Siobhan Tolland: Why it's more than bluster when the Tories spin that they're 'winning' in Scotland

CommonSpace columnist Siobhan Tolland suspects the Tories have a much more long-term strategy than opponents realise

I HAVE been thinking about this high pitched, salivating media hype about how the Tories won the Scottish local council elections. 

I had friends contacting me all worried that the Tories were on the rise again. The Wee Ginger Dug tells us that the hype was so bad that a BBC guest thought the Tories had taken Glasgow - a perception that wasn’t all that unusual. If you didn’t live in Scotland you really would think the Tories had won.

I don’t want to talk about how utterly untrue this is. We already know that. But the political theorist and Nazi Germany exile Hannah Arendt keeps ringing in my ears, as a way of understanding exactly what was behind this Tory media frenzy of Conservative victory.

I think, if we look at Theresa May’s language and actions since she came in to power, we know exactly what the intention is. In non-totalitarian language it translates as: democracy is dead.

Arendt wrote about totalitarianism and I discovered her when people were talking about Donald Trump. She explained that in Nazi Germany, the liberal opposition was ill equipped to fight the Nazis because it never understood the language of totalitarianism.

The language runs like this. When the state made statements and pushed propaganda about the Jewish community, the liberal opposition would fact-check and offer evidence that X information was simply not true.

What it didn’t understand, she goes on to explain, is that the propaganda was never intended to be a statement of fact, it was meant to be a prophecy: an outline of what the Nazis intended to do.

The particularly chilling example she chose was one where Hitler predicted that Jewish financiers hurling more people into a world war would result in the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe. "Translated into nontotalitarian language, this meant: I intend to make war and I intend to kill the Jews of Europe."

The language became a window into future actions as well as offering just enough credibility to push these actions through. Afterwards, this language became the alibi: it was always meant to happen, we said so.

One of May’s first acts as prime minister was to force Brexit through by ignoring parliament. It was only the Supreme Court that forced the Tories back into the democratic process.

Looking at the coverage of the Scottish elections through Arendt’s lens is an extremely enlightening process, then, because we see a much more sinister strategy at play. The line that the Tories were the real winners should not be treated as a statement of fact. We should it as a window into what they intend to do.

What is the intention behind the continuous notion that the Tories are the real victors in Scotland? That Ruth Davidson is more popular than Nicola Sturgeon? That Theresa May is more in touch with the people of Scotland than Sturgeon is? That there is no appetite for a second Scottish independence referendum?

I think, if we look at May’s language and actions since she came in to power, we know exactly what the intention is. In non-totalitarian language it translates as: democracy is dead.

One of May’s first acts as prime minister was to force Brexit through by ignoring parliament. It was only the Supreme Court that forced the Tories back into the democratic process. This tells us very clearly that democracy was never intended to be part of May’s post-Brexit government.

Her General Election announcement continued this as she complained that the opposition was getting in her way. The Daily Mail expressed her sentiments more forcefully when it demanded, "crush the saboteurs". 

This tells us very clearly that democracy was never intended to be part of May’s post-Brexit government.

Courted, private dinnered and headhunted by Downing Street, the Daily Mail has become the unofficial yet unfettered translator of the May government. And in that, we should be scared about what the government’s intentions are on 9 June.

Democracy is sabotaging May’s government. This includes the SNP - a party that intends to break away from UK, and a party with massive, and increasingly entrenched, power across all three of Scotland’s political institutions. This is now seen as an open threat to the union.

The narrative that the Tories were the winners and that the SNP is declining, then, is not based on fact. This tells us what they intend to do. This is the power grab Sturgeon is talking about. This is the language that lays the groundwork for smashing the Scottish democratic structures and imposing Tory rule.

The Tories were what we wanted anyway, right? You can see this clearly with the obsession with polls about the referendum. We are constantly hearing that the people of Scotland don’t want a referendum, and that the polls tell us so.

Putting aside whether this is accurate or not, these polls have been used to legitimise over-riding the Scottish democratic process.

Her General Election announcement continued this as she complained that the opposition was getting in her way. The Daily Mail expressed her sentiments more forcefully when it demanded, "crush the saboteurs".

Andrew Marr’s interview with Alex Salmond 10 days after the Scottish Parliament approved a second referendum revealed this intent very clearly. He noted that May can say "now is not the time for a referendum" because that’s what the polls say. The fact that the Scottish Parliament had already approved a referendum had no bearing, for Marr, in the interview, because it seems it has no bearing in the political process.

Polls were central to this debate, not the voice of the Scottish Parliament. Can you imagine a Westminster vote being ignored because the polls said differently? It is the political equivalent of rescinding on Brexit because the polls said 'remain'. This is a wilful ignoring of a democratic mandate.

But the polls themselves were never relevant. It was just a means to justify ignoring democracy. When you hear the media and the Tories say "but the polls said there isn’t an appetite for a referendum" then you should be translating this into: "F*** the democratic process!"

We shouldn’t underestimate the constant stream of the so-called Tory victory being hurled across the union. The narrative that Scotland loves the Tories is not just wishful or desperate thinking, it is laying the groundwork for things to come.

So when May talks about the opposition getting in the way of the strong and stable government and that the Tories really are what people want in Scotland, we need to translate this very clearly: 'We are going to smash the democratic process into a million pieces and impose our fascist will. And we are starting with Scotland.'

Picture courtesy of Jim Mattis

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