The news today: somebody has said something rather injudicious and they are in a lot of trouble. They have to resign or be sacked, preferably both, and they are required to writhe in apology at our feet.
Poor Sir Tim Hunt was in this position last week. The 2001 Nobel Prize winner (for Physiology and Medicine) had made some intemperate remarks at the 2015 World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul. I cannot recall his exact words, but I think that they were something to do with how to use protein kinases to manipulate the cell cycle. People took to Twitter in their droves to complain. I had a biochemist friend who wanted to weigh in about the application of Hunt’s analysis to mammalian cells, but he was afraid of trivialising the debate.
And so next to one of the bravest men in the world, the historian David Starkey. Whenever he appears on television and begins to speak, my heart is in my mouth. Is he going to go too far this time? Paradoxically, he is a kind of celebrity persona non grata, but one day the celebrity might be taken away from him and Question Time will stop phoning. Yesterday he was interviewed by the Sunday Times and he uttered some most awesomely thrilling words. He had identified Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party and Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP as political lookalikes:
What are the points of comparison? Well, we have a political movement that has a single historic explanation for why your country is facing such terrible oppression; it’s either Versailles or the Treaty of the Union. You have a particular group of people who are responsible for this; it is either the English or the Jews… You have a passionate belief in economic self-sufficiency: known by the Nazis as autarky and the Scots as oil.
These remarks excited almost universal condemnation, although somehow without being challenged in any way by anyone on points of detail. The SNP MP Kirsten Oswald Mosley reassured the world that “David Starkey’s comments… have absolutely no basis in reality.” Quite wisely, she did not venture any further.
Of course, it is stretching the imagination to compare Scotland’s socialist nationalists to the Nazis’ national socialists, and Starkey admitted as much on Sky News today. He told Sky that, “I’m not saying they’re about to set up concentration camps, I’m not going to say we’re going to see a Kristallnacht of English businesses in Edinburgh, of course we’re not.”
Before Starkey gets too relaxed, however, he might like to look at this tweet which was sent by @WeTrustInSNP. This account is run by Elaine from Fife, your average cybernat-next-door and it has over three thousand followers. But the tweet is magnificent, a thing of wonder:
Its time Scots reported David Starkey to Police for his deeply offensive/racist comments abt Scots,SNP voter.. http://t.co/ab0hvBDztW
— Elaine (@WeTrustInSNP) June 15, 2015
Let us translate this into the language of democracy, a language in which Elaine is still evidently struggling with the ABC, a language in which she and Hitler are in the same nursery class. She is outraged that she has been compared to a Nazi and so she is threatening to send the police round to clamp down on Starkey’s freedom of speech.
There is added juiciness with her idea that Starkey’s comments were “racist.” In implying that the SNP have been discriminated against on racial grounds, she seems to acknowledge that they are an all-white organisation.
How apt that Elaine’s avatar is a robin. Only last week, Philip Hoare was complaining in the Guardian that “Britain has… chosen a vicious murdering bully as its national bird.” Hoare noted that the robin was “highly aggressive and territorial” and that its song was “actually the avian equivalent of a foul-mouthed “get orf my land”.” And now Scotland has a robin as its nationalist bird.
Linking out of Twitter (for a tweet that goes too far naturally needs more than 140 characters) Elaine elaborated that:
Under Race Discrimination Act 2010 Nationality is included along with Race. Police Scotland stated, Scots Law is different, if we find something deeply offensive in a racist way then we can report the person.