The extraordinary outburst against Joan McAlpine’s first column for the Daily Record has exposed a fault-line in Scottish politics. Read it here. It is an unremarkable commentary on the relationship between Scotland and England within the British State and a joke about the dependency culture that is the usual caricature of Scotland from down south. It repeats the point made in the SNP Manifesto – why would you give your wages to your next door neighbour then ask for them to give a portion of it back each month?
“Here’s the deal. She hands over all her assets to him and he will give her a handout in return. He’ll decide the amount, but she can then spend it as she likes. Who can argue with that? But if she gets uppity, mind, her money will be cut. She should remember how lucky she is.”
There’s nothing inappropriate in this metaphor: “Sometimes, translating a political relationship into a human equivalent makes us see things clearer.”
So how do we account for the mass hysteria that followed? Ian Smart said: “She should have been forced to apologise or expelled.Virtually no reaction could be OTT. It is a nauseating metaphor that has no place in civilised debate.” Angus Macleod stuttered that: “Joan, if I was English I’d be deeply offended by your column.” A sort of groupthink quickly forms on twitter and normally even-handed/minded folks like Natalie McGarry and Kate Higgins being swept along on the tide of fake-horror and distaste.
Some of this is just twitter-frenzy.
But reading the article you have to be left astonished at the stooshie. Something else is going on. That something else has three parts.
First the Daily Record is the Labour Party’s dead-tree news-sheet. This is the holy-grail of Scottish Labour orthodoxy. This is the paper that published the famous scare that ‘cheap bevvy to end under SNP’. Remember Torcuil Crichton’s faux-pas on the Lib Dems? This article being published today is deeply unsettling for the comrades of the People’s Party.
Second, Joan does something that British politicians REALLY don’t like. She talks about power and makes relationships explicit in popular terms. This is virtually unheard of and very dangerous territory.
Third, Joan is a high-profile, clever woman with the gift of the gab and the power of the pen. I suspect she’ll roll out this sort of stuff week on week, appealing to women across the heads of the usual media filter. Deeply threatening stuff. The women’s vote is there to be won, and could be a key to YES. Her themes aren’t just about the rampant social inequalities of contemporary Britain – social geographer Danny Dorling writes in Injustice:
“In countries such as Britain people last lived lives as unequal as today, as measured by wage inequality, in 1854, when Charles Dickens was writing Hard Times“ – they are about describing a contemporary Scotland.
“The anti-independence parties – Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat – have formed a united front to tell Scotland she isn’t capable of controlling her own economy, taxes, resources, benefits and pensions. They are just like the sexist old dinosaurs who insist men should handle the finances. Fortunately, that kind of prehistoric attitude is dying out in families. So why put up with it in politics?”
The abuse of the nationalist movement by the mainstream media is well documented elsewhere, we have become totally inured to it. Salmond pallying up to Murdoch is a terrible mistake. Some people have very short memories (see pic). But the mock outrage over Joan’s article shows just how sensitive the unionist parties are to the nature of the relationship she describes being laid bare and the sheer terror that the press they take for granted might desert them.