Brian Monteith: Free speech right applies to Farage

Ukip leader Nigel Farage. Picture: PA
Ukip leader Nigel Farage. Picture: PA
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If Scotland is ‘better’ than the rest of the UK, then Salmond should be condemning Ukip’s treatment here, writes Brian Monteith

We’re meant to be better than that lot down south, or so we’re constantly told by nationalist leaders. That lot being the rest of Britain, or England in particular – although we must try our best not to sound racist – so euphemisms such as London, Westminster and rest of the UK (rUK) are preferable.

We’re better because we’re more compassionate, caring, charitable – and you know what, being independent will allow us to reflect that difference by parading our social justice on our sleeves. Or so the nationalist narrative goes.

It’s a great conceit of course. Scots do some things differently from the rest of Britain, some good, some bad – such as saving more or drinking more – but many of them are quite marginal differences and they do not make us any better. Last Thursday we found out that we certainly are not more freedom-loving, tolerant and open-minded than the rest of British society.

For on Thursday in Edinburgh a mainstream British political party that has more members in the European Parliament than the SNP, and recently gained an impressive roll call of English council seats, was denied the basic right to be heard.

It was shocking enough that a mob of students managed to intimidate and bully Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, into abandoning his press conference. More outrageous was how so many sought to defend the actions of the mob.

That should have been that, for we should normally have expected our Scottish parliamentarians, our upholders and guardians of democracy, to roundly condemn the nihilistic aggression against a party seeking to gain entry to Holyrood. But that did not happen. In what must be as low a point in his impressive political career the First Minister chose not to condemn but to simply dismiss the trashing of the basic human right to speak as some student jape.

The law had not been broken, so it was not worthy of his opprobrium, Alex Salmond argued. Worse still, the First Minister went on the offensive, attacking Nigel Farage’s views, as if what mattered was what he believed in or was intending to say, not that he had the right to put forward his views.

Mr Salmond’s attitude was in stark contrast to the Yes Scotland campaign, which was quick to distance itself from, and castigate, the undemocratic bully-boy tactics of assorted students and seasoned revolutionaries who confronted Mr Farage.

This mis-step by Alex Salmond raises some obvious questions that he now needs to answer. Not just because he is fronting the Yes campaign, and is the leader of the SNP – but because he holds the highest office in the Scottish Parliament and is meant to stand for all that is good and decent in Scotland, as well as upholding the law.

It is not enough to ask that public order should be maintained, that people should be able to meet and talk freely without fear or favour – we should expect our First Minister to be advocating tolerance, openness and the respect of each other’s rights that ensures the law will not be broken. He should be appealing for people to raise their standards and ensure everyone in a democratic Scotland can be heard.

In Edinburgh to launch its campaign for the Aberdeen Donside by-election the Ukip leader had to be given police protection. The shouts of “Go home to England” and “stuff your Union Jack…” while not allowing Farage to leave in a taxi served only to highlight the banality of the mob. Would-be anti-racists behaving like racists, including, absurdly, English people, one of whom was arrested. The Ukip members present were not all, like Farage, from England, but numbered Scottish members including the prospective by-election candidate Otto Inglis, an Edinburgh advocate.

If the First Minister believes it is OK for legitimate political gatherings only a few hundred yards from our Scottish Parliament to be broken up, will he be so sanguine if it were to happen again in Aberdeen during the by-election campaign itself? By failing to condemn the political passive aggression of protestors is he not inviting them to do it again? Is the type of Scotland that the First Minster aspires to one where we need to have police in attendance so that our basic human rights are not denied to us?

Why has Alex Salmond taken such a relaxed view when others such as Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie – probably the MSP least likely to agree with anything Nigel Farage might say – have unreservedly condemned the mob? Could it be that he simply does not wish to offend the protestors – many of whom are in fact the foot soldiers of his independence campaign?

How the protest was organised and promoted is freely available on the internet and social media. The co-ordinators of the demonstration, the Radical Independence Campaign, parade their views and opinions about what type of Scotland they wish to see, as is their right.

They are behind conferences and campaign events and in their latest actions have shown no compunction about denying their opponents, such as Ukip, the ability to participate. This militant wing of nationalism seeks to portray Ukip as beyond the pale, so much so that they should be silenced.

No platform for fascists is an old revolutionary slogan and RIC shows it is willing to make that a reality – even though Ukip is clearly not a fascist party advocating a police state.

But for the First Minister to condemn them would open up his own campaign for independence to scrutiny – for on 13 January this year the Yes Scotland campaign was launched in Glasgow with RIC support and its activist Cat Boyd addressing the gathering – sharing the platform with the deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Needing the feet on the ground that RIC provides and not wishing to divide his campaign, Alex Salmond has chosen to not criticise his radical element. Will his deputy share a platform again with those who would deny one to Farage and Inglis?

We might do some things differently in Scotland, but not all of these things are something to defend or be proud of.