This weekend, the Sunday Herald reported that a number of those elected as representatives of the Conservatives and Labour in the council elections last week are members of the Orange Order. I’ve been told of a Unionist councillor in North Lanarkshire of a markedly Orange persuasion. There are certainly others. On social media over the weekend, an independence supporter unmasked a newly elected Conservative councillor as the owner of a notorious troll account which had been retweeting extreme right views.
In the weeks during the run up to the council elections there was a series of incidents in which suspicious packages designed to cause fear and alarm were sent to prominent SNP figures. The incidents are almost certainly the actions of a lone nutter, and didn’t receive much in the way of coverage in the media. But you could bet your rent or mortgage on the fact that had it been the other way about and it was Unionist parties receiving similarly suspicious packages seemingly from an independence supporter that it would have become a full scale national emergency and we’d be wall to wall in TV discussions and media reports about the cancer of terrorist violence lurking at the heart of the independence movement.
The response of Unionist supporters to these revelations has been to blame the SNP for the “Ulsterisation” of Scottish politics. It’s a bit like blaming black people for the Ku Klux Klan, or blaming gay people for gay-bashers, or indeed saying that sexual violence and abuse of women happens because the women are asking for it by wearing clothing that doesn’t cover them from head to foot. Although if they did do that then they’d be accused by much the same people of undermining Western civilisation by being overtly Muslim. It’s the common response of abusers the world over, whatever the abuse, blame the victims. It’s not the SNP, the Greens, or any other pro-independence party which is standing candidates who espouse the sectarianism of the Orange Order. It’s not the SNP, the Greens, or any other pro-independence party which is standing candidates who enthusiastically and approvingly retweet far right commentary. It’s not independence supporters who are lending their votes to such people.
This is not a disease of Scottish politics we’re talking about here, this is a disease of Unionism. The Unionist parties need to own up to this disease and to deal with it. They need to admit that they have a problem. They need to root out the bigots and fascists from within their own ranks. There’s not much sign of that happening, the footsoldiers of Unionism prefer to blame the SNP for every ill, including the ills that beset Unionism itself. If the SNP or another pro-independence party stood candidates of the calibre of some of those who were recently elected for Unionist parties, there would be a media outrage quicker than you could say, “There’s that Stephen Daisley on the doorstep with a photographer from the Daily Mail.”
As a case in point, an SNP candidate in Brechin was hounded by the Express newspaper for the crime of retweeting abusive tweets made by a Unionist troll, in an attempt to expose the troll’s behaviour. The newspaper ignored the troll entirely and focussed on the SNP candidate, implying in its hatchet job of a report that the offensive comments had originated with him. Yet actual offense originating from Unionist candidates is ignored and diminished, such as when a Moray publication loftily claimed the moral high ground by refusing to report on extreme right wing tweets sent by a local Conservative candidate.
Unionists blame the misbehaviour of their own parties’ representatives on the SNP. They’ve even coined a word for it, “Ulsterisation”, with the implication that the SNP is turning Scotland into Northern Ireland with all the violence and dislocation that entails. The term Ulsterisation applied to Scottish politics is deeply wrong on many levels. For starters it’s an insult to all those who died or were bereaved in the violence of the Troubles. It’s an insult to the democratic credentials of the Scottish people, and it’s an insult to the commitment to peaceful and legal campaigning that characterises the independence movement.
But it’s also profoundly wrong. The social divisions between nationalists and loyalists in Northern Ireland are tribal. They live in different areas. They go to different schools. They tell one another apart by different religions. They support different teams. A person’s status as a member of one community or the other is largely inherited, passed down through the generations for untold generations. There’s nothing remotely like that in Scotland. There are many Rangers fans who support independence. There are Celtic supporters who want Scotland to remain in the UK. Everyone has family members who have one opinion or another on Scotland’s constitutional divide, and opinions can and do shift.
It’s far easier for a Scottish person who previously supported the Union to shift their opinion and support independence than it is for a person from a Northern Irish loyalist background to come out as a supporter of Irish unity. And it’s equally easy for a person in Scotland to make the opposite political journey. The truth is that the term Ulsterisation is bandied about by Scottish Unionists as a deliberate ploy to discourage the disengaged from engaging with the question of Scotland’s constitutional position in the first place.
Unionism infantilises Scottish politics and Scotland. It turns Scotland into a non-country which isn’t important enough to be taken seriously. It turns Scotland into a region which isn’t capable of taking responsibility for itself. And Unionism infantilises itself too, just like a small child it lacks the moral capacity to take responsibility for its own actions. Unionists can’t admit that it’s Unionism which has a problem with sectarianism, bigotry and right wing extremism, because that means admitting that there is a problem with the contortions of North Britishness, it means admitting that supporting Britain and Britishness is a form of nationalism, and that would never do. But it’s Unionism which has an illness, and it’s a fatal one. The right wing nationalism of Unionism will be its end, and when it finally expires it will take the Union with it.
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