Brian Wilson: Sinister signals transmitted by SNP

Alex Salmond appears via video link on Andrew Marr's BBC programme last Sunday Picture: BBC
Alex Salmond appears via video link on Andrew Marr's BBC programme last Sunday Picture: BBC
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THE attack on BBC broadcaster Andrew Marr offers a terrifying glimpse of what Scotland might become, writes Brian Wilson

‘There will be consequences for Andrew Marr,” tweeted the SNP’s spokesman on broadcasting, Peter Wishart MP, in perfect symphony with the toe-curling unpleasantness of The Leader’s fury.

Events move on and a television programme from last weekend is already lost to the flotsam and jetsam of our interminable referendum campaign. But that should not be allowed to happen because so many insights were offered by this Sabbath morning interview and the responses that followed.

What kind of Scotland is being created? That is the question people who care for our country and its integrity should be concentrating on. For all the fine words about reasoned debate, the well is being poisoned by those who can brook no dissent. “Marr should get his Better Together T-shirt on,” sneered Wishart. To question is to betray. Is that the Scottish tradition?

Marr’s offence had been to use the first person singular in expressing doubts about the credibility of Alex Salmond’s unsubstantiated claim that Scotland would automatically become a member of the European Union. It is an issue on which the First Minister has understandable grounds for sensitivity.

It was Andrew Marr who interviewed Manuel Barroso when he made the categorical statement that there would be no such right. On and off screen, Marr had been struck by the “incredibly steely” view expressed the president of the EU based on discussions with leaders of major EU countries. “I don’t think you will find it that easy,” Marr observed, as an aside to Salmond’s bluster.

It did not sound to me, or any semi-reasonable democrat, like a hanging offence within the guidelines of broadcasting. Nobody who has crossed swords with Jeremy Paxman, Andrew Neil or Kenny MacIntyre, of blessed memory, should be remotely surprised, offended or fazed by an interviewer expressing an opinion in order to press a question.

But to Salmond, it was such anathema that he unleashed the forces of menace. Was this the BBC’s view Marr was expressing “or your own, Andrew?” The substance of the issue no longer mattered; only the personal attack on Marr for having treated an interview as an adult conversation.

Others might regard that as a compliment. Salmond’s media helpers, of whom there are many, have cultivated – particularly in London – the sofa interviews in which the word “I” would have been welcome, so long as it was coupled with suitably soft questioning. But this was different. Marr was expressing an inconvenient truth, so he must be crushed. As is Salmond’s way, the man was a welcome substitute for the ball.

We should take note. In the New Scotland, interviewers will know their place. They will express no opinions, pose no challenges and draw no conclusions from their own experience if these run contrary to the prevailing orthodoxy. And if they break these rules, make no mistake, there will be “consequences”.

At least we have early warning of the pressures a Scottish Broadcasting Service would be under. The checks and balances which currently exist would not last for long and when the mask slips, the image is not encouraging. Avuncularity turns quickly to thinly concealed threat. And the storm troopers of the social media are on hand to take their cue.

Derek Bateman, for many years a BBC Scotland broadcaster whose well-known political views were all part of a good joust, has now become a blogger, much admired in Nationalist circles. He coupled Marr’s name with that of James Naughtie to pronounce: “Expat denigrators who owe allegiance to the British state that promoted them. A self-elevated elite on auto sneer”.

So let us be clear about Bateman’s verdict. James Naughtie and Andrew Marr should not be seen as respected broadcasters of Scottish origin who have earned professional and public confidence on the basis of merit but as “denigrators who owe allegiance to the British state that promoted them”. Excuse me if I find that sinister – as well as utterly untrue.

But from whom are Bateman and his many followers taking their lead? Listen again to Salmond, before he flipped completely in order to attack Marr. In the considered opinion of Scotland’s First Minister, Barroso was not speaking objectively or reflecting the views of major EU members states, but was “sucking up to London” in order to win favour to become secretary-general of Nato.

A pattern becomes apparent. Nobody but Salmond and his acolytes are speaking from belief. Those who oppose Nationalism are either lackeys of the British state or perfidious agents of hidden personal agendas. There is then no need to take on the arguments they put forward. All that is required is to discredit the individuals and the truths will go away. We live in dangerous times, for this is Nationalism in the raw.

But then let us return to the issue over which Salmond took such offence – the right of an independent Scotland to claim automatic membership of the European Union. Not a shred of evidence has yet been adduced to confirm that this would be the case. The very least that can be concluded is that there would be a long and tortuous process through which that “right” would be contested.

At least half of EU member states have potentially secessionist minorities within them. They have very good reasons for resisting the idea that regions or nations can secede tomorrow and become EU members the next day. The SNP has long prided itself in alignment with sister secessionist movements. There is no basis on which to distinguish between the specific of Scottish separatism and the secessionist principle within the EU.

For that and many other reasons, it is pretty clear that Barroso did no more than speak the truth, for which he is now maligned by Salmond, not in terms of substance – which is unassailable – but on the basis of a smear about his personal motivations. It is pathetic.

And while Salmond sought to bludgeon Andrew Marr over the semantics of stating the obvious, let us not forget that the man in the dock is still Salmond himself. It is he who, month after month, claimed to have legal advice which did not exist on EU membership. It is he who went to the Court of Session, using taxpayers’ money, in an effort to conceal that reality. The advice did not exist then, and no more does it exist today.

Far be it from me to recommend questions to interviewers but, actually, any discussion of Scotland and the EU should begin with a question to Salmond about whether he is yet prepared to apologise to the people of Scotland for that deception? I live in hope rather than expectation.

And, of course, as a civilised individual, I threaten no “consequences”.