One of the loudest claims of Better Together during the 2014 independence referendum campaign was that the Westminster system guaranteed vastly superior standards of democracy and civil liberties than anything Scotland could provide for itself, and that in an independent Scotland peaceful protest and the espousal of constitutional positions opposed to the new Scottish establishment such as seeking a return to the UK would be criminalised.
As with so many of the fevered claims of anti-independence campaigners, this claim too has turned out to be psychological projection, with British nationalists imputing to independence campaigners things that the British state itself is doing.
In recent years we have seen increasing restrictions on the right to peaceful protest being brought in by those who describe themselves as champions of free speech, by which they mean that they will be vociferous in their claims of victimhood when challenged on their hate speech directed against the poor, migrants, women, and vulnerable minorities and the imaginary “liberal elites” even as they crack down on anything that challenges the status quo, the power and wealth of the privileged and well connected and the real British establishment.
There have been repeated attacks by this Tory government on the right to peaceful protest. Legislation rushed through Parliament prior to the coronation, saw people being arrested for simply raising banners saying Not My King. This was just the latest in restrictions on the right to peaceful protest and the right to take industrial action which has been imposed by this increasingly authoritarian government. The Labour party of Keir Starmer will not repeal any of these repressive measures.
Just this week we have seen an escalation in dangerous rhetoric from Suella Braverman, the British Government’s hate monger in chief, against a planned march due in London on Remembrance Sunday calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza where more than 10,000 people have died since 7 October.
Braverman described this as a “hate march” which would “desecrate” Remembrance Sunday and which would be offensive to “millions of decent British people”. Over the weekend Braverman also announced plans to make it a criminal offence for charities to give out tents to rough sleepers, describing rough sleeping as a “lifestyle choice” and claiming that many rough sleepers are foreign, as though that somehow makes them less deserving of compassion and respect. Millions of decent people find Suella Braverman offensive and would not hesitate to describe her as a sociopath.
We have now got to the point in Tory Britain where a march to call for a ceasefire on a day which commemorates a ceasefire is deemed to be offensive by the Home Secretary. Irony is truly dead. I am sure I am not the only person who finds that what is truly offensive is that a remembrance day on the anniversary of a ceasefire, a day which was originally supposed to be a solemn reflection on the horrors and insanity of war, a day on which we remember the sacrifice of the dead in order to ensure that such cruel slaughter never happens again, has over the years gradually morphed into a celebration of the military and the glorification of a British nationalism which is indecently eager to prosecute wars abroad while practicing a callous disregard for suffering and inequality at home.
While we are talking of respect, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an article in 2019 noting that alongside Jewish volunteers, 12,000 Palestinians enlisted in the British armed forces during WW2. They were abandoned and forgotten by Britain after they went home once the war was over. Their descendants are now under blockade and bombardment and the British Government thinks it is “offensive” to call for the violence to stop.
Now there has been another deeply concerning development in the descent of the United Kingdom into anti-democratic British nationalist authoritarianism. The British Government has drawn up proposals to broaden the definition of “extremism” to include anyone who “undermines” British values and institutions. This is a slippery slope towards criminalising dissent against the government and suppressing freedom of speech.
Orwell’s 1984 double-speak is alive and kicking in Britain in 2023. The party that supposedly values freedom of speech, tries to silence the public on the Palestinians, on protests, and now potentially on independence too.
There are fears that independence campaigners in Scotland and Wales and anti-monarchy campaigners across the UK could be criminalised under the new definition. The new definition has been prepared by civil servants working in Michael Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
The new definition reads: “Extremism is the promotion or advancement of any ideology which aims to overturn or undermine the UK’s system of parliamentary democracy, its institutions and values.”
Professor Alison Phipps, a prominent campaigner for refugee rights, noted: “This effectively proposes criminalising the independence movements and parties in the devolved administrations.”
This blog and others like it could be deemed to be “extremist” and criminalised under this new definition. The new catch all definition of extremist could encompass the constitutional views of half the population of Scotland. I regularly verbally attack and criticise the British state and its institutions. Like any sane person with functioning senses of humanity and compassion in a British state where so much of the government and its institutions do not function as they should, of course I want to undermine the institutions that are failing us and highlight the values that have driven them towards failure in order to replace them with something better, something which doesn’t look at rough sleepers sheltering in tents in doorways and decide that the problem is giving tents to the homeless. The UK is failing so badly that there is, in fact, almost no institution of government within it that should survive as it is now. .
Westminster is sclerotic and dysfunctional, an institution where privilege and entitlement are baked in, which is founded on an unfair voting system and is incapable of holding the government of the day to account and which neither the Labour nor the Conservatives are willing to reform. The House of Lords remains an offence against democracy. This entire charade is presided over by a royal family whose wealth is indecent and who are treated with a nauseating sycophancy. If protesting against all this makes me an extremist then I am proud to be an extremist.
Naturally this deeply alarming authoritarian development has met with a howl of protest from the mainstream media in Scotland. Naa, of course it hasn’t. This alarming development has scarcely been mentioned in most of the Scottish media. The anti-independence media is far more interested in attacking the devolved government than bothering itself with an outright assault on democracy itself by the Conservatives at Westminster.
In so doing the Scottish media is doing a grave disservice to the people of Scotland, whether they support independence or not. It is only by loud and vehement protests in the media against this blatantly undemocratic assault on freedom of speech that the Conservatives can be dissuaded from doing it. But the media in Scotland will not do so for fear of stoking up support for independence. Yet again the anti-independence media in Scotland shows itself to be more concerned with fending off independence at all costs than in defending standards of democracy and freedom of speech in the British state that it is so determined to keep Scotland a part of.
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