Brian Wilson: Enough of Nationalists’ indignation

Salmond's behaviour to St Andrews principal Louise Richardson was 'a truly sinister tale'. Picture: Jane Barlow
Salmond's behaviour to St Andrews principal Louise Richardson was 'a truly sinister tale'. Picture: Jane Barlow
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SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: The Nationalists cannot be allowed to get away with their ‘we wuz robbed’ skulduggery, writes Brian Wilson

These have been an invigorating ten days for Scottish democracy. Separatism has been defeated. Alex Salmond has resigned. Serious people are engaged in delivering what was promised in terms of sensible, sustainable devolution, in line with majority wishes.

Many thousands whose jobs were threatened are again sleeping easy. Investment which was on hold will start to flow. As icing on the cake, the Ryder Cup is a glorious reminder of what Scottish politicians could deliver a decade ago, when good outcomes for Scotland mattered more than obsessing about the constitution.

There has been an abundance of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth from those who were on the losing side of the argument. Old people (over-55s) were denounced for having failed the young until it emerged that a majority of the young (16-24s) had also rejected independence. Scapegoating is a tricky business. Who next?

Mr Salmond gracelessly claimed that a critical proportion of the electorate was “conned” by the promise of more powers.

One can imagine the opprobrium he would have heaped upon anyone complaining that the Scottish people, in their infinite sovereign wisdom, had been “conned” if the result had gone the other way.

Despite having just resigned, he threatened he would hold the leaders of the three UK parties “to the fire”. He should calm down and put his slippers on. His services as a toaster are not required. Lord Smith of Kelvin is a more effective guardian of commitments made, and does not need ugly language to prove it.

All the Nationalists confirmed with their petulance is that they are wholly dependent on a betrayal narrative. Somebody always has to have done something to Scotland that they are entitled to whip up indignation about. In fact, there is not the slightest evidence anyone who made promises intends to do anything other than honour them.

As I wrote two weeks ago about the shared commitment to a new devolution settlement: “It should have happened earlier and in a more orderly fashion but what matters more is that it has happened now and would be delivered, just as in 1997 and 2008. An inescapable realpolitik has been created”.

Substitute “will” for “would” following the referendum result and that is exactly where matters stand. The realpolitik remains and nobody is trying to escape from it; on the contrary, queues have formed to reassert it. My view is that the Strathclyde Commission offers the best blueprint from which to work, so get on with it.

But if the Nationalists did not have a grievance to nurture, what would be their purpose? They are, at best, a reasonably competent administration with dangerous centralising tendencies which has been given lots of money to scatter around. But they show little evidence of original, far less radical, thought once the grievance rationale has been stripped away.

Having failed in their defining ambition, the fall-back imperative is to invent betrayal in order to protect us from it. There is no outcome from Lord Smith’s endeavours that can satisfy them since their script is pre-ordained. And the more they can talk about the constitution, the less onus is on them to actually do anything interesting or progressive about anything else.

For the moment, there is limited point in competing with the clamour of “we wuz robbed” indignation. But just as the quiet people turned out to vote down independence, so they must assert themselves to challenge the kind of Scotland Nationalism is trying to define in its own future interests.

Before the tide washes away specific episodes in the last days of the campaign, I commend two which deserve to be pursued because they are so indicative of the way Scotland has been heading under Nationalist rule and must be challenged on a far more methodical basis. Do they represent the values and traditions of Scotland?

The first is the truly sinister tale which emerged through Freedom of Information requests by the Daily Telegraph about the treatment of the Principal of St Andrews University, Dr Louise Richardson, after she voiced concerns about the impact of independence on Scottish research funding. An “angry” early morning phone call from Salmond was followed by a draft statement of recantation written by his chief of staff, one Geoff Aberdein, which Dr Richardson declined to sign.

Mr Aberdein seems to spend a lot of time writing statements for recalcitrants and others thought to be in thrall to the Scottish Government to sign. He cropped up in the same role when Salmond wanted Donald Trump to praise the Scottish Government for releasing the convicted Lockerbie bomber. Not surprisingly, Trump declined and the story came out. These are the ones we know about.

What disturbs me about the St Andrews story is that a lot of people knew about it and did nothing. I was told of Dr Richardson’s unpleasant experience in whispered tones by a senior academic six months ago. Unfortunately, the context was to explain why everyone else would be keeping their heads down.

Is a Scotland in which academics stay silent for fear of political retribution the one we want to create? It is certainly the direction Salmond has led us in and that is why his departure is so welcome. Will Nicola Sturgeon be making the same phone calls, issuing the same threats, exerting the same stifling control?

The second warning of where Scotland has been heading was contained in the unseemly scenes at Bute House when dissident journalists – the ones Salmond doesn’t like – were excluded from his resignation press conference. If journalists present were aware of this and if any NUJ solidarity still exists, they should all have got up and walked out.

If this is how the Nationalists behave when they lose, what would it have been like if they had won? Fortunately, they didn’t. But the warning signs are there for all to see. If we don’t want to live in a Scotland where such episodes are accepted as part and parcel of the way the place is run, then people have to put their heads above the parapet and say so.

On many fronts, including our debased civil service, the confusion of party and government has gone much, much too far already. Once again, the thinking majority must say “no thanks” to all of that.