The Steve Bell cartoon in yesterday’s Guardian caused a fairly predictable reaction. SNP supporters and Yes voters were offended, some Guardian journalists drew ludicrous defensive comparisons citing Charlie Hebdo – as if people had called for Bell to be beheaded, rather than just expressed the opinion that the cartoon was nasty and racist – and lovers of comedy went off scratching their heads after fruitless attempts to understand what the joke was supposed to be.
(“It’s a quote!”, shouted quite a few people, naming about a dozen different historical figures as the alleged source of a line about trying everything once, but none of them offering anything by way of explanation on how that was connected to any comment or policy of Nicola Sturgeon’s or the SNP’s.)
Anyone naively thinking that the publication of the cartoon was just an unfortunate lapse or oversight will have been disappointed by today’s paper, which carries another painfully unfunny and incomprehensible Nat-bashing effort from Bell, although this time the offence is limited to the portrayal of Sturgeon and Alex Salmond as a pair of stereotypical kilt-wearing Jocks.
(The caption explains the strip as being purportedly about “Salmond and Sturgeon’s Highland fling”, but we haven’t a clue what that’s supposed to mean. We’re not aware of them having visited the Highlands recently and we can’t think of any characteristic of full fiscal autonomy that resembles a traditional dance.)
Unionists, meanwhile, indignantly pointed out to some complainants that attacking the SNP isn’t the same thing as attacking Scots as a whole. But as media hysteria about the apparently-unconscionable prospect of Scottish MPs influencing a UK government reaches fever pitch, that distinction is getting less and less meaninfgul.
45% of Scots voted Yes in the independence referendum, and most opinion polls show a higher percentage than that planning to vote for the SNP at this May’s general election. Those two groups are not identical – a sizeable minority (typically 15-20%) of SNP supporters oppose independence, and a significant number of supporters of other parties voted Yes last September.
The most recent Lord Ashcroft polls – conducted in areas which voted No in the referendum – found that only 42% of respondents said they definitely wouldn’t vote for the SNP (page 8). His previous poll, of largely Yes-supporting areas, found just 33% saying they definitely wouldn’t back the Nats (also page 8).
What we can deduce from all the above data is that a clear majority of Scots either already do vote for the SNP or are prepared to consider doing so. And what that in turn means, by an inevitable process of arithmetic, is that crass, insulting depictions of the SNP in fact are attacks on most – though not all – Scots.
So when the likes of Bell suggest, as he did last November, that Sturgeon leads a party that’s akin to the Nazis, that’s a much wider jibe than it seems.
(Again we’re left bemused by the “joke”. We get the first frame – mocking the SNP’s relentless positivity – and also the second frame about ludicrous political language, but we can’t for the life of us work out how that then leads to the “National Socialism” punchline. The Nazis weren’t exactly known for their sunny, upbeat rhetoric.)
The message blaring out of England all this year has been that Scots have no right to exert democratic political influence in the UK Parliament by voting for the parties they like. The right-wing media shrieks in outrage about “Tartan Stalinism” being imposed on the English if SNP votes let Ed Miliband in, while Labour clubs Scots over the head about how voting SNP will let the Tories in.
The tone results in demented headlines like this one in today’s Mirror:
Both sides of the media and all the Westminster parties chip in with similar words – menace, destruction, danger, terrifying, doomsday – to refer to a peaceful democratic process by which voters and parties pursue legitimate political aims.
The whole of Scotland is “othered”, turned from UK citizens into a sinister insurgency, an invading force, the barbarians at the gates. Scots are stupid savages, an inferior species of beasts which cannot be reasoned with:
Iain Macwhirter in today’s Herald calls it a “vile witch-hunt”, and he’s not overstating it. All sides, for their own reasons, are desperately trying to portray a vote for the SNP as a reckless, borderline terrorist act, for no other reason than that neither Labour nor the Tories can command enough support to secure a majority, even under a First Past The Post electoral system that grants absolute power on 35% of the vote.
In 2013 Steve Bell had suggested that Scotland – expressly the whole country, not the SNP – should “go and [—-] itself”, with nobody left in any doubt as to which word was being obscured.
The rest of the UK – the country which just months ago was begging Scotland to stay – has now joined in, because Scots foolishly heeded the pleas that they should remain in the United Kingdom and play a full part in its governance. Yet the moment they showed the slightest sign of doing so, they’ve been drowned in vitriol.
We suspect that if there’s a second independence referendum – and that event seems closer with every passing day – a “lovebombing” strategy will be rather less effective. And for that, if not for his services to comedy, we’ll owe Steve Bell a debt of gratitude. So we urge angry readers not to demand his silencing by the Guardian – censorship is wrong. Je suis Stevie.
And to Bell himself we say only this: keep ’em coming, champ.