Alistair Darling, currently head of the tightly branded Better Together / No Thanks / UKOK / No campaign, thinks that what we have in Scotland is “non-civic nationalism”, and allegedly agreed with an interviewer that it is “Blood-and-Soil nationalism”.
Except he didn’t. That’s not what he said, apparently. It is only what was said when he, and his campaign Twitter accounts tweeted about and linked to when the article was first published online. And it is what he said if you read the print edition.
However, after a few hours, late at night, a ‘redaction’ appeared in the online version, swiftly followed by an update to a BBC News item on the interview, which said that he did not say this. The actual words he said were reported by the New Statesman as an “inaudible mumble’. And around a week later, the critical part of the interview’s sound recording was released, where there was nothing inaudible, but the phrase “That’s what it is at heart” is clearly audible.
Which is not mentioned in the transcript at all. And the article has also been edited to remove what the publication label ‘the disputed exchange’ so that it is not the same as it was when it was originally published, and as it was printed.
And the online article does not read the same as the reported ‘correct’ transcript which precedes the same article.
So that’s all crystal clear then.
The whole thing stinks of desperation. Darling is like a punch-drunk boxer who keeps getting pushed out by his corner, who refuse to throw in the towel, except they’ve slipped a horseshoe into one of his gloves for this round.
In the first place, the phrase “Blood and Soil” was most famously utilised by the Nazi Party in Germany. No politician can utter those words and be unaware of the association. “Blood and Soil” refers to an ideology that centred on ethnicity based on two factors – descent blood, and territory. So to say something is blood and soil nationalism is to say it is ethnic nationalism. As the Wings over Scotland media digest says on this issue “…there are only two kinds of nationalism – “civic” nationalism, an inclusive creed in which a nation is defined by the simple geography of its location and which therefore encompasses anyone who lives there regardless of where they were born, and “ethnic” nationalism, an exclusive and hostile form where the nation’s supposed characteristics are held to be racial and genetic.”
Secondly, major interviews like this are always sent to their subjects prior to publication. Especially as the New Statesman is essentially a Labour Party journal. So Darling knew what was written in advance. And Darling, or his media people, were too pea-brained to realise they’d gone too far on this one and should ask for an edit.
After the fat was in the fire, and the article went live online, there was a noticeable adverse reaction on Twitter to the use of this phrase. There was outrage, to use a cliché. And then, later that day, the use of the phrase was denied, and later that same evening after 10:30pm, the publication issued a mangled statement telling us there had been a transcription error, and in fact, an ‘inaudible mumble’ had been mistakenly typed up as “blood-and-soil nationalism”, but also said that the usage was ‘disputed’.
A BBC article referring to the row was also updated within minutes, clarifying that the phrase had not been used. Clearly, desperate Better Together / No Thanks / UKOK / No media fixers had worked on the publication and the BBC to fix history quickly.
Thirdly, none of this was helped by the additional comparison of Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond to Kim Jong-il. The article was headed by a crude photoshop of Salmond portrayed as the dictatorial leader of North Korea, described as a ‘montage’. As if that were not an offensive enough way to portray a man who was elected by by far the largest majority of any UK leader, and whose party has 65 out of 129 of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. This at least was uncontested by Darling. He did make that comparison.
There is no place for the language and imagery of blood and soil in a debate about the future of Scotland – it is a deeply, utterly offensive association. Most politicians, when they sense they are losing, say stupid things, desperate things. Most politicians have the backbone to apologise when they say things that are wrong, or wrongly interpreted. Darling is a desperate man, but not an apologetic one.
In most political campaigns, Darling would be croaked – he’d be tossed aside like a diseased cur. But this is no ordinary political campaign, because all of the normally competing UK factions, desperate for self-preservation, are colluding against Scottish Independence. They know, they’ll have to stick with him or look like utter fools. And at the moment, there is no cretin dumb enough to want that job.
It is a truly poisonous task to defend the status quo in the UK, never mind to say it’s ‘better’.
- This is a kingdom with over a million using food banks, surging popularity for the reactionary UKIP party in England, making more brutal cuts to welfare, privatising public health, with a spiralling national debt, and bloody minded anti-European rhetoric, run by a privileged elite of millionaires.
- Compare that with an resource rich, increasingly confident and socially inclusive country with a distinct culture, legal system and educational heritage which sees a once-in-a-lifetime chance for liberty, has expanded free education and healthcare, embraces the internationalism of Europe, and and is run by a popular and effective government.
Darling will stagger on like a wounded hyena. But if he ever says anything like this again, he’ll be quietly axed or completely sidelined by the backroom fixers, who know that, even in this poisonous atmosphere of fear and loathing, there are some things you cannot say. Because we are all listening very carefully.
The prize is a better country for the people of Scotland. And that’s only 98 days away.