I see a couple of extremely depressing aspects from the reaction to last week's Scottish local election results. Depressing because they are long-standing and show how little Scotland fundamentally changes in the face of wishful sloganising.
The first is the apparent weaponising of current Scottish political debate through the quite public introduction of religious sectarianism. The conflation of 'Yoons' and the Orange Order in the minds of some SNP members and supporters, to explain their failure to 'sweep the board' in every council seat, is a disturbing development and one which, as far as I can see, shows no sign of being arrested by the SNP leadership.
There seems now to be a growing sense that Scotland's political culture is regressing. The cause of independence is becoming, in some parts, associated with Irish republicanism and a wish to stay in the UK is again being identified with good old-fashioned loyalist Protestantism. The extent and depth of this trend cannot yet be estimated but the proximity of the next general election which is already seen by many as the second referendum on independence will, I'm sure, provide more data. Is it really the case that the whole debate is to be returned to the 17th century? Indeed, is Scotland condemned to fight what historians call the English civil war until the end of time?
I remember when William Wolfe, before he became chairman of the SNP in 1969, had issues with the tendency of Catholics in Scotland to support the Labour party and he was at that time distrusted as a sectarian. However, when I met him in Govan in 1990 at James Kelman's event, 'Self-Determination and Power', he had become interested in Taoism, and profoundly understood that his stance in the early days was tribal and self-defeating. If Scotland was to have independence then all the people must have it, individually and collectively. Scotland could not end up like Northern Ireland or Zimbabwe, where brutal tribal repression in Matabeleland followed independence.
Sectarianism is a cancer, particularly in the west of Scotland. It is supposedly religious in our case but it is actually an expression of our tribal origins, our need for binary, us and them, solutions. Scotland will never be ready for independence or any kind of successful future if we allow sectarianism of this kind back into the mainstream of our political culture. All of our political leaders and activists must realise this. God knows we have enough problems.
The second issue is the reaction to some deprived areas in the country having the gall to return Conservatives to their local councils. The level of outrage felt by everyone except Conservatives at this development is, I find, particularly depressing. 'How could these poor people vote for the evil Conservatives. How dare they not realise that they are poor? Are they mentally ill? They must be Protestant Yoons.' Clearly these maverick voters have simply failed to understand their place in the order of things.
Don't you find this continuing and very Scottish pattern of inverted snobbery breathtaking? The people who live in Scotland's most deprived areas have done so under both Labour and SNP for a very long time. Clearly the message they receive from successive local and national administrations is that their deprivation should be a lasting source of pride, a badge that they must wear on behalf of the nation. These heroic people are our world leaders in deprivation and they should understand their position in our pantheon of institutionalised victimhood. 'You just have to look at Ferguslie Park to see how Scotland has been neglected.'
Maybe some people in Ferguslie Park just got fed up being the poor standard-bearers of the nation's political narrative. Maybe they thought, 'Nobody has helped us so far, let's try the Tories. What have we got to lose?'
Incredibly, we have trained ourselves to see Scotland as some kind of morally superior social democratic paradise populated by inclusive, progressive paragons. The public discourse following the local elections last week utterly destroys these myths – I wish, once and for all. It really is time that we took Robert Burns's advice and started seeing ourselves as others see us.