Sarah Smith's parting shot shows what Scotland has become – Brian Wilson

The parting shot from Sarah Smith, heading for Washington to become the BBC’s North American correspondent, merits some introspection about the sort of place Scotland has become.

Journalist Sarah Smith has left Scotland to take up a job as the BBC's North America editor (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)
Journalist Sarah Smith has left Scotland to take up a job as the BBC's North America editor (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)

It is a place which a successful, professional woman is glad to get out of because of the “bile, hatred and misogyny” directed against her based on views she is accused of holding without the slightest evidence of whether she does or not.

Her actual offence, in the eyes of her accusers, was not to have acted as an uncritical mouthpiece for the Scottish government. Any broadcaster who falls short of that standard becomes the object of suspicion, every sentence dissected in search of evidence against him or her. That’s the place Scotland has become.

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Right on cue, the usual suspects couldn’t get to Twitter fast enough to validate Sarah Smith’s prognosis. The SNP MSP, James Dornan, sneered: “America would be the go-to place to escape all her imaginary woes then” with a rolling eyes emoji added to expand upon his wisdom, before later apologising.

Gavin Newlands MP “liked” a tweet which opined that it was all her own fault while one of his former colleagues at Westminster described her as a “traitor to the highest metric within journalism”. Lesser stars in the nationalist firmament piled in en masse with, well… bile, hatred and misogyny.

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There is no monopoly on these commodities and any exercise in introspection needs to recognise they are symptoms of a deeper malaise. As a liberal, tolerant, socially just society, Scotland is going absolutely nowhere except backwards. The rhetoric and reality are poles apart.

The really depressing point is that there is no obvious route to improvement until the politics changes. The economy is stagnant. Poverty gaps are widening. There is a complete lack of creative political thinking about how to tackle any of these challenges and the constitution remains the obsession. Sarah Smith is not the only one getting out.

It can be argued that all this was baked-in to the devolution settlement. Thereafter, the high risk was that the political divide would be about “powers” rather than how they are used; an argument the nationalists were likely to win because they could bid higher and there would always be someone else to blame.

In theory, the 2014 referendum could have drawn a line under that phase – but only if the result was accepted as final, which was never going to happen. Once the pro-independence side lost, the following day was the first in their next campaign. And so it goes on.

But it was worse than that. The fault line within Scottish politics had shifted from socio-economic divisions between left and right to the constitution. A generation has grown up that equates Scottish politics with arguments about independence – not the great social reforms of the past or, potentially, the present and future.

Where are the voices to recall that all parts of Britain worked and voted together to achieve the great reforms which shaped the best of our society and the opportunities it offers? By excluding that dimension, nationalism has drawn us into the entirely false premise of constitutional change as the prerequisite for social progress. It isn’t.

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It is currently the source of some surprise that the separatist cause has not benefited more from chaos in Downing Street. However, that only reflects the deadlock which exists. Dislike for Boris Johnson is not enough to persuade significant numbers that they want to create a border within a small island. Nor will it ever be.

The only answer is for the traditional political agenda to reassert itself in Scotland as elsewhere. If people were even temporarily to put aside their views on the constitution to vote about education, the NHS, the state of their communities, the treatment of local government and so on, there could be a new dynamism in Scottish politics.

There is little sign of this happening. To a substantial minority, mediocrity is acceptable so long as it is mediocrity in the name of independence. Until that changes, we are stuck in the same rut with the same level of debate.

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