The title of this blog represents the only accurate locational description of what happened over the last week. If you don’t accept this, consider the alternatives in ascending order of inaccuracy -
The English riots: The British riots: The UK riots: The Western European riots: The European riots.
When the French people riot - as they have done many times, e.g. 1968, 1995, 2005, 2011 - they are described by the international press as either The French riots, if widespread, or if confined to one city, The Paris riots.
Riots in America are described by the city, e.g. The Newark riots, The Chicago riots, The Seattle riots - or by subject, e.g. the draft riots, the Seattle prison riot, or by the trigger, e.g. the Rodney King riots.
The BBC started its coverage of the riots accurately with The Tottenham Riots, which rapidly became The London Riots. Once other English cities became involved, they became either the UK riots or the riots in Britain. This was picked up by some foreign media outlets, and was paralleled in the UK press.
Scotland, in the middle of an economic recession created by Westminster and global factors, a country to which tourism is a vital component of its economy, was also in the middle of its tourist season and its International Festival, with tourists thronging the capital, and more on the way. The scenes of flaming buildings, police in full riot gear appeared across the world’s media, causing understandable apprehension among those contemplating a visit or already booked for Scotland.
The First Minister made a low key comment on radio about this, and in brief TV news clips. (The news clips reporting this also confirmed that Scotland was sending 300 police officers to assist the Metropolitan Police.)
Alex Salmond would have been in dereliction of his duty as First Minister if he had not done so. Within 24 hours, the riots were being accurately described in all BBC news bulletins and straplines as The English Riots.
A Scottish Government committee had already met at this point to consider possible responses should the riots spread north of the border. There was no complacency, simply a desire to offer practical help to our southern neighbours and friends, allied to the recognition that this was a sickness that could spread. Asked to speculate on the causes of the riots, and the possible reasons why they had not so far occurred in Scotland, the First Minister replied that we were “a different society”.
This entirely accurate observation was enough to induce hysteria among unionist politicians in Scotland, and their mouthpieces in the Scottish Press. As I observed in recent blogs, the debate then split along what I called The San Andreas Fault of Scotland - the question of the Union and of course the referendum. Every word uttered by unionist commentators since then has focused on that aspect, rather than concern for the people of England sorely afflicted by these appalling incidents of civil disorder.
From the autumn of last years onwards, when the polls punctured the complacent assumption that Labour was going to win the 2011 Holyrood election in a walk, unionist panic grew, as they faced the real possibility that the Scottish National Party might actually be going to achieve the unthinkable - a second term, this time of five years, with its inevitable consequence - a referendum on independence. Scottish Tories, LibDems and Labour then ran about in all directions like headless chickens, vomiting out dire predictions of doom and disaster, performing incredible somersaults of policy, and totally failing to understand the mood of the electorate or the real issues involved.
When the horrifying scale of their defeat became evident, there was a brief period of stunned disbelief, followed by a change of tack, now desperate to have the referendum immediately, in the hope that the opinion polls on support for independence were accurate. As so it has gone since May 6th, with the UK media realising that Scotland did exist, posed a threat to the very existence of the UK and its pretensions as a global power. And this was accompanied by the recognition that Scotland was different, in deep and fundamental ways, from the rest of the United Kingdom, a recognition that had briefly flickered into life after the results of the 2010 General election, when the fact that there were two nations not one became starkly evident from the voting pattern.
Since then, the strategy of the unionists, to the degree that their deeply divided ragbag of ploys constitutes a strategy or even a viewpoint, has been to emphasise the one nation concept, stronger-together-than-apart, and ‘Britishness’, a nebulous, nostalgic, imperial idea that some national character held the rickety and failing political hybrid called the UK together. A Newsnight Special even had a debate on this, with Rory Stewart MP fighting back a tear for the Britishness about to be lost if Scotland became independent typifying the gross sentimentality and poverty of thought and political grasp in the unionist approach.
Since the Scottish press is well on its way to terminal decline and irrelevance, I probably shouldn’t waste too much time on them. But as an old print junky, and being as unrealistically nostalgic for the great days of print journalism in Scotland as Rory Stewart is for the misty imperial past, I’ll give them some attention …
Scotland on Sunday has Kenny Farquarson saying that We must be part of the great debate. The great debate he refers to is the English Riots and the questions raised, and he refers to the ‘national debate’. He raises the central questions - who are ‘we’ and what is ‘the nation’. Kenny clearly want the nation to be the UK, not Scotland, but the ‘we’ that he wants to be part of the great debate in his headline seems to be Scotland, so he seems to be in some confusion there.
He accurately identifies the real questions raised by the English riots and the frightening experience of our English neighbours - and of course of the many Scots living in the affected areas, including friends and close relatives of mine - and he place at the centre, the question “A national debate, then. But for which nation?”
He quotes David Cameron’s comments on “the rip in English society”, but then goes on to say
“But as far as Alex Salmond is concerned, this has no relevance for us north of the Border.”
He then follows this with
“Scotland, says the First Minister, is a ‘different society’, by which he plainly means “a better society’.
Both of the statements above by Kenny Farquarson are misrepresentations and distortions of what Alex Salmond said, and he has not a shred of evidence for either one of them. (If he has, he should bring it forward at once.)
(His use of quotation marks for “a better society” creates the implication that Alex Salmond actually said this, when he neither said it nor meant it. This is, at best, poor punctuation from Kenny Farquarson and he should be ashamed of himself, whatever the explanation.)
The rest of the article could be taken apart paragraph by paragraph in its attempt to project a set of values and assumptions on The First Minister and by extension the Scottish Government, the Scottish National Party and those who voted for them so decisively last May, that are just not representative of the facts.
It is a grubby attempt, but since it will influence very few voters when the referendum comes, because they simply won’t have read it, given the Scotsman’s circulation decline, and because many of those who have read it, like me, will dismiss it entirely, why should I devote more time to it?
Kenny Farquarson recognises that Scotland is different from England in many respects - he just doesn’t recognise the areas that are the important differences. That’s why the unionists lost the May election, and it is why they will lose the referendum argument.
Scotland is better than England in some respect, and it is manifestly worse in others. The Scottish Government doesn’t flaunt the superiority in some areas nor does it conceal the deficiencies in others - it offers its better qualities as an example, and is dealing, and dealing successfully with its difficult areas, in spite of the fact that throughout the last Parliament it was impeded in crucial areas by a united unionist opposition, e.g. minimum pricing for alcohol.
The Scottish people are not better or worse than the English people or the Welsh or the Northern Irish, but they are different: they rejoice in their positive difference and tackle their negative differences. But the Scottish Government is different and better than the last UK Westminster Government and the present woefully inadequate Coalition, in their commitment to social justice and the poor, the vulnerable, the old, the sick and the underprivileged.
And that is our message to the people of England and Wales - stand as a nation once again, as Scotland does - rejoice in your English and Welsh identities and cultures, as Scotland rejoices in its Scottish identity and culture, and throw off the dead hand of the Disunited Kingdom - a Britain that no longer exists - a conspiracy of the rich, the unelected, the wealthy and the privileged against the people of these islands.
Scotland will stand beside you as your friends and neighbours in this great constitutional change, and looks forward to a new era of cooperation, culturally, economically and in the defence of our islands.