AROUND about this time last year, the doyenne of “progressive” political writers, the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, opined on the BBC that no Scot could ever lead a UK party or hold any of the “great offices of state” ever again.
The BBC’s Andrew Neil had to get her to correct that it wasn’t ethnicity that was at stake here, merely that no-one from a Scottish constituency ever could. Ah, that was OK then, it wasn’t the Scotch as such, just their representatives. Even if the referendum outcome was a No.
Think about that. Pause for more than a second and anyone could see how monumentally bizarre this statement was, and yet on it marched unchecked.
Had it come from one of the many openly racist Ukip politicians or one of the more extreme Tories or even the more boorish, soon-to-be-expunged, Labour backwoodsmen, we could have dismissed it as eccentric. But it would have been condemned by serious and proper people. Surely?
But the panel debating it included the outstanding Financial Times commentator and George Osborne biographer Janan Ganesh and the very able Isabel Oakeshott, then of the Sunday Times, who cut her journalistic teeth in Scotland.
Ach well, emotions were high, it was just a politics show, we could all put it down to over-exuberance and move on? That is, until the last few days when it appears to have become the accepted constitutional orthodoxy of the British governing class.
Its current expression, accepted pretty much by all London-based sides, is less that no Scottish MP can be part of the government, that would be silly. As Brian McNeill once put it: “We still prefer sheep to thinking men, but men that think like sheep are even better”.
No, it is that no Scottish MP who supports the SNP could. Why? Because the SNP supports independence for Scotland, therefore can’t have a say in how the UK is governed. Again, ponder on that for a moment and remember the lovebombs.
It is OK for people who are not elected by anyone to be part of the government of the UK. It is OK for convicted criminals also. It is OK for members of openly racist parties to be part of the government. As long as they represent non-Scottish constituencies and not the SNP, all is well.
That there has been no serious examination of this is just another signal that the traditional governing classes are done, north and south.
Amusingly, I know at least one English MP and a number of current peers who are not members of the SNP but who favour Scottish independence. I am not sure if they are captured by the edict. Don’t you just love the Mother of Parliaments?
Maybe we should institute a faithfulness to “things as they are now” oath alongside the royal one? “I swear to Her Majesty and her heirs and successors and also all who hold things as they are now dear”.
It is idiotic, of course, and it will do more to drive the UK asunder than anything the SNP will ever do.
If the UK had an actual constitution none of this would matter. It would be set and written down by founding mothers and fathers who had sustainable democracy in mind rather than an election weeks away.
But in Britain we have partisans masquerading as elder statesmen rather than a constitution anyone can rely on. Which leads us to the wilful acceptance of statements that, if the nouns were changed, would be condemned the world over. But fear not, it’s only the Scotch we diminish.
“Ah, don’t conflate the Scotch with the SNP,” cry some. OK, you may oppose the SNP but do you agree with this constitutional offence? If so, it might explain why your preferred party could be about to be wiped out.
With each turn of the screw the moral authority of the old Britain so many want to admire is quashed by the anti-democratic idiocy of an establishment that refuses to understand the sentiment beyond the sainted shires it rests content in.
But I am tempted to grudge and grievance when what I want to offer is much more constructive.
If the love was real love about wanting a family of nations then you have to make that meaningful. It feels more like controlling love that is entirely dependent on docile obedience. That just won’t do. The correct response to the millions of dissenting voices across not just Scotland but all of the UK is this radical idea: listen.
Put your partisanship in the drawer and recognise the reality that of all the parties speaking for the dispossessed, the SNP is the most progressive and responsible by a mile.
If you can’t bring yourself to do that, then recognise that siren voices must be listened to and engaged.
A British establishment that was confident in itself and wanted to sustain would say to the SNP “work with us on reforming the UK system and learn from each other’s mistakes and successes”. But that would take big people and proper leadership. «