So far, so good. And then we come across this, in today’s The Scotsman:
THE anti-independence campaign has received £1.6 million in donations, with a Premier League football club chairman and former soldiers with links to British intelligence among those contributing.
Since April, a total of £1,308,000 has been handed to the Better Together campaign from 19 major donors – those giving £10,000 or more each.
Already a couple of nice sneers in there: “the anti-independence campaign” (more positively, it’s Better Together, but we don’t get that until the third paragraph) and the “links to British intelligence” are Sir Keith Craig of Hakluyt and Christopher Wilkins, of North British Wind Energy Ltd. Two names, £20,000 donations in total — 1½% of the total sum reported, but what does the amount matter when there’s a good smear?
Then, a short way on, we have this:
Historical fiction writer Christopher Sansom, who attacked the SNP in his novel Dominion, gave £133,000. He had previously given £161,000 to the campaign.
This is a wee bit more significant, and there is more than a bit of truth behind the suggestion. Dominion is a work of imaginative fiction — and very good on both accounts. The conceit is:
1952. Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers, and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages on in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent auxiliary police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours too about what is happening in the basement of the German Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing.
As they say, now read on …
Inevitably, a novel of this kind, mixing historical characters with counter-factual imagined events, involves some degree of satire. So, in this parallel universe:
… there was Prime Minister Beaverbrook with his wizened little monkey face, the wide fleshy mouth downturned in an expression of sorrow. For forty years, since he first came to England from Canada with business scandals hanging over him, Beaverbrook had combined building a newspaper empire with manoeuvring in politics, pushing his causes of free enterprise, the Empire, and appeasement on the public and politicians. He was trusted by few, elected by none, and after the death of his immediate predecessor, Lloyd George, in 1945, the coalition had made him Prime Minister.
Lord Halifax, the Prime Minister who had surrendered after France fell, stood beside Beaverbrook, overtopping him by a foot. Halifax was bald now, his cadaverous face an ashen shadow beneath his hat, deep-set eyes staring over the crowd with a curious blankness. Beside him stood Beaverbrook’s coalition colleagues: Home Secretary Oswald Mosley, tall and ramrod-straight, India Secretary Enoch Powell, only forty but seeming far older, black-moustached and darkly saturnine, Viscount Swinton, the Dominions Office Secretary and David’s own minister, tall and aristocratic, Foreign Secretary Rab Butler with his pouched froggy face, and the Coalition Labour leader Ben Greene, one of the few Labour figures who had admired the Nazis in the 1930s. When Labour split in 1940 Herbert Morrison had led the Pro-Treaty minority that went into coalition with Halifax; he was one of those politicians for whom ambition was all-consuming. But he had resigned in 1943; the degree of British support for Germany had become too much for him, as it had for some other politicians such as the Conservative Sam Hoare; all had retreated into private life with peerages.
There’s not much there which strays too far from the actualité. Even Ben Greene, who never made it to the Commons, resigned from Labour, and joined the Fascists — and was detained between 1940 and 1942. He moved further and further into the extreme Right until his death in 1978. If there is any “attack” in that passage, it is the bit about Herbie Morrison “for whom ambition was all-consuming” — a view with which Clem Attlee might have concurred.
Scotland is integral, but not central to the narrative. One has to study hard to find the “attack” on the SNP in the novel. This is put into the mouth of Syme, the British Special Branch police inspector collaborating with Sturmbannführer Gunther Hoth
‘I’ve thought of getting a transfer up North. There’s a lot of London boys up there now. Good overtime, and I could do with a bit of excitement. Scotland, maybe. You know we’re arming some of the Scottish Nationalists to take on the strikers in Glasgow. They’ve always had a pro-Fascist wing, they opposed conscription of Scots in 1939 and we managed to split the party, get rid of the woolly-minded liberals and lefties.’ He smiled at Gunther. ‘We learned that from you, recruiting local nationalists against the Reds. Promise them some goodies in return.’ He laughed. ‘Beaverbrook’s promised to return the Stone of Scone to Scotland – it’s some slab of rock the Scottish kings used to put under their throne. And road signs in Gaelic and vague promises about Home Rule at some time.’
Note that we have gone into clear fiction here, with fictive characters.
But the barbs at the “old” SNP are merited.
The SNP was formed in 1934 when the National Party of Scotland endorsed the Scottish Party candidate at the 1933 Kilmarnock by-election. And there can be no denying that the was a far-right element in Scottish Nationalism at that time. The poet and translator Gavin Bowd published Fascist Scotland earlier this year, writing a note on it for Scotland on Sunday, including this gem:
From Dumfries to Alness, one of the main ideologies of the 20th century had its standard-bearers. But when Fascism crossed the Cheviots, it found itself in a restless part of a multi-nation state riven by sectarian hatreds. Rudolf Hess felt the natives looked at him “in a compassionate way”, but Scottish Fascism had to carve out a niche in a crowded market for bigotry.
He implies one of the reasoned why Mosley didn’t fare too well in Scotland is that he had competition:
… he attracted the ire of Alexander Ratcliffe’s Scottish Protestant League and John Cormack’s Protestant Action, whose muscular Christianity attracted significant support in Glasgow and Edinburgh respectively. In 1935, Protestant Action obtained 24 per cent of the vote in local elections, and this rose to 32 per cent in 1936. The “squadrist” tactics of Cormack’s “Kaledonian Klan” were worthy of the Fascists. Indeed, its running battles through the impoverished Catholic areas of Cowgate, Grassmarket and Canongate strongly resembled the BUF’s anti-Jewish campaigns in the East End of London.
If Mosley missed out on sectarianism, he also came up against a burgeoning home rule movement. The Scottish nationalists’ attitude towards continental fascism was ambivalent, to say the least. As early as 1923, poet Hugh MacDiarmid was calling for a “native species” of Fascism and dreamed of a “neofascistic” paramilitary organisation, Clann Albain, that would fight for Scotland’s freedom.
The question, then, is whether any of that survives to the present.
Well, sure enough and proof enough, Bowd immediately became the target for abuse — and worse:
AN ACADEMIC has been issued with security advice by his university and has been in contact with the police after independence supporters subjected him to a barrage of threatening abuse on the internet.
The head of security at St Andrews University took the step of advising Dr Gavin Bowd on his personal safety following the vitriolic online reaction to an article he wrote, in Scotland on Sunday, exploring Scotland’s relationship with fascism.
What The Scotsman was prepared to headline in April of this year as “some uncomfortable truths”, fictionalised and understated, instantly provoked very authoritarian, very intolerant, very xenophobic reaction. Yet, by December we are reminded by The Scotsman itself, no less, of Sansom’s “attack”. Strange that — except the “attack” doesn’t come in the text of the novel
In his after-note Sansom explains the basis for his inventions:
Far larger, and more dangerous, is the threat to all of Britain posed by the Scottish National Party, which now sits in power in the devolved government in Edinburgh. As they always have been, the SNP are a party without politics in the conventional sense, willing to tack to the political right (as the 1970s) or the left (as in the 1980s and 1990s) or the centre (as today) if they think it will help them win in dependence. They will promise anything to anyone in their pursuit of power. They are very shrewd political manipulators. In power, they present themselves as competent, progressive democrats (which many are) but behind that, as always, lies the appeal to the mystic glories of in dependence, which is what the party has always been for. Once ruling an independent state, they will not easily be dislodged. How people who regard themselves as progressive can support a party whose biggest backers include the right-wing Souter family who own Stagecoach, and Rupert Murdoch, escapes me completely. Like all who think they will be able to ride a nationalist tiger, they will find themselves sadly mistaken.
The SNP have no real position on the crucial questions of political economy that affect people’s lives, and never have; their whole basis has always been the old myth that released national consciousness, will somehow make all well. They promise a low-regulation, low-corporate-tax regime to please the right, and a strong welfare state to please the left. The wasting asset of oil will not resolve the problem that, as any calculation shows, an independent Scotland will start its life in deficit.
Sansom then raises a whole series of (quite valid) criticisms of the SNP’s opportunist politicking, The dodgy economics of Alex Salmond apart, Sansom focuses sapiently and saliently on the new culture of hostility and bitterness on both sides of the border spawned by nationalism.
For nationalism is always of the Right. And, taken in large doses, always dangerous.