Allan Massie: False patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel

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Labour does itself no favours by flinging out accusations of 'Fascism', but SNP members must define patriotism with more care

WAY back in 1946 Orwell wrote : "The word 'Fascism' has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable".

In another essay written a couple of years earlier, he gave a long list of the parties, organisations, activities and individuals he had heard called "Fascist", concluding that people applied the description to anything they didn't like, and that it has in effect been degraded "to the level of a swearword". So one may judge that when the Labour MP Ian Davidson spoke of "neo-Fascist" tendencies he was doing little more than expressing an intense dislike of the SNP.

Certainly in most respects the party bears no resemblance to what we commonly understand as Fascism. The SNP is a social-democratic party which has repeatedly disowned, and distanced itself from, the tiny fringe groups that advocated or practised direct action as a means of promoting the break-up of the United Kingdom. It has won office, first at local government level, and then at Holyrood, by conventional and respectable electoral means.

Most Fascist parties have been racist or sectarian. The SNP is neither. There was a sectarian element in its early years, arising from hostility to Catholic Irish immigration, but this has long since disappeared. Some early Nationalists belonged to the Orange Order; that connection is now taboo. Immigrant groups have been made welcome in the party: Scots Asians for Independence. There is some Anglophobia, but Alex Salmond describes himself as "the biggest Anglophile in Scotland", and there are many English people prominent in the party.

Fascist parties in opposition tend to engage in public protest, often of a violent nature. They often have a para-military wing, with the Nazis it was the SA storm troopers, who promoted disorder and terrorized their opponents in the years before Hitler came to power. In Northern Ireland both Sinn Fein/IRA and the DUP with its links to Protestant para-militaries may arguably be considered quasi-Fascist. There is nothing comparable in the SNP. It has consistently eschewed violence and has never threatened public order. It seeks to make its case by argument, not force. Most importantly, it trades in hope, not fear.

Whereas Fascist parties have generally promoted the cult of The Leader - il Duce, der Fuehrer, el Caudillo etc - the SNP was for a long time so averse to the idea that it didn't have a leader, merely the party convenor. The pre-eminence of Alex Salmond has brought about a change, exemplified in the "Alex Salmond for First Minister" slogan on the list voting paper. Yet the notion of Salmond presenting himself to us in battledress and boots is risible.He dominates his party but there is no likelihood that the SNP will adopt a Scottish equivalent of the Italian Fascist slogan: Mussolini ha sempre ragione (Mussolini is always right). To do so would be to invite mockery and that fine Scottish expression of scepticism: "Aye, that will be right".

Ian Davidson spoke rashly, even stupidly, for the name-calling he indulged in is unlikely to do his party much good. It will not serve the Unionist cause, because any worthwhile defence of the Union will not be made by negative campaigning and seeking to tarnish the SNP and spread alarm.

Nevertheless there is one respect in which his accusation, however offensive, merits consideration.

The word "Fascist" may have come to mean little more than "something not desirable", but there is one characteristic of Fascist movements which the SNP does exhibit. This is the tendency to identify the movement or the party with the nation or the State, consequently to equate membership of the party, or support for it, with patriotism. Conversely therefore parties and individuals opposed to the nationalist movement are deemed to be unpatriotic. The SNP becomes "Scotland's Party", and anyone who is against it is not a true Scot.

The politicians of course don't say this. They know you don't convert the undecided by insulting them. Yet the implication is there, even if unspoken. Some of their more zealous followers show no such restraint. The so-called "cybernats" who bombard the website of this newspaper, and other publications, do not hesitate to describe Unionists as "quislings" - the reference being to the Norwegian Fascist leader, Vidkun Quisling, who collaborated with the Nazis during the wartime Occupation. So Unionists are collaborators and traitors. Quisling himself was put on trial and executed after the war. I don't suppose even the most ferocious of cybernats actually wish to put Iain Gray and Annabel Goldie before a firing-squad, but this sort of wild and intolerant language has indeed more than a whiff of fascism about it.

There is a division of opinion about the future of Scotland. It should be accepted that both Nationalists and Unionists believe they have the best interests of the country at heart.

It is foolish and even wicked for Unionists to seek to defeat the SNP by prophesying doom and disaster if we should eventually choose to vote for independence. Unionists will not win the argument by behaving like the Fat Boy in Pickwick who said, "I likes to make your flesh creep".

But it is also foolish and wicked of nationalists - admittedly a small minority of them - to brand their opponents as quislings and traitors, and to suggest that you can only be a true Scot if you vote SNP.

Patriotism is not restricted to one side in the argument. One can be both Scottish and British. Millions of us are, and remain therefore committed to support for the continuation of the Union.To pretend that Unionists are "traitors" is to create "the enemy within" - a characteristically Fascist tactic, one employed against Jews in Hitler's Germany, and against Liberals, Socialists and Communists in Franco's Spain. To call a Labour or Tory politician a quisling is ridiculous, contemptible, utterly wrong and at the very least proto-fascist. In short, this kind of language stinks.