Perth Tory leadership hustings: Scottish nationalists' brand of identity politics is based on a sinister and false premise – Brian Wilson

To an extent, Nicola Sturgeon is right. She is not directly responsible for banners proclaiming “Tory scum” or assorted bampots shouting “traitor” at a broadcaster doing his job.

There is no single cause for an atmosphere created over time. The degree to which leaders of populist movements should be held accountable for the behaviour of their fringes is debatable even if disavowal at convenient moments is unconvincing.

I don’t remember Sturgeon deploring the intimidatory mob outside BBC Scotland during the 2014 referendum and I certainly don’t remember her distancing herself from the chief dog-whistler, Ian Blackford, for the vile campaign against Charles Kennedy.

But heigh-ho. That’s the political environment we now live in and any discussion of it quickly descends into a game of “whitabootery”. There are always equally deplorable examples on the other side, so what’s the problem? Let’s move on. Nothing to be seen here.

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Or is there? When a Tory MSP, Stephen Kerr, tweeted about Perth, there was one particularly disturbing response. It came from Cameron McNeish, “author of 22 books, speaker and lecturer, honorary fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society” with an impressive 33,000 followers.

McNeish advised the MSP: “If it lets the Tories know they are not wanted here, and that includes you Stephen, then that is the message.” I find that a lot more sinister than anything shouted outside Perth City Hall.

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Ugly scenes outside Tory party leadership hustings in Scotland should concern us...

It reflects the arrogance of a belief that Scotland and nationalism are synonymous and anyone who dissents from that presumption is hostile to the interests of both. I would certainly hold Ms Sturgeon and her former mentor accountable for promoting that delusion as the cornerstone of their belief.

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Protesters outside the Tory leadership hustings in Perth (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

As one respondent enquired: “So where is the cut-off point Cammy? If Tories make up a quarter of this once great country, and bigots like you think they should leave, who gets to stay in this open, friendly, joyous place you imagine?”

The drive to divide is relentless for the will of a majority can never appease the zeal of a minority. At its heart is a miserable ambition to force people to choose between identities rather than feel comfortable with them all, as most of us naturally are.

I was born into the British state, have lived in Scotland all my life and reside in the Hebrides. These are compatible identities, each with aspects I value without giving it a second thought. Everyone has multiple identities and nobody sees that as a problem until someone tries to make it one.

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Rightly or wrongly, my politics were formed by the belief that the progressive achievements which shaped my life – health, the welfare state, education, housing, a liberal society – were delivered through the intermittent success of the British Labour movement in forming governments and legislating for irreversible change.

I want the same for generations that follow. Unity, from my perspective, has been an essential source of strength. “Unionism” as a political creed has never entered into it. Now Scotland is plagued by a relentless effort to divide people along artificial lines of Scottish or British, Saltire or Union Jack – tests of identity that need not exist.

Yet it is the very test which the vice-principal of Glasgow University, no less, sought to intellectualise this week. Murray Pittock reportedly claimed it is now “almost impossible” to feel both Scottish and British.

“Far more than in 2014”, he intoned gravely, “there is the danger, and it is a danger for the integration of society, that the choice appears to people to be very stark."

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Danger? But surely this is precisely what Professor Pittock has worked to achieve for he is no disinterested academic observer. In 2014, he co-founded “Academics for Yes”. The “danger” he has discovered merely seeks to rationalise the political objective of which he is a devotee.

Professor Pittock was not outside Perth City Hall shouting abuse at Tories and broadcasters but, make no mistake, the false thesis of conflicting identities he now calls dangerous, in the polite surroundings of the Edinburgh Book Festival, is the meat and drink feasted upon by those who were.

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