Andrew Tickell, Citizenship, Democracy, Freedom of Speech, Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, Humza Yousaf, Jackson Carlaw, Lallands Peat Worrier, Marxism, Opinion, Politics, Scottish Independence, Scottish Nationalism, SNP, Tories
“I can’t help but wonder what part sharing this may have played in today’s events.” This is Andrew Tickell, the law lecturer who was once famed and beloved around Scottish firesides as the Lallands Peat Worrier. The “today’s events” here refers to the unexpected resignation of Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Tory leader, and the “this” is a particularly sizzling photograph of Carlaw that Tickell had lately tweeted.
In it, Carlaw lounges sensuously on what looks like the carpet of a chain hotel, beneath a pink parasol, entwined in a fluffy pink boa and flaunting his magnificent calves. This is a pose so alluring that it must be surely pre-coital, except that Carlaw’s overheated disarray very much indicates it to be post.
I had assumed that this image comes from Tickell’s private archives – from some extensive, Marquis-de-Sade-style library of erotica – or even that he might have manufactured it himself, using Photoshop, for his own diabolical gratification. But Carlaw is actually “wearing it pink” to help raise money for victims of breast cancer. The photograph was taken in 2016 and it is available in full size (if your heartrate can stand the galloping pressure, that is) on Carlaw’s official website [warning: NSFW].
In truth, this image is so curious because in it Carlaw has somehow agreed to pose in line with the standard Scottish Nationalist caricature of a Unionist politician. These politicians are always out of touch and naturally, being Unionists, their attempts to connect with the public are always hapless and pitiful. They are always doing gruesomely embarrassing things, such as Carlaw is here as he sprawls raunchily beneath his parasol like a trollop out of the Moulin Rouge.
Douglas Ross, who is being now hastily shoehorned into Carlaw’s role, is a practising football referee, which will no doubt guarantee many more years of chortling. Oh those disastrous Unionists – look, now they are trying to appeal to us with one of the only figures from the world of sport who is chronically unpopular!
Yet with this amusement, we eventually reach a point where it becomes necessary to ask: how can Scotland ever be an independent country if its democracy is so immature and the choice of available politicians remains so lamentable? If the opposition parties are always so hopeless, and Scotland is thus permanently a de-facto one-party state, leaving the Union will surely entail exiting a sophisticated democracy and entering one that is fundamentally mediocre.
For example, Scottish Nationalists are presently anticipating that next year’s Holyrood elections will send a tsunami of political discontent sweeping all of the pillars of the Union before it. Perhaps it would be better if they tried to get more than a mere half of the electorate to turn out this time. The 2016 elections had a turnout of 55.8%; by contrast that in the 2019 Westminster election across Scotland was a sturdier 68.1%.
There is a solid and presumably growing bed of support for devolved institutions in Scotland, with 58% of Scottish respondents telling a 2019 Ofcom poll that they were “very interested in news about their Nation” (yes, the question might have been a little leading). It hardly helps the Nationalists to orchestrate an imagined community if the majority of exclusively Scottish online news providers are increasingly confined behind paywalls. But a general fatalism about politics is perhaps more likely to curtail the flourishing of nationalism across Scotland.
That 55.8% turnout looks bizarrely uncharacteristic of the stage of history that Scotland is usually said to be in. Although Scotland is a country that has been a full democracy for almost a century, it appears to be experiencing a resurgence of nationalism without any corresponding enrichening of citizenship. Political pluralism – a political dialectic – the meeting of alternative viewpoints and ideas – are all intrinsic to democracy. To embrace nationalism without also welcoming any greater democracy is rather like keeping your penis but being unable to get an erection any more (a problem that will hardly afflict Carlaw’s admirers).
The traditional Marxist view of nationalism is that it is in itself thoroughly useless. Where it helps those who are oppressed by imperialism, however, its existence can be tolerated in the short or medium term. This Marxism wisdom about the overall good-for-nothingness of nationalism has somehow passed out of intellectual fashion without anybody having taken the trouble to prove it wrong. In a far more devastating capitulation than abandoning the planned economy or revolutionary violence, many in the Scottish Left are now left clinging to nationalism simply as a good in itself. This, despite it clearly leading to a coarsened democracy, to less freedom and even, on the current economic trajectory, to the emergence of a quite remarkable austerity.
Here we arrive at Humza Yousaf’s Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill and suddenly Dr Tickell is no longer automatically rejoicing in a politics in which there is no functioning opposition to the SNP. Last week he had wreathed himself in a pink boa, swung his parasol into place, robed himself in the uniform of Scotland’s opposition and submitted a paper to the Justice Committee about this looming legislation. His focus is on the second part of the bill, which potentially criminalises “stirring up hatred,” and I dare say that it would be a better bill if all of his recommendations were taken on board. He is nonetheless rather naïve in accepting this consultative process at face value.
Tickell’s concern is to try to anticipate and prevent some of the injustices that would result from badly-written legislation. His plan is to impose reasonableness upon future courts by tickling a bit more clarity into Yousaf’s authoritarian programme. Needless to say, some of the UK’s most radical attacks upon freedom of speech in recent years have been adventurous interpretations or even outright abuses of a law, namely the (UK) Communications Act 2003. In these cases, there was no beautiful legalistic machinery revolving dispassionately and with everybody acting in solemn good faith.
One man’s conviction for making a joke about blowing up an English airport – representing the most naked power grab by the authorities – was only overturned after two years, two appeals, and a lengthy public outcry. Another joke, this time in Scotland, featuring a goose-stepping dog on YouTube, has so far lost its appeals. One might conclude from this that the best approach is a political prioritisation of freedom of speech, as a straightforward liberty from the state, over an impossible legalistic hodgepodge of competing rights. The latter option is additionally bound to involve interpreting the Hate Crime Law as an escalating industry, with the courts churning like mills.
Many observers might be already sensing that the Hate Crime Law is doomed to drift on the same keel as the SNP’s abandoned Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (2012-2018), which had literally jailed people for singing sectarian songs, and the nightmarish “named person scheme” (2014-2019), which would have been the largest system of state surveillance to be ever rolled out in a democracy. The SNP appear not to have learned any lessons from these predictable disasters and they are now pushing on blindly and deafly into the newest one.
Last month, Yousaf had even garbled a description of the bill that he was delivering to the Scottish parliament, a piece of choice political symbolism that had seemed to crown his irresponsibility and carelessness. Maybe it is the case that he is a well-meaning politician who is trying to sculpt some liberal legislation with clumsy hands. Yet he also knows that the political opposition is currently so depleted in Scotland that it does not particularly matter if his bill unleashes chaos upon the Scottish courts. Whatever happens, there will be no consequences for him.
Indeed, to be able to pass scandalous or flagrantly disruptive legislation is a marvellous way of advertising your political supremacy. With each new authoritarian law from the SNP, they are having something of a masturbatory moment, in which they are thrilling themselves with the fetishism of their own power. But there is nothing heartfelt behind it all. As with the named person et al, they are toying with authoritarianism and they will drop it whenever it grows tiresome or if too many buzzing legal problems get into their hair. And if they squander millions of pounds doing this and if a few lives are wrecked along the way, well so what? It is not their money and not their funeral and everybody else is safely far behind in the polls.
Anyhow, Dr Tickell appears to deplore the “hyperbole and confusion” that is enveloping the Hate Crime Bill. The Express newspaper claims that the law could “lead to prosecution simply for owning a Bible.” I don’t know whether this is true exactly but I would like to point out to any future hate-crime inspectors that my own Bible is used purely for academic research and that I have a permit for it. The magazine Spiked contends that actors could be prosecuted for playing “offensive” characters in the theatre. I will have to trust Tickell that during the trials, and throughout all of the long years of appeals, these actors’ rights to freedom of expression will be balanced exquisitely, with sublime reasonableness, against the sore feelings of their audiences.
However the courts interpret this legislation, it does seem to be honestly the case that if it had been previously enshrined then significant works of anti-Calvinist Scottish literature, such David Hume’s History of England (1754–61), Robert Burns’ “Holy Willie’s Prayer” (1789) and James Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), would have all resulted in a polite social visit from the police. A few pages would have needed to be torn out of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (1988) as well. But the point is to give precedence to Scottish independence and so maybe the elementary liberal values of former centuries are a luxury that should be dispensed with, if we are to achieve that greatly more important prize of the bare nation, in itself.