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Ancient and modern

The ancient roots of Alex’s Salmond’s demagoguery

He doesn’t like the verdict of the people, so he threatens to declare independence anyway

27 September 2014

8:00 AM

27 September 2014

8:00 AM

Alex Salmond spent two years campaigning for independence for Scotland on the grounds of ‘social justice’. Now, claiming that the vote was lost because of the ‘old’ (subtext: the rich), he says he might declare independence anyway. His unprincipled demagoguery puts one in mind of Athenian society, as described by the ‘Old Oligarch’ (whoever he was).

The O.O. saw Athens as a society in which the poor lorded it over the rich. His central point was that, because the poor were ignorant, ill-disciplined and evil, while the wealthy cared for what was good and just, the interests of the poor were not served by allowing the rich to hold power.


So a radical democracy, giving the power over all political decisions to a majority of citizens, inevitably favoured the poor, there being far more of them than of the rich. In that way the poor ensured that they were not enslaved to the educated wealthy. For the wealthy would simply pass laws that punished wrongdoing, and ‘not allow lunatics to participate in politics or meet in assembly’. That, the O.O. argues, might look like good government, but the poor preferred bad government because it put them on top.

So, for example, the poor ensured the courts served their own interests rather than those of justice. They made the wealthy pay for festivals for them to enjoy, and triremes for them to get paid to row: for ‘the common people think that they deserve to get money for singing and running and dancing and sailing in the ships, so that they get more, and the rich become poorer’. Indeed, to put on the great tragic festival of the Dionysia alone involved the rich paying for the training of 1,165 citizens for months on end. And the O.O. had to admit the system worked: travesty that it was, it kept the poor in power.

When Salmond reckoned he would win, he thought democracy wonderful. Crushed, he has no time for it, let alone for the old (and rich) who crushed him, and he threatens to ignore the verdict. That’s ‘social justice’, Salmond-style.


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