Bile, anger, and the growing divisiveness of a nation’s politics

‘You know, this used to be a hell of a good country,’ Jack Nicholson pondered in Easy Rider. ‘I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it.’

These words crept into my mind last week and no matter what I did to shut them out, they found a way back in.

Anas Sarwar revealed that he had been sent a threatening image on social media. The grisly picture showed a towering set of gallows in the smir-soaked grounds of a Victorian gaol, a noose dangling from the gibbet in bleak anticipation. The intention was, the Scottish Labour MSP said, ‘to symbolise what happens to me and others after independence’. He reported the matter to the police and officers are now investigating.

What makes the Sarwar incident especially gloomy is that, according to the MSP, one of those responsible for disseminating the sinister message was an SNP candidate.

There is a great deal of chatter about the ‘divisive’ nature of the 2014 independence referendum, and to those unfortunate enough to find themselves on the winning side it was. What began as renewal of democratic engagement ended in dismal scenes of nationalist mobs baying at BBC journalists and Jim Murphy forced to suspended his pro-UK speeches amid intimidation. The language crop-dusted into public debate — Alex Salmond called the Unionist parties ‘a parcel of rogues’ — has borne fruit in a national discourse that is sour, fractious, and unremittingly angry.

When nationalists object to these facts being pointed out, they counter that the referendum was in fact ‘transformative’. It was but not in the way they think. The months leading up to September 18, 2014, the result, and the fallout was a fulcrum for levering out one Scotland and cranking in another in its place. The old Scotland was governed by decency, good humour, and a sense of togetherness captured in the couthy but harmless Lallans saw: ‘We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns’.

The new Scotland is perhaps more politically active, though not necessarily more politically aware. But we are now a colder people, quicker to loathing and distant from those who do not see the world as we do. How many Nationalists find themselves cutting off once-fast friends over constitutional disputes? How many Unionists dread certain social occasions in the knowledge that a particular relative or chum will inevitably get a little well-primed and want to re-run past disagreements?

Worst of all, the egalitarianism embodied in ‘Jock Tamson’s bairns’ is being replaced by an ugly Scottish superiority. Nationalism proceeds from the conviction that Scotland is a great nation held back by the Union and its people’s lack of confidence in themselves. What Nats have never grasped is that Scots are not cringing or self-loathing — they are humble and consider humility a virtue. That is the essence of Tamsonism: We are just as good as everyone else; no better, no worse. Nationalists have tried to claim this principle for their movement but in truth it is the antithesis of what they believe.

While egalitarianism is out, the new cultural mode of Scottish life is jingoism as national self-help. We increasingly tell ourselves that Scotland is a land above, untainted by the base prejudices of England on everything from immigration to welfare to nuclear weapons. Of late, this ethical chauvinism has sought not only to redefine the present but to revise the past, bowlderising history to remove unpleasant truths about Scottish villainy. Last week, one commentator railed against critics of Nicola Sturgeon’s presidential-style visit to the United States, insisting that she was strengthening Scotland’s diplomatic ties.

He said: ‘Across the world Scotland’s progressive values are recognised for the genuine attributes that they are. We are a nation, too, that carries less of the colonial baggage so associated with a British imperialism of the past.’

This dawn raid on the historical record was audacious. The Scots were not merely lusty participants in the British Empire; they helped to direct it. Glasgow wasn’t ‘built on tobacco’ — it was built on slavery. The more excitable Scottish nationalists have convinced themselves that we are living under the Westminster lash but when it came to profiting from the sale and purchase of human beings, Scotland held the whip hand.

Nationalism requires such airbrushing for it is a creed of victimhood. And it inspires victimhood in others. For it is not only Scotland’s nationalists who have changed, her Unionists have too. The Barbour set — Scottish, British, and three G&Ts in — are still there but they no longer define Scottish Unionism. Their Unionism was that of the cheerful pessimist — the Nats will probably win in the end but no sense getting worked up about it. Now the Unionist voice in Scotland is shriller and spends much of its time complaining about the impositions of nationalism. These impositions are often real — the SNP does seek to silence dissent, it has co-opted institutions which ought to know better — but they cannot be the basis for a positive Unionist programme.

Mirroring the Nats’ response to imagined oppression, some Unionists echo their rhetorical rampages. Ask men over 50 — ask women over 50 — their thoughts on Nicola Sturgeon and the replies would be unprintable. There is a segment of Scotland that truly despises the First Minister. She may be cocky, wrong-headed, and hellbent on separation rather than fixing education or the health service — but is she really a figure deserving contempt, even hatred?

The SNP are ingenues convinced of their own sophistication. These semi-skimmed nationalists, with their focus groups and their tenuous readings of Edward Said, thought they could poke the bear of identity politics and, once stirred, it would dance only to their tune. In their arrogance, they did not stop to consider that the atavistic impulses they were appealing to were just as prevalent in others, that rallying half the country around one flag would draw the other half around another. Asked by a pollster last month, four in ten Scots defined themselves as hardcore Unionists, placing themselves at the very top of a scale of one-to-ten.

Gallows. Revisionism. Political fundamentalism. Scotland used to be a hell of a good country but something has gone wrong with it.


In an age of liars, brave is the man who stands up and tells the truth.

Hassan Akkad did just that on Friday when he took on apologists for Bashar al-Assad. Stop the War, the North London branch of the Westboro Baptist Church, had gathered outside Downing Street to denounce the United States, the reason this particular day being Donald Trump’s airstrikes against the Syrian regime.

It takes some doing to get to the Right of Donald Trump but to do so on the subject of gassing children is a grim achievement.

Hassan, a Syrian who fled here to escape Assad’s butchery, challenged these trust fund Trots and told them what life was really like under their favourite mass murderer. Hassan was twice jailed and tortured for supporting the opposition. Instead of listening, these so-called lefties heckled Hassan and shouted him down with the help of a megaphone. Here was one refugee who wasn’t welcome.

Hassan Akkad belongs here. Stop the War belongs in Damascus, where its loyalty lies.


A new study finds that the longer children spend on social media the less happy they are. Facebook and Snapchat bring bullies closer to their victims and not being ‘liked’ online is as bad as not being liked offline. Parents shouldn’t shrug and accept this. You pay for the phone and the wifi. If you don’t want your kids on these sites, you know what to do.

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at

2 thoughts on “Bile, anger, and the growing divisiveness of a nation’s politics

  1. Nationalist’s and there hard core support in the social media world have tried to introduce the Ulsterfication of politics in Scotland , they never thought the consequences through though as it will ultimately cost them, it may be slower than many would like it to happen but it will happen.

    You are correct that the inconvenient truth for nationalist’s who prey on identity is that our history is linked to empire just as much as rUK , from sugar , mining , tobacco and beyond we all failed, but we also succeeded together .

    I like to remind them that for the most part We Scot’s have got the parliament at Westminster we have voted for more times than not since the over last 100 years or so , in fact in 1964 and 1974 we voted Labour whilst England voted Tory but we got Labour ! Did England complain?

    Looking back over that 100 years plus together as the UK, we have built the NHS , got the Welfare State and then we can add Votes for Women , Education Act , Race Relations Act , Comprehensive Education , Decriminalisation of Homosexuality , Trade Disputes Act , Open University , Pay Equality , The National Minimum Wage , Tax Credits , Child Tax Credits and we even saved Mr Salmond’s best pal Fred Goodwins Bank.

    You can do the same in each century were we have grown together as the United Kingdom.


  2. Stephen, I have only one criticism of your articles: THERE AREN’T ENOUGH OF THEM! Now, I’m not suggesting that you’re sitting in Edinburgh twiddling your thumbs, but we need to hear a lot more from you.


    Sent from my iPhone


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