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By Jason Michael
On Sunday last a number of pro-independence bloggers – myself included – were brought together by Independence Live to respond to a comment made about ourselves and our contribution to the movement by Pete Wishart. ‘A cursory glance,’ he tweeted, ‘at Wings, [Peter] Bell, Barrhead Boy, Jeggit, Lawson and the rest show [sic] an angry and intolerant collective of people who now hate the SNP with little to offer the indy debate.’ Ignoring the troglodyte grammar – it’s Twitter, the content of this statement from a sitting MP elected to represent the independence movement is deeply worrying. While it acknowledges the existence of a national debate, the clear intention of the assault is to discredit pro-independence voices not controlled by the Scottish National Party, or – to be more exact – that faction of the SNP to which Wishart belongs (‘the Smith Brigade’).
According to Mr Wishart, the abovenamed bloggers are ‘angry and intolerant.’ But how are we to understand this? On the face of it, Wishart was coding a message to his supporters; that these mere ‘bloggers’ are beside themselves with rage, emotionally volatile, and lashing out indiscriminately like drunken louts. He hopes to paint an image of us as racists, misogynists, whatever. But nothing could be further from the truth. Peter Bell, who is a constituent of Wishart’s in Perth, summed things up nicely when he observed that, although a good MP and an experienced parliamentarian, Wishart ‘is not a thoughtful man’ – he doesn’t think good. Bell, never one to retire early from the fray, rightly turned this accusation on its head; we have every right to be angry and, let’s face it, there are some things we simply cannot tolerate.
🔥 This is on fire! Everything not being talked about at the SNP conference is being 'talked about' here at the… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) November 29, 2020
Disappointingly, Wishart has directed his ire at an impressively accomplished group of people – even if I do say so myself. We are screenwriters, diplomats, academics, and curmudgeons. Our heads don’t button up the back and we come to the independence debate with a great deal of talent and experience in our careers and professions. Dismissing us is a monumental blunder for the erstwhile Top of the Pops star and wannabe Speaker of the House of Commons, but he will dismiss us – as he has much of the rest of the online independence movement – because he belongs to an extremely concerning tendency in the National Party.
Saying that there is an authoritarian or neo-fascist tendency in the SNP is not saying that the SNP is fascistic or authoritarian. It is merely recognising that, as is the case in every political party, there is a hard-right element in the Scottish National Party and right now we are seeing something of the ascendency of this faction in various influential positions throughout the party. On Sunday, Peter Bell was perhaps too quick to reject this idea, and Gareth Wardell – the author of the Grouse Beater website – was bang on the money when he reminded people on social media of the party’s treatment of Alex Salmond, Joanna Cherry, and others with ‘neo-fascist tactics.’ In fact, if we are honest, there is a growing catalogue of examples of authoritarianism and fascistic behaviour coming from the SNP – and even at the level of government.
Right now, we have a Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, who is supporting a Hate Crime Bill that will see people prosecuted for racism and other forms of hate speech shared in the privacy of their homes and in the company of friends and family. Yousaf and I, I am sure, agree that hate speech is always intolerable and we would much rather live in a perfect utopian society without racism and bigotry, but, as much as intolerance sickens me, we part ways when it comes this level of state penetration into the castle of a private citizen’s home. Anyone familiar with the behaviour of secret police forces in the former East Germany, in the Soviet Union, and even in the present-day People Republic of China will know how much of a ‘power grab’ and a reach this is. It is a frightening prospect with truly terrifying implications for human rights and the future of democracy.
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) November 26, 2020
Yet, this is a distinctly authoritarian way of thinking – a will to power, which, like Chekhov’s gun, sounds the alarm at totalitarianism on the horizon. Democracy, as we have been reminded in the United States’ recent history, is surprising fragile and we must protect it from the state’s constant drive to accrue more power. Having seen this tendency in the open in Yousaf’s Hate Crime Bill, we have every reason to be concerned. This isn’t good. Of course, this doesn’t mean the Justice Secretary is a would-be dictator – far from it. What it means is that this will to power is latent in every state, government, and power structure. The state, by its nature, is always trying to get more power, and its ministers often fall into the trap of uncritically following the internal logical of the state machine. Regardless of his motives, what he has shown is his willingness to move ‘justice’ in Scotland into the family home, into people’s private conversations.
We see this authoritarian and fascistic impulse too in the behaviour of the party towards those of a more radical or even simply an alternative disposition towards independence. It would not be inaccurate to describe a number of efforts against people who have aligned themselves to a ‘Plan B’ as a purge. Those who have refused to toe the utterly futile Section 30 route to independence have been attacked, left twisting in the wind, and de-selected. One MSP, who will remain anonymous, voiced concerns to me:
…the streak of middle-class self-righteousness from many, mostly sitting in London in my view, is creating a lot of the disturbances in the movement. … One thing I can assure you is that I will never again allow myself to let anyone else decide who I should or should not be associated with.
I think this assessment is correct, and it is telling. There is a definite streak of bourgeois sentiment at the heart of the National Party, a powerful and class-conscious reactionary force doing everything in its power to either capture the party or increase its share of control over it. There is pressure within the party on members to associate with the right kind of people, to listen to the right kind of people, to read the right kind of people – and those who resist are punished. Wishart and others on the comfortable right have to dismiss the pro-independence blogosphere because his comfort is guaranteed by conforming to this middle-class hegemonic agenda, and we – the writers of the ‘indy blogs’ – are not owned and many of us are prepared to make the distinction between the SNP and independence (and this is dangerous to this faction).
I would like to invite Mr Pete Wishart to a conversation with myself and perhaps the others he has taken it upon hi… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) December 01, 2020
Thankfully, we are waking up this morning to some positive developments in the NEC. We may yet see a changing of the tide and more pressure on the leadership to push for independence (and no, another ‘promise’ of a referendum ‘next year’ – ahead of an election – is not a push for independence). This is not about ‘hating’ the SNP. It is about being smart and admitting to ourselves that political parties are made up of people and competing agendas and ideological tendencies. We are not the enemy, we are the ‘loyal opposition.’ We are loyal to independence and we will oppose any tendency or agenda in the SNP or any other party that threatens independence and the type of independence we want. This is not a job. It is a vocation, and those of us who do it do it because we believe in Scotland, independence, democracy, and the scrutiny of everyone in positions of power. Most of us do this without pay, without a comfortable Westminster pension, and – increasingly – without any kind of political protection whatsoever. We are here for you.
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