Licence to hate

This article was written in late August 2016 before more recent good news concerning the Brain family. It first appeared in The Grist – Issue #8.

As I write this, the fate of the Brain family is uncertain due to the withdrawal of the job offer which might have provided grounds for them being granted leave to remain in Scotland by the Home Office. Beyond saying that this seems unfortunate, I will make no further comment on the matter as I simply don’t have enough information.

What I can say is that the massive public support for the Brain family’s cause stands as yet another example of the distinctive political culture that is developing in Scotland. A culture which is, among other things, more tolerant and inclusive. Particularly when contrasted with what has been happening in England following the Brexit vote.

A recent report in The Independent* highlighted what it referred to as the “true extent of the ‘explosion of blatant hate’ that followed Brexit result”. It makes for disturbing reading. And, while we have no right to be smug – there were a number of incidents recorded in Scotland that were every bit as vile as others – there can be no question that the ‘blatant hate’ is more rampant in England than it is here.

This difference needs to be explained. And the explanation may well lie, in large part at least, in the ‘separateness’ of Scotland’s politics. It seems undeniable, at an intuitive level if nothing else, that the clear divide between the political cultures of England and Scotland must be a significant factor in influencing people to behave in different ways.

Perhaps more disturbing than the expressions of xenophobic hatred detailed by The Independent is the fact that this behaviour is effectively licensed by some politicians. The words and actions of public figures as senior as Theresa May – whether careless or calculated – become the sensationalised evangelism of hate in certain sections of the media. This, in turn, descends into the rhetoric of a more generalised casual bigotry which generates an atmosphere in which confrontational behaviour is normalised.

Although they will vehemently deny it, the manner in which politicians talk about immigrants, asylum-seekers and foreigners in general translates as ‘Poles go home!’ on the streets.

The reason this ‘incitement’ to hate has less impact in Scotland is that English/British politicians have less influence here. The locus of Scotland’s politics is no longer Westminster. Increasingly, Holyrood is the hub of Scottish political discourse. Scotland has its own political establishment. It is markedly more influential than the British political establishment. And it speaks a very different language – the language of a political culture that is tolerant and inclusive. This is then reflected in public attitudes.

All of which gives rise to the crucial question of how it might be possible for this political culture, and the people who created it and are immersed in it, to be adequately represented by a government that is the product of a very different political culture. How can a government which is ‘foreign’ in a very real sense adequately address the needs, aspirations and priorities of a political culture which is alien to it?

At some point it must surely become obvious to all who adhere to the fundamental principles of democracy just how unacceptable it is that a British political elite, acting entirely in it’s own interests, should continue to arbitrarily withhold from the Scottish Parliament the only power that matters – the power to honour the democratic choices of Scotland’s people and reflect the conscience of the nation.

*Racism unleashed: True extent of the ‘explosion of blatant hate’ that followed Brexit result revealed, The Independent, Friday 29 July 2016


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About Peter A Bell

Thinker. Listener. Talker. Reader. Writer. None of my attitudes are immutable. None of my conclusions are final. None of my opinions are humble.
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