In a blog post on 18 June I wrote about The grievance monkeys of the SNP. The theme was a simple one, that inherent to nationalism in general and Scotland in particular is the idea that the country is constantly betrayed and that to feed the myth of betrayal you need a constant flow of grievances, some perhaps with a basis in reality but most invented or a knowing distortion of reality. I foolishly suggested I could find a grievance every day and was immediately challenged to do so. The result was the separate page on this blog, Grievance of the day, which charts four weeks’ worth of nationalist grievance from mid-June to mid-July 2015.
I set myself two ground rules in seeking out grievances
- to qualify for inclusion, they had to go beyond normal party political discourse to something that was essentially nationalistic in nature and contributed to the theme of betrayal
- they had to emanate from the SNP, one of its elected representatives, an obvious member of the party or other prominent nationalist.
This post looks at what I discovered. Individual grievances are referenced No. 1 – 28 and can be found in full on the Grievance of the day page mentioned above.
How many, oh Lord, how many?
I didn’t attempt to find all the nationalist grievances publicised every day, just one each day. And I had no problem finding them. The only resource I had to search for them was a limited amount of my own time. Yet almost every day I was able to choose one grievance to highlight from at least several. The flow continued unabated after Holyrood recessed for the summer and even on the last day I monitored my sources, 17 July, three of the SNP’s six media releases told tales of grievance.
Infamy, infamy … : who does Scotland down?
In nationalist eyes, it seems that no institution or individual is incapable of doing Scotland down and causing a grievance, for example:
- the UK government, of course (too many grievances to cite by No.), aka ‘the Tories’ and personified by the prime minister, who has been and will continue to be ‘a cheat’ (Alex Salmond – No. 2)
- the ‘anti-Tory’ opposition parties at Westminster who the SNP expect to support their amendments to the Scotland Bill (No. 10)
- the Lib Dems (No. 8) who the SNP anticipate will be given more life peerages for the House of Lords
- the Lords itself (also No. 8), which of course is ‘an affront to democracy in the 21st century … unaccountable to the electorate … made up of former MPs who lost their seats, cronies and people with big cheque books who have donated to UK political parties’ [I’ve dealt elsewhere with how the SNP chooses to parody the UK parliament’s second chamber]
- the UK ministry of defence, who neither patrol ‘Scottish’ seas properly (No. 18) nor must be allowed to explode any bombs underwater in them (No. 6)
- poor old Patrick Harvie, leader of the Scottish Greens, who had the temerity to remind the world he didn’t support FFA (full fiscal autonomy) (No. 14) and instantly became a target of hostile comment, presumably on the basis of ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’
- the BBC, twice, once because they do not ‘properly reflect life’ in Scotland (No. 26) and once because they don’t pay Scottish football enough (No. 4)
- the Lawn Tennis Association (yes, seriously) because they displayed a – shock, horror – union flag on a table at Wimbledon (No. 24)
- and finally, ‘Brits,’ or at least Brits at Wimbledon who applauded Roger Federer rather than Andy Murray (No. 22, this from veteran nationalist Ruth Wishart).
We DEMAND …
Nationalist grievances are not couched in the normal language of political discourse. On 19 June we saw that ‘Scotland’ (ie the SNP government) must have a direct input to any EU negotiations (No. 1). Two days later the prime minister must explain why he misled voters (No. 3). On 24 June they demand that assurances are given by the MoD (No. 6). Then the UK government needs to deliver on a commitment to the oil industry (No. 7). By 30 June other UK opposition parties must support an SNP amendment to the EU referendum legislation (No. 12). And so it goes throughout the month.
Demands are one thing but the language of grievance is also rich in description:
Cheat (No. 2), totally unacceptable, threatens, duplicity, long and grim track record (No. 3), short-changed football (No. 4), absolutely absurd (the House of Lords – No. 8), an absolute disgrace … completely scandalous (No. 17 the work of the Lords again), grave concern (about the MoD – No. 18), democratic disgrace (No. 19), [Scotland allegedly] united in condemnation (No. 21), an arrogant UK government (No. 25), unacceptable … continually short-changed (the BBC, again – No. 26), cruelly cutting [incomes], driving up poverty, perverse increase (in Ministerial salaries No. 27), failure (of the UK government – No. 28)
and these are only the words I quote in my summaries of each grievance. The original source material (mostly SNP media releases or statements) contains much more of the same hyperbole. We are in the land of perpetual outrage here.
The creative side of grievance
I was interested to see in the course of a month how many grievances reflected existing, known complaints. Few seemed to be completely new but old ones were frequently re-worked and updated to keep the pot of discontent simmering. For example, existing favourites that recurred included the House of Lords and the BBC (each already mentioned), both refreshed by being linked to new issues – in the case of the Lords to their (completely routine) part in parliamentary consideration of the Scotland Bill and the creation of new Lib Dem peers; in the case of the BBC to a spurious claim that they should pay more money for the broadcasting rights for Scottish football and to the corporation’s annual report.
Creativity emerged in different ways.
First, creative linkage of issues. For example, on 30 June the SNP excelled themselves by welcoming an announcement that the abolition of data roaming charges for mobile phones across the EU was a step closer (No. 12). Of course, they had absolutely nothing to do with the news although they didn’t mention that. But they did seamlessly morph from the welcome into a full-blown rant about the proposed EU referendum, how the government were ‘gambling people’s jobs on their obsession with a referendum on ripping us out of Europe’ and how ‘the SNP’s plan for a ‘double majority’ will ensure Scotland – or any other UK nation – cannot be dragged out of the EU against its will.’
Second, putting down markers for future grievances, what I called a proto-grievance. The data roaming media release did this by asserting that opposition parties ‘must’ support SNP amendments to the EU referendum bill. Another media release (No. 10) dealt with SNP amendments to the Scotland Bill and Angus Robertson trusting ‘that the anti-Tory parties in the House of Commons will come together to vote for them.’ Given how both parliament and the SNP operate it is highly unlikely that other opposition parties will support any SNP amendment on either issue. But expect them all to be castigated in future for what will be portrayed as their failure.
The section on ‘Lies, damned lies and … ’ below deals with the specific issue of creative arithmetic.
A touch of the whited sepulchres
Many things are sacrificed by nationalists in the pursuit of their one objective, not least consistency.
My month of monitoring included the period when the SNP discovered they cared about English foxes (No. 25) and changed their long-held policy of abstaining in the Commons on issues that affected only England (EVEL – English votes for English laws), a stand they themselves had always characterised as ‘principled.’ Veteran SNP MP Pete Wishart articulated the principle clearly in October 2014 when he described a Labour objection to EVEL as:
a spat among the UK parties on the inconsequential effects of EVEL – an issue that the Scottish people could not care less about [my emphasis] (No.19).
Unfortunately for him, an SNP media release on 1 July (No. 13) described EVEL as conferring ‘second class status’ on Scottish MPs in the House of Commons. A further release (in grievance No. 19 again) went so far as to call it a ‘democratic disgrace.’ From inconsequential effect to democratic disgrace in one fell swoop as tactics overcame principle. The SNP.
Lies, damned lies and …
The area of concern that struck me most forcibly in a month’s worth of nationalist grievance was how often half-truths and untruths were used to make a case. There were too many to repeat here (they can of course be all seen on the Grievance of the day page) but a few examples make the point.
23 June. An SNP media release is headlined ‘Hundreds of carers to lose out at hands of Tories.’ In the text of the release a figure of 450 is quoted who ‘might’ be affected based on data from 2013. But in the small print the ministerial answer that led to the statement says ‘we do not have a clear position as to the real impact on carers in Scotland.’ In other words they don’t know (No. 5).
4 July. The Courier states ‘Nicola Sturgeon blames Westminster for energy jobs losses in Fife … Our frustration is with the UK Government and its support, or lack of support, for offshore wind. I don’t think that helped with investor confidence.’ The jobs concerned were at a Samsung Heavy Industries wind turbine facility. A separate article in the same edition of The Courier reveals the more prosaic truth. The number of jobs affected is not only as few as twenty but as early as 2013 the newspaper had revealed that there was doubt about the future of the project. More uncomfortable for the SNP, there are some wider truths about renewable energy in Scotland. In spite of their aspirations Scotland has no indigenous wind turbine manufacturing or technology. Nearly all the investment is foreign and some of it, even before the Fife announcement, had come and gone already. The tidal/wave power technology that was to be Scotland’s unique selling point has come to nothing, with all or nearly all the Scottish projects subsidised by the taxpayer failed or ceased. And the government has missed its own greenhouse gas emission targets four years in a row (No. 16).
9 July. ‘Civic Scotland’ is united in condemnation of the UK government’s budget. Another SNP media release. In some ways this is the most egregious of SNP false claims. All they did was cull opinion from five organisations or groups about the budget and claim that a whole sector (‘Civic Scotland’ – not defined of course) agreed with them. In fact there are over 23,500 registered charities alone in Scotland. A close reading of the five quoted show that’s not quite what any of them said. And for some it would have been inappropriate to express support for a political party (No. 21).
11 July. Margaret Ferrier MP tweets this graphic with the caption ‘Ah Scotland’s share almost £12b take that & use for the £12b they intend to use 4 the Welfare Reform cuts’:
I wrote originally that it was difficult to know where to start with what was wrong with this (mis)information. Check the Grievance of the day page to see the detail but for this summary my conclusion will suffice – that the so-called ‘bill’ is no more than a random set of alleged costs for different items of government spend. Put together (which they shouldn’t be anyhow) they make no sense at all. But there you go, an MP has given them credence by circulating them and no doubt there will already be plenty of people who believe this nonsense (No. 23).
27 July. SNP headline – Salary bill at Scotland Office soars by a quarter. No other way to put it but this is a lie. The detailed text of the media release is more honest. Another minister has been appointed at the Scottish Office and will cost an additional £46,335, an increase on the ministerial salary bill but a minuscule amount of government spend by any standard (No. 27).
And finally … can silence be a grievance?
Only one day failed me, Saturday 27 June (No. 9), when I could found nothing to include. You can call it a cheat (several nationalists on Twitter did) but I decided to include as a grievance the fact that it was Armed Forces Day and there was complete silence about it from the SNP. Why would the SNP not mention something that was celebrated all over Scotland (I saw the day’s parade in Aberdeen)? It’s true that defence is not a devolved function but that never stops the SNP commenting on it (see for example grievances Nos. 6 and 18). And they have chosen to appoint a cabinet secretary for veteran affairs, Keith Brown. One might have expected words of support or thanks from him for Scotland’s past and serving military personnel. But better to stay away completely from positive thoughts about anything to do with the UK.
All this speaks for itself. The only final thought I’d add is prompted by Margaret Ferrier MP’s inability to shed the memory of the lost referendum ‘Yes’ campaign (see the logo she uses on the ‘bill’). Never again will I be willing to accept nationalist claims that those of us who still believe in a united future for Scotland are ‘negative.’ Nationalists, as revealed by a month of their grievances, are the supreme exponents of the art of negativity.