Britain

Scotland, Farage and Me

The imbroglio involving Nigel Farage and a hate-filled mob on the streets of Edinburgh was a pure dead embarrassment to Scotland. Any sensible person can see that. It could have been so described by First Minister Alex Salmond if he was in any way prime ministerial, but it was not. Adding insult to injury Salmond put the boot in and made it all worse. For a popular elected politician to be forced out of Scotland’s capital city in a police van is intolerable and for many will be seen as the shape of things to come in the run up to the independence referendum and beyond – if Salmond were to win. Meanwhile the message sent to millions of English people who support Farage, to investors, tourists and customers, is that Scotland is not open for business if your face – or your flag – doesn’t fit. For me Farage is a right-wing populist Europhobe – the anti-thesis of everything I stand for. But he is not a racist – still less a fascist, and has every right to speak anywhere in the United Kingdom – so long as it exists.

The night before the roughhouse in the Northern Yorkshire town of Rotherham – filled with ex-miners and steel workers – UKIP won a sensational council by-election over Labour. A few weeks ago they scored 25% of the vote in English local elections. Unless millions of working class people in England have swung to Nazism this phenomenon needs better tools to fix than those deployed routinely against the likes of the BNP.

It is said that Farage feeds popular prejudice against foreigners – so do all the mainstream parties, including if the English are to be so described – the SNP.

That he is not particularly sound on gay rights. As sound as Brian Soutter of stage coach – the million pound backer of the SNP – who funded homophobic campaigns throughout Scotland. Farage who is admittedly better if you catch him before lunch time is no different in these things from many other political leaders who, if this fashion catches on, will be told to regard Scotland as a no-go area for them. Where will that leave us?

Not every racist is a fascist; if they were, we’d be being run by men in black uniforms and iron heels. If you believe Paulo DiCanio not even every fascist is a racist. And the idea that folk not keen on gay marriage, for which I voted, should be denied a platform would make Scotland look like Albania circa 1980. These false trails will have to be combatted by more sophisticated arguments than the Doc Martens of a Scottish rent-a-mob. Such tactics will merely garner increased support for them and an increasingly unpleasant reputation for a Scotland itself divided along many different fissures.

Salmond sunk to the occasion showing himself less than a national leader, more as a faction fighter at the head of a motley crew. If the virtual social media spoke for Scotland this game would already be a bogey. Cyber-nats bestride the internet in an increasingly poisonous parade of flag-waving and militancy which makes me wonder what happened to the Scotland I left just eight years ago. In that they are the mirror image of the Faragists who think getting all red-faced going down to the channel ports and shouting boo at Johnny Foreigner can somehow solve our problems, which are not, as it happens, the fault of the English, the immigrants, the gays or the Europeans.

I have had to block hundreds of Scots on Twitter for example, who deny my own right to speak on Scotland’s future despite my having been born and raised here, elected to parliament four times from Glasgow and been a feature in Scotland’s politics for 40 years. All on the grounds that I now live in England. Not that they’ll be sending Sean Connery’s campaign cheque back of course.  I have no doubt that when I pitch up to speak on the Fringe of the Edinburgh Festival this summer, that the same thing as happened to Nigel Farage will happen to me. What kind of Scotland is this? Is this really the kind of country you want?

It was once said that anti-semitism was the socialism of fools. So too is the idea that Scotland broken from the rest of this small, island of English- speaking people will somehow lead to some kind of progressive beacon of hope for the world.

The opposite is true. Socialism in one country was a myth, even when the concept was coined to describe a state – the USSR – which stretched from the Urals to Vladivostock. In Scotland, a country of five million, largely empty and with the only population in Europe that is falling, it is even more absurd.

We would be permanently joined to a perpetually Tory England and thus would begin a race to the bottom.

Tory England would always have lower corporate and personal taxation than a so-called socialist Scotland – unless Scotland undercut them. Where then would lie free prescriptions, tuition fees and free care for the elderly? Let alone the red-speckled dreams of the nationalist left fringe?

Independent, Scots would continue to be at the mercy of the waves of international vicissitude. The only difference would be that they had gotten out of an ocean-going liner and climbed into a Para-Handy puffer – with no life boats. The same is true of course of Farage’s fantasy of bulldog Britain. In that sense those waving their flags at each other in Edinburgh last week were bald men fighting over a comb and hair gel.

If Britain cannot face this storm alone how much less can an independent Scotland?

I’ll tell you what would happen when an independent Scotland proved to be a chimera.

Scots would turn inwards, turn on the English and turn on each other. First they would come for the ‘unionists’ as they describe people like me. We would become a ‘fifth column’. Soon other scapegoats would have to be found. Catholic schools, judging by the cyber-nats-speak, would have to succumb. Then it might be the immigrants, brown as well as white who would be ‘taking our jobs’, ‘our houses’, ‘marrying our women’ and the rest. We would become an embittered people, the very opposite of the Scottish internationalist we have been for so long. What a pity.

Who will guard Scotland’s 4000 miles of coast line. A Scottish Royal Navy? How will we pay for it? If you lose your passport in Uzbekistan when you’re scouring the world looking for work, who will replace it? The embassy of England? What currency will you use? Not the English pound I promise you. The Euro? How’s that going? The Icelandic Shilling perhaps? Covered in the ash of a volcanic national bankruptcy? Or would we bring back the Groat? Backed by what? Oil and gas reserves, fast running out? Or sell ice cream to tourists increasingly repelled by the kind of mentality we saw in Edinburgh…

Doesn’t all this seem like a high price to pay? To make Alex Salmond the Prime Minister, he’s just shown himself to be less than capable of being? A Brigadoon Scotland shrouded in the mist of Celtic obscurantism is not for me. Does it do anything for you?

Are the people of Liverpool or Leeds really foreigners to you?

You speak the same language as them, watch the same TV, read the same newspapers, listen to the same radio, eat the same food – usually curry. What foolishness is this?

Did you consider the Beatles your fellow countrymen or not? Have you seen the statue of the late Scotland captain Billy Bremner at Leeds United Stadium?

Do you know who has just followed the greatest living Scotsman Sir Alex Ferguson into the manager’s seat at Manchester United?

Scotland and England have been grafted together like bone, politically for 300 years, physically since the dawn of time.

We have committed – in times of empire – many crimes together. But for a time in the face of real Fascism we stood alone and changed the world. When we did so together, it was our finest hour. Running Nigel Farage out of a press conference  was not.

Words by George Galloway MP

Design by Gayatri

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