Robert Burns, Scotland’s bard, wrote in the Scots language:
“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!”
In “To a Louse”, Burns wished the gift of looking through another’s eyes and see ourselves as they do. Did Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, who wore a kilt to 2017’s Remembrance Sunday service, consider this? If so, he was unsuccessful, because he was roundly mocked on social media for his attire. Amongst the outrage and cringe, the writer Gillian Phillip tweeted, “The wedding the night before must have been a randan if he had to go straight to the Cenotaph without changing”. A Randan, or ran-dan to be correct, is a Scottish term which is best translated into English as “a jolly raucous time”.
Leaving aside the fashion faux-pas of dinner-jacket and waistcoat to a sombre armistice day commemoration, it was claimed that instead of a poppy he was wearing the SNP badge. Closer inspection showed it to be Poppy Scotland badge. It seems important for the SNP to display their credentials at every available opportunity. Nationalists need flags to wave, kilts to wear, and God forbid they wear a symbol associated with the Royal British Legion. Both the words Royal and British are triggers in a significant proportion of the independence movement. The SNP themselves claim to have a clear monarchist position, despite the strain of republicanism within their party.
Which led Ian Blackford to wear a kilt to Cenotaph. What better way to symbolise his difference, his Scottish-ness in fact, than the kilt itself? Even if etiquette would suggest at least morning wear rather than evening. Parting from Remembrance Sunday comment for a moment, no-one in Scotland wears a kilt to any kind of solemn occasion. They’re for happier events, like weddings.
In recent years, Ian Blackford has styled himself as a man-of the-people crofter, which allows him to speak “with some authority” about standing up for his constituents. This rather conveniently leaves out his education in Edinburgh and long career in financial services. In the world of the SNP, it would be clumsy of Blackford to represent himself as something close to a Tory. Symbols matter, but it rather detracts from his workplace achievements, and the fine banking traditions of Scotland’s capital.
Blackford won the seat of Ross, Skye and Lochaber from former Lib-Dem leader Charles Kennedy in the 2015 General Election. It was a bitter campaign where figures close to Blackford attacked the incumbent Kennedy on social media. It’s a disturbing feature of modern politics, like the Daily Mail’s “enemies of the people” front page, where the words “traitor” and “quisling” are bandied about like lines from an old movie about the English Civil War, but Scotland got there first. It’s to be hoped that the good people of Blackford’s constituency will one day return to their tradition of backing liberal candidates rather than one who managed to upstage Jeremy Corbyn in having no class at the Cenotaph.
In Robert Burns’ poem, after wishing to see himself as others see him, the writer suggests this power would free us from making blunders and from having foolish notions. Which brings us to Alex Salmond, who quoted “To a Louse” as he unveiled his new chat show to be broadcast on Russia Today.
The Former First Minister, who lost his Westminster seat at this year’s General Election, had a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe in August and now intends to showcase his patter in exchange for Russian Roubles. Seemingly untroubled by how others see him, Salmond will press on despite his leader’s concerns. The show must go on, no matter what Nicola Sturgeon says.
But Sturgeon was right to criticise Salmond’s show, albeit in a qualified way. Russia Today is a Kremlin mouthpiece which under US rules has been ordered to register as a ‘foreign agent’. FARA legislation, as it is known, has been an American statute since 1938 but has cropped up with alarming regularity since Trump took the White House.
This leaves Salmond in a curious place. A member of the Queen’s Privy Council, he is now employed by an organisation which a key ally of the UK considers to be a platform for Kremlin messaging, spreading misinformation, and interfering in Western democracy. Alyn Smyth, the SNP MEP, went on record as wondering what on earth Salmond was thinking or, ahem, stronger words to that effect.
Alex Salmond also puts his party in a curious place. The SNP of course desire an independent Scotland. The nationalists have their roots in a 1930s political movement that thought Scotland was being short-changed by the British Empire. Russia was never a fan of said empire and perhaps the Great Game is now playing itself out in Edinburgh. This places Sturgeon and her SNP government in Holyrood vulnerable to accusations of being pawns in the Russian’s game of misinformation; playthings of the Kremlin’s interference in Western Democracy.
Already, there are those in the pro-Indy movement who have leapt to Salmond’s defence. “Aren’t Murdoch, the Daily Mail, and the BBC, not the same as Russia Today?” they ask. Well no, they’re not, since they’re asking. Decide for yourself what you think of in-built bias in the license fee funded BBC, or take a view on British Newspapers who do seek, and have some claim, to influencing British elections, but they are not the same as Russia Today.
Scotland’s First Minister sees this herself. More self-aware than her predecessor, Nicola Sturgeon will need to find a way to keep in line the wing of her party who demand the destruction of the British state parallel to the creation of a Scottish one. Competence and credibility are badges the SNP crave the most.