There’s something rotten at the heart of Scottish politics. We have our own parliament with extensive powers, including the ability to raise or lower taxes. This parliament may not be enough for some. It may be too much for others. But it is a reasonable compromise between Scottish independence and British unity. Our population is deeply split. A devolved parliament with the power to change Scotland one way or the other may be the best chance we’re ever going to get to give everybody some of what they want. It’s a sort of power sharing arrangement between those who want independence and those who don’t. Pushing the arrangement too far one way or the other may be a very poor strategy indeed for anyone who wants a degree of unity in Scotland.
The SNP have been in power since 2007. Yet the debate isn’t about their record in government. Instead it’s about something completely irrelevant. Nicola Sturgeon’s argument against Labour is that they campaigned together with the Tories during the Scottish independence referendum. Her argument against the Lib Dems is that they were in a coalition with the Conservatives. Her argument against the Tories is that they exist.
It is highly unlikely that the Tories will win power in Scotland. Of course, everyone must campaign as if they had a chance and polls cannot be trusted. But it would take something close to a miracle for Ruth Davidson to be the next first minister. Her party just might come second and that would be a brilliant result to build on. So why make such an issue about whether Labour or the Lib Dems once cooperated with the Tories? What has that to do with how we run Scotland?
There are three great hatreds in Scotland. The first is hatred of English people. The second is sectarian hatred. The third is hatred of Tories. All three of these hatreds diminish all of us. But the third hatred is, if anything, more toxic than the first two. Most of us agree that it is wrong to hate someone because he comes from England or because he follows the Catholic or Protestant version of Christianity. But astonishingly it is perfectly acceptable to hate Tories. It’s so acceptable indeed that this hatred goes right to the top of Scottish politics. Listen to the way Nicola Sturgeon says the word “Tory”. It’s as if she couldn’t think of a worse insult to call someone. There is loathing in the way she says the word, there is contempt. This is all quite deliberate because she knows that her support depends on hatred of Tories. The SNP is now the anti-Tory party. She encourages this prejudice against Tories for party political ends. She fans the flames of hatred and keeps it going for she knows that then no-one will much think about her party’s actual record in government.
I don’t dislike the word “Tory”. I use it about myself and am happy for others to use it about me. But I dislike it being used as a term of abuse. I dislike it being spoken in a way that implies contempt for me and what I believe. Why am I a Tory? This is partly because of my experience living in a socialist country and the stories I heard about the 1930s where members of my family were sent to the Gulag because they were from the nobility and had the wrong sort of surname. I’ve experienced the way socialism doesn’t work at first hand. I believe that it can only succeed by forcibly changing human nature. I also believe that it makes society poorer, both economically and in terms of freedom of the individual. Capitalism is imperfect, but free markets are our best indeed only chance to raise the standard of living of everyone. I care about poverty just as much as anyone else in Scotland. The cohesion of society depends on government helping the poorest, but the long term viability of our country also depends on our living within our means. Therefore we sometimes have to make tough choices about public spending.
I don’t agree with every policy of the present Conservative party, but I agree with the following principle: Virtue depends on freedom of choice. The Left would make us ‘virtuous’ by means of law, while the Right would allow us the freedom to follow our own conscience. The Left therefore fundamentally is about destroying morality by making it obsolete and turning it into a matter of coercion. The Left’s goal of equality can only be achieved by forcing some people to give up what they have and giving it to others. The Right on the other believes in the individual and makes morality a matter of my choice. I can after all give all I have to the poor without anyone compelling me to do so. That’s the difference. It’s that choice and that alone that makes an action virtuous.
I disagree with socialism and nationalism. I’ve seen what these two ideologies can do. I’ve seen how they lead to poverty, hatred and war. I have more reason to hate socialists that nearly all Scots have to hate Tories. But I hate no-one. Hatred only damages the person who hates. I disagree with my political opponents and try to put forward reasons for why I disagree with them. But the reason I debate is that I want to hear good arguments that can be made against mine. When I write something I believe it to be true, but I know that my ideas will only evolve if they are countered. But this can only happen if I respect opponents. If I think of them with hatred, my own ideas would simply be dogmatic. That is the greatest danger that Scotland faces. Many nationalists are so consumed with hatred for Tories that they are unwilling even to consider the possibility that Conservatives might actually have some good ideas sometimes. It’s this close-mindedness that is so harmful. It is the fertile ground in which prejudice can grow.
The SNP use two things to deflect attention from their record in government. They continually work their supporters up into with talk about independence, while at the same time emphasising their hated Tories. Once this is done, there’s next to no time left to talk about the SNP’s own record on healthcare, education, the police and all the other things they control. The Tories in fact have had next to no influence on Scottish life for years. Mr Cameron couldn’t influence policy on Scottish healthcare, education, or the police if he tried. The SNP want power without responsibility. They want always to be able to blame the hated Tories, even if when it is they who control something. When did you last come across a self-critical SNP politician? When did the SNP last admit to making a mistake? But to blame someone else for your own mistakes is a very typical prejudice. It’s all the fault of the … (insert whichever group you dislike). This has a very long history and a very ugly one indeed.
The SNP think that it was wrong for Labour to share a platform with the Tories even though they agreed that the UK should remain united. Ms. Sturgeon refuses to share a platform with David Cameron, even though she agrees that the UK should remain part of the EU. On the whole I dislike the idea that we shouldn’t share a platform with someone just because we have different views, but I can see that this might be justified in the case of real extremism. But it is pure and simple prejudice to suggest that the Conservative party in the UK are extremists. It is completely unjustified to treat them as if they were fascists. Whether or not you agree with the Conservatives you have to acknowledge that they have significant support across the UK and in Scotland too. We are not extremists. We hold views that are similar to other centre-right parties throughout the world. If Nicola Sturgeon thinks it wrong to share a platform with David Cameron, she ought to think that it would be wrong to share one with Angela Merkel or Nicolas Sarkozy. They two lead mainstream centre right parties just like Mr Cameron does. My guess is that Sturgeon would gush if she ever got to meet Angela Merkel. So why the difference in treatment?
It was in no way wrong for the Lib Dems to go into coalition with the Conservatives. They put country before party and did an excellent job under difficult circumstances. It is a good thing when political parties cooperate and learn from each other. Nicola Sturgeon thinks that she can persuade Lib Dem voters to desert their party solely because of prejudice against Tories. Unfortunately she may be right.
Many people vote for the SNP because they think this is the way to bring socialism to Scotland. But look at the SNP’s record. They have successfully destroyed the Labour party in Scotland. But now that they have the power to change how Scotland is run economically they choose to simply follow what the Conservatives are doing in London. The SNP could raise taxes and redistribute the money raised to the poor. Nothing is stopping them doing this. But instead they will more or less follow what George Osborne does in this budget and no doubt the next also. The SNP priority at the moment is keeping the Scottish middle classes happy. How then can we describe the SNP as a political party? Beyond their desire for independence (nationalism) what do they believe? They believe in power and they know that power lies in the centre, even the centre right. The difference between the Tories and the SNP is actually quite small. They work together reasonably amicably and cooperate on issues that they have in common such as coming up with an arrangement for UK central government funding. The SNP’s hatred of Tories then really does look like prejudice as to a great extent they actually agree with them.
The political identity of far too many Scots is founded on an unwarranted hatred. Hating people who you have never met, because of their beliefs is obviously prejudice. It is quite simply wrong. Hating views that are held by ordinary people throughout the UK is likewise prejudice. My views are sincerely held. They have developed over a number of years through discussion and thought. By all means disagree with my views, but let’s debate amicably and accept that we are all sincere. To discover that huge numbers of Scots hate my political views is as disturbing as if they hated my following the teachings of the Russian Orthodox Church. Unfortunately this hatred, this prejudice comes from the very top of Scottish politics. It’s not only acceptable to hate people because they are Tories, it’s obligatory. Far too many Scots use language about Tories, that they would not dare to use about any minority. Apparently we are evil and the scum of the earth and this justifies all hatred. But Tories are also a minority in Scotland, indeed we are the only minority in Scotland who can be hated with impunity. This above all is poisoning Scottish politics and hindering genuine debate. All of the ideals that people like Nicola Sturgeon pretend to have about equality, fairness and creating a welcoming, friendly Scotland founder because she is herself consumed with hatred of Tories. It’s unacceptable, it’s bigoted and it has to stop.
This link was originally published by Effie Deans 2 April 2016