Nicola Sturgeon wants you to be afraid. She wants you to be afraid because people are easier to mislead when they’re afraid.
Nicola Sturgeon wants you to be angry. She wants you to be angry because angry people take rash decisions.
Nicola Sturgeon wants you to be cowed. She wants you to be cowed because then you won’t put up a fight and you’ll let her have her way.
Last week, the First Minister turned up to the David Hume Society in Edinburgh and delivered a speech. The topic — and you’ll be shocked — was independence, specifically whether Scotland would skip Brexit, go straight to indyref2, and collect £15bn in deficit.
Politicians are not known for making a virtue of the truth, even though most are honest and sincere public servants. Still, it is impolite to accuse a first minister of wilful deception, so let us give Miss Sturgeon the courtesy of euphemism. Her lecture was a distant relation of actuality, a bold adaptation of the facts, a gallimaufry of inveracities.
The SNP leader told reporters: ‘The Brexit process has emboldened a now powerful Westminster faction, which perhaps never fully embraced devolution, and which now sees an opportunity to rein in the Scottish Parliament…. [T]here is not yet any real guarantee from the Tories that the Scottish Parliament and the other devolved administrations won’t be stripped of some of their powers.’
The First Minister, a voracious reader, has entered the fiction market. Genre: Thriller. Sub-genre: Conspiracy theories. It’s gripping stuff. Shadowy cabals, hidden agendas, sinister plots whispered in the corridors of power. Ian Rankin has some competition on the bestseller list this year.
At risk of spoiling the ending, none of this is true. The ‘powerful Westminster faction’ is — again with the euphemism — artistic licence on Miss Sturgeon’s part. It does not exist. It is doubtful you could assemble enough Scotland-focussed Brexiteers to put on a one-man show, let alone a faction. The secret Westminster plot was so secret that no one at Westminster had heard of it.
That raised the question: What powers were at risk of being repatriated to London? Apparently, and bear with me here, when we leave the EU and control of fishing and agriculture returns to Britain, some powers will go to Westminster rather than Holyrood. The SNP wants all these powers handed to Edinburgh. That is, until they get independence, when they’ll hand back them to the EU. Nicola Sturgeon wants Scotland to keep powers it doesn’t currently have so it can return them one day to the body that actually has them. If the political thrillers don’t sell, she should try her hand at science fiction.
And the plot twist? All this would be grounds for a second referendum on independence. Of course it would. Miss Sturgeon burning her porridge in the morning is grounds for a second referendum on independence. The polls tell her that Scots are against re-running the vote and, if forced to, would likely reject separatism again.
Hence the garish tales of political skullduggery and Westminster manipulation. Having failed to win us round to her ‘civic’ brand of nationalism, Miss Sturgeon has reverted to her party’s proven talents: Exploiting fears and stoking grievances. She wants you roiled up, fit to be tied, seething at Them Down South, affronted by their contempt for Scotland. It’s the only way, she reckons, that she’ll get you to back independence. And if you won’t, she intends to make you feel under siege, feel that your country’s future is up on the gallows once more, in the hope that you’ll keep your head down and offer no resistance.
Ruth Davidson doesn’t think much of the First Minister’s penny dreadful. The Scottish Tory leader’s muscular critique of nationalism at her party’s conference in Glasgow has won plaudits.
She held forth: ’Scotland said no to independence. Scotland is saying: Stop trying to bounce us into another referendum. And I can promise you this… We will fight you every step of the way. We said No. We meant it. Are you listening, Nicola? No. Second. Referendum.’
Importantly, Miss Davidson offered more than anti-nationalism and made the case for positive unionism — positive not just in its optimism but in its purpose and ambition. The SNP wants independence so Scotland can be independent. The end. Miss Davidson is beginning to sketch out a Unionism that is not an end in itself but a platform to make Scotland and the whole UK a stronger, fairer, more prosperous country.
Now, she will have to follow words with deeds but if she can keep her party in the centre ground and dedicate her energies to the holy trinity of political success — jobs, services, and security — her claim to be ‘a government in waiting’ might not prove as brave as it sounds.
There is a market for moderate, unifying politics in Scotland. When Nicola Sturgeon took over at Bute House in 2014, the country seemed to exhale as one. After the bruising referendum campaign, the tensions stoked and the resentments pent up, here was an opportunity to slow down, calm down and be a nation at ease with ourselves again. This incoming First Minister’s message was one of unity. The day after the referendum defeat, Miss Sturgeon used Twitter, her preferred method of communication, to declare us ‘One Scotland’.
If you dare enter the bear pit of Twitter today — a once fun website, it has been soured by trolls and various flavours of political crank — those words still adorn the top of Miss Sturgeon’s page. Given the heroic efforts of her party to divide our country down constitutional loyalties, they now read like a bad joke.
In comments little-noted in this country, Scotland got a namecheck in Northern Ireland’s live election debate last week. DUP leader Arlene Foster (unsuccessfully) begged voters not to embrace Sinn Fein’s nationalism. Mrs Foster warned: ‘We’ve seen the way it has destabilised Scotland, this constant issue of independence, and I think it would be wrong for Northern Ireland if we had that as well.’
Read that again. A Northern Ireland leader. Warning of political instability. In Scotland. To see oursels as ithers see us, indeed.
Most Scots don’t buy scare stories and they don’t want a referendum rerun. Independence is not a festival of joy in their minds but a miser’s purse. Their Scotland is a decent, outward-looking nation; folk down south are their brothers and sisters; a family fallen on hard times in Bristol is as much their responsibility as a family from Bellshill.
Because they want to get on with their lives, they try to ignore the threats and incitements of the Nationalists. No one could blame them; it can’t be healthy to be as regularly enraged as ‘Belligerent of Brigadoon’. But the SNP depends on your silence and hopes to parlay it into acquiescence.
If you oppose a second referendum, if you want the Nationalists to get on with the job you’re paying them to do, you have to tell them. There are ample opportunities. Miss Sturgeon’s strategists will pore over the results of May’s council elections before advising her on indyref2; a strong showing by the Unionist parties will send them back to the drawing board to think again.
It’s not easy to speak up. It never is with things that matter. But right now the noisy nationalist minority is drowning out the silent majority and that can only embolden the SNP.
This is your country too. It doesn’t belong to any one politician or party. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be angry. Don’t be cowed. Be calm and assured and politely tell the Nationalists, once again, No Thanks.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.