Allan Massie: Politicians can always find good reasons to curtail liberties
Friday, June 29, 2018 at 9:21
Simon Clark

Forest's new report, 'The McNanny State: How Scotland is becoming a puritan's playpen', was published this week.

Written by former MSP Brian Monteith, it features a foreword by journalist and novelist Allan Massie.

Not to be confused with his son Alex who writes for the Spectator, among others, Massie senior has written regular columns for the Scotsman, Sunday Times (Scotland) and the Scottish Daily Mail.

He is also the author of nearly 30 books including 20 novels. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he was awarded a CBE in 2013 for services to literature.

Now 79, Massie is a smoker whose favourite brand is Gitanes sans Filtre. A charming and outwardly mild-mannered man, his "indignant foreword", reprinted in full below, is a hard-hitting comment on the Scottish Government and politicians who "can always find good reasons to curtail liberties".

WRITING of his time as a Conservative and Unionist parliamentary candidate before 1914, John Buchan remembered that while Tories were better-born, the Liberals were sure they were born better. As Brian Monteith demonstrates in this masterly survey of the almost twenty years of devolved government in Scotland, we are now in the grip of a political class that is complacently certain of its moral or ethical superiority, a class that in its ineffable conceit has no doubt that it knows what is good for us, and does not hesitate to legislate accordingly. The Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland may have lost much of their old authority, but that authority has been transferred to the political class, or been annexed by its members. Scotland today is governed by men and women belonging to the class of beings whom Robert Burns resented and mocked as the 'unco’ gude'. Ever since the Scottish Parliament came into being in 1999, the politicians have chipped away at the liberties of the people.

Brian Monteith calls Scotland today a McNanny State. Fair enough, you may say, for we have a state where the politicians, like Nanny, know what is best for us and are determined to teach us good behaviour. Yet the term is unfair to Nanny. A good Nanny prepared the children in her care to grow up, to be free of her, to become eventually responsible young adults. The Scottish state today treats adults as people incapable of managing their own lives and, if they are parents, as people who cannot be trusted with the unfettered care of their children. So it’s not a Nanny, or McNanny, State. It’s more like a soft fascist one: soft because there is no violence or brutality, no castor oil or camps for delinquents; yet fascist because the logic of its policies is that politicians are the masters, not the servants of the people, while the people must be pressed into a way of life as approved by the 'unco’ gude'.

Like hard big-F Fascist states, our soft small-f fascist one recognises the family as a subversive force, potentially subversive at any rate. So children are first fed, as Monteith reports, with propaganda that will render them critical of their parents, a policy pursued by the Fascists in Italy, Germany, and the nominally Communist Soviet Union. Next, our Scottish Government made its resentment and distrust of the family explicit by introducing its proposal that every child should have a state-appointed Guardian, a 'named person' responsible for overseeing the child’s welfare from birth to adulthood. Opposition has seen the plan somewhat diluted and its implementation delayed. You would however have to be a trusting innocent not to realise that once the proposal has been enacted, then the 'ratchet-effect', as seen, and so well described by Monteith, in the operation of anti-smoking and anti-drink legislation, will begin; restrictions on parental rights will be tightened and the power of the named person and the State will be extended.

Robert Burns used laughter as a weapon against the unco’ gude - see 'Holy Willie’s Prayer'. We ought likewise to mock the self-righteousness of today’s Holy Willies, and expose their hypocrisy. One example – a small but significant one – is the readiness to grant charitable status to a political pressure group like ASH Scotland. This body, formed to lobby against the tobacco industry and, by extension, with the purpose of restricting the freedom to smoke, gets the bulk of its income from taxpayers. The smokers it persecutes are taxpayers, disproportionately highly taxed ones indeed. So they are compelled to finance an organisation that harasses them.

Politicians can always find good reasons to curtail liberties, invoking the General Interest, as they do so. In this the Scottish Government is no worse than others. But it is still bad. Brian Monteith’s examination of the consequences of devolving power to Holyrood is measured – more measured than this indignant foreword - and cogent. He recognises more clearly than most that the extension of government is always presented first as a boon and blessing, and time may pass before it is felt as a burden and a curse.

He calls for action. I hope, without much confidence, that it is not too late for his call to be answered, and we elect politicians who respect inherited liberties and speak up for the common sense of people, and against the prejudices of the Unco’ Gude.

Allan Massie
June 2018

To download the full report click here. Hard copies are also available on request.

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