Well, this is awkward. It looks as if everyone who supports independence is utterly outraged by THAT Steve Bell cartoon. Quite a few people want to call it anti-Scottish racism. Count me out of both the outrage and the racism claim.
It’s been a bad week for apocalyptic warnings and anti-independence propaganda. Allan Massie, in the Mail on Sunday, warns of “the Thames foaming with much blood.” He insists that he means metaphorical blood but then, just in case you are inclined to think the echo of Enoch Powell an accident, he name-checks Enoch Powell. Allan Massie is evidently a man who thinks he knows how to eat his cake and have it too.
Hand-in-hand with the anti-independence propaganda in the media, there is an embarrassing current of music-hall anti-Scottish material. Those who would like to call it racism are pushing their luck. It’s almost as silly as the competing claim that Scottish distaste for Nigel Farage is “anti-English racism.”
Racism is adaptable. Given the need and favourable circumstances, it can move beyond its core silliness over skin colour to target any group of people that powerful interests would like to make into political objects, instead of political subjects. “Favourable circumstances” usually means an established history of trashy prejudice coupled with an established imbalance of power, preferably with easy links to the global imbalances created and sustained by imperialism. And there’s the problem.
To create anti-Scottish racism, you would need to clear at one bound the hurdles created by three centuries of Scottish partnership in British imperialism, plus Scotland’s earlier efforts at its own independent imperialism, plus the various Scottish imperialist and colonialist role-models to be found in films, literature and popular culture.
The attempt to claim racist-victimhood in the face of history leads into odd territory. Someone (I won’t name and shame) recently tweeted: “Trying to find a Steve Bell cartoon about Islam to see how true this ‘he takes no prisoners’ thing is.”
The implication seems to be that to qualify as a fit person to take the mickey out of our First Minister, you would first need to win your spurs by doing a bit of islamophobia. No thanks.
Perhaps fortunately, there is less to these manifestations of our collective psyche than meets the eye. Allan Massie isn’t George Orwell. He’s a Tory hack. His flamboyant bluster in the Mail was just candy to cover a rather impertinent request to Ed Miliband. Massie would like Miliband to refuse all dealings with the SNP and step quietly aside so that David Cameron can enjoy five more years in Number 10. It’s far from clear that the electoral maths will in fact permit that, even if Miliband were fool enough to take Massie’s advice. Never mind, Massie can but try. The rest of us should be wary of taking magic lantern shows like this as an indicator of the political climate.
Still, somewhere beneath the attempt to disguise cronyism as high politics, a genuine hatred for Scottish independence seems to be slopping around the mildewed heart of British political culture. With every week that passes, it looks more and more unfeigned. It would be a bad mistake to underestimate its power.
It’s more than a little disappointing to find Steve Bell lining up alongside – or maybe I should say somewhere near – the creepy old dons who pull the strings of the British state.
There’s still plenty for old Steve Bell fans like me to warm to. What’s not to like, for instance, in Dave (Cameron) the Talking Tapeworm? But on independence, Steve Bell has taken his position in the firing squad. He doesn’t look comfortable, but he’s there. He’s drawn too many anti-independence cartoons to leave much room for misunderstanding. He isn’t just directing some sorely-needed scepticism at our movement. He really doesn’t want to see an independent Scotland. I think.
Worse still, a lot of his cartoons recycle the weary old stuff we’ve all heard before. Nationalism and Socialism. Boom, boom. Get it? Oh, how we laughed at that one.
He isn’t talking to us. He’s trying to stiffen the backbones of people who already know that they hate the idea of an independent Scotland.
But the cartoon that everyone hates is different. It makes a serious political point. The outrage that has greeted it makes the point even more graphically than Steve Bell has managed.
For those who profess not to get it, here it is.
The SNP says that it won’t vote in favour of Trident renewal. That probably means that it can’t participate in a coalition with Labour. That’s probably not a big deal, since Labour would probably be reluctant to co-govern with the SNP, and since, even if Labour were willing, a coalition would most likely turn out to be a poisoned chalice of the sort the Lib Dems are now draining.
Instead, Nicola Sturgeon told the Guardian: “It’s more likely to be an arrangement where we would support Labour on an issue-by-issue basis.” In the same interview, she carefully avoided ruling out support for Labour, even if Labour won’t agree to halt the renewal of Trident.
So the SNP is sticking to its position of conscience on Trident, but will perhaps not attempt to use the parliamentary clout it may have after the election to get Trident replacement halted, and will certainly not try to get Trident removed from Faslane in short order.
If disappointment then beckons, the SNP will most likely try to rally its supporters not on the basis of what it will fight for, but on the basis of a comfortable shared identity. Steve Bell caricatures this – a little too kindly, I think – as incest and Scottish country dancing.
Nicola Sturgeon’s position isn’t terrible. It could avoid a high-risk post-election showdown that might lead to the eventual demise of Trident, but might as easily precipitate a Labour-Tory coalition.
It isn’t necessarily correct, either. It may turn out to be an empty gesture. The Labour and Tory leadership appear to hate the idea of Scottish independence at least as much as they hate giving up the means to commit genocide. They may be reluctant to do anything at all that might strengthen the SNP’s hand, for fear that the SNP might actually be serious about independence.
Either way, Nicola Sturgeon’s present position appears to be something less than she must have intended people to understand when she told the SNP Conference in November: “conference, hear me loud and clear when I say this: they’d have to think again about putting a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons on the river Clyde.”
This tustle isn’t over. A few days after Nicola Sturgeon took a pace back from confrontation over Trident, Deputy First Minister Stewart Hosie took a good half pace forward in an interview with STV.
He said that in the event of a hung Parliament, “the confidence and supply arrangement does seem the most likely to provide certainty.” That would mean that the SNP would agree, presumably subject to some conditions, to vote with Labour on confidence motions and on financial measures, but would decide other votes on an issue-by-issue basis.
In an arrangement like this, Stewart Hosie said, the SNP wouldn’t vote for a Labour budget that included defence spending on Trident, “not if it involved Trident being replaced, absolutely not.”
This is a long way from a promise that the SNP would use all the leverage at its disposal to try to force the decommissioning of Trident. But it is not a volte face, either. It is more or less the most that anyone has expected of the SNP since the referendum. That’s not to say that it’s the most we should expect of a party that not long ago offered independence under its governance as the most likely path to a nuke-free Scotland.
It’s important to keep the pressure up. A good turnout for the Scrap Trident demo in Glasgow on 4 April, and the Faslane blockade on 13 April, would help. A bit less cosiness in the pro-independence camp would help too.
Scottish CND supported a Yes vote in the referendum and seems to have become a fairly reliable friend of the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon will be leading the Glasgow demo against Trident.
Incest and Scottish country dancing are becoming the keys to Scottish politics, just as Steve Bell says.
Photo of Faslane fiddler by Chas Booth. Some Rights reserved