Euan McColm: Nationalism – both British and Scottish – is manure for tribalism

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, these days, it’s that we’ve never been more divided. Nationalism – both British and Scottish – is manure for tribalism. Identity is now more important than ideas or even facts.
Boris Johnson was among those challenged over the credibility of their manifesto commitments by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. Picture: Chris J Ratcliffe/GettyBoris Johnson was among those challenged over the credibility of their manifesto commitments by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. Picture: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty
Boris Johnson was among those challenged over the credibility of their manifesto commitments by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. Picture: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty

As this bitter general election campaign grinds on, candidates from across the political spectrum are taking full advantage of this new mood. Where once they might have had to trouble themselves with trifles such as costing manifesto commitments, now they simply promise the earth and anyone who dares question the viability of this remarkable pledge or that extraordinary claim is to be condemned.

These days, a lack of faith among voters is worse than a lack of honesty among candidates.

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Politicians – no matter what their hue – now promise the easiest of solutions to the most complex of problems. Simply give them your vote and they will push the magic button, making everything right.

Back Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative colleagues and they will push the magic button, instantly solving understaffing in the NHS at – get this – no extra cost. They will employ 50,000 more nurses (that this number includes 19,000 already employed within the health service is to be considered an insignificant detail) and all problems will be solved.

But before the performance of that particular miracle, the magic button will be pressed to – as Johnson never tires of repeating – “get Brexit done”.

Yes, back Johnson and the complex and difficult process of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union will be rendered entirely straightforward. We’ll be out of Europe in a jiffy and the economy will start booming.

Dare to doubt the power of the magic button and you mark yourself out as a traitor.

Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn will fund an £83 billion rise in public spending through the increased taxation of the corporate sector and the wealthy. The power of the magic button means that these sources of funding will not decide to move their business elsewhere but will remain in the UK, happy to pay more to the government in the name of a fair society. Big business is already famously benevolent so there’s nothing to worry about there.

Corbyn will also tap the magic button to conjure up £58bn to compensate women who lost out during the equalisation of the state pension age 
to 66.

And it’ll be pressed again to ensure an end to anti-Semitism (and other forms of racism). Hatred of Jews may have become commonplace in the Labour Party since Corbyn, a crank with a history of associating with other cranks, took over, but if you’ll just give him your support, he’ll make it go away.

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If you prefer your politics clad in tartan, then only support for Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP will do. If you get behind her plan to break up the UK, Sturgeon will push the magic button, setting us on course to become citizens of a vibrant, successful new independent state, no longer held back by Westminster (contemporary SNP code for England).

Cynics might wonder why, since the nationalists have now been in power at Holyrood for more than 12 years, the First Minister hasn’t already pushed the magic button to sort out existing crises in the education system and the NHS. To ask such questions betrays embarrassing ignorance about the complex business of politics. The magic button doesn’t work like that, you idiot.

In the UK, we have, for as long as I can remember, had a healthy scepticism about the promises of politicians. We’ve known when the emperor was naked.

But, right now, a combination of corrosive cynicism and wide-eyed gullibility seems to be driving support for each of the parties. Everything said by an opponent should be considered a monstrous lie while each and every utterance from someone on our side must be treasured for its veracity and wisdom.

Last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies declared that neither Labour nor the Conservatives had created a properly credible prospectus for government. The think tank warned that Tory pledges to keep spending down were likely to be forgotten and either higher taxes or greater borrowing would follow. As for Labour, the IFS claimed that Corbyn’s party had produced a manifesto that depended upon taxation that was unlikely to meet the costs associated with the pledges contained therein.

It seems those clots at the IFS don’t know about the magic button.

We have a head start on our chums across the UK when it comes to everything-will-be-great politics. During the 2014 independence referendum, then SNP leader Alex Salmond peddled a series of fantasies about the future of an independent Scotland. From an economy sustained by soaring oil prices (the value of oil plummeted during the campaign) through a currency union with the remainder of the UK (Salmond claimed opponents were bluffing when they said this wasn’t a goer. Nicola Sturgeon now concedes they were not) to swift and easy membership of the EU for an independent Scotland, the promises were as bold as they were bogus.

Yet it appears these evident falsehoods have had no impact on the party Salmond once led. Sturgeon has simply moved on to a new set of fantasies, where all that is required on the part of the voter is belief in the power of the magic button.

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This delusion now affects supporters of all the main parties. Compromise – one thing that unites leaders of all the serious parties involved in this campaign is the rejection of the idea of coalition government – is to be deprecated. It shows weakness and, anyway, the magic button means nobody will ever need the support of a rival.

This election campaign is unusually fraught and ill-tempered, with candidates encouraging division. Social media is a cesspit of personal attacks and the shamelessness of senior politicians who have no compunction about lying to further their ambitions takes the breath away.

If only there was some way to make it stop. If only there was a magic button to switch off politics.