Beyond foolishness – George Kerevan and Catalonia

In my last post on this blog (The SNP lifeboat disaster) I had some mild fun at the expense of the SNP’s Pete Wishart MP, albeit MP by only 21 votes. George Kerevan is one of Pete’s ex-MP colleagues who didn’t make the cut at the last general election. This doesn’t seem to have dimmed his enthusiasm for all sorts of things, from announcing an intention to apply for the job of chair of the UK Financial Conduct Authority to supporting the recent illegal Catalan ‘referendum,’ where I clocked him ‘observing’ events recently.

His misguided tweet at the head of this article continues his interest in Catalonia and demonstrates a number of things.

The first, perhaps trivial in itself, is that he thinks there is something called ‘marshal’ law. It is of course ‘martial,’ that is military, law. Perhaps like ‘parly’ for ‘parlt’ (parliament) it’s just a typo although he’s obviously spent some time on the message, sourcing an image of the Polish and, ironically, legitimate Catalan flags (the separatist flag is the one with a blue triangle and white star down the side).

The second issue is that his tweet illustrates perfectly the hazard of drawing historical analogies from a standpoint of ignorance. Kerevan’s statement that martial law was imposed in Poland ‘to crush democracy’ is at best ambiguous, at worst misleading. It could be taken to mean that, like Catalonia, there had been a democratic state to crush. In fact ever since the second world war Poland had been a communist satellite of the Soviet Union. What the military were seeking to crush was the unrest that by 1981 was articulated mainly through the Solidarity trade union and which had many causes, not just a lack of democracy. During the period of martial law from 1981-1983 and for some time afterwards, Solidarity attempted to continue covertly. But its leaders were arrested and there is no way it could be characterised, as per Mr Kerevan, as an ‘underground state.’

The third issue is the conclusion Kerevan draws from his faulty analogy. If the Catalan parliament were suspended, he says, Catalans should also set up an underground state. But unlike Poland in the 1980s Spain is a democracy and any suspension would be done in accordance with the democratic constitution (Article 155 if you must know). That would not be a declaration of martial law. The Spanish government may not have been wise in every aspect of how it has dealt with Catalan separatists recently. But there is no doubt that the fundamental actions it has taken and that it might now take are in accordance with the constitution. To suggest in that context that Catalonia’s politicians should set up an underground state is hugely irresponsible, much more so than supporting the recent illegal referendum. I wonder if Kerevan has thought through the implications of how that might play out. It certainly advocates more illegality and, knowingly or not, could be tantamount to encouraging civil war.

George has featured previously in this blog, for example last year when he articulated a belief that Scotland had a ‘new oil boom’ and then got more than a bit lost in Berlin. That was mere foolishness. To encourage Catalan separatists to set up an underground state is dangerous.

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The SNP lifeboat disaster

Wikimedia Commons

We have the opportunity, there’s a lifeboat attached to the good ship UK that’s heading for that Brexit iceberg – it’s called Scottish independence. Let’s get on board that lifeboat, let’s row as fast as possible.

– Pete Wishart MP, quoted in The Scotsman

Never the master of metaphor, Pete Wishart SNP MP chose a stark comparison to enliven his talk at an SNP conference fringe meeting yesterday organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). I don’t know if anyone told Pete what brand of economics the IEA stands for but, trust me, it doesn’t fit with the cuddly progressive image the party chooses to cultivate.

In an idle moment over my breakfast rowie, his words had me musing that being marooned in a lifeboat with some of the SNP’s prominent figures might be one of my visions of hell. Perhaps not in the best of taste (but we are talking Wishart here and he started it), his words reminded me of the photo above of one of the lifeboats of the Titanic, its occupants about to be rescued by another ship – itself a useful extension of Pete’s metaphor since the one thing we can be sure of in an independent Scotland run by the SNP is that its economy would need rescuing by someone else.

Anyhow, in my nightmare of lifeboat hell, I was struggling to think who my fellow occupants might be. Who would take charge? Who’d be navigating? Which horny-handed sons of toil would bend to the oars and ‘row as fast as possible’? Was there a mutineer on board? Would someone sacrifice themselves for the greater good by jumping overboard in the dead of night? Who would huddle whimpering in the bilges terrified of the journey ahead?

Luckily The Scotsman has a report on the disaster in its edition dated 31 May 2019.

A month after Brexit and the disappearance in a River Clyde tragedy of the MV SNP, Royal Navy frigate HMS Glasgow yesterday located the vessel’s drifting lifeboat West of St Kilda, flying a tattered ‘Yes’ saltire.

‘It was a pathetic sight,’ said frigate Captain Philip Jones. ‘The crew had all survived but they were in an emaciated state. Shortage of supplies had led to all sorts of problems on the boat.’

When asked to elaborate on the ‘problems’ Capt. Jones declined to comment. But following an investigation by Scotsman reporters grim details of the disastrous voyage emerged.

‘The fundamental problem,’ said one informant who declined to give their name, ‘was that we had plenty of people with a vision of where we were heading and who were willing to take charge but no-one prepared to do the hard work of rowing.’

In off-the-record comments, details emerged of a stand-up row between Alex S. and Nicola S. about the direction and speed of travel that nearly ended in a disastrous capsize.

Many of the crew, according to our informant, turned out to be unfit and incapable of physical activity. In one case it required two seamen to pull on one oar, junior crew members Angus McN. and Stewart H. ‘Even though they were doubling up,’ said our informant, ‘that seemed to lead to constant arguments. No-one could understand why.’

Meantime, shorter and shorter shifts had to be devised for overweight crew members who could row. One elderly crew member, Jim S., proved enthusiastic and willing but had to be removed from duty as he persistently rowed in the wrong direction.

Long-serving second in command John S. attempted to organise training in basic skills but rowing performance declined throughout the ordeal.

Asked why they had ended up somewhere West of St Kilda, coxswain Derek M., in charge of navigation, said, ‘I used a calculator. What more could I do?’

In the most shocking incident, it was revealed that some un-named survivors had attempted to push good-natured musician Pete W. off the boat. ‘It was horrifying,’ said our informant, ‘the guy had only been trying to keep spirits up by singing a beautiful song called “Going Home.” I’m afraid the endless dirge-like repetition just made some comrades snap.’

The crew are now recovering in a naval hospital at Faslane on the Clyde where HMS Glasgow landed them earlier today. They are said to be shaken by their ordeal and not sure if they will go to sea again.

[Ed. – names have been withheld to protect the anonymity of survivors]

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Spain, Catalonia and Scottish nationalism

Not for the first time, I find myself thinking and writing about events of some significance in other countries, in this case Spain, through a peculiarly parochial Scottish lens. This may seem strange to non-Scots but they need to understand how Scottish nationalists use and abuse those events to pursue their own aim of separation from the United Kingdom.

Let me lay my cards on the table about Catalonia.

First, some background. Spain is a democracy, a fellow member (until we leave) of the EU, and an ally in NATO, all things incidentally which the SNP have said they want a separate Scotland to be. The country emerged, almost entirely peacefully, from the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco in the 1970s. Its politicians, of virtually every party, developed a democratic constitution that was approved in a national referendum in 1978. The constitution says it is:

based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognises and guarantees the right to selfgovernment of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all (Section 2).

It also provides for a constitutional court (Part IX) to which:

the Government may appeal … against provisions and resolutions adopted by the bodies of the Self-governing Communities [the regions] … (Section 161).

The constitution was approved overwhelmingly in a referendum, including by 95% of those voting in Catalonia (the full results are here).

Fast forward to 2014, and the then Catalan separatist government attempted to hold a referendum on separation which the court ruled illegal and which the regional government converted into a ‘citizen participation process’ (sic) to get round the ban. Most opposition parties and non-nationalists boycotted the poll and although 81% of those voting opted for independence it was on a turnout of only about 40%. So of the total electorate only about 32% actually turned out and voted for separation.

This year’s ‘referendum’ was also declared illegal (strictly speaking, suspended) by the constitutional court but the current separatist government decided to go ahead anyhow. The Spanish government’s attempts to stop the process were all made in accordance with the rule of law, seeking court approval for all their actions. The only aspect I would disagree with was the heavy-handed actions of the national police forces (Guardia Civil and Policia Nacional) on and around polling day. Even then, evidence has emerged of how some separatists goaded the police and may have falsified or exaggerated injuries to make those heavy-handed actions look worse.

In this context, the electoral process was itself deeply flawed by normal standards, with voters able to print off ballot papers online and vote at any open polling station. For what it’s worth (maybe not much), the result claimed by the Catalan government was 90% in favour of independence on a 42.3% turnout. So of the total electorate only a claimed 38% actually turned out and voted for separation.

I give this lengthy preamble because, on the facts, you might expect the SNP (remember my point about all those things that Spain is they want a separate Scotland to be) to tread cautiously on the subject, even if some of the fringe elements of Scottish nationalism would feel less circumscribed.

Not a bit of it.

It began with a relatively muted statement by cabinet secretary Fiona Hyslop (i/c ‘external affairs’ although of course the Scottish parliament has no locus in the subject) urging the model of the Edinburgh agreement as a way to proceed. Even that mis-interpreted the right to self-determination in the ‘UN Charter’ (sic), something a government lawyer might have picked up.

In the run-up to the poll, Joanna Cherry, SNP MP and as she insists QC, had opined during a pro-Catalan separatist meeting at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Edinburgh that the ‘referendum’ was legal, although in print at least she offered no proof and her opinion (presumably personal rather than legal since her practice was unrelated to constitutional law) runs counter to the facts above.

By the day of the poll there seemed to be a number of current and ex- SNP MPs and MSPs swanning around Catalonia spotting all sorts of positives for separation (‘I saw flags everywhere’ – Paul Monaghan) and negatives against Spain (‘Here’s a video clip of some police who told me to stop filming’ – Margaret Ferrier). A couple of them seemed to be part of an ‘official’ delegation. Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein featured too if my memory’s correct. Bringing up the rear as ‘observers’ were five crowd-funded members of English Scots for Yes, led by an ex-SNP councillor (surname Campbell, so definitely English) who has featured in this blog before.

Many questions could be asked about the objectivity of this gaggle of partisan amateurs but I’ll confine myself to what you might ask of a properly-constituted international team of observers. Who invited you? Who are your team members and what expertise do they have? How were they chosen? How were they trained? How long were they there? What did they do? Where is their report of what they saw? Properly constituted international observation of elections and referendums has a long and honourable tradition – see this example on our own 2014 referendum. I doubt very much whether any of the SNP observers were members of groups that conformed to international standards.

Spurred no doubt by images of police behaviour before the poll and on the day, there was also a lot of inappropriate online comment from nationalists who may or may not have been SNP members. Spain was characterised as ‘totalitarian’, ‘Francoist’ and ‘fascist’ by people who either didn’t know or care what they were saying. I know Spain (see Footnote) and it is none of these things.

I see that The National newspaper today has a headline that reads:

Sturgeon: You can’t ignore 2m votes.

That’s ironic, given the numbers, the majority, who voted No in the referendum that she so wanted in 2014.

In fact, the whole SNP jumping-on-the-bandwagon of the Catalan poll looks as if it’s backfiring. Still at least notionally committed to EU membership, they have not only antagonised Spain but find themselves at odds with the EU, who have condemned the illegal Catalan referendum. The wilder fringe elements of Scottish nationalism baying ‘Hold our own poll regardless of Westminster’ or even ‘Declare UDI now’ may turn out to be the least of Ms Sturgeon’s problems.

Footnote. To any passing nationalists who interpret this post as a mere unionist taking advantage of a situation to criticise the SNP, I probably know and understand Spain better than most of you. I first visited the country when Franco was still alive, I sat and waited while a Spanish friend attended a clandestine political meeting (PSOE), left a literary competition with him rapidly when he couldn’t contain his anger at the sycophancy of the entries, feared for him and his family when there was an attempted military coup in 1981, marvelled when King Juan Carlos in army uniform refused to meet the mutineers and told them to go back to their barracks. For all its faults, I love the country very much. Spain is not what the SNP and other Scottish nationalists claim.

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Nationalist fools rush in to support illegal Catalan ‘referendum’

Tomorrow in Edinburgh, there is an event ‘in defense [sic] of the right of the Catalan people to decide its own future.’ The phrase ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread’ came to mind when I saw the agenda and list of speakers:

I’d quarrel with what the Catalan separatists are doing but not the right of the two speakers from Catalonia to speak about their situation. One, by the way, you’ll see is secretary of the hitherto unheard-of ‘Catalan National Assembly in Scotland.’ The fools are the Scottish politicians, who have allowed their names to be included in an agenda that disingenuously claims:

At this point it’s not about defending Catalan independence, it’s simply about democracy.

Put in technical terms, this statement is a pile of horse poo.

Spain is a democracy, a member of the EU that the SNP hold in such high regard, and an ally in NATO. Its constitution was approved overwhelmingly by the electorate in 1978 including over 90% of voters in Catalonia. The constitution allows for a constitutional court and it is this court that has declared the ‘referendum’ illegal. If you follow the detail of the follow-up to that decision by the Spanish authorities, you will often see a statement that an action, for example for the police to seize voting equipment, was approved by a court or judge. In other words, the Catalan separatists may not like it, but everything to stop the illegal vote has been done in accordance with the rule of law.

Let’s look now at the five politicians who are either naïve enough not to understand this or who put support of the illegal referendum above the law.

  1. Joanna Cherry MP, QC and SNP. What in God’s name is a senior lawyer doing here? More than a member of any other profession, she might be expected to support that rule of law in another democracy. Along with 21 other members of an all-party parliamentary group on Catalonia she recently signed a letter claiming the Spanish government’s actions on the illegal Catalan referendum were ‘an affront to democracy.’ To ensure the letter had maximum impact in Spain they had it published in The Guardian. Of the 22 signatories, 15 were SNP and 3 Plaid Cymru. What a surprise. (Other examples of Ms Cherry’s political judgement can be found elsewhere in this blog, including here)
  2. Kenneth Gibson MSP and SNP. An otherwise invisible backbencher, his only known interest in foreign affairs in Holyrood is his membership of a cross-party group on Malawi.
  3. Ivan McKee MSP and SNP. Formerly of the mainly-SNP front group Business for Scotland, he received his reward for loyal service with a candidacy at the last Holyrood election. Member of cross-party groups on the Nordic countries, Palestine and Poland.
  4. John Finnie, MSP and Scottish Green, a party of little numerical importance whose only influence (and precious little at that) comes from their ability to give the SNP a majority in Holyrood if they choose. Confirming through his attendance here that his party is more interested in nationalism than the environment and sustainability.
  5. George Kerevan, ex-MP SNP. I include him as a politician as an act of kindness since he was rejected by his electorate at the last election. [A few hours after writing this I saw in the Financial Times that Mr Kerevan intends to apply for the ‘top post’ at the Financial Conduct Authority. I’m not sure this sort of stuff will look good on the CV]

And that’s it. A stellar cast. Sounds a fun evening. It’s in The Sheraton Grand Hotel (and Spa), so that should keep out the riff-raff like the Scottish Resistance, all six of them, who occupied the Spanish consulate in Edinburgh ‘for a few minutes’ today. Their spokesman described their brief visit as ‘successful.’ I mention them because, in truth, the event in the Sheraton tomorrow has as much justification as their wee demo. As I said, fools rush in.

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Lost – SNP group photo

Stop press: photo now found – see Footnote to post

Over the weekend, a photo appeared in the timeline of ‘Eilidh M’ (@EilidhEscocia) on Twitter. It showed a group of about fifteen SNP ‘staffers’, as they like to call themselves, in what was fairly obviously the Scottish parliament building. Like most group photos, they were clustered together, a front row kneeling, others standing behind. Some of them were holding two large Catalan separatist flags, while others seemed to clutch a version of the flag that had appeared in The National newspaper. As far as I could tell, their expressions varied from determined to smiling. Perhaps a fist or two was raised in solidarity with the Catalan separatists.

I say ‘perhaps’ because sometime yesterday the photo and its tweet disappeared when Eilidh suddenly protected her Twitter account:

Maybe the photo’s still there. I could send a ‘follow’ request to check but I suspect it would be rejected.

I have no beef with this tweeter. She looks young and only set up her Twitter account in April, probably when she got a job working for an SNP MSP. Posting the photo in public may have been naïve. I certainly commented on it – politely – and I suspect others did more robustly.

My concern about the photo was not the old news that some SNP members support Catalan separatism. It was the fact that a group of employees paid, I’m about 98% sure, from the public purse, could use parliamentary premises for such an overtly political demonstration, moreover one unrelated to the role of that parliament.

That concern led me to a far corner of the parliament’s website where I found a document called Guidance on Media releases and other media activity for MSPs. This states clearly:

  1. Parliamentary resources should not be used to promote … campaign groups

and

  1. Recording /filming / photography of a party political nature or for party political purposes are not permitted within the parliamentary complex.

I pointed this out on Twitter and, coincidentally or not, the photo disappeared some time thereafter. I don’t know whether that was because of the comments it was attracting or if someone further up the SNP hierarchy pointed out the guidance I quote.

In any event, this small incident tells us one of three things:

  1. EITHER MSPs’ staff receive no induction in the rules surrounding their work in parliament
  2. OR they do but it either doesn’t include this guidance or is delivered in such a poor way that staff do not remember it
  3. OR they know the rules fine well but choose not to follow them.

I’m open to the unlikely possibility of poor or no induction by the parliamentary authorities but I believe the third option much more likely. If that’s the case it tells us that the SNP do not care about the rules. It tells us that their staff are quite happy to display in parliament the flag of a separatist movement pursuing an illegal ‘referendum’ in part of the territory of an ally and fellow EU member (see here for the distinction between the official and separatist Catalan flags).

This should be no surprise. They didn’t care about the House of Commons’ rules when their 56 white rose-wearing MPs applauded each other in the chamber. And just as they affect to despise Westminster, so they seem to think Holyrood is theirs. Their progress has been accompanied by a sense of triumphalism and entitlement that the most recent Holyrood and Westminster elections do not justify. People know and they draw their own conclusions.

Footnote.

1.Because the photo has disappeared you’ll have to take my claims about it on trust. But within the limits of my memory they are correct. If anyone has a copy I’ll be happy to add it here.

2.Twitter provides. My thanks to the person who found the photo. My memory of the detail was good enough to get my point over.

snp reward photo

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Ten days of nationalist madness

The up-side of getting away from Scotland for a while is getting away from nationalist madness – if you can resist news and social media. The down-side is having to come back to it. Thus a recent relaxing and peaceful ten days in Spain (of which country more anon), together with the bump down to earth on return.

I knew I was back when I powered up my PC and clicked on to Twitter to find that the first minister had gone out of her way to share a London Fire Brigade tweet about the Parson’s Green bomb incident as it was happening. Why she (or whoever runs her Twitter account) chose that particular news to share is interesting enough. The madness however was the man – note the SNP logo – who replied:

Yes, it’s our old friend the semi-literate conspiracy theorist.

The jolt back to reality reminded me that I’d once charted a whole month of nationalist grievance, and there was more than a touch of madness in that. I didn’t have the energy to repeat that exercise, although interestingly many of the same old moans are still being trotted out two years later. But with SNP supporter Allan Currie pointing the way I thought I could muster enough energy to chart ten days of loopy, mostly online behaviour to counter the ten days of peace I’d had. Here goes.

Scarcely had I put the holiday smalls in the washing machine when I became aware of yet another hope over fear/bairns over bombs/Saturday-outing-for-hobbyists-over-slumped-in-front-of-TV rally, as always in Glasgow’s George Square and preceded this time by squawks about the ‘butcher’s apron’ flying over the City chambers. Many photos were posted of the event, which seemed to end with the assembled masses ‘taking over’ – their words – the adjoining Wetherspoons (FFS guys, it’s owned by an English company). The highlight of the celebratory snaps was one of an SNP member who styles himself modestly ‘Thinker. Listener. Talker. Reader. Writer’ with a simpering online troll called out a while back for soliciting free meals from gullible Yes supporters.

The rally had been preceded by a rousing plea on Facebook from someone who, glancing at his ‘Favourites’, must surely be another SNP member:

As to the event itself, Glasgow city council were wise enough to have a webcam on their roof as well as the union flag. Here’s the rally:

Draw your own conclusion.

Hard on the heels of the rally followed this judgement about Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie:

And here’s Mr Stuart’s Twitter profile:

Notice? SNP again, and even convener of a branch. He apologised, although only after he was called out for his slur, then deleted his tweet. Too late.

If that was unfortunate, Lesley Riddoch’s contribution to my days of madness was, as so often, joyous:

Batty. Her judgement unleashed a stream of humorous put-down replies, not to mention a few press cuttings about Glasgow bus drivers being assaulted. But do you get the underlying message? England unfriendly/bad, Scotland friendly/good. Tx Lesley. (Other examples of Ms Riddoch’s battiness can be found by searching her name on this blog)

I’m sometimes irritated by Mandy Rhodes, who often seems closer to one political philosophy than the editor of ‘a source of reliable information and political debate’ (Holyrood magazine) should be. But on this occasion she was being factual. It’s the response from an ex-member of the Scottish Resistance that qualifies the exchange for inclusion here:

Had Mr Doughty-Brown found a sense of humour? I’d like to think so although I have my doubts. Answers on a Tunnock’s tea cake wrapper please.

Ironically, given where I had spent my preceding ten days, much of my return to Scotland was occupied by increasingly frenetic and bizarre nationalist agitation about the situation in Spain and Catalonia. The Catalan separatist government, if you hadn’t noticed, has embarked on a course of attempting to hold an unconstitutional and illegal referendum. The whole thing is grist to our own nationalists’ mill and exemplifies what I’ve previously called their pinball wizadry, the  issues they make most noise about like ‘pinballs fired out into the big wide world where they career dementedly off a series of bumpers before disappearing down a hole to be replaced by another random missile.’ Catalonia is this month’s random missile. You doubt me?

Here’s online nationalist ‘Jason Michael’, who writes about Scotland from his home in Dublin:

Dramatic. Then there was this:

Observe the soldier on the right. Jason’s ‘Uncle Rab,’ in reality a second world war SAS soldier. Jason’s tweet was an outright lie, although he tried to wriggle out of it, blaming an aunt in Australia for posting the image on Facebook, before being found out discussing the original on a ‘special forces forum’ (!) several years ago. He was rightly ridiculed relentlessly before falling silent on this subject although, sadly, not on other matters.

Jason claims to be a journalist, although of what sort and with which publications, is unknown. A more established and also nationalist-inclined hack, the veteran Joyce McMillan, was also caught out by events in Catalonia, tweeting first this:

Then this:

No apologies, no explanation. What has happened to the noble art of checking your sources? Meantime, note the 53 retweets and 33 likes of the original (let’s be kind) misinformed message, compared with the 6 retweets and four likes for the correction. This is the ways lies come to be believed by those uninterested in the truth. Incidentally, note the ‘1000’s [sic] of armed police …’. News for Ms McMillan – every last Guardia Civil and Policia Local issuing parking tickets carries a revolver in Spain. It’s nothing to do with politics, let alone alleged repression.

It’s one small step from misinformation to hysteria and it’s a step the SNP’s Peter Bell (the ‘Thinker. Listener … etc’ mentioned above) doesn’t hesitate to take:

Madness? You decide.

Finally, in what is a far from complete round-up, and happily combining several strands of nationalist nonsense, old friends the egregious and phoney ‘English Scots for Yes’ have stumbled back into life to solicit funds (an endemic nationalist disease) for a ‘Scottish observer delegation’ to the illegal non-referendum in Catalonia that may or may not happen on 1 October:

International observation of elections and referendums, properly organised, has a long and honourable tradition. This bunch of partisan amateurs swanning off to Spain unsupervised and without affiliation to any international body, is not it. Still, the Costas are not far away. Sangria, anyone?

In giving this piece a title including the word ‘madness’ I was conscious that I lay myself open to all sorts of politically correct charges of inappropriate use of language … although not as inappropriate as SNP branch convener Andy Stuart. I also rely on the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition:

So there.

Anyhow, wasn’t there a band called Madness? I seem to remember their biggest hit was called ‘House of Fun.’ Hmm …

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‘Artists don’t have to be close to government’ (SNP culture secretary). Discuss

SNP denies trying to shape artists’ ideas The Times 20 September 2017

For some time, I’ve had a post on the SNP’s approach to culture and the arts on the back burner. The statement above, by the eponymous Fiona Hyslop, cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs, has made me bring my effort forward. It’s not as forensic as originally intended, but it is at least timely in relation to Ms Hyslop’s view of the role of artists.

First, some context. The SNP Holyrood election manifesto contained the following commitment:

Most of that, you’ll notice, is in the bland and universal language of political management-speak – meaningful access, equality, excellence, engagement, partners, empowering, communities, sustainable, inclusive, and so on. You’ll look in vain for a definition of culture or art.

Ms Hyslop has, however, now provided her understanding of one requirement artists ‘have to have,’  ‘… a common understanding of what the country wants,’ generously conceding that ‘[Artists] don’t have to be close to government,’ although clearly she believes there is a sub-set of that tribe who will be. She apparently made her statement at the University of West Scotland (UWS) before the first public consultation meeting, in Paisley, on the draft National Cultural Strategy.

Now, I’ll be the first to concede that a quote taken out of context may not tell the whole story of the culture secretary’s views and intentions. Maybe they were clearer at an earlier private meeting with artists organised for the Scottish Government by arts’ charity Culture Republic:

That, perhaps more than coincidentally, led to this exchange on Twitter between Culture Republic and composer James MacMillan:

You’ll note how, in their answer, a representative of the charity cites not a Scottish government source (although there’s plenty about culture on the government website), but the SNP election manifesto, even though they were presumably commissioned to organise the meeting by the government, not by a political party.

I guess it was through this sort of detail, not to mention the fact that the meeting(s?) with artists were by invitation only, that freer spirits amongst the ‘arts community’ (inverted commas because the phrase might not be one free spirits would accept) began to feel excluded and wonder what was going on. Perhaps this is why The Times report of the UWS statement/Paisley meeting has Ms Hyslop on the back foot in relation to her party’s intent, because she also apparently insisted that in its strategy the government would not be setting out to assert ‘state control’ of the arts or be ‘prescriptive.’

I’m not so sure. I have on previous occasions documented lesser examples of the SNP government’s tendency to corral culture for their political aims, for example a small charity almost wholly funded by the government called the Scots Language Centre which in 2015 looked as if it were almost wholly aligned with the aims of nationalism, not least in this context an employee who was a poet and had stated:

A poet’s job is to serve their country and the world with words.

So I guess she would have been happy with the culture secretary’s requirement of artists. I also looked at the first minister’s reading challenge, organised by the Scottish Book Trust, another charity mainly funded by the Scottish government. I characterised that exercise as an example of the SNP ‘colonising the third sector’ and you can read the article to see if you agree.

At the heart of all this is the question of what are the purposes of art and culture. It seems reasonable to suspect that any political party would believe those purposes should be at least partly aligned with their own political philosophy. The SNP are a party of nationalism, therefore they will tend to associate art and culture with Scottishness and nation building, even at a personal level. I remember Alex Salmond many years ago saying that his favourite artist was the contemporary Scottish painter John Lowrie Morrison, whose output is almost exclusively of Scottish landscapes with the occasional croft house/but and ben thrown in. I’ll forebear further judgement on his work (you can see many of his paintings here) but there’s no doubt they shout Scottish at you.

My own wholly amateur litmus test for art and culture is that it should hold a light up to the human condition, amorphous no doubt but it works for me when I hear music, read a novel, see a play or look at a painting. Interestingly, the circulation on Twitter of Ms Hyslop’s words quoted at the beginning of this article has drawn forth a number of comments addressing the question of what art might or might not be, and it seems appropriate to conclude with a selection of these before they disappear into cyberspace.

Artists should never have the slightest obligation to have a ‘common understanding of what a country wants’. Art does not bend the knee (@ArtyBagger)

Any artist does need to know what the establishment expects in order to shock that expectation #epeterlesbourgeois (@stephensenn )

‘To wake the soul by tender strokes of art, To raise the genius, and to mend the heart’ (Alexander Pope, cited by @paget_old

I write books for readers not ‘the country’ (@JanetOkane )

What about artists who don’t care ‘what the country wants’? (@jamesmacm)

Art and obligation are very dangerous bedfellows (@SimonGuy64)

[And more politically] Well Ms Hyslop will be pleased because I’m an artist and I knew what the country wanted and that’s why I voted a very creative No (@BipolarRunner)

Of course, none of these people have the one thing Fiona Hyslop possesses – millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to disburse directly or indirectly each year to artists and cultural organisations deemed worthy of the government’s financial support. It will be instructive to see how the flawed and dangerous notion of ‘a common understanding of what the country wants’ is reflected in the new national cultural strategy.

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