I heard this claim in a TV news report during the aftermath of Thursday’s general election. The SNP, in case you’ve just woken from your winter hibernation, increased their number of MPs from six to 56 out of 59. Even this old curmudgeon and unionist ‘nawbag’ (© 2015 Pete Wishart MP) would have to concede it was a famous victory.
But does it mean Scotland’s that different from the rest of the UK, as the TV news report was saying?
If you want real difference, head for Northern Ireland, although even in those special circumstances you won’t feel as different as if you’d pitched up in, say, Baku, or Madrid, or even Dublin.
As for the rest of it – surprise, surprise – it’s very similar.
The people are walking the same sorts of streets, eating and drinking mostly the same things, concerned about the same day to day issues. They’re driving on the same roads that have the same dodgy surfaces off the main drags, they’re waiting the same long times to get a routine GP appointment (my record in Aberdeen is two weeks) in an NHS that is essentially the same across the UK. Almost everything feels the same.
It feels the same unless of course you’re looking for difference. And as I’ve pointed out before, that is one of the nationalist’s key tools – to highlight and exaggerate differences where they exist, to create them where they don’t, and then to say, ‘Ooh look, we’re different. We should be separate.’
In truth, the differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK are more points of party political policy than anything inherently ‘national.’ In Scotland, many are the sort of things that a UK government of a slightly different hue might have done – ‘free’ prescriptions, the abolition of bridge tolls and university tuition fees, building a major new road bridge.
Interestingly all these populist, and easy, things were committed during the SNP government’s first, minority, term. Their major actions since have been less universally greeted with joy – the creation of single national police and fire & rescue services, the rationalisation of FE colleges and funding, the named person legislation for children, the proposed sharing of NHS personal data across and outside government. None of these are in any way ‘progressive’ in a true sense, despite the left(ish) wing mantle the SNP claim to have clothed themselves in after they dragged it off what currently looks like the rump of the Scottish Labour party.
Anyhow, as the rare passing nationalist might note, I’m in danger of another anti-SNP rant (don’t worry, they’ll come over the next few months). My real point is that one about difference. Even in the urgency of post-election reporting as the political dust was settling it was disappointing to hear journalists repeat the separatist mantra that Scotland is now a very different place.
I do hope the Mhairi Blacks, the Natalie McGarreys and the rest of the rag tag and bobtail army of new SNP MPs that represent us for better or worse at Westminster, and in all truth may not have spent much time outside God’s own country, get out and about across England. It’d be a pity if they thought the much larger army of strangely-suited toffs across from them in the febrile atmosphere of the Commons chamber were all there is to England. They’d find that, take away the funny accents, the English are really just like us after all.
Which of course is another reason to stay together as one united country. And which doubtless will form part of the next existential battle – the Scottish parliamentary elections in 2016.
PS – I will be returning to the statistics of what I conceded was the SNP’s ‘famous’ general election victory soon, when it may appear it’s not quite as famous as nationalists might think.