’s quite a manifesto, and has a suitably Soviet ring to it, neatly encapsulating the Nationalist mindset: one that breeds cultural homogeneity, by excluding those who fail to toe the line – and rewarding those who do.

Freight Books raked in more than £230,000 from Creative Scotland before it was forced to appoint a liquidator, and its authors included independence supporter Alan Bissett.

In the run-up to the 2014 referendum, Bissett, who had close ties to Alex Salmond, branded Scots Unionists sufferers of ‘Jockholme [sic] syndrome’, punning ‘Stockholm syndrome’, a condition in which hostages form a close psychological bond with their captors.

There are ripple effects: if you create a climate that freezes out critics of the ruling administration, or its core belief of independence, you help to stoke artistic parochialism.

The Scots musician and author Darren McGarvey was described by the New York Times on Saturday as a ‘British rapper’, and a journalist who shared the article online said she found herself subjected to a tirade of abuse – along the lines of ‘how dare you insinuate he’s British?’ (though not so politely put).

‘British’ was seen as an insult – though, unsportingly, it’s worth pointing out it’s also a word that accurately describes his nationality.

But it goes beyond the purely party political: Creative Scotland also made an award of almost £20,000 for a book containing a transsexual love story aimed at children as young as 14.

The Scottish Book Trust distributed Secrets and Confessions in secondary schools and public places, including libraries, to ‘reflect the experience’ of gay people and transsexuals.

Bearing in mind there are cash-starved schools where parents are having to help buy basic classroom equipment, you might wonder if this was the best use of public money.

Whatever your view, the question of whether the taxpayer should bankroll initiatives of this kind – which at the very least are divisive – is entirely valid.

Of course, any project that sought to ask that question with the assistance of a government grant would fall foul of a system that cannot countenance any challenge to the politically correct orthodoxy of the day.

Sir James MacMillan: fears the iron grip of the “Nomenklatura”

But the reach of the Nomenklatura that Sir James has identified extends beyond the boundaries of the cultural realm.

Many charities, supposedly independent and funded largely by donations, are in fact propped up by taxpayer subsidy, and help to promulgate Nationalist policy, most conspicuously on Named Person.

This was the proposal for mass state surveillance of children – ruled largely unlawful in a devastating Supreme Court judgment – despite the SNP’s spin at the time that in fact the judges had been broadly supportive of the idea.

The court’s president Lady Hale left that rhetoric in shreds last week when she confirmed the Scottish Government had lost the challenge (you wouldn’t have known from John Swinney’s Press release on the day of the judgment in 2016: ‘Swinney commits to roll out service as legal bid to scrap NP [Named Person] scheme fails.’)

Named Person is now the ultimate zombie policy, staggering towards an ill-defined future, mainly because ministers are too afraid to put it out of its misery.

But the charity sector – large swathes of which are now effectively an arm of government – is still doing its damnedest to keep it alive.

It’s a costly life support machine, but the handsomely remunerated fat cats who run the ‘third sector’ know they daren’t challenge such a flagship policy, even if it’s rapidly sinking…

Some charities are even run by current Scottish Government officials, while the interim chief officer of the Scottish Police Authority, Kenneth Hogg, was parachuted in from the Civil Service to take charge of the dysfunctional quango (that went well: only last week the SPA’s ‘significant weaknesses’ were condemned – by its own auditors).

A key survival tactic of the Nomenklatura is the ‘othering’ of its critics, and the SNP is a past master at this dark art; while disparaging Donald Trump, it has learned from his demonisation of the media.

Mr Swinney said last year that much of the negative commentary about Scottish education was to be found in the ‘newspapers’, and was a distortion of the reality.

With widespread teacher shortages, a literacy and numeracy crisis and the prospect of crippling teacher strikes amid a bitter pay row, you might find that a little hard to swallow.

But one wonders if Mr Swinney would have quietly applauded the taxpayer-funded charity which last week told young people to avoid the news because ‘upsetting’ stories could damage their mental health.

Young Scot, which received almost £2million in public money last year and campaigns among 11 to 26-year-olds, said it ‘might be a good idea to unfollow news channel accounts’ because they ‘mostly just post negative news’.

The charity also suggested it might be a good idea not to read comment sections (a view that should be strongly discouraged, but then I would say that…) because they might see ‘nasty’ opinions.

Predictably, it later deleted the warnings, issued on its Instagram account, after criticism on social media, and Young Scot admitted the advice had been ‘a mistake’.

Yet presumably any high-profile organisation, particularly one that is partly financed by the public purse, would have devoted at least some thought to giving out this kind of barmy guidance before putting it online?

Those who don’t share a ‘common understanding of what the country wants’, as Miss Hyslop put it, are in fact guilty of lacking a ‘common understanding’ of what the SNP wants – and it seems that alone is enough to render them pariahs.

*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on July 24, 2018.

Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Facebook: @sdmnewspaper