Scotland’s independence debate is pure poison

It’s not Liz Truss who is the Margaret Thatcher de nos jours, it’s Nicola Sturgeon. I’ve spent the last week at the Edinburgh Fringe, hosting a series of political conversations. One of them was with the Scottish First Minister and the vitriol both she and I attracted had to be seen to be believed.

We hear a lot about the bile spewed out by “CyberNat” trolls, and I have experienced it myself. What I hadn’t realised is that the Unionist side of the debate has its equivalents. They’ve been dubbed the “BritNats” or “BritYoons”. They seem to loathe Nicola Sturgeon far more than they hate the independence cause she espouses. It is a phenomenon that female politicians face far more than male. Mrs Thatcher had it in spades, and within a very short time so presumably will Liz Truss.

My mistake was to tweet that Nicola Sturgeon was one of the most impressive politicians I had ever interviewed. Almost immediately, the wrath of the “BritNats” descended on me. Rather than explain why I was wrong, it was just a stream of insults – but they were nothing to what the First Minister has to put up with every day.

The most mild criticism I received questioned why I didn’t skewer her on the SNP Government’s failures on drug deaths, energy, and ferries. Er, I did. But apparently I should have shouted at her and been gratuitously rude.

What the last week has brought home to me is that the divisions in Scotland over independence run far deeper – and are far more poisonous – than most commentators in England realise. It’s Brexit all over again, and then double it. Any journalist who writes about Scottish politics should do so warily. I don’t think it’s possible to be fully informed about what’s going on in the undergrowth of the independence debate without actually spending time there – and in my case nine days was not enough.

Ms Sturgeon’s less abusive Unionist opponents do of course have plenty of perfectly legitimate material to use against her. She may be a formidable politician, and certainly she remains mistress of all she surveys, but despite being in power for nearly eight years, she has precious few domestic policy achievements to her name. The SNP hasn’t improved the quality of education or brought down drug deaths, and its administrations have been plagued with allegations of corruption and incompetence.

The First Minister must be praying that she is able to get her Scottish independence vote. Otherwise, her legacy could turn out to be one of near-total failure. 

Sir Keir’s energy problems

I’m told that there were some very glum faces in the Leader of the Opposition’s office early last week, when the Lib Dem leader, Sir Ed Davey, announced the very same policy on the cost of living crisis that Labour had developed for Sir Keir Starmer to set out when he returned from his holiday in Majorca. “What on earth do we do now?” was the general mood. Plough on and pretend that the Lib Dems hadn’t stolen their clothes, seems to have been the answer.

Listening to Sir Keir explain his big announcement yesterday morning, we were left with the impression that it was all a bit of a damp squib, but one which would cost a huge amount of money and would fuel further inflation in the long term. The help Labour is promising isn’t targeted, with rich people getting the same level of support as someone on the breadline. Even Liz Truss is apparently blanching at the thought of pouring taxpayers’ money into the bank accounts of the comparatively wealthy, but Labour seems to think that targeting is all too difficult. To be fair, its policy of forcing energy companies to charge users of pre-pay meters the same as regular customers sounds good, until you find out that it will only benefit users by £46 a year. Yes, a whole £46.

But Sir Keir faces another problem. Labour diehards – by which I mean the party’s more Left-wing supporters – are furious. Sir Keir promised to nationalise the energy companies during his leadership campaign, but has now junked the policy. And if the winter is really going to be as bad as everyone says, his approach is going to look like a joke to the Left, compared to all the stuff the Corbynites are coming out with: nationalisation, minimum wage hikes, wealth taxes, etc.

Sir Keir is admittedly proposing to raise more money by extending the windfall tax on oil and gas firms. I’m not massively in favour of this sort of taxation. But if Labour thinks imposing them on energy companies for making “excess” profits now is justified, some of the supermarkets, or Amazon, which made lots of money during Covid, might also soon find themselves targeted for a good financial fleecing. 

Failure of responsibility 

As the owner of two dogs, I am horrified by the rising number of people now abandoning their pets. Many will have gone through agonies before deciding that they can no longer look after Rover or Tiddles, but too many people acquired an animal during lockdown without thinking through the consequences. Owning a pet is a massive responsibility, and the decision to have a dog or cat, or even a snake, is akin in my view to deciding to have a child. It’s criminal to abandon them on the streets.

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