Triumph of patriots and the ruin of a nation

This week, Nicola Sturgeon will deliver another statement on independence to the Scottish Parliament.

It will be a response to the Prime Minister’s letter rejecting a request from the SNP leader to grant a second referendum on separation. She is expected to set out her next steps in pursuit of Scexit.

This week, Nicola Sturgeon will not open Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children, due in 2012 and still off-limits to youngsters for their own safety.

She will not achieve the 62-day waiting time standard for cancer treatment, a target that was last met in 2012. She will not alleviate the £5.5 billion in debt that her ‘free’ higher education system boasts, poorer students predictably more laden than their better-off peers.

Nationalists may have a mystical belief in the power of language but not one dreamy verb in their leader’s announcement will get the NHS to meet the Accident and Emergency waiting time target it last managed in 2017, nor ease the suffering of the one in five patients forced to wait more than 18 weeks to begin mental health treatment, nor undo the hurt to almost 2,000 families left in the dark about the circumstances of a loved one’s death because of post-mortem delays.

These matters should be the primary business of a first minister but we don’t have a first minister, we have an SNP leader plagued by unfortunate distractions like schools and hospital waiting times.

She may cloak herself in the rhetoric of social democracy but nationalism is what animates Sturgeon’s worldview. It gets her out of bed in the morning, replenishes her spirits when times are low, and is the prism through which she sees the problems of the job. If the answer isn’t independence, she isn’t interested.

What will Sturgeon say on Wednesday? This might be a scandalous thing for a political journalist to admit but: I don’t care. Truly, whatever scheme or device or misdirection she conjures from her deep well of poll-driven cynicism is of no interest to me.

A consultative referendum on which parliament should have the power over the independence question? Maybe, though it would be risky: she has to win over cautious-canny Middle Scotland. Kick it into the long(ish) grass of next year’s Holyrood election? Yet another delay might not sit well with her more militant activists.

Set up a new constitutional convention to work up a grandly-worded but ultimately meaningless manifesto? That could do the trick. There’s nothing Scotland’s fiercely independent civil society loves more than coming together to echo the well-worn dogmas of the political establishment.

I am fed up having to pretend that this stuff matters. I am fed up with the dull stasis, the futile lingering, the constitutional noise machine that drains oxygen from the rest of the agenda but does nothing with it. There have scarcely been more political times in Scotland than in the last five years and scarcely a time when so little got done. Scotland has been held back and, worse, dragged down.

A Scottish education was once the envy of the world. Today, we are the country that withdrew from international comparators because we didn’t like the results. Our government cut funding to alcohol and drugs programmes and now we are the drugs death capital of Europe.

We have a hospital in Livingston with a part-time children’s ward — the very phrase is absurd — because of staffing problems that have dragged on for years. Most shamefully of all, we have a ‘super-hospital’ in Glasgow where parents are afraid to take their children in case they are the latest life claimed by clinically-acquired infection.

No matter, though, because things are worse in Wales, as though it is of any comfort to someone waiting 12 hours in Wishaw General A&E that someone in Ysbyty Gwyne might be waiting 13. Or the old saw about lacking ‘the full economic levers’, an insult to the intelligence that says that by ending the £1,663 per head spending Scotland gets above the UK average every year will mean we have more money rather than less.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay plans to start publishing alternative economic statistics imagining how wealthy Scotland might be if it were independent. It is a short step from this to ‘alternative’ figures on what school attainment or hospital waiting times would be. Orwell didn’t have a mark on this lot.

You may worry for your child’s education, an elderly parent’s operation or the financial health of your small business. You may be for or against independence, or still undecided, but reckon that it is not the most pressing matter for ministers’ attention. Know that you are wholly out of touch with those who rule over you. For them, independence is all — and all you will get out of them until they get it.

Here is a glimpse into their priorities. Constitution Secretary Mike Russell wants a parliamentary vote on whether Holyrood should fly the European flag. The Scottish Parliament Corporate Body decided on a non-political basis to draw down the Continental standard on Brexit Day. Most Nationalists don’t particularly care about the EU, having become Europeans on 24 June 2016, but they grasp the utility of the issue for setting Scotland apart from the rest of the nation.

These people can’t teach your child how to read or get you seen promptly by a doctor but they get symbolism better than a hundred tenured professors of semiotics.

Mr Russell is also concerned about rival MPs heckling Nationalists in the House of Commons, which he considers ‘a form of discrimination’. Meanwhile, his colleague Paul Wheelhouse, the minister for energy, is highly sensitive on the subjects of poetry and haggis.

After Conservative MP John Lamont tweeted a picture from this year’s Downing Street Burns Supper, Wheelhouse told him: ‘Rabbie Burns was a proud Scot every day of the year… not just once a year. Unfortunately you’re more likely to have a political epitaph of being one of a modern day “Parcel of Rogues in a nation”, for selling out Scotland’s right to choose to stay in the EU.’ It’s like someone handed Joe McCarthy a book of basic verse.

This is what charges them, what gets the blood up. Flags and symbols. Imaginary statistics and imaginary racism. Bravehearts and sell-outs. Nicola Sturgeon sits at the apex of this grand victimhood complex, this stirring of animus and poking of wounds passing for a respectable political movement.

These are not progressives or idealists or radicals. They are callous ideologues who have sacrificed the well-being of people they will never have to look in the eye to pursue the only thing they ever have or ever will give a damn about. They love Scotland but only on their terms. The nation must change to earn their ardour.

Their opponents saw 2007 as a blip or a fancy or an inevitable reshuffling of the democratic deck. Nationalists saw it as a triumph of patriots and with it the sowing of a new national consciousness that would put pride before bread. It is hard to dispute that they have captured the hearts of a large minority of Scots, many of whom are to be found suffering among the bulging statistics of 13 years of indifference and incompetence.

Nothing Nicola Sturgeon says on Wednesday will change any of this. Things are bad and they will not get better by squeezing in another chair at the United Nations between Saudi Arabia and Senegal. Things are bad and it’s no use pretending that Scotland’s troubles are a malediction cast in darkest Westminster. Things are bad and they will stay bad until enough of us decide we no longer want them to be that way. The triumph of patriots has been the ruin of Scotland.

The rest of us are patriots, too. We look at Scotland and see a country of uncommon potential, rich in natural resources, with much to sell the world and much to learn from it.

We love this nation as we find it and believe that being part of something bigger makes us stronger, not weaker; prouder, not diminished. We want to see things get better now, not have our people held back until they buckle to someone else’s political will. Scotland is enough for us.


Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: Stephen at 

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