A lesson for Alex Salmond from George Orwell

23 October 2012

I’ve written a piece for today’s Scotsman noting that there are some parallels between Scotland’s independence stushie and the pre-Iraq War rammy a decade ago. Only this time it’s the nationalists who are, if you will allow the comparison, the neoconservatives. Just as pro-war advocates back then (and I was one of them) cheerfully labelled anyone who opposed the war of being “objectively pro-Saddam” so the nationalists today essentially argue that anyone opposed to independence is anti-Scottish and, implicitly, objectively so.

This is as tedious as it is stupid and the kind of thing liable to further hamper the party’s already faltering attempts to win what the Americans call high information voters (that is: those on above-average incomes). Support for independence declines with wealth and this is, increasingly I think, a problem for Alex Salmond and the nationalists. They are not, at present, getting through to these voters. And part of their problem must lie in the approach they are taking. I’m not sure that telling Labour voters they’re really supporting the Tory party is the kind of thing liable to impress those Labour supporters. But, who knows, perhaps accusations of false consciousness will prove persuasive! I doubt it.

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The SNP appear to have taken their text from Orwell’s famous line that: “pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other.”

Aye, well, but this leads you to a difficult place in which nuance is abandoned forever. Perhaps that’s to be expected in this kind of political debate but that don’t mean it must be welcomed. And anyway, as I say, in 1944 Orwell recanted this view:

“The important thing is to discover which individuals are honest and which are not, and the usual blanket accusation merely makes this more difficult. The atmosphere of hatred in which controversy is conducted blinds people to considerations of this kind. To admit that an opponent might be both honest and intelligent is felt to be intolerable. It is more immediately satisfying to shout that he is a fool or a scoundrel, or both, than to find out what he is really like.”

Lord knows, there will be grim nonsense from the Unionist side too in this debate but that’s a matter for another day. If the SNP want to persuade sceptical Scots they might remember that how you make your argument has some bearing on whether or not you will win it.

Anyway: whole Scotsman column here.

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  • terregles2

    Don’t think it is the SNP who are saying that Scottish Labour are supporting the Tories. The ones that I have heard saying it most are the faction of Scottish Labour who have started the Scottish Labour party breakaway Scottish separists Labourforindy.
    I have heard their supporters being less than complimentary about Johann Lamont being in bed with the Tories. They also say she does nothing but read out memos from Miliband.

  • FaceTec

    Will Scotland really be independent if (i) it sticks with the pound or (ii) joins the EU (which will mean having to adopt the Euro and joining a Eurozone who have stated they want further integration leading to a single country called Europe).

    Either of the above two options isn’t independence and the sooner Scots accept this the sooner they can determine what independence really means.

  • Simon Morgan

    Just wanted to throw this into the mix – what if the English decided they didn’t want to subsidize every man, woman and child in Scotland anymore? (It’s a hell of a lot of money). I’m half Scottish by the way, and very proud of the Scottish efforts to win independence over the centuries.

    But there has to be realism.

    I’m currently in Australia, which every so often has a referendum on becoming a republic. Each time, thus far, it has been resoundingly defeated. But if there was ever a case for splitting from the mother country, I think Australia (& NZ) would be it.

    Ever since the advent of EEC trade between England and Australia has diminished, and Australia has rightly forged links with the Pacific region. There is nothing to keep the nations tied really, except nostalgia.

    I think the next referendum will lead to a republic here. But as for Scotland, Wales and Northern Island? I really just don’t see the need for it.

    What on earth is the big deal about being called ‘the Republic of Scotland’ instead of Scotland? And will the change truly mean that Scotland will be completely independent, and not reliant on the English taxpayer? I don’t see that either.

    I think Scotland the best of both worlds right now, and they would be foolish in the extreme to give it away.

    • JPJ2

      Simon Morgan. I am genuinely sorry to say that you are completely out of touch with the reality of Scotland.
      1. Economists now accept that while both Scotland and the rest of the UK are in major debt, Scotland is proportionately less so than the rest of the UK.
      2. There is NO propostion to make Scotland a Republic. It would be a member of the Commonwealth (just like Australia is now) with Elizabeth 1 (of Scotland) as the Head of State.
      3. The proopsition of independence for Scotland is about the people of Scotland (rather than, typically, a Tory Government in London) taking all the major decisionS affecting Scotland.
      4 The English cannot vote to throw Scotland out of the union-what they can do (but certainly will not because of the trillion £s of oil in Scotland’s waters and a perceived diminution of the Rest of the UK without Scotland in the eyes of the World {a loss of a significant land mass etc.}) is to vote themselves out of the union.

    • terregles2

      Scotland is not subsidised by England. That old chestnut was buried years ago when people accessed The Great Obfuscation-GERS-2006.
      England does not have one natural resource that Scotland does not have. Scotland is rich in resources of Whisky, Textiles, Biotechnology,Renewables, Oil, Gas, Stem Cell Research, Fisheries, Forestry, Paper, Metals, Pharmaceuticals, Tourism etc.
      Do you really think if Scotland were a financial liability that Westminster would campaign hard to stop Independence.
      The amount of Whisky, Salmon and Food that Scotland exports to China and India are growing by the day.
      When Scotland is Independent why on earth would it rely on the English taxpayer. It would have no need to with all its booming exports. It is England that might find its triple credit rating sink even further without all the revenue from scottish assets.

  • gavin

    What Thabo seems unaware of is historic fact. After JamesV1 inherited the throne of England via the Union of the Crowns, Scotland and England had Independent Parliament for another hundred years. It took the Union of Parliaments to remove that independence. The SNP seek to dissolve the Treaty of Union only, so his United Kingdom would still exist. In theory.

  • dougthedug

    Hi Alex,
    I went over and read your article in the Scotsman so this is more a reply to that than to this article.

    “There was dishonesty aplenty in the months before the invasion of Iraq and if both sides shared some responsibility for this…”

    There was plenty of dishonesty on the pro-war side months before the invasion of Iraq, dodgy dossiers, non-existent WMD’s and in the States a media linking of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda and therefore responsibility for the 9/11 attack but I’m not sure what dishonesty there was on the anti-war side. You’ve given good examples of the pro-war dishonesty but what examples do you have in mind of the anti-war dishonesty?

    Orwell was right. “If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other.”. Being an anti-nationalist in Scotland places you firmly in the unionist camp and whether you are a Labour, Lib-Dem or Conservative supporter makes no difference because your aim is to stop Scotland becoming an independent country.

    Even for those not seeking independence for Scotland the difference between the three UK parties is minimal. They have some policy differences on running the UK but all three have ignored these minor differences in order to form an anti-nationalist alliance in Scotland.

    Both Labour and Conservative parties are pro-nuclear weapons, pro-the British Establishment, pro-business, pro-US to the point where the UK has become a junior follower of the US in foreign policy and both are very much pro-Union and both extremely willing to play the British nationalist patriot card of Union Jack waving, street parties, Jubilees, reminiscing about WWII and banging on about what a great country Britain is and always has been. It appears that the biggest gripe in your Scotsman article is that the nationalists have correctly spotted the close similarities between the two parties.

    A positive message is always a better one to promote but to pretend that a no vote will mean that things will not get worse would be lying to the electorate. Scotland will be richer and more prosperous if it controls its own resources and economy by virtue of having its own government. If like the Labour party, the Conservative party and the Lib-Dems you put British unity above Scottish prosperity then you are anti-Scottish. QED.

    Just because a man is honest and intelligent doesn’t mean that he isn’t a fool. The more powers in the Scotland Bill amount to little more than running part of the Barnett derived block grant through HMRC before giving it back to the Scottish Government and charging Scotland for the privilege along with raising the never used 3p in the pound variation in income tax to 10p.

    I like the line, “…politicians from all the Unionist parties have pledged to look at additional powers should Scotland reject independence.” I pledge to look at buying a Rolls-Royce if my wife forgoes a new pair of shoes. The additional powers and the Rolls-Royce are in the same fantasy bracket.

    Devolution was easy the first time because all that happened was that the already separate NHS, education system and legal system were given to the Scottish Parliament along with the powers of the Scottish office with all funded by a block grant derived from English spending. What’s never going to change under devolution is Scotland being given any financial advantage over the rest of the UK. That’s always been a red line in any devolution proposal and any other changes to legal, or executive powers will involve cost and change to Whitehall departments and systems in Westminster. Again that is not going to happen. We are already at devo-max.

    I will quote you another line from Orwell which is an exact analogy of the relationship between the Labour and the Conservative parties in Scotland.

    “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

  • Thabo

    What the Scots forget is that it was a Scottish king that came south to also rule England, Wales and Ireland – James VI of Scotland, James I of the rest of the (soon to be no longer) UK.

    When England has its own government, then Cameron can talk of giving not just Scotland “independence”, but the other three parts of the UK also. And why has England not been offered a vote on its own independence? Because it would be a resounding YES!!

  • MichtyMe

    But what sort of Tory, tell me, could support dependence and dependency, reject self reliance and determination, national sovereignty, a right queer sort.

  • Jack Randall

    Scotland has every right to fight for independence. But i’ve yet to see anyone prove how putting up a border between neighbouring countries and stopping sharing resources between those countries has ever helped either of the two countries in question. Anyone can prove me wrong.

    • JPJ2

      Yes, I can. It depends who is doing the uniting. Had North Korea succeeded in uniting with the South on the North’s terms would that have helped South Korea?-NO!!!

      • Oor Wullie

        Fighting for independence? North and South Korea? Oh, do come on. I know you Scots tend to hate a stereotyped English but it’s not like the accursed redcoats are still hounding Rob Roy through the Highlands.

        Do grow up. My girlfriend, who is a Scots expatriate through and through, thinks “independence” will happen – “because most of the people living there are stupid enough to let it”. Her words, not mine. Don’t shoot the messenger.

        • JPJ2

          Oor Wullie-For goodness sake pay attention, man? I am NOT comparing Scotland/England to North and South Korea. I am pointing out to Jack Randall that I have met the challenge of his question “Anyone can prove me wrong”?
          So your girlfriend despises her fellow Scots-how charming, but I wonder who that makes “stupid” :-)

          • Oor Wullie

            Yes, she is charming, stunningly beautiful and very intelligent. A real Celtic Goddess from her pally-wally legs right to the tips of her russett hair. I think that is why she is so contemptuous of Scots nationalist anglophobia. (The clue is in “most of the people” and one can think people stupid in a rather affectionate way without despising them).

            • terregles2

              Hope that she is not too contemptuous of the many English people living in Scotland who intend to vote YES in 2014

    • terregles2

      Norway prospered when it broke away from Swedish rule in 1905. No country ever prospers under the rule of another.
      The dissolution of the Union was of great benefit to Norway.

  • Peter Jackson

    What do “stushie” and rammy mean?

    • Jupiter


  • George McKenzie

    The Scots will make their decision one way or the other when the time comes providing that both camp set out their stalls in an honest straight forward way.
    For me,there is a choice between rule from Westminster or from Holyrood.
    I believe Scots would rather know that their NHS service is safe, elderly care ensured, good education and jobs for all our young people rather than an austere future for our children.
    I am not a member of the SNP and who knows who will be in Holyrood in 2016,but I do believe the best people to govern in Scotland is the Scots.

    • loftytom

      You will be whupped in 2014, I can’t wait, bring it on.

  • littlejock

    come on scots make a decision .Will the scots coverment make mistakes yes of course they will but it will be there mistakes and they can put them right.take the chance but at least vote

    • Wessex Man

      Hope they don’t make you Education Minister!

      • loftytom

        Our current education minister up here in Caledonia is a total prat.

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