I am grateful to my daughter Grace for pointing me to this cartoon. She kept coming through with cups of tea to see how I was getting on with my Scotsman article only to find me on Twitter. But I wasn't Tweeting about The Apprentice (great that Stella won though!)
An irritating but sadly typical Green tweeter claimed the SNP was racist for suggesting that English students could be charged fees at Scottish universities. This person refused to respond to the fact that English families living in Scotland could be confident that their children's fees would be paid under this arrangement. Where's the racism there? Everyone living in Scotland will be treated the same whatever their cultural or ethnic background. The support of undergraduates from outside Scotland is the responsibility of their own governments - which include Northern Ireland and Wales as well as Westminster, another fact the Green Tweeter ignored in his determination to paint nationalists as anti-English. The Welsh are paying the fees of their own students. Westminster refuses to do the same for English students and it is at Westminster that protests should be directed.
When someone gets it wrong online it is hard to let go. But how do you argue with individuals who refuse to engage with the facts? I am particularly concerned about the attitude of Green Tweeters to the SNP, which does little service to the values of their movement. Their accusations need to be countered at some length and their motives scrutinised.
I think this charge - racism - is so serious that we need to challenge it whenever it is thrown at us. As a supporter of Scottish independence all my life - and the belief that voting SNP is the best way to achieve that - I find such comments deeply offensive. My black friends find them ludicrous. I am personally offended as someone who has lived and worked in England, has many English friends and admires many aspects of that culture. The SNP has English and non-white members, but that's just another inconvenient fact for those who seek to gain political advantage by name-calling and smears. The SNP was, along with the SSP, at the centre of the campaign against the detention of asylum seekers' children - when the Labour-Liberal Dem government refused to challenge a regime in Dungavel which punished mothers for hoarding breakfast cereal in order to feed their babies outwith canteen hours. It was an SNP MSP, Anne McLaughlin, who alerted the rest of Scotland to the plight of Precious Mhango and her mother, victims of the UK Borders Agency, first under Labour then The Con Dem Coalition. Alex Salmond personally intervened in the Mhango case.
The fees issue is not of Scotland's making and certainly not the fault of the SNP. The grant Scotland receives from Westminster ( a tiny proportion of the taxes we actually sent to London) does not cover the education of people outside Scotland. But our doughty Green, along with other unthinking protesters, believes that this money should be used to subsidize anyone who gains a place at a Scottish University. Fine in a hypothetical, ideal world. But Scotland is not the Big Rock Candy Mountain, especially not with Tory Liberal cuts to contend with. Universities are in charge of their own admissions and will quite naturally give places to the best qualified candidates. England has ten times the population of Scotland so would, numerically, have more well qualified applicants who will apply to universities with no fees. Who can blame them? This will result in thousands of Scottish students failing to get a place at university, something that concerns many people such as the commentator Kenny Farquharson, who is hardly SNP.
I should also deal here with the anomaly that EU students are entitled to a free education in Scotland, even when English under-graduates are charged. Indeed English students already pay more than Scottish and EU students under this odd rule, a situation put in place by Labour. This is a legal position which the SNP education secretary Michael Russell says is unfair and which he is trying to challenge. However it should also be pointed out that EU students do not face the same £9000 per annum fees as their English counterparts. In many countries tuition remains free. Therefore there is not the same incentive for Europeans to come here, other than for a brief exchange term to experience another country. Even so, Scotland is prepared to subsidize English students to some extent. Their own government will charge £9000, while we will only charge them £6000 if the plans goes ahead - a £3000 shortfall that will come out of other Scottish budgets. That seems to me like a generous goodwill gesture.
This is a practical problem of stretching budgets, nothing to do with racism. In the United States, the big state universities charge students more if they live outside the state. Their state budgets are intended for people who live within their boundaries. No racism there. My daughter Grace is a student at the private university MIT, where the financial aid is extremely generous. All students are treated the same for financial aid, but for that reason MIT restricts the admitted number of foreign undergraduates to 100 a year out of 1300. The scholarships on which its endowment is built are mainly intended for US students. Much of the research is funded by the US government, so there is an expectation that the brightest American students will be the main beneficiaries. Nobody thinks that is racist.
Why are green activists trying to exploit the SNP's genuine attempts to find a solution to a problem made in Westminster? Nobody who respects and understands Scottish politics, culture and history thinks the SNP is racist. Far left parties in Scotland, such as the Scottish Socialist Party, long ago accepted Scottish Nationalism as a progressive movement. Even where they disagree with aspects of the SNP's social democratic programme, there are no accusations of racism.
The Greens are more opportunistic. It is quite inconceivable that Greens would accuse a national liberation movement of "racism" because it sought to extract its people from a larger, more exploitative state. The Union has exploited Scotland's natural resources and its people for hundreds of years - whether through the disproportionate number of Scottish infantry soldiers fighting British wars, the coal, iron and industrial wealth built on the backs of workers with the lowest average wages and poorest housing in the UK, the vast areas of Highland land bought up and emptied of indigenous people for the recreation of the ruling classes, or the billions of pounds worth of oil revenues that continue to disappear into the UK Treasury. To challenge the UK state responsible for such injustices is not racist.
Of course Scotland's position is, historically, more complex than a former colony because of its special status as "junior partner" in the British Empire. Its elites benefited from The Union - which is why they are often the most vociferous in defending it and doing their own country down. But that is a fairly universal example of manufactured consensus. Centralising states will often recruit members from the fringe to high profile positions in order to obtain a veneer of legitimacy. How many times did you hear that Scotland was well represented in the UK because of Scots in the cabinet? But the true nature of power lies not in personal influence but the arithmetic of the UK parliament, which controls all the major economic decisions. Scotland will always be out numbered and out voted. Our natural resources continue to subsidize the UK. If we were such a drag, the establishment would have ditched us long ago.
So why are supposedly radical Greens, quick to protest against every other injustice, so resistant to these facts? As a party, they claim to support Scottish independence, but I see little evidence of this in their campaigning. In most recent matters they throw in their lot with the establishment unionist parties who work together against Scotland's interests. Their tweeters, some employed by the party, joined in the politicised hysteria around the snow story - although Patrick Harvie's later comments in the Transport Committee were a bit more encouraging. But where is the Green support for the SNP campaign for real economic power for the parliament? Where is the support for John Swinney's supermarket tax? Where is the acknowledgement of the Scottish government commitment to renewables? The Greens clearly feel that they have more votes to gain from carping and smearing the SNP along with the conservative mainstream. Perhaps because they see themselves battling for the same votes next May. So much for the new politics.