Fine line between passion and intolerance

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I don’t know whether the historian David Starkey’s remarks likening SNP supporters to Nazis reflect his real views, or whether he was being deliberately provocative, but either way he has sparked a heated debate, and that is no bad thing.

It is of course ironic that his comments have prompted senior SNP politicians and others to react with outrage, when pro-Union supporters have themselves been branded as “Quislings” by SNP supporters, and not just by the “cybernat” internet trolls, but by others who should know better.

The SNP leadership have been somewhat equivocal in their reaction to such vile behaviour by their supporters, not least in the case of Neil Hay, the SNP candidate for Edinburgh South, who was revealed to have invoked the Quisling term against those he saw as his political enemies, and who also made disparaging remarks about elderly voters.

Nicola Sturgeon rejected demands that this man be expelled from the party, stating that the voters would decide his fate, which they duly did, enabling Labour to win their only Scottish seat.

However, this gratifying result was probably only achieved by some tactical voting by Tory and Liberal Democrat supporters, and Mr Hay still managed to get over 16,000 votes, 33 per cent of all votes cast in the constituency.

The SNP have brought much needed passion and enthusiasm to politics, but there is a darker side which needs to be carefully watched.

There is a very fine dividing line between passion and fanaticism, and its odious bedfellow intolerance. More than a few SNP supporters seem to have already crossed the line, and the party leadership need to take quick and effective action to root out this malevolent influence.

Bryan Lindsay

New Cut Rigg

Edinburgh

David Starkey is like a small boy who, ignored by the adults around him, utters the most shocking expletives to gain their attention. It always works. When an adult has to resort to similar tactics it raises interesting speculation about his childhood experiences.

Starkey’s psychological make-up, fascinating though it may be, is not the main theme of my letter, however. It was his comment about the Saltire, and his comparison with the swastika, which grabbed my attention.

While I certainly do not equate the SNP with the Nazis, one aspect of the referendum campaign which made me feel very uneasy was the sight of small children, many not even old enough to walk, clutching Saltires given to them to wave in support of their parents’ political views. It was ever thus.

Flag-waving is recognised as being an effective emotional appeal to arouse patriotic or nationalistic feeling.

Combined with drum beating and the evocative sound of the bagpipes, emotions ran high during the campaign. Who doesn’t respond with a faster heart-beat to such a display?

This is why the flag-waving associated with political movements has always attracted those who feel marginalised, locked out of society with all its rewards.

Like children with their faces pressed against a sweet shop’s window, longing for the pleasures within, they can only look on.

Their anger and frustration simmer barely beneath the surface of consciousness. When you’re desperate, and lack the means to articulate your distress, finding an enemy to blame for your situation is cathartic.

The objective in wrapping your ideology in a flag draped around your body is not just to make yourself appear patriotic, but to make those who do not support your ideology appear unpatriotic.

The venom to which Jim Murphy was subjected during his visit to Glasgow highlights the dangers inherent in stoking the flames of ancient enmities by rallying to the cause under a national flag.

Carolyn Taylor

Wellbank

Broughty Ferry, Dundee

Jane Ball (Letters, 17 June) quotes the ritual clichés about nationalism without reflecting on the historical facts.

Nationalism arises because the national aspirations of a country are opposed by some arrogant imperialist.

The real evil lies in this opposition not in its consequence. Dictators from Napoleon to Hitler and Stalin have been ruthless in attempting to crush the individuality of small nations.

The history of the British Empire provides some examples of the same principle.

In the few cases in the past where nationalism has been misused for destructive purposes, there has always been some underlying cause that has allowed some dictator to manipulate it .

Starkey comes from a long line of traditional English historians, who, for many generations, have suppressed the very idea of Scottish history.

Their attitude is exemplified by the distinguished historian, Hugh Trevor-Roper, who was criticised for using the word “England” when he meant “Britain” and replied that he always did it because it annoyed the Scots.

If perhaps he had been less occupied with annoying the Scots, he might have noticed that the Hitler Diaries he was promoting were actually forgeries.

(DR) PM Dryburgh

Newbattle Terrace

Edinburgh

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