The furore surrounding David Starkey’s stupid comments, comparing Alex Salmond to a “Caledonian Hitler”, were more interesting for what people didn’t say, than for what they actually did. In comparison to the Economist cover, which was met with a general feeling of “don’t take it so seriously, it’s just a joke LOL!!!!!11111oneoneonwunwunwun” from those of a unionist persuasion, Starkey’s comments drew some more comforting words from our unionist friends. Murdo Fraser, who holds the distinguished title of “sole Scottish Tory politician I actually kind of like”, said: “Would someone please tell David Starkey to keep his trap shut?”, however this was about as close as any unionists came to outright criticising Starkey’s comments, and as you can no doubt see, he is in fact doing no such thing.
The general trend amongst unionists was to rubbish Starkey himself, rather than his comments. A sort of reverse ad hominem fallacy, where politicians still “play the man not the ball”, but rather than doing so to discredit his arguments – which is why argumentum ad hominem is usually utilised – they do it to avoid having to do so outright. It’s similar to the non-apology so loved by politicians, which gives the general air of an apology, but doesn’t go as far as to actually say the words “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong”. It was Scotland Tonight’s reaction to the comment that made me twig on to this phenomenon, as they said (in rather garbled English), “should we give these Starkey outburts credibility? Not sure many Scots take it all that seriously :)” In essence, this is just Starkey being Starkey, doing what he usually does. We shouldn’t take any notice, because it’s just him and his eccentric little ways. It must be right, because lots of other people say essentially the same thing (for instance, “David Starkey is a man who makes his living by making insults and building up his own notoriety…”– Jackson Carlaw MSP
Paul Martin MSP said: “These comments are uncalled for and have no place in any political discourse. These are just the latest in a series of wayward ramblings from David Starkey about politics and wider public life which smack of attention-seeking and have left him thoroughly discredited. To be honest, I would no sooner ask his advice on matters of state than I would my cat on matters of dentistry.” Answers on a postcard (well, in the comments section) if you can highlight the section where Martin actually says he disagrees with Starkey’s comments, rather than just saying he shouldn’t have made them (indeed, for all we know, the cat in question may have a whole repertoire of racist dentist-related jokes to which Mr Martin allows himself a guilty chuckle in the privacy of his home, but which he would completely condemn if aired in public – it is telling that Paul Martin’s cat has thus far been cynically prevented from making his views publicly known, dental-related or otherwise). This sort of apologist language is how casual racism, misogyny and homophobia get tolerated in society; it may suit us to apply this tactic when it is your grandad (or cat) airing “old fashioned” views when you’re watching TV, but it’s not good enough when a famous academic and regular TV pundit makes these comments in public.
Of course, while most unionists seem to have learned from the Economist cover stushie – where their lack of condemnation and general inability to understand why people took it as an insult to Scotland made them look out-of-touch with the public mood – not all of them have. Michael McCann MP said “Can anyone explain to me how an attack on Alex Salmond is an attack on Scotland? Is Salmond now a whole country?”
, displaying the usual inability to realise that comparing Salmond to a dictator means you are calling Scotland a dictatorship and mocking the democratic process that resulted in the SNP’s emphatic win last year. If Salmond is Hitler, then the SNP must be the Nazi Party, and all who voted for them are facilitators of fascism (but then, the “Scottish Nazi Party” insult is as well worn in Labour circles as the “Salmond = insert random fascist dictator here” insult.) Rather than being about civic nationalism and the self-determination of a nation, as most nationalist movements throughout the world are, there is some fundamental flaw amongst unionists of a certain ilk that cannot see past the “nationalism” of 1930s Germany, which was more about hatred of Jews than love of the German nation.
Indeed, this is exactly the point Starkey was making, comparing the anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany to the anti-Englishness that supposedly permeates the Scottish nationalist movement – clearly it is lost on Starkey, and those in the Labour party in particular that argue the same sort of point, that if such a fact were true, then English-born SNP politicians such as Michael Russell, Christine Grahame and Ian McKee are the proverbial turkeys voting for Christmas.
But perhaps the most telling omission from unionists comes from when you compare the reaction to Starkey making the ultimate insulting comparison – with absolutely no basis for doing so – with the reaction met by Jeremy Clarkson when he deigned to call Gordon Brown “a one-eyed Scottish idiot”.
It’s important to note that, despite the disparaging nature of his remarks and the intent behind them, the simple fact is that Gordon Brown was indeed the victim of an unfortunate accident which left him requiring a glass eye, thus making him one-eyed; Gordon Brown was indeed born in Giffnock and brought up in Kirkcaldy, thus making him Scottish; and Gordon Brown did indeed claim to have defied the laws of economics by ending boom and bust, thus making him an idiot. In fact, the only subjective part of Clarkson’s comment – whether or not Brown is an idiot – was the one bit that didn’t seem to draw ire from people, who were focused on the anti-disability and anti-Scottish thrust.
As penance for his remarks, the BBC was bombarded with calls to remove Clarkson from our screens, something which unionists have generally failed to do on this occasion (with the exception of Willie Rennie, who said “If this is the sort of trash he is serving up then broadcasters should make sure they don’t put him on any programmes from now on.”) Looking back at comments from politicians around the time of Clarkson’s comment, it’s noticeable that the comments were unequivocally condemned from all corners, including the SNP. Nobody said “oh, this is just the sort of thing Clarkson says – we should just ignore him”, or if they did, they were most certainly in the minority.
It’s interesting to note that the Guardian article above quoted Lord Foulkes criticising Clarkson’s comments and demanding he be taken off air until he apologised – can anyone think why the fair Lord has not been quite so vocal about someone comparing Alex Salmond to a fascist dictator from 1930s mainland Europe? And does anyone know why Paul Martin’s cat apparently thinks dentists are fascists?