"Populist, egalitarian, anti- elitist and glorifying the moral superiority of one's own nation" - Scottish-based German journalist Reiner Luyken on the European view of modern Scotland- and it isn't pretty.
by Reiner Luyken (translated by Regina Erich)
Populist, egalitarian, anti-elitist: The Scottish SNP prevails despite defeat in the referendum because they drag the country into irrational nationalist sentiment.
On the day before the general elections Charles Kennedy takes part in a small hustings event. Kennedy, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has been MP for Ross, Skye and Lochalsh for donkey's years. To be precise, since 1983. At that time he was 23 years old. The north of Scotland has a long-standing tradition of liberalism. Yet Kennedy seems to look into the future with a sense of near resignation. As always he is full of anecdotes. One of them is about a hustings in the small seaport town of Kyle of Lochalsh. It went in the usual civilised fashion until a nationalist mob had a nasty go at him and in particular at the Conservative candidate, a young and highly intelligent woman. Her mother was also there. She stood up and, with her daughter in her wake, resolutely walked out making it clear that she had never seen anything like this before and nobody should have to put up that kind of thing. Yet a political tsunami was looming.
On the day of the general elections we – my Scottish wife and I – travel to London by train. The eight- hour journey from the liberal north of the UK to the cosmopolitan metropolis takes us through the industrial belt between Glasgow and Edinburgh, formerly dominated by steel mills, coal mines and shipyards. Here the vast majority of people voted Labour for almost a century. Then we travel southward through a more Conservative-dominated rural part of Scotland before we reach the English- Scottish border at Berwick-on-Tweed. We leave a country where the political culture is shaped by four different parties.
We return on the day after the elections. In Berwick the train passes the massive bridge over the Tweed and crosses the border into Europe's newest one-party state. The nationalist tsunami has swept away all the other parties. With 50% of the vote the Scottish National Party (SNP) has won 56 of the 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons. Of course this is a result distorted by the British First-Past-the-Post system. Each constituency is won by the candidate who gets most of the votes. Party lists reflecting proportional representation don't exist.
Moral superiority of one's own nation
But it is the death of Scottish liberalism which really paved the way to the nationalists' triumph. It's no exaggeration to say that modern Europe was born in Scotland's universities in the 18th century. Especially the economist Adam Smith from Kirkcaldy and the moral philosopher David Hume from Edinburgh laid the foundations for a sceptic-pragmatic approach which has determined mainstream thinking in Britain and Europe until today.
Liberalism is fundamental to the British Conservatives. Since Tony Blair's reforms, liberalism is also fundamental to the Labour Party. Ed Miliband, who stood down as Labour leader this Friday, took the party further to the left and was consequently punished by English voters. Currently most liberal voters are more comfortable with the Tories.
In Scotland the opposite happened. The Scottish Labour leader is a Blairite but New Labour has lost much of its influence. The Scottish Labour Party of today is as liberal as the Libdems in the north, and the Conservatives in the south, of this part of the UK which is small in population but big in terms of geography. Scottish voters have refused to go along with this. A majority of them flung themselves into the arms of a party the ideology of which is modern national socialism light. Populist, egalitarian, anti- elitist and glorifying the moral superiority of one's own nation.
Governing through politically appointed administration
Last September only 45% voted in favour of the SNP's independence referendum. Since then the party's membership has soared to more than 100,000. It circulated conspiracy theories about evil forces within the Westminster government keeping vast oil reserves west of Shetland secret in order to break the Scots' commitment to self-government and the MI5 rigging the referendum result.
For the past eight years the nationalists have been in power in Edinburgh and they hold an absolute majority in the Scottish parliament. During that time they have completely dismembered the already weak institutions of local democracy and govern the country through an administrative machinery operating on the instructions of party members. Even rather insignificant bodies such as the Crofters Commission, a smallholders' organisation in the Highlands, were brought under their control. The police force, an organisation with a long-standing tradition of regional policing, was centralised. Most Scottish media voluntarily submit themselves to the national dogmas, even the Scottish edition of Rupert Murdoch's The Sun supports the separatists. Left-wing journalists like Iain McWhirter, an influential Glasgow Herald columnist, readily offer their services to the regime by disseminating the extraordinary claim that Scots are more than others steeped in progressive thinking and committed to social justice.
And if the media don't dance to their tune, eager SNP members swiftly stage a vociferous demonstration outside editorial offices, start nasty internet campaigns and demand the dismissal of unpopular journalists. Even BBC Scotland has now a decidedly national note. And if something happens which is not in line with the official image of the 'good Scot', for example when a black citizen died in police custody in Kirkcaldy – Adam Smith's birthplace – on the day before the elections, then this information is treated like a mere footnote.
They claim to speak for the whole of the country
In her recent observations Regina Erich, a German linguist living in Scotland, described very accurately how the SNP managed to lead public opinion despite their defeat last September. Using their propaganda the party split the country into patriots and unreliable non-believers. On one side the Yessers, faithful Scots who voted Yes in September, and on the other side unionists and quislings. Quisling was a derogative term for collaborators in Norway during the Nazi occupation in WW2 and according to the SNP people like them support the Westmonster, the much hated government in the London borough of Westminster.
Now the SNP itself is in Westminster and claims to speak for Scotland – not just for a part of the Scots, no, for the whole of the country. For the Scottish people as such. Never have I seen my Scottish wife as worried as today.
This article was originally published in Die Zeit