BY HAMISH GOBSON
In his play about Scottish politics, the prominent English opinion former, William Shakespeare, had “Three Witches” chant:
The Witches were not identified, presumably on data protection grounds, but the Director of a recent production of “the Scottish play” made them look like women, though they all had beards of which Russell Brand would be proud. Being more interested in politics than personalities, the Witches were right to confine themselves to noting that the air of Holyrood is filthy, and that the atmosphere in the debating chamber is about as open and transparent as the toxic fog that descends on blasted heaths when the SNP is out canvassing.
But the main take-away from their analysis of the Scottish parliamentary warfare and assassination tradition is that “fair is foul” and “foul is fair”. I draw attention to that because Humza Yousaf and his henchgang have given a masterclass on foul behaviour in the case of Fergus Ewing, the MSP for Inverness and Lochaber. He is a well-known nationalist parliamentarian who has served in the Holyrood parliament since its inception in 1999 and has never, to my knowledge as a student of the interaction of seaweed and politics, committed a greedy or uncharitable act in public life.
Older readers will remember Fergus’s mother, Margaret Ewing. She shot to fame after she scored the winning gaol for Celtic against Inter Moron at the Estádio Nacional in Hamilton in 1967. Not only did she have a wicked left boot, she was also known for saying: “Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.”
Few have forgotten that iconic moment. Though only three at the time, the celebrated political commentator, Gerry Hassan, described her statement as:
Now, the Yousafites have ganged up against young Fergus, who is an honourable man and a gent – probably for exactly that reason. In May this year, he famously tore up a copy of ‘The Angry Student’s Guide to Shitting on your Neighbour’ during a parliamentary debate on stealing the planet from its inhabitants. The measure he objected to mandated the conversion of Scotland’s fishing grounds into marine reserves in order to help Chinese industrialists. As he represents a fishing constituency, it was understandable that Fergus was furious. You can see his tearing act towards the end of this clip.
Now the revenge of the Witches is being visited upon the Thane of Inverness and Lochaber. They have decided that he has eaten “the insane root / That takes the reason prisoner.” They intend to “drain him dry as hay” so “he shall dwindle, peak and pine.”
The practical meaning of dwindling, peaking and pining in this context is that Ewing has been suspended from the Party for a bit. His take on the whole business is that he is being forced by the Yousafites to choose between loyalty to his constituents and loyalty to the Party.
Even a frond of stunted kelp could see that this is an inversion of the basic principle of democracy, in which the people are sovereign and the parliament does what it is told by voters’ representatives. Parties do not OWN their electors.
The Yousavian constitutional principle appears to be parliamentary sovereignty and the ditching of the people as a component of the political system. Street-level humanity can clog up a smoothly-running rip-off in almost any circumstances. Only little people think voting makes a difference to anything. That makes them a nuisance, but if the likes of Fergus Ewing can be stamped into the mud, not a permanent one.
Fergus’s one flaw is his rather late-twentieth-century idea that a Scotland run along Irish lines would be a nicer place to live in, and would contribute more to the world at large, than one which has escaped the Soviet-style bureaucracy that is based in Brussels. He surely knows the damage that unchallengeable bureaucracy has done to nature in Scotland? But he holds his beliefs sincerely and intelligently, which makes it fine by me, in moderation.
Variety is not only the spice of life, it is also the driver of evolution – and has been since primeval algae bootstrapped themselves into swaying fronds of red, green and brown seaweed in the early Cryogenic Age, seven hundred millions years ago, which is long before even the battle of Stirling Bridge, much less Bannockburn. The problem is that this makes Fergus out of place in a Party which claims to believe in sovereignty of the people but which actually prefers the sovereignty of a parliament that it thinks it can control indefinitely due to Donald Dewar’s clownish voting rules.
But it is no use complaining. Open and transparent Scotland is doing its best to make certain things unsayable, and that is where Dr Iain McGilchrist comes in.
For the benefit of those who have not had a chance to listen to the interview I recommended last time, I will quote the two most important passages from it. The underlying theme of all the Sage of Talisker writes in his role as neuropsychiatrist to the nation, is that the value-free, manipulative part of the brain, the left-hemisphere bit, which governs grasping, has taken control of aspects of life which ought, in a stable and relatively just society, to be the preserve of the more values-conscious and creative right hemisphere. The best interview he gave introducing his thinking was this one on the podcast UnHerd.
In the podcast I mentioned last time he explained the consequences. “I share a very general fear of the way in which our society is moving towards highly undesirable ends,” he said. “I see the domination of a way of thinking of the left hemisphere which is relatively simple and simply aims to help us grab things and get them but not to understand them and I’m worried that that is the direction in which we’re going…. We look like sleepwalkers who are shuffling our way towards the abyss… unless we wake up we will fall to destruction.”
What is that abyss? It is one in which those in power control speech, and therefore thought. I have written endlessly about the Hate Crime Act, but the Fergus Ewing saga shows even more clearly the consequences of a government that loves power but does not understand the rule of law, which is designed to limit that power. For example, it is now trying to control the judges, which could be the end of freedom of speech. That really will make certain things unsayable.
What has Ewing said that is unsayable? Essentially, it is that the Holyrood Greens talk through their compost chutes. But he is not allowed to say that. In the interests of Party power retention, Uncle Humza has put his foot down. That is the kind of behaviour McGilchrist implicitly refers to.
“Free speech,” he said, “is an extraordinarily important and a rather rare thing for a culture to be able to embrace and it was bought by our previous generations at the price of life and limb and suffering and we are now handing it away it seems me… This is not a good thing, however much you disapprove of certain things being said, free speech means nothing unless it means that people are free to say things you don’t like, otherwise it is not free speech…
“History shows us,” he continues, “not only that society stagnates and becomes something like the old Soviet Union where people were afraid to speak out against policies, against the doctrines, and so it becomes less creative and hellish to live in, but also it is a start on a path that is very worrying. Hannah Arendt said that when you say that a point of view is not to be questioned you have a tyranny and I hear people now saying that certain things cannot be questioned. That means we are in a tyranny already. Our civilization has fought for this not to happen and we mustn’t allow it to happen by default.”
Next time, I will give a bit more background about Dr McGilchrist and point out some of the wiser things he has said and written in the past.
In the meantime, let us hope Fergus Ewing survives. We need diversity of opinion in Holyrood, so long as it is honestly stated and based on legitimate political aims. Among those is not the financial massage of those members of the government whose eyes are bigger than their wallets. Their greedy, small-town authoritarianism requires the abridgement of free speech if they are to get away with their left-hemisphere greed. That is why, as McGilchrist says, we need to act now.
First step: understand that foul is not fair, and never will be so long as free-floating fronds wave rhythmically beneath real-world waves—say for another 700 million years or so.
Second step: support Fergus against the bearded Witches and the unarguably foul products of their compost chutes.
Republished by kind permission of Think Scotland. Hamish Gobson lives on the isle of Great Todday (Todaidh Mór) and features in Hating Tories: How Nicola Sturgeon Got into Government (1970-2007) – A Citizen’s Biography of a Driven Woman in a Drifting Parliament (Ian Mitchell, 2023) – available on Amazon.co.uk and also reviewed here by Tom Gallagher.