Sunday, October 10, 2010

Nelson's column

As ever, I'm grateful to Ezio for pointing me in the direction of a Nat-bashing article I might otherwise have overlooked, this time by Fraser Nelson in the Spectator Coffee House. I must say I'm not so much angered by the piece as...well, bemused. The general thrust of it seems to be that unionists should be dismayed to note that, a decade into devolution, no-one is now surprised by the fact that the Scottish government routinely speak out on issues of concern to Scotland, such as the tragic death of aid worker Linda Norgrove - as if Alex Salmond was "the spokesman of the nation", Nelson adds with evident distaste. But, quite honestly, if anyone had been surprised by such a thing even ten days into devolution, they would have been missing much of the whole point of the exercise. The Scottish Parliament, for example, was always intended (even by its unionist 'founding fathers') to be a comprehensive national forum - the standing orders allow for debate on subjects well beyond the institution's defined powers. By extension therefore it would be utterly extraordinary if, at this moment of tragedy, the First Minister did what Nelson presumably feels would be more seemly, and responded to media questions by saying - "It is not appropriate for me to comment on this matter, or to extend any sympathy to Ms Norgrove's family. Please understand that I am charged merely with certain limited aspects of the administration of this country, I do not in any way speak for it. Perhaps David Cameron will have a view."

Would it have occurred to Nelson to tell the humble MP for Cleethorpes that it isn't his place to comment on the death of one of his constituents in a foreign land, simply because he isn't Foreign Secretary? Somehow I think not. We hear a great deal about 'narrow nationalism', but the fact that Nelson could even begin to imagine that 'First Minister of Scotland sends condolences over Scot's tragic death' is, should be, or ever could have been a story of note, let alone a matter of controversy, is extraordinarily revealing of the narrow-mindedness of his own British nationalist zealotry.

To deal with some of his other specific points :

"He didn’t say that, when a Libyan murderer wants to be released, the SNP can use this to thumb their nose at Wicked America and posture on the world stage. Any excuse to make Scotland seem distinct from England, and themselves as spokesmen for a country."

I'd be quite interested to see some hard examples of the SNP (by which I mean the party leadership, not the likes of Christine Grahame) being in any way critical of the United States at the time of Megrahi's release, let alone "thumbing their nose". Indeed, Alex Salmond went on to show the patience of a saint with Senator Menendez and co, and their clownish attempts to set up a McCarthyite show-trial over the affair.

As for any suggestion that the decision over Megrahi was being used to differentiate Scotland from England, the way to do that would have been to treat Megrahi differently from Ronnie Biggs, not to release him on an absolutely identical basis.

"But I cannot see why Salmond needs to release a statement about a woman who has not really lived in Scotland since she left Aberdeen University."

This is really quite telling - Nelson evidently regards Scottish identity as such a weak thing that it is totally negated by time spent outside the country. To him, Scotland is simply a place where people live, not somewhere to which it's possible to have a broader sense of belonging. But does he similarly regard Ms Norton as no longer in any meaningful sense British because of her time spent abroad? Of course he doesn't. Little more needs to be said.

"As First Minister, Salmond is in charge of about half of government spending in Scotland - and as a unionist, I'd like him to confine his comments to the provision of public services."

And how precisely does Nelson propose to enforce this principle? It's perfectly legitimate to restrict a minister to commenting on his own responsibilities inside parliament, but if you try to enforce the same rule outside parliament it becomes censorship, plain and simple. Now, if Scotland had actually shared Nelson's preference for a shrinking violet First Minister who left the grown-up stuff to his betters in London, we could of course have elected one. (In fact we might be about to, so Nelson shouldn't despair just yet.)

"The misleading phrase 'Scottish government' is routinely used to describe Salmond's administration."

What exactly is misleading about calling a body that governs a "government"? Wouldn't it be considerably more misleading to call it anything else - specifically an "executive", the use of which for eight years left most people utterly baffled? All right, so Nelson is getting at the fact that the Scottish government doesn't control all of the administration of Scotland - but let's turn that on its head. The fact that it does control some of the administration (and the same applies to its counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland) means that, by definition, David Cameron and his ministers do not control all of the administration of Britain. Does that mean it's also misleading to describe them as "the British government"? Presumably it must be.


  1. Wat have you gove against Ms Grahame. Here views on Lockerbie are very sound, but don't do far enough.

    All reasonable commentators know that the US and iran jointly blew up Pan Am 103 using the agents in th CIA and Pasdaran. You can read a summary of what really happened at

  2. I've got nothing against Christine Grahame, and on this issue I agree with her entirely - I think Megrahi is innocent and that the US have a lot of questions to answer. I'm simply observing that, contrary to Nelson's implication, the SNP leadership haven't followed her down that path.

  3. "...and as a unionist, I'd like him to confine his comments to the provision of public services."

    "The Scottish media will look to the First Minister to give comments on the death of a Scot, as if he were spokesman for a nation."

    These two sentences encapsulates the unionists attitude to devolution. As far as they're concerned what has been created is another layer of local government within Britain.

    Holyrood is not a national parliament, it's a local authority and as such should not be involved in anything more contentious than the division of the block grant and certainly has no remit to comment on national or international events.

    The anger about Megrahi is because a local authority has somehow been given powers well above its station in the natural order of things as far as Nelson is concerned.