Delusion and illusion

Suppose, by suspending healthy scepticism for a moment, we allow that the outcome of the Holyrood election represents something akin to a “Tory revival”; isn’t it striking that this supposed “triumph” provokes in hard-core unionist commentators such as Alex Massie, not rejoicing, but an intensifying of the petty, petulant bitterness that has become so characteristic of British nationalism.

Never mind the rather ludicrous, straw-clutching efforts to inflate the significance of the British Tories beating their British Labour allies into third place. Less partisan observers recognise this as a victory, not for David Cameron’s austerity axe-wielding proxy in Scotland, but for Ruth Davidson’s distasteful and irresponsible efforts at the “Ulsterification” of Scotland’s politics. An ugly word for some very ugly politics.

Less blinkered observers realise that this attempt to take our politics to a very dark place will backfire. Davidson is set to be humiliated as the Pyrrhic nature of her victory becomes clear. The Tories are set to become even more despised as their desperate appeal to the most mindless form of banal, jingoistic, elitist, union flag-waving, aristocratic arse-kissing, commemorative plate-collecting British nationalism is revealed in all its sickening shallowness.

Never mind all that. For an illustration of the denial and delusion that infests ideological unionism, just take a look at Massie’s closing paragraph. As you read it, do not for one moment doubt that he actually and absolutely embraces the inane notion that independence campaigners have neglected to analyse their failure to secure a Yes vote in the first referendum campaign. Be quite certain that he genuinely believes SNP supporters will not pick apart the recent election campaign to see where it might have been done better.

This is so detached from reality as to severely test the adequacy of the term “delusion”. Here in the real world, outside the bubble of cosy journalistic consensus where Massie and his ilk are holed-up, the months since the first referendum have been an interminable post-mortem as Yes campaigners pore over every detail of the two year effort. There has been endless debate about what went wrong – and what was done well.

Similarly, even in the much shorter period since the Scottish Parliament elections, there has been a mountain of analysis and comment from SNP members and supporters looking for meaning in the result. Looking for messages from the voters.

Massie’s idea that nationalists have failed to ask why they “fell short” is just plain daft. It is the daftness that derives from the British nationalists’ grotesquely distorted perception of the SNP and the wider independence movement. A perception informed, not by first-hand observation, but from total immersion in a dishonest and hateful propaganda campaign.

Last night, I attended an event which was partly a celebration of John Swinney’s election and partly an opportunity for him to thank campaign workers. What was striking about the gathering of around 150 people was the ordinariness. Nobody banging on about what “proud Scots” they are. Nobody tarted-up in a clown-suit made out of old flags. Nobody saluting emblems of imperial power and unearned privilege. Just ordinary people.

People of all ages and various ethnicities. Men and women whose politics range from (small-c) conservative to (scary) radical. Pretty much as representative a cross-section of Scottish society as you might hope to find gathered together in rural Perthshire. People motivated, not by the defensive anger and fearful bitterness so evident in Alex Massie’s writing, but by hope, aspiration and quiet determination.

I looked around that room last night and was more convinced than ever of the inevitability of independence. Let fervent British nationalists put their unlikely hero on a pedestal – or the back of a beast. Let them have their moment of glory. Theirs is a triumph as transitory as that which they celebrated in the immediate aftermath of the first referendum. The people in that room last night – the people of Scotland – are no respecters of celebrity. However desperately the likes of Alex Massie might seek solace in their imagined “Tory revival”, independence just came a few steps closer.

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