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The Spectator's Notes

Liberals’ attacks on nationalism are interestingly selective

13 October 2018

9:00 AM

13 October 2018

9:00 AM

Although, in David Goodhart’s famous distinction, I see myself as one of the ‘Somewheres’ rather than the ‘Anywheres’, I do not believe in nationalism (as opposed to patriotism). Nationalism always involves falsified history and sees identity as a zero-sum game. Nation states should be respected, not deified, and are usually the better for not being ethnically ‘pure’. But the Anywheres’ attacks on nationalism are interestingly selective. They hate Viktor Orban’s Hungarian version, for instance, but love Leo Varadkar’s Irish one. The avowedly internationalist EU uses Irish nationalism as its biggest moral justification for blocking Brexit.

And thus does Scottish nationalism, being seen as left-wing, escape criticism for its coercive righteousness. The Revd David Robertson, the minister of St Peter’s Free Church in Dundee, produces a well written blog called TheWeeFlea.com. In it, he relates how he was recently bicycling through his parish when he noticed a poster which said, ‘Dear BIGOTS, you can’t spread your religious hate here. End of sermon. Yours, Scotland’. Similar posters also warn ‘transphobes’ and ‘homophobes’. The declared purpose is to stamp out hate: ‘You may not have faith in respect and love,’ one says to the ‘BIGOTS’, ‘but we do.’ ‘Yours, Scotland’ means the Scottish government and Police Scotland (it is an extra weapon of petty nationalism when the polity has only one police force, since it then comes under monopolistic political control). As a minister who might have some ‘disagreement’, as he puts it, with ‘homosexuality, the trans philosophy or Islam’, Mr Robertson feels that the poster is an unwarranted attack on him and his faith, so he has reported the Scottish government and the police to themselves for their hate crime. ‘Yours, Scotland’! There is a great deal wrong with our Westminster government, but can you imagine it having the arrogance to sign its moral edicts, ‘Yours, Britain’?


Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, is not stupid, and there are signs in her annual party conference this week that she realises she pushed things too hard. Instead of clamouring for a second Scottish independence referendum, she has now switched to calling for a second Brexit referendum first. Nationalism within a wider nation, such as Scotland’s or Catalonia’s, does well when it expresses revolt, but hits a ceiling when it tries to take full independence. The classic example is Quebec, which has flirted with independence for nearly half a century. Now, as Ms Sturgeon will be uneasily aware, Quebec has become bored with its nationalists. The Parti Québécois won only 17 per cent of the vote in last week’s province-wide elections. The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), which is anti-immigration, anti-high taxes, anti-Justin Trudeau’s goody-goody Liberals and anti-separatist, topped the poll with 37.5 per cent. Nationalism eventually becomes, as they say in Quebec, vieux jeu.

Meanwhile, a Dane, Anders Holch Povlsen, has become the biggest landowner (by acreage), in Scotland, having overtaken the Duke of Buccleuch to own 221,000 acres. In theory, this ought to be difficult for him, since the Scottish government stacks up ever more repressive laws against landowners. But in fact significant numbers of Scandinavians, who feel romantic about Scotland, own the Highlands more or less unmolested. The real purpose of the land laws is to punish English landlords (and Scottish ones with English accents). Since, in modern times, it is the Dane who pays the geld, Ms Sturgeon has no incentive to get rid of the Dane.

‘Final call to halt “climate catastrophe”’, said the BBC’s website, covering the ‘special report’ of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change after its meeting in South Korea. It won’t be the final call, though. Every IPCC conference is the ‘last chance to save the planet’, according to its promoters. What is more interesting is the way news organisations are gradually downgrading this story as the years pass. Even the BBC website did not put it top, at least by the time I looked early on Monday evening. Going to the Derby for the first time as a boy, I noticed a gloomy man in a bowler hat walking slowly through the crowd with a banner saying ‘The End of the World is Nigh’ on one side and ‘Flee from the Wrath to Come’ on the other. I enjoyed the cheerful indifference of the crowd. The climate catastrophists are becoming like that man, as the world fails to end on time. Unlike the old fellow with the banner, however, they still succeed in appropriating trillions of pounds of public money worldwide to their dismal cause.

A couple of years ago, I wrote in this place about Michael Kidson, the renowned eccentric bachelor who taught David Cameron history at Eton. In his biography of Kidson (The Enigma of Kidson), Jamie Blackett recorded that Kidson’s mother Mary deserted her infant son when her marriage broke up in late 1930, and was never heard of again. Kidson ‘never forgave his mother and hardly spoke of her’. His father had left her for South Africa. Michael was brought up by his paternal grandfather, a retired country clergyman. Now the book has a new edition with a postscript, reprinting a cutting from the Scotsman of 28 February 1931: ‘Mrs Mary Kidson (35), secretary, of Cromwell Road, Kensington’ had pleaded guilty to three charges of obtaining money by fraud from West End shops, and was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment. She was described as ‘a woman of refinement and education’ who had been ‘constantly and persistently defrauding West End tradesmen’. Many of these frauds seem to have been committed after her husband had left and she was looking after Michael alone. Perhaps the disgrace was such that Mary’s father-in-law would not let her near her son. Perhaps she was just too ashamed and too poor. It is poignant: if only she had been able to tell her son, might he have loved her?


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