On Thursday night, Tom Harris emailed me to ask if I had any material for LabourHame. Not before the weekend, I replied. I’m too busy. And on Friday, the world changed.
The politics of Scotland had seemed a minor matter for the last fortnight. The lies and deceit surrounding the phone hacking scandal, slowly smouldering for the last five years, burst spectacularly into flame. For all the attempts to find a Scottish angle, relating to the SNP’s equal (to our own) past obeisance at the altar of the Murdochs, this has been a British event. The only real Scottish relevance is the background realisation that it is absurd to suggest that this is happening in what some would have as a foreign country.
But even that seems trivial compared to the events in Norway.
No country is immune from nutters. Norway is the Country our Nationalist rivals most commonly quote when searching for an example as to how an independent Scotland might conduct its affairs. That’s not a criticism of them, for Norway is an admirable example: liberal in its social policy; egalitarian in its economic policy; engaged progressively in world affairs. If Scotland were to become independent, there are a lot of worse examples, not least in the nasty wee fascist apologist regimes in the Baltic Republics, with which the Nats also, from time to time, seek to associate themselves.
We are exceptionally lucky to live in an age and in a place where random acts of political violence are confined to nutters. No one on the left is entitled to self-satisfaction in this regard, for, while in relation to individual violent acts we are, probably, less guilty than others, when it comes to state violence, we can compete with the best.
But the lesson which emerges from the events of Utoya is a lesson for all of us, or at least all of us who believe politics should only be conducted through civilised debate. We need to be careful.
One of the Sunday papers (a British one, not a Scottish one) writes today about the violent rhetoric which hides behind the anonymity enjoyed by those posting on the internet. Its observations are all too familiar to those acquainted with Scottish cybernationalism.. Almost all of the cybernats wouldn’t hurt a fly. They must however have regard to the terms of their dialogue; not in respect of the offence they cause to their opponents but rather to the danger that there might be the occasional nutter, on their own side, inclined to take them seriously. Just as any number of Rangers fans expressing their semi-ironic hatred of Neil Lennon appear to have lead to someone deciding to send him a bomb; just as legitimate (if misconceived) opposition to multiculturalism, expressed in intemperate terms, appears to have inspired Breivik. There is nothing wrong with robust debate but those who hide behind internet anonymity to express caricatured and extreme versions of their own views need to be careful that all of those who read them realise that this is all they are expressing, a caricatured and extreme view, rather than, instead, a coded “call to action”.
Certainly, we can’t let nutters constrain the terms of our debate but, equally, we shouldn’t forget that there are, regrettably, plenty of nutters out there. And that, nutters or not, the enemies of democracy are the enemies of us all.