Monday, February 05, 2007

More in sorrow etc...

As that great philosopher of our times, Calvin, once said to his stuffed tiger, Hobbes, 'Every day, I'm forced to add another name to the list of people who piss me off'. With regret, I've come to the conclusion that if I kept a similar list, I'd now be about to add Observer columnist Ruaridh Nicoll to it.

I've mentioned before that The Observer 'In Scotland' is possibly my least favourite Sunday read - that oh-so-patronising 'In Scotland' bit allied to its preachy London-centric bias sees quite admirably to that. Nonetheless, on the surface of things, there's no reason why such an apparently mild-mannered guy as Nicoll should provoke such a strong reaction in me.

After all, reading his columns, Nicoll comes across as thoroughly intelligent, articulate, insightful and cultured. He might not share my politics, but then as a wee look at the links down the right-hand side of this blog show, I read and enjoy the work of quite a few people whose views seldom accord with my own. No, what gets my goat is the way Nicoll chooses to write about politics - leaving us room to imagine that he's being even handed and fair, before dropping in the odd nugget of illogical prejudice which he fails to support with any kind of preceding argument.

For reasons best known to himself, as a self-proclaimed admirer of Gordon Brown, Nicoll seems to have little difficulty in writing columns which are broadly supportive of SNP standpoints. Yet despite this, he still finds himself able to try and belittle the party with lazy 'Braveheart' clich├ęs and sly innuendoes about Anglophobia.

Both of these charges are ludicrously easy to brush off. However, what annoys me about these jibes is that they are, or should be, the preserve of the one or two cartoon Labour councillors we all know and loathe, who lack the intelligence to do anything other than sling mud at their opponents. Nicoll is so obviously better than this, yet more often than not fails to make any kind of constructive critique of the SNP.

According to Nicoll in one piece where he ventured up to the North East of Scotland, he found an 'unsettling bleakness' in the bars, where there took place "fiercely, intimidatingly nationalist" conversations. Well, he wouldn't be the first traveller in history to long for the refinements of home, as they squint up nervously from maps still marked with 'here be dragons'. But before we let him claim the moral high ground, here's an interview he gave the Evening News a couple of weeks ago, where he says: 'Like a lot of Scots, I grew up as a nationalist supporter, shaking my fist at England.'

Now put like that, he sounds like the sort of numbskull that any self-respecting SNP-er would cross the street to avoid. But old habits seem to die hard. Like many unionists, he sees no contradiction in biting the hand he claims feeds us by cheering against England during the World Cup, on the grounds “that there's something about the English football team that winds me up”. Yet returning to the EN article, he acknowledges that there is a huge amount of anti-Scottishness in England. “We have really pissed them off”, he says. Hmm... I wonder how that could be?

But then, consistency is the hobgoblin of the tiny minds of others. Witness: "We think that by splitting away from England we will protect ourselves from such follies as Iraq in the future, which is true, but we will have no influence". And there, in one sentence, you have the classic North Brit-left apologia for the UK's post-war foreign policy – ‘it's more important to be in the right gang than it is to do the right thing’.

Maybe I'm being unfair. Perhaps some of Nicoll's best friends are nationalists. But ultimately, what annoys me most is that while he has far more in common with the SNP on most economic, social and cultural issues than with any other party, somehow it is the SNP for which he reserves his harshest and least-justified criticisms.

Whether building from within or throwing a few well-aimed rocks from without, someone of Nicoll 's talents could and should be making a better contribution to the standard of unionist debate in Scotland. Yet for all his descriptions of Scottish Labour as being moribund and dead from the neck up, why do I get the feeling that, more in sorrow than in anger of course, he will magisterially come down on the side of Labour come May, 'cause big Gordy will make it all better'?

It's always sad to see erstwhile progressives end up standing in the way of progress. I do hope that doesn't happen to Ruaridh Nicoll.


Ian Dommett said...

Good piece Richard. The press appears to be totally at sea when it comes to understanding the potentially dramatic events that are approaching in May. Labour not in power in Scotland? Surely that could never happen.

Keep writing.

Ian Dommett

Jeff said...

Yes, that was really well written, good stuff.

And a tip of the hat to Calvin and Hobbes too, it doesn't get much better than that.

Richard Thomson said...

Cheers, guys. Favourable comments beat tumbleweed and tolling bells any day of the week!