The analysis of the political landscape of Scotland post-election 2021 that it’s been worth waiting for. Owen Dudley Edwards looks at the results and the likely legacies, and puts them in the context of such a deep time and broad space as you won’t be able to read elsewhere. It’s a reading which is considered and generous in its appreciations, even if forthright in its partisanship.
MAKE YOUR OWN STALIN
Election 2021 certainly was, as Nicola Sturgeon said, one of the most important in Scottish History. It was not as important as Election 2007 by which Alex Salmond’s victory transformed SNP, Scottish Parliament, and devolved Scottish Government — as Ms Sturgeon would be wise to remember. Ingratitude is not a virtue or a good example, and in the long run a selective memory normally impairs rather than benefits a head of democratic government. Stalin certainly required selective memory for himself and (after he had settled on the dynamics of selection) everyone else. But Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon may claim leadership superior to Stalin, however Stalinesque the ambitions and dressing-rooms of Messrs Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Douglas Ross, Stephen Kerr, &c, &c. (The newly-elected Mr Kerr is the latest mini-Stalin in the Tory shop-window, having begun by apparently seeking to excise Scotland’s Gaelic identity from official insignia and excommunicate the Scottish Government from fostering economic, cultural and any other links outside the UK, which should startle our November visitors for COP 26.) The archetypal UK Stalin was Margaret Thatcher, bluffer, bully, chauvinist, ideologue in banality, sweltering in sycophants, preening in self-enthronement, witch created by her wardrobe, Pope, Caesar, and Cruella de Ville, flourishing bogus birthright forged as from a reinvented Churchill much as Stalin did for Lenin, toxic enough as ghost to scare her heirs away from deStalinizing her, canonised in voodoo ceremonial at public expense. As an infection she poisoned prospects for female leadership, so that Theresa May could only play Kerensky until she was finally butchered like Nicholas II.
RELIGION HUMANISING POLITICS
One of the most charming moments in pre-election 2021 Scotland was SNP Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf sending a delighted message of congratulation to his fellow-Muslim Anas Sarwar on his election as head of Scottish Labour. Sir Walter Scott would have been delighted: in The Talisman (1825) he had much enjoyed portraying the Muslim leader Saladin’s chivalry and personal good wishes towards his enemy Richard the Lion-heart. As Secretary Yousaf made clear, the first Muslim head of a major Scottish political party is a matter of mutual rejoicing for all true constitutionalist Muslims. (The first Muslim Tory leader in Holyrood or Westminster is unlikely to appear soon, according to the latest inquests, endemic prejudice being probably class as well as race, since money is always welcome.) In 1975 Thatcher was elected head of the UK Tories, and in 1979 Prime Minister, the first woman to be elected head of a UK major party: I wonder did she send any personal message in December 1990 congratulating Mary Robinson on her election to the Presidency of Ireland, first woman to be elected head of state in these islands? She may officially have had to send congratulations — although such official duties are not always automatically carried out. (When Alex Salmond was elected head of Scottish Government in 2007 Prime Minister Tony Blair sent nothing official or personal, thus providing a glorious moment in the Scottish Parliament when Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie (in a splendid po-faced imitation of formulaic House of Commons questions asking the Prime Minister for his engagements of the day) asked the First Minister when next he expected to receive a communication from the Prime Minister, and Alex Salmond stood up, pretended to burst into tears, and wailed ‘He never writes to me! He never phones!’) Imagination certainly boggles at the thought of Thatcher congratulations (if any) including pleasure at another woman being chosen for leadership elsewhere.
IS THATCHERISM STILL PANDEMIC?
Ms Sturgeon deserves full credit for seeking to deThatcherize female leadership. Thatcher and Thatcher’s moronic disciples remain perpetual lessons in what our re-elected first Minister must avoid. A sycophantic chorus of political familiars are the most dangerous entourage any leader can possess, salivating until the day their daggers strike. She must maintain injections to keep intellectual atrophy at bay, and ensure social distance from potentially infectious courtiers. God protect her from family and friends! Her future dependence at Holyrood on SNP rivals the Greens for an overall majority, strengthened by their common demand for Scottish independence, may prove exactly what she needs. They should help keep SNP from excessive respectability and soft infection from bourgeois Unionism. She points out that any arrangement she may make with the Greens in the new Parliament will not be the result of election bargains, both parties having won what they won independenly of one another, apart from occasional agreement in debate. Election 2021 left her one short of one-party rule and therefore open to habitual rejuvenation. It left Mr Michael Gove explaining to Andrew Marr on post-election Sunday morning that a majority at Holyrood for Independence loses its mandate by winning more votes than it would have had if it had had fewer votes but under one party label. It is consonant with Mr Gove’s need to show that he understands Scotland better than anyone else, and to do so as unintelligibly as possible.
FANTASTIC MR FOX
Election 2021 firmly continued the rule of Ms Sturgeon or, as classicists like Mr Boris Johnson might say, the Status quo Auntie. Covit-19 killed most non-TV hustings and meetings during the Election — doom by Zoom — but the chief disaster was the Scottish Socialist Party’s decision in not to field candidates, despite their 6-MSPs 2003-06 The SSP’s Colin Fox seems always to have proved the best speaker at hustings in any election. No doubt Stalin would have called him a Trotskyite, and he is certainly ferociously anti-Stalinist, but his main achievement is his constant proof that he understands debate and oratory, and as such vindicates not only Socialism, Marxism and (in a necessarily broad sense) Trotskyism, but a blazing passion for democracy itself. On the stump he might be John the Baptist confronting clutches of Pharisees and Sadducees. For anyone interested in the art of oratory and debate Mr Fox is a sublime aesthetic delight. This is how it should be done, and nowadays hardly ever is. He uses history with genuine range, vivid imagination, and an idealism that shames most rivals. He is in his element with positive response to Roosevelt’s fight against the Great Depression in 1932-36 in contrast to the withered historical cliches of other candidates. His intellectual ancestors may not be quite as revolutionary as he would like: I have heard old men remember Lord Rosebery in 1914 when he was still the best Scottish orator of his time, and auditors of Mr Fox will have similar recollections of the sublime. His mantle as election debater seems to have descended firmly on the co-Chairs of the Greens, who decisively exhibited Mr Douglas Ross as apparently consisting of machinery locked into one gear (the Electorate must vote against SNP in case they have a referendum which might mean the Electorate voting for independence despite Boris Johnson stopping them from having a Referendum).
DON’T TAKE US TO YOUR LEADER
It certainly was an Election distinguished by its absentee leaders. The Prime Minister was not wanted on voyage, however bitterly he may have wept or sought beautification in a hair transplant, reusable on a sporran. (He has now sought beatification by discovering his own cradle Catholicism for marital purposes, with God knows what effects on his Northern Ireland policy, or indeed on the Pope’s presence in Glasgow at COP 26.) The Leader of the Westminster Opposition is understood to have flown up, taken a look at the place, and flown out again, perhaps finding that his nearest local counterpart was the Procurator-Fiscal. Sir Ed Davey told the Scottish Liberal Democrats that the Prime Minister was a dangerous man, but convinced nobody that he was one himself. Scottish Liberal Democrats are in more seasoned hands, Mr Willie Rennie as a mere colonial satrap having survived God knows how many London leader decapitations: the King must die, but the native princeling may flourish provided he remains on native ground, and remains respectful to his London masters however much he secretly knows them to be his intellectual inferiors. Sir Ed’s one-time conqueror and predecessor Ms Jo Swinton strayed too far from her reservation and paid the penalty in Westminster Election 2019. Mr Rennie’s acrobatics on the election trail seek to combine Ruth Davidson’s Election 2017 campaign as Tractor-wrestler and Boris Johnson’s high-wire opening of the Olympic games, but his chief danger is likely to be the only other Liberal Democrat MSP left on mainland Scotland, the high-spending Alex Cole-Hamilton whose Parliamentary obscenities Mr Rennie will hardly rival. On the other hand the Coles were Tory Earls of Enniskillen and Fermanagh MPs for centuries, aristocratic lineage unmatched by anyone in Holyrood except, of course, Tories.
SHADOWS OF SHADOWS OF MEN
The TV debates themselves have varying significance. What more did they tell us about the Prime Ministerial candidates and their parties? What were their likely effects on voters? As imitations of the USA they were weakened by participants’ relative ignorance of the USA and its history (rather than merely gobbling snob food and booze in diplomatic visits). But the US Presidential debates have the vulnerability of imitation about themselves. It all began in 1858 in Illinois when ex-Congressman Abraham Lincoln debated Senator Stephen Douglas. They were fighting for Douglas’s Senate seat, now up for re-election, to be determined by the state legislature (in those days) but with the burning issue of slavery and its possible expansion to the huge western territories devoured by the USA in its defeat of Mexico in 1848. It looked a cumbersome and remote device, but so lethal was the current division between proslavery and antislavery (well reflected between northern and southern Illinois itself non-slavery but thrust deeply between slave states), that for once the overwhelming issue on which hearers of the debates in their several counties were to vote was the Senator the new legislature would choose. It was also clear that the result of the debates — not, as it turned out, that of the election — could dramatically affect the US Presidential election scheduled for 1860, two years later. Douglas was re-elected — there were enough Democratic party stalwarts in most populous seats to ensure that — but during the debate Lincoln forced Douglas to accept that his ideals of popular sovereignty ensured that settlers in the territories could outlaw slavery from the new states, and the slaveholding white Southerners would no longer tolerate any prohibition of slavery by anyone before new states were admitted. So the Democratic party was split in 1860 between Douglas supporters and slavery perennials, and Lincoln as Republican candidate won that election and the ensuing civil war. Barring a civil war (for which the provident Mr Boris Johnson has already provided the necessary nuclear armaments and battleships) there is the similarity between America 1860 and Scotland 2021 that both sides are talking of breakup of a Union, and there is the dissimilarity that by fair means and foul the American Union continually expanded while the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was broken up a hundred years ago. Richard Nixon was the man who brought TV debates into our time by accepting Senator John Kennedy’s invitation to debate, Kennedy’s initiative probably prompted by the Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Kennedy needed those debates, Vice-President Nixon being far better known. But Nixon was obsessed with winning on his own rather than from the odour of President Eisenhower’s sanctity; so fell the angels. It is not the only way in which like Thatcher he inspires Mr Douglas Ross.
TV debates featuring Scottish party leaders sometimes seem bound by the Duke of Plaza-Toro test, particularly for Unionists in thrall to London. As the formidable nineteenth-century political analysts W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan pointed out in The Gondoliers:
In enterprise of martial kind,
When there was any fighting,
He led his regiment from behind —
He found it less exciting.
But when away his regiment ran,
His place was at the fore, O —
The Duke of Plaza-Toro!
The Battle for Scotland in 2021 was decreed by Plaza-Toro. Give Sir Keir Starmer a despatch-box, a Front Bench, and a Tory lying in front of him, he leaves the Tories scarcely capable of removing their own paper corpses. Scotland, however, is elsewhere (which in its way is the pivot of combat). As for the less knightly Boris, he had enough and to spare of serious debate in his Pyrrhic victory BREXIT Referendum 2016 when he writhed under the Amazonian thrusts of Caroline Lucas, Amber Rudd, Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson. In Westminster Election 2019 (having emerged as winner of the Tory beauty-contest for party leader) he had played a characteristic hand at political poker (dear to the heart of the late Senator Joe McCarthy) by announcing authoritatively that Jeremy Corbyn had made a deal with the terrible chimera Nicola Sturgeon, while knowing perfectly well that Corbyn scarcely knew who Nicola Sturgeon was. It was another matter to face the terrible chimera once more himself. His preferred method of warfare is to tell the people that what they wanted was what he wanted which was what he would kindly tell them, but his knowledge of the people of Scotland seemed limited to Michael Gove and was thus by nature unreliable. The freshness, cheerfulness and initial integrity of Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson had won 12 Westminster seats from SNP in Election 2017. She seems to have found some affection beneath the painful gentility of Theresa May; she genuinely detested the male chauvinism embodied in the public and private performances of Boris Johnson, whose Scottish achievement in Election 2019 was to lose half the Westminster seats Davidson had enabled the Tories to win. Boris Johnson had announced he would campaign in Election 2021 and ‘wild horses’ wouldn’t keep him from Scotland, a pledge he fulfilled since there are no surviving wild horses in Scotland. Douglas Ross explained his absence as being because Mr Ross himself was there, presumably not meaning that neither could stand the other (unless votes in favour of such antipathy were there for the getting).
THE CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUE IN ELECTION 2021 IN THEORY
So the Tories In the Scottish Parliament Election 2021 were led by Douglas Ross MP — not until after the Election MSP — having been forced to deny that any of them were fit to lead their party in Scotland: all Tory MSPs were now to admit being Plaza-Toro. As the saviour from the south, Mr Ross throughout sounded like a ventriloquist dummy programmed on patter recorded by an expiring Davidson, and otherwise refuelled in sputterings transplanted from his Prime Minister. The main burden was that if elected SNP would waste time, work, and money on a second Referendum for Independence involving endless constitutional palaver, in which the Boris-made Scottish Tory leader himself certainly seemed imprisoned. SNP had its 14 years in office to defend, of which Ms Nicola Sturgeon had served 7 as Depute and 7 as First Minister. She sought to do so with honesty for which she got little thanks from her opponents, although more from the electorate. For instance, in one 5-candidate debate she answered Mr Willie Rennie’s concern about rising numbers in drug addiction to say she regretted that ‘we took her eye off the ball there’. For this she was roundly abused by Unionist party leaders who delightedly parroted her words as an occasional alternative to the otherwise endless Boris Constitutionalism bathtub gin, by now also bootlegged by Mr Willie Rennie. They thus expressed their heartfelt conviction that honesty was the worst policy. Mr Rennie would have been better advised to maintain hygienic distance rather than self-contamination from the toxic Tories, since he had one or two good issues which he raised sensibly, such as drugs and mental illness undoubtedly demanding much more governmental attention. But the real (as well as the official) issue was not, who will run Scotland in the future?, but, who is running it now?
THE CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUE IN ELECTION 2021 IN PRACTICE (Greens and Tories)
And on this the five debate-participants were the chief exhibits each time. The Greens alternated Mr Patrick Harvie with his co-Chair of the Scottish Greens, the Canadian-born Ms Lorna Slater. Her birth-land’s place-names, particularly mighty river-names, declaim Scots origin louder than any other country, and it happens to be the largest country in the world. The co-Chair system, far from being merely a token lip-service to gender equality, proved its superiority to any other in the sheer business of leader-debates. However attractive a single party leader, an audible alternative increases voter interest, a different cultural origin should at least be a welcome change in political cliché, and the lady herself was well worth hearing with an intellectual freshness deeper than the gimmicks with which the lost Ruth Davidson (henceforth My Lady Davidson) had once polished a transient shine on Scottish Toryism. Lorna Slater also symbolised Green and SNP welcome to Scotland’s immigrants and asylum seekers, whose cause has proved the first major post-election issueas the people of Glasgow defend immigrant neighbours from Priti Patel’s mercenary thugs. Priti Patel perfectly illustrates the basic issue, which we may put in BREXITEER language: the Scottish people want to take back control of their own borders. In Election 2021 the Scots voted overwhelmingly for SNP as a party controlled from Scotland. Their MSPs are more than twice the number of any other party. The Unionist parties were naked to the electorate as parties controlled from London. Nowhere was this more obvious than among Scottish Tories, forced to accept Mr Douglas Ross, then in Westminster and not in Holyrood, thus admitting that no MSPs then in Holyrood were worthy to deputize as stooge for Prime Minister Johnson according to that master’s specifications.. My Lady Davidson preferred retirement from the Scottish Tory leadership to being Boris’s messenger-girl. Her successor Mr Jackson Carlaw was given the boot after 6 months in office, and the boot was obviously of London manufacture. Once chosen, Douglas Ross gave a new constitutional meaning to the word ‘egregious’. He called himself Leader of the Opposition in Holyrood while leaving the work on the job to My Lady Davidson which she administered with all the enthusiasm of a discharged housemaid serving out her notice in a household she had liked. She received no significant sign of trust from either the Prime Minister or Mr Ross: her peerage was intended as the political equivalent of confinement to a nunnery, although from its depths she may yet make Mr Johnson regret having thrown away a pearl richer than all her tribe.. Perhaps Mr Ross had been reprogrammed for virtual existence under the pandemic so that when he was in London he thought he was in Holyrood, while, post-Election, he knows that when in Holyrood he must remember that he is in London. He was wise to avoid standing for a Holyrood constituency in 2021 (simply taking the first place in the relevant List, possibly at the expense of better persons), while Edinburgh Central, won by My Lady Davidson in 2016, was reclaimed by SNP’s Angus Robertson whose defeat in Westminster Election 2017 had brought Mr Ross to Westminster. La Ronde d’Amour. While still lacking a Holyrood seat Mr Ross made a Boris of himself by declaring that Holyrood’s Tories would introduce a motion of censure on Ms Sturgeon for breach of the ministerial code, and would do so on the basis of the decision of the relevant Holyrood investigating committee which was still in session and had not yet reported. This may boast a certain symmetry: Prime Minister Johnson had shown his contempt for Constitutional protocol in London by falsely advising the Queen to prorogue Parliament, and so non-seated disembodied unsworn Shadow Leader of the Holyrood Opposition could show his contempt for Constitutional protocol in Edinburgh. During Election 2021 Master Ross had one moment of unintended rebellion. Mr Andrew Marr, a veteran of Scottish journalism and Scottish Constitutional analysis, asked Mr Ross on his Sunday morning TV show whether he thought Ms Sturgeon, if guilty of breach of ministerial code, should resign. Mr Ross virtuously said she should. Mr Marr then (with the air a child asking permission to pick a second daisy) said that if the Prime Minister were judged to have broken the ministerial code over (say) Downing Street redecoration, should he also resign? Mr Ross said ‘of course’ with little sign of having initially listened to the actual question. In the long term he may suffer for it. Mr Johnson prefers to have a short memory but requires his machine to have a long one. As for Mr Ross’s election party leadership, it consisted in speech and literature of instructing the electorate to vote Tory to keep the SNP from government, and the electorate voted in 64 SNP and 31 Tories. Mr Gove says this is not a mandate. One can see why. By his electoral logic, in the Tory beauty-contest for Tory leader in 2019 Mr Gove defeated Boris Johnson.
THE CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUE IN ELECTION 2021 IN PRACTICE (Labour and Liberal Democrats)
The Labour Party in Scotland is not of course Jacobite, but as party of the late great Donald Dewar who wrested Scottish devolution from the teeth of Prime Minister Tony Blair, in the birthplace of the last two Labour Prime Ministers and their immediate predecessor as Leader of the Westminster Opposition John Smith it is a potent memory. Its Holyrood party has been subjected to the same tactless brutality in leadership choice, having had an Englishman imposed on it before it realised a credible destiny in the choice of the previous runner-up Anas Sarwar. Labour won only 22 Holyrood seats but suffered from the one really successful Tory electoral device: coalition cannibalism. The Liberal Democrats entered into coalition with David Cameron’s Tories in 2010 and in consequence were decimated at Westminster Election 2015 and beyond, the Tories gobbling up their ex-partners’ seats. Holyrood 2021 made the Tory demand for pan-Unionist campaign collaboration a somewhat comparable danger. Willie Rennie and Anas Sarwar hastily drew back from the smiling jaws of the Tory offer, yet consequent mud stuck. Mr Douglas Ross accused them of facilitating SNP victory, referendum and independence. Labour and Liberal Democrat voters gave tactical votes to the Tories. It was a card Scottish Labour had played effectively in the Westminster 1987 election, and all the Scottish runners-up in the Westminster 1997 election played it so well as to ensure the utter wipe-out of the Scottish Tories. But in Holyrood 2021 its chief effect was to give Tories undeserved advantages at the expense of Labour and Liberal Democrats. Nevertheless, Labour’s two constituency holds — Edinburgh Southern (Daniel Johnson) and Dumbarton (Jacqui Baillie) — suggest benefit in tactical weather-signs. Edinburgh Southern lies in territory safely Tory until 1987, and near-victory for Liberal Democrats in 2010, and both in 2021 were reduced far below reasonable predictions, the Liberal Democrats disastrously so (although fielding the candidate almost elected in 2010). Jacqui Baillie probably gets what otherwise might be Tory votes in her defence of TRIDENT, exceptional amongst Labour MSPs who mostly share the SNP anti-nuclear passion. Labour’s solitary Scottish MP, Ian Murray in Edinburgh South, has been publicly opposed to TIRDENT since first elected (2010) but was nevertheless fired from the Shadow Secretaryship for Scotland by Jeremy Corbyn: he is back in post under Sir Keir presumably with no change in his anti-nuclear attitudes. Tactical votes hardly account for his high majority, but probably gave victory to Mr Daniel Johnson. Tory victories from tactical voting in 2021 are obvious for the most part: the Liberal Democrat or Labour voter would often vote for their party’s candidate on the constituency ballot, but vote Conservative on the list. For example, Mr Finlay Carson in Galloway and West Dumfries was elected by 17,436 votes increasing his majority over the SNP’s 14,851, and Labour’s 2,932, and frankly credited Labour tactical voting in the Constituency vote to have contributed greatly to his victory, rather than ascribing it to his nominal leaders Messrs Boris Johnson and Douglas Ross. The other Tory Constituency win, West Aberdeenshire, went to Alexander Burnett with 19,709 votes scoring 47.2% up 9.1% on his first victory in 2016, with SNP in 2021 at 16,310 at 39.1%, up 3.6%. Mr Burnett is heir to the Chief of the Name and Arms of the House of Burnett, his Aunt Sacha the late Duchess of Abercorn and his Aunt Natalia the current Duchess of Westminster, and himself descended from the Czar Nicholas I, so we might take it that West Aberdeenshire has hitch-hiked on Dr Who’s Tardis back to the mid-1950s when the future of Scottish Toryism, the majority party, was Alexander Frederick Douglas-Home, 14th Earl of Home. (It is still small beer in time and fame compared to his fellow-Tory MSP heir to the 27th Chief Cameron of Lochiel, whose ancestor was the victorious Highland Jacobite leader at Killiecrankie in 1689.) But West Aberdeenshire (however subsequently gerrymandered) was Liberal territory in the 1960s, and in 2021 the Liberal Democrats were down to 3,363, down 12.5% from 2016, which certainly points to tactical voting, so perhaps Nicholas I wouldn’t have sent them to Siberia. To this extent Mr Douglas Ross’s campaign was successful: he was hopelessly defeated by SNP, but he certainly obliterated many fellow-Unionists, and Willie Rennie’s modelling Tory hand-me-downs from the week’s washing seemed code-signal to give list votes to the chief Unionist party diminishing Liberal Democrat votes, possibly even hints to cast both votes for the Tories since the Liberal Democrats seemed so fond of them.
THE NEWEST (SCOTTISH) LABOUR
Election 2021 Labour were down from 24 Holyrood seats to 22, less the fault of its latest leader Anas Sarwar (in office since 27 February 2021) than of London remote control which degraded him by ensuring his initial defeat for the leadership in 2017, until Mr Richard Leonard had led his wretched followers to the cliff-edge and then jumped off it in full sight of the morrow’s voters. Yet Election 2021 put Mr Sarwar in a somewhat heroic light, with debating performance initially recalling the sudden deification of Mr Nick Clegg in the first debate of Election 2010. Inevitably First-debate effect dwindles (even President Trump in Election 2020 being unable to stay in the depths where he began). But Mr Sarwar remains a flicker of hope to Labour in Scotland however small the thanks he may owe to Mr Corbyn, Sir Keir and their vassals, and whatever may prove his future dealings with head office as legacy of his former treatment. In debate his anger against the Tories flicked raw, and he knew how to use it, making its integrity blaze clean in contrast to the artificial manufacture of Tory emotion. Poor Mr Ross hardly knew what hit him: he had been carefully coached in Holyrood Labour’s reduction to Pavlov doggishness, and now here was a Saladin in the field, chivalrous, dignified, judicious, but a bonnie fechter. If Mr Sarwar had shown more Damascus steel more frequently, he might have kept more customary Labour voters from straying into Tory lists for their second shots, and lessons from that may be one legacy of his Election 2021. He was vocal and strong on Thursday 13 May in the ranks defending the people of Pollok and the endangered refugees among them, at home with SNP and Green fellow-defenders of the fugitives’ neighbours, while Priti Patel warns the compassionate community against the possibility of their defending murderers: at the moment those asylum-seekers seem less like murderers than the pawns of Patel resemble Black and Tans, with their dawn raids and indiscriminate intimidations. Ms Patel’s malice against the wretched of the earth is calculated rather than simply insane, but she has a whiff of Don Quixote announcing that windmills are giants. When Mr Sarwar congratulated Nicola Sturgeon on her re-election as First Minister he said that her lack of an overwhelming majority meant that all parties in Holyrood must work together. Significantly neither he nor the Greens went forward as candidates for First Minister when Holyrood resumed, and their parties abstained in the relevant Holyrood vote: Mr Douglas Ross stood, and, even more absurdly, so did Mr Willie Rennie with his three fellow-LibDems as his sole support. Unlike Douglas Ross, Anas Sarwar had had the courage to stand in a constituency, and to do so against Nicola Sturgeon in Glasgow Central in Election 2021, slightly improving the Labour vote but with Ms Sturgeon nearly doubling it. He has the advantage of being a victim of racial prejudice himself: during his unsuccessful campaign for Scottish Labour Party leadership against Richard Leonard, a Rutherglen Labour leader announced that ‘Scotland would not vote for a brown Muslim Paki’, avoiding penalisation. The Sarwar family had its Muslim critics, its employment practices having been denounced, but censorious Muslims nevertheless voted for him. He is Glaswegian born in 1983, his father Chaudhry Mohammed Sarwar having been born in the Punjab in 1952, coming to Glasgow in 1976, serving as MP from Glasgow Central from 1997 to 2010, and being nominated by Prime Minister Gordon Brown for a peerage in 1910.So far this might look like a typical immigrant rage-to-riches story of the North Atlantic, but the peerage was refused, and Mohammed Sarwar returned to Pakistan, renouncing his UK citizenship in 2013. Tony Blair had never forgiven him for denouncing Blair’s wars in a joint letter with Sadiq Khan newly elected in 2005. Kim Howells as Minister of State replied with hard-line rhetoric, natural to him as a former Communist: its burden made little distinction between Muslim constitutionalists and Muslim terrorists, the traditional smart error from British imperial politicians. Back in Pakistan Mohammed Sarwar rose in political life and is today Governor of the Punjab, his birthplace. Back in Glasgow Anas Sarwar became Labour MP in his father’s Glasgow constituency, was defeated in the SNP’s tsunami of 2015, but won a list seat in the Scottish Parliament in 2016. He proudly calls himself a Gordon Brown Labour man, and the tradition is strong, for it was certainly Brown who pulled in the Scottish votes for Labour in the three victories for which Blair took British credit. But Anas Sarwar must have different responses to nationalism from those instinctive to Gordon Brown: he differs from his father in remaining a Scot despite degradation, but he will somewhat resemble SNP in internationalist contempt for Tory petty chauvinism, and family record of breaking Labour ranks against unjust wars especially against Muslims. He has already shown his disdain for Mr Douglas Ross’s assumption that a Leader of Opposition in the Scottish Parliament should be ready to swear in a general way, to anything. He has had good reason to do so, given Mr Ross’s readiness to pump up public bigotry against ethnic minorities, so far including gypsies, tinkers, and nomads in general. Again like SNP Anas Sarwar knows how to take heart in electoral defeat, and he may yet show how well Muslim leadership may qualify for Scottish leadership. Meanwhile, Sir Walter Scott — and perhaps Saladin — would have liked the chivalric cut of Mr Sarwar’s jib. And Islam so contemptibly used against him is now likely to prove a source of his strength, whatever about the Labour party’s. As of now, he should prove the real leader of the Holyrood Opposition, being best able to denounce London and Edinburgh governments simultaneously.
THE PERILS OF SPIRITUAL POLITICS
The TV debates are now a Twilight Zone, since the latest grave-plunder on the BBC interview with Princess Diana two years before her death. Her son William, Duke of Cambridge, responded with such violence as to leave some doubts whether his mental stability will survive the monarchy or the monarchy will survive him. The lips of the hypocrites claiming sympathy for him still glisten with the spittle they showered on his equally victimised brother Prince Harry. But as of now Prince William seems to have served the Tory government better than he has served the people or the Union. The Home Secretary declared Lord Dyson’s commission findings against the BBC a purge disabling the BBC’s future in 2022 when its future ‘governance’ will be determined. In other words if still in office (her own or Boris’s), she will heartlessly exploit the Princes’ grief the better to reduce the BBC to a government mouthpiece. If successful, she will have knocked away yet another plank in the tottering bridge of Union. Meanwhile the Union’s most immediate friend is its monarch, a more intelligent evangelist than most of her Prime Ministers, most of her predecessors and, it seems, most if not all of her descendants, above all more intelligent than the Tory icon and Royal pretender Thatcher. Constitutionally Her Majesty has different identities in England and Scotland: when she is here, she is a member of the Church of Scotland but neither she nor anyone else can be its head, in contrast to her headship of the Church of England. Thatcher like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice knew some of the magic formulae without any realisation of their implication, and like the mythical Apprentice the enchantment engulfed her — and her heirs and disciples. How she got it into her head that she would recoup her rapidly dwindling Scottish fortunes by addressing the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, God knows. It probably mixed with her pleasure in acting the Queen, which characteristically she probably thought she did better than the incumbent, which she didn’t. What she was actually doing was to patronise the ministers of the Church of Scotland by telling them what Christianity was and what the Church of Scotland was, which most of them must have known better than she did. ‘I am very much aware of its historical continuity existing over four centuries, during which the position of the Church of Scotland has been recognised in constitutional law and confirmed by successive sovereigns.’ The Church of Scotland has existed for 1600 years, with St Ninian as its first pastor known to us, its prevailing spirits in 1688-90 ensuring that the existing sovereign James VII was declared deposed: the theology of the Church then and since was that it instructed the state, and insisted that its people in their various individual parish churches legitimised it. The addresses of Lord High Commissioner William in Assembly 2021 and the more forceful letter from his grandmother read at its commencement seem very pointedly to reject Thatcher in her Assembly epiphany, especially in her disdain for love of one’s neighbour, but Prince William seemed to collapse briefly into her rhetoric when remarking ‘the mutual respect, tolerance and understanding that has characterized the relationship between the Sovereign and the Kirk over the past 300 years’. This reflects little credit on his education at St Andrews, and should be an object-lesson on the need for more not less study of history in defiance of Thatcherite Philistinism. 300 years ago George I was on the throne, succeeded by George II in 1727, and did either of them know what the Kirk was? The ‘45 taught George II where Scotland was, and nearly sent him back to Hanover, but the Sovereign’s ‘understanding’ of the Kirk probably began with lessons taught to Queen Victoria by John Brown in the 1860s. Thatcher implied that it was kindly tolerated by the UK state, as a local peculiarity or superstition. Her central thesis was that ‘Christianity is about spiritual redemption, not social reform’. She credited an unidentified somebody else with this thesis, and coyly implied she might not give it her full approval, but it was taken without question as hers (or her office-boys’) by audience, journalists, politicians, friends and enemies. She declared that the production of wealth and its private charity were essential for social welfare. It left the Church of Scotland fuming, cast as runners behind her chariot-wheels, fat-cat churchmen reviving the gospel of wealth preached by and for American robber-barons, its own impressive record producing champions of social reform disintegrated in the dust behind her. It reasserted its leadership magnificently by opening the doors of the Hall of the General Assembly polluted by Thatcher’s pseudo-sermon, convening a convention as had its ancestors in 1688-9, and firmly setting on foot what would eventuate as the Scottish Parliament.
WHENCE MY LORD WALLACE?
Who had the idea realised publicised in October 2020 to have Jim Wallace installed as Moderator seven months later? My Lord Wallace of Tankerness is a singularly respectable ghost from the pre-Nationalist era in Scottish Parliamentary government, the former and original Depute First Minister and Liberal Democrat leader in the Scottish Parliament alongside the Labour plurality and the premiership inaugurated by Donald Dewar. And why? Occasional politicians have been Lord High Commissioners, recently including former Presiding Officers of the Scottish Parliament, a smugly self-gratifying symbol of the Church of Scotland’s role in its emergence. But who thought up the resurrection of Lord Jim? It is a case of the chicken and egg, which caused which? Who would have moved the necessary mountains to enable the enthronement of the third non-minister since 1560? Before My Lord Wallace of Tankerness had been announced as Moderator-designate, William Duke of Cambridge was silently the prospective Lord High Commissioner, prevented from discharging his office for May 2020 by the pandemic, but customarily announced (however quietly in his case) by October 2019. The Lord High Commissioner is appointed by the monarch to represent her unless she attends it herself: in practice she appointed members of her own family from time to time, otherwise the Prime Minister used to decide, but it may be that Majesty still takes a hand in the decision supposedly hers anyway: it’s a little difficult to think that Gordon Brown would have nominated George Reed (Commissioner for Assembly 2008) or any other Scottish Nationalist as Lord High Commissioner to the Kirk his father had served so devoutly. Prime Minister Thatcher certainly appointed the Lord High Commissioner who then invited her to address the General Assembly in what was correctly a ’fringe’ meeting beginning with her thanks the Assembly for having invited her. It was a more thorough politicization of the Commissioner’s role than any for over a century. Significantly smoother and more invisible politicizations were effected by the present Queen. Prince Charles as Lord High Commissioner in 2000 made amusing if obvious jokes about the visit of George IV to Scotland in 1822, inaccurately claiming him as an ancestor; but there was no connection with the General Assembly in time or in personnel, the King’s visit being managed by Sir Walter Scott who had become a Scottish Episcopalian (and privately referred to George as ‘our fat Friend’). Victoria was the first Hanoverian to show interest and serious spiritual involvement in the Church of Scotland (into which she was drawn by her ghillie and possible husband John Brown) but its main political effect lay in the passage of legislation criminalizing Church of England pastors who showed themselves such High Anglicans as to seem almost indistinguishable from Papists, for which three Anglican priests were jailed late in her reign. (Anglicans were thus the last British or Irish Christians to suffer persecution for their doctrinal beliefs and practices by the UK state.) The first Royal chosen as Lord High Commissioner to the Church of Scotland was appointed for 1929, Prince Albert whom nobody expected to become the future George VI; his father George V chose another son whose name really was George, for 1935, and George VI chose the remaining brother (Henry) in 1949. That may have been some political intent as the existing Labour Government was in danger of electoral defeat in the near future and the gesture may have symbolised reassertion of traditional, conservative values. These princes had been carefully described by their Scottish peerages, Henry’s being somewhat unfortunately ‘the Lord Culloden’. In 1969 Queen Elizabeth became the first monarch to attend the General Assembly since it had finally returned to its original Presbyterianism in 1690. Winifred Ewing had dismayed orthodox UK political life by being elected SNP MP in 1967, a clear shock to orthodox UK politics arousing fears of further victories for candidates pledged to Scottish independence. Elizabeth would return in 2002 as a symbol of political stability in the wake of the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, which Winfred Ewing as the Scottish MSP senior to all her colleagues as an elected legislator inaugurated before its formal opening by the Queen, declaring that the Scottish Parliament, adjourned in 1707, was hereby reconvened. It was like a Euclidian line with no length nor breath, but apart from its jaunty humour and strategic implications it ensured that the Scottish Parliament symbols of the future were not solely cast in Unionist stone. Meanwhile Queen Elizabeth appointed her daughter Anne as Lord High Commissioner for 1996, and so conscientious, diplomatic and good-natured did she prove that alone of her siblings she was a very popular reappointment in 2017. Her enthusiastic interest in the work and mind of the Church of Scotland delighted the ministers. Her brothers Charles, Andrew (2007), and Edward (2014) could not reach her heights, but performed without noticeable problems.
If (I am too polite to say ‘when’) the Scottish people decide to leave the Union, it does not necessarily entail leaving the monarchy. In the late 1970s SNP in its annual Conference voted for a referendum on the monarchy after independence, but the argument was academic in all senses, the advocates for retention without plebiscite headed by the party’s greatest intellectual Professor Neil MacCormick (later MEP). The Greens (who seem likely to play an increasingly major role in Scottish history) are republican, but constitutionally so. The present Union is Parliamentary, and it was built on the century-long union of Crowns preceding it, so that in any negotiations anent independence the Scots might find it profitable to declare that it’s Scotland’s monarchy, and announce that by rights having come from Scotland it is first and foremost a Scottish property, on lease since 1603. A dual monarchy entailing two separate parliaments is certainly an option on the agenda for Scottish independence. From the monarch’s point of view the custody and maintenance of the monarchy must be the priority of its successive sovereigns. The monarch may conclude that the maintenance of the present Union is most advantageous for the institution of monarchy, but ultimately this is simply a business conclusion: the monarchy is the monarch’s duty, the Union is an administrative convenience which may outlive its utility. Essentially the Queen’s message to the Union is ‘Carry on at your convenience’. But if the present monarch thinks the convenience is still fit for purpose, Mr Boris Johnson, for one, might seem a questionable plumber whose further services might well endanger the convenience’s health. To proceed to personal details, Queen Elizabeth seems the most intelligent monarch since Charles II, perhaps since James VI and I: her visit to her family’s former kingdom, Ireland, is sufficient evidence of that, notably in what had to be personal decisions, the bowing of her head before the graves of the republicans executed for high treason in 1916, the opening of her State Banquet speech in beautiful Irish perfectly bearing the blas. It was consistent with the last effective monarch of all Ireland, her grandfather George V, whose speech opening the parliament of Northern Ireland in 1921 deliberately undercut the brutal repression under the Lloyd George government by demanding a peace policy in its place, certainly saving Irish lives of all political persuasions. (The last king of Ireland was in fact Edward VIII.) The most ominous future for the UK monarchy lies after the present Queen’s death, since her apparent and presumptive successors show little signs of approaching her intellectual quality. Her appointment of her grandson William as Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland brought the problem into relief. He began on 22 May what had to be a virtual appearance by stating ‘Her Majesty the Queen has asked me to come here in person to reassure you of the pledge to preserve and uphold the rights and privileges of the Church of Scotland’ which was fair enough: indeed it definitely divided the monarchy from the Union Parliament and even implied that in any conflict between Kirk and state or substate, the monarchy must be for the Kirk. It was a tactful way of celebrating the sufferings of the Presbyterians under the later Stuarts admittedly none of them his ancestors other than James VI and I. It contained an interesting echo of William of Orange whose banner in his successful invasion of Britain read ‘I shall Maintain the Liberties of England and the Protestant religion’. But today’s William continued for himself: ‘One day, it will be my responsibility to swear my own oath to maintain and preserve the security and independence of the Church of Scotland.’ Now this, to the serried ranks of kirkpersons, was startling usurpation of the rights of God. Neither His Grace the Lord High Commissioner nor anyone else knows whether William will ever be King William III of Scotland, unless we are to substitute for the Bible Old Moore’s Almanack or the astrologers whose columns lie in the press. God is expected to save the King (as Byron added, ‘it is a large economy in God to save the like’) when — and if — he ascends the throne, but for the Prince to sweep God out of the way with such bland confidence in his own future immortality makes one wonder if the King will save God. And if he does this in the kirk’s green tree, what will he do in dry secularism? The Prince restored God back into his text with Proverbs xix.20 ‘Hear counsel and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end’, in assurance that during his brief time in Scotland he would listen (to whom it was not quite clear, but presumably including kirk divines). Prince William — or at least his grandmother — must have been all too conscious at this moment of Thatcher as would-be manipulator of theology mangling St Paul ‘s Epistle to the Thessalonians before the anguished eyes and ears of that General Assembly, and 2021’s royal footsteps trod as warily as they knew. But, as with the mercenary Thatcher, his quotation left him open to ironic reply from its context. Two verses (or Proverbs) later would also have been well worth his quoting, if only to exorcise Thatcher: ‘The desire of a man is his kindness; and a poor man is better than a liar’. The Prince went to state that Jesus had put it more succinctly ‘He that hath ears to hears, let him hear’ (Mark iv.9) but here again the next verses question crude application, Jesus saying that the word of God may be heard and quickly snatched away by the devil, or repudiated in time of persecution, or crowded out by intoxication in the riches of the world: how long, how deeply, and in what way would the soi-disant future William III remember what the Scots told him? He went on to speak of happy and wretched days in Scotland, and told how he found consolation at the news of his mother’s death by finding sanctuary in Crathie Kirk. Yet the Scotland he commemorated and shared with wife and children was somewhat picture-postcard, landscape and spectacle and architecture, but no sign of actual people. His farewell seemed ironic in its turn, valuable for all Christian sects, and maybe for non-Christian faiths. Speaking with appropriate hope and fear of our future under the pandemic, ‘I imagine some of us will have been reminded afresh that the real power of the Church, and perhaps its future, lies not simply in the Kirk’s buildings we all love [?], but on the values of peace, healing and love for your neighbour are very much alive in our parishes and communities.’ Thatcher had informed the General Assembly that she found love for her neighbour as oneself impossible to understand until she found in C. S. Lewis the thought that we may not much love ourselves: this looked like a wise rejection of theological Thatcherism after Princely study of her performance in 1988. He then blessed the Kirk ‘May the guidance and blessing of Almighty God be with you all’, thus finally saving God in the end. But his grandmother while too kind to teach her grandson how to suck eggs, showed a stronger and wiser character in the letter she sent the General Assembly making sure that all parties, Commissioner, Moderator and everyone else saw the necessities beyond the pretty landscapes and touching souvenirs. The grandson was decorative, the grandmother was impassioned, wisely and tactfully making sure eyes, minds and prayers were focussed on the multitude of difficulties that lie ahead of us all. She gave thanks for the Kirk’s discovery of ecumenism during her reign. Her passing reference ‘with gratitude to Almighty God’ was not deference to kirk conventions but a happy salutation to a beloved friend, and she spoke of the divided sects as ‘the Christian family’. She showed that her Scotland and its kirk are international. She saw Covit 19 as fought by common resolution among divided people and hoped that these new bonds ‘will serve us all well in the future as the United Kingdom seeks to rebuild and reshape community life’, which endorsed neither revolution nor conservatism. She used her obligation to the Churches of England and Scotland to demand firmly that all Christians play a vital part in the work of COP 26: since the Pope is going to it so might she as another church leader. A charm offensive against nationalism? It was rather a salutation demanding the best her hearers can do, recognising the need for co-operation amid the real divides between churches and nationalisms. She talked globally with real sense where her politicians used the term in vain-glory and greed: ‘As stewards of creation, Christians have much to offer to the shared task of ensuring that we bequeath to our children a planet which will continue to be a good place to live’. Her life has been swamped by her attendants and journalists in endless trivia, but as a person she teaches well from a strong and shrewd mind. After a near-70-year reign she may be the most interesting new phenomenon of Election 2021: she certainly is a much more complex and instructive moderator of modern political life than her politicians of all parties seem to realise. She may literally give us all the last laugh.