Ruth Davidson Election 2017

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Ruth Davidson

Recorded coverage of a speech by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson on George Orwell and the 2017 general election, at University College London, Monday 15 May.

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You make it sound like First Dates. I think I will need Fred, the


concierge, to help us unaware. I hadn't really honoured to have been


asked to give this lecture, honoured personally but also in particular


because of the very invitation. It shows how the world has changed, and


I believe for the better. Apart from being the great novelist we know,


George Orwell was a guardian both of language and of democracy. He was a


foretell of future perils and as Tony saw rightly says a man of the


left, but he was also an old and here I stand to give a lecture in


his honour. I don't kid myself he would approve. He said that


politicians imply language to make murder respectable and give an


appearance of solidity to pure wind. Goodness knows what he would make of


the current election campaign. Strong, stable... No!


LAUGHTER I want to take a step back from the


general election, if only for an hour, to discuss one element of his


legacy, and as a subject matter I have chosen what we might now called


the politics of identity, or the question of nationalism and


patriotism. It was Orwell who wrote the two should not be confused, and


I would like to use this speech to examine the differences between the


two and how we need to combat the narrow nationalism of our times and


find a more pluralistic unpatriotic way forward. I would also like to


speak about some of my own experiences as a politician in


Scotland, and as someone who for more than five years has been


contesting a constitutional battle for identity politics has become


staples of the debate. To begin with, if we are going to discuss


this evening the difference between patriotism and nationalism I think


we should begin by defining exactly what it is we mean. What first then


of patriotism? For Orwell, patriotism was devotion to a


particular place, which he says "One believes to be the best in the world


but has no wish to force on other people." For me patriotism is the


accepted that one might as easily have come from Brazil as Britain,


but which are the same time recognises that since we are here,


in Britain, and since we all happen to be born on this particular set of


rocky islands in the north-west corner of Europe, let us all


celebrate it and feel pride in it, let us cheer Mo Farah directory, but


let's make sure we stick around and watch Usain Bolt break another


record as well. As Orwell suggests, patriotism is more unlikely. It


doesn't impose itself, doesn't take itself too seriously. It is the want


that the UK will succeed at the Eurovision but not really caring


when Bulgaria gives us nil points. LAUGHTER


It is my preparation of dogs but not mind when people prefer cats. It is


my coming out as homosexual women but not having a problem with


heterosexual men, as long as they take the bins out!


LAUGHTER So to be patriotically British does


not mean we have to oppose. Indeed patriotism celebrates difference and


messiness and we can be proudly Scottish, Welsh, Asian, Pakistani,


and at the same time enjoy our Britishness. Patriotism does not


force us to rank these identities in order as if one or other has a


higher claim. I am proud to be Scottish and British. I am proud to


be Scottish and British and have campaigned for the UK to remain


within the EU. I'm proud to be Scottish and British female in a


Christian and Conservative and from five and a fan of Hamilton the and


prepare dogs to cats, and so on. Patriotism simply says here is


great, come on in, the water is lovely. Patriotism is in this


respect are very positive thing, thing that can be sure, joined. It


doesn't set barriers but it celebrates our place in the world.


-- it can be shared and joined. If that is patriotism, how do we define


nationalism? Words are powerful beasts, and this one, nationalism,


appears at first glance to be very near synonym for patriotism, and


indeed for many the two are completely interchangeable. For


Orwell, however, they were very different. When he was writing about


nationalism in 1945, it was a time when the impact of aggressive


nationalism was of a different order of magnitude than anything we face


today, and his definition of nationalism was not only referring


to nationhood or attachment a government. Rather, National was in


his view the process of thinking one's individuality into a bigger


unit, whether a country or a political ideology or a religion. He


defined it as the assertion that this unit should be promoted above


all else as inherently virtuous, and that which was not that unit was


therefore without such virtue. By nationalism and he wrote, "I mean


first of all the habit of assuring that human beings can be classified


like insects and that whole blocks of millions are tens of millions of


people can be confidently labelled good or bad." He continued that


nationalism is the habit of identifying oneself with a single


nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising


no other duty than that which advances its interests. Orwell is


describing nationalism as a form of what today we would call identity


politics. And it is one of which he is clearly not a fan. It is a state


of mind by which definition cannot tolerate plurality. It is a state of


mind where one ideology, one method, must take precedence over all else


and which demands people support one camp or the other. And if you are


unwilling to make that decision then National 'ss will be perfectly happy


to make it for you. -- Nationalists will be perfectly happy to make it


for you. And treating people like insects to be smeared onto a display


board takes the force of a moral imperative. If we go back to Orwell


again, he said" as nearly as possible no nationalised Evra Cox,


thinks are right about anything except the superiority of his own


power unit -- no Nationalist ever talks. No nationalised can conceal


his allegiance." Patriotism can be the celebration of random geography,


but nationalism is the assertion that your place, your view, your


belief, the man's pre-eminence above all else. They are, I suggest, not


so much synonyms as mere polar opposites. I want to say something


that will I suspect getting into quite a bit of trouble, especially


this close to an election, and it is this. Unfortunately, when it comes


to nationalism, Orwell has all of us skewered, including myself. Because


very few of us, particularly those involved in politics like Tony and


myself, can really say we do not exhibit some degree and elements of


these characteristics in ourselves. Politicians by our very nature


divide into campus. Our camp, we declare, is where all the wisdom,


morality, energy and decency resides, and we assert that nothing


but perfidy lies in the other. This is the nature of party politics,


particularly three weeks out from an election, or three weeks on


Thursday, if you're counting. So George kind of got us on that one,


but it is not just politicians. Orwell has all of us. We are a


tribal species and in our effort to make sense of the world it would


simply be easier to draw the boundaries of our own identities


with our rejection of the other. And a further uncomfortable truth Orwell


hit upon 70 years ago is that for some of us the Nationalist instinct


is stronger than for others. To be specific in this instance, I will


speak of us Scots. There was an MP who said in a speech to parliament


that every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist. It was not


Alex Salmond but was John Buchan, the author of The 39 Steps, Unionist


MPs. He went on to add that if it could be proved a Scottish


Parliament were desirable, we should support it. He proved in the early


days Unionists to be devolutionist as well. In short, nationalism runs


deep, particularly when as often is the case your football and rugby


team is getting hammered, and indeed on such occasions I am sorry to have


to report that even the most passionate Pro-union Scots may have


questioned both the fortunate and parentage or large swathes of the


English population. In short, nationalism is part of the Scottish


psyche and it would only be hypocritical to deny it. But the


challenge laid by Orwell, the challenge, it is how we react? Do we


submit before this Nationalist instinct? And


dichotomy it demands of us? Or do we follow patriotism, where... And like


all great writers the questions posed by Orwell tamers. It seems to


me that far from fading overtime this one demands are direct


attention now, because whether it is due to the perceived failure of


globalisation or the after-shocks of the financial crash, we all know the


Nationalist impulse strengthened once again in recent years. In


America, Britain, France and all across Europe, we see it, that in


order to rise again, others must be put down. That we cannot build a


home unless there is a wall around it as well. The line between country


and party is blurred, being the vessel by which a nation is made


whole. Whether it is Journey to the Mountain of Forever-- whether it is


Trump's claim to make America a great again, the Austrian party, the


France, each chose a campaign slogan setting themselves up as the saviour


of the nation, the culture and the land. And those not of the tribal


type, they were portrayed as proponents of progress, threats to


nation or betrayers to people. Their arguments were not fully examined or


tested. The message carriers were simply othered. It is easier to


undermine than engage. But what of nationalism on these shores?


the people at the Oval foundation here made it clear to me they booked


me before Theresa May called snap general election. In discussing the


rise of political nationalism, I want to talk about the situation


that I know best, the position that we face in Scotland with regards to


this issue. This question of identity and nationalism is one that


now dominate our public discourse. It has done not just my pal in


politics but will pretty much mind Thyer adult life. -- not just my


time in politics but pretty much my entire adult life. It did not start


with the current SMP. In the 1980s and 19 90s it was Scottish Labour


who carried the flag. Another Scot who's been invited here to give the


Orwell lecture, Robin Cook, declared that under Conservative Party


government to all intents and purposes Scotland is an occupied


country. That sentiment help lead to the birth of a devolved Scottish


parliament in 1999. And then the election of the Scottish National


Party to government in 2007 put the question of full independent front


and centre. In 2014, we famously held after referendum on Scottish


independence in which 55% of the population decided to remain within


the United Kingdom. Rather than saying the matter settled, we see


the issue is pushed back to the fore, with the SNP calling for a


second independence referendum as early as next year, before the net


kingdom leaves the European Union. If you had not heard much from


Scotland these past few years, apart from the question of the


Constitution, that is because very little else has had a hearing. And


because these questions remain dominant. When I see colleagues and


commentators down here wrestle with Brexit questions of, how


post-referendum politics challenges traditional party structure and


dominates voting intentions I like to think that we in Scotland got


there before you. I guess the question is how do we apply Orwell's


lessons about nationalism and pitches and two others in Scotland.


As someone who's been closely engaged in one side of the


constitutional battle these last years, a am aware of the need to


tread carefully. It would be easy to suggest that Scotland is divided


between nationalists in one hand and patriots on the other, to say that


there were 1.6 million nationalists in 2014 who demand we reject all


else for their own ideology, and on the other hand there were 2 million


patriots who voted no to independence and choose the right


way. But, I fear that would be people into exactly the nationalist


trap that Orwell warned about 70 years ago, where we falsely separate


people, like insects, into whether you're on the truth is far more


complex. As I've already set out, the nationalist instinct described


by Orwell can be applied to all sides of the political divide in


Scotland, including Mike Boone. They also believe that most people in


Scotland on both sides of that squad -- including my own. I did not agree


with the supporters of independence in 2014 and I still do not now. But,


if you believe that the vast majority of those that supported


independence did so because they believe it was the best thing for


Scotland and I will never condemn them for doing so. I will stand up


to any member of Matthews Goodbody who does. However, caveats aside,


the truth is the nationalist politics identified by Orwell. -- I


will stand up to any member of my party who does. Has become a key


part of political practice in Scotland. It is doomed pursued quite


deliberately said that many people who do not subscribe to the


so-called good side of the Altman feel voiceless and hopeless. Once


again, Orwell was the first. Examining the nationalist mindset in


1945, Orwell hit upon three common trends. Firstly, obsession, no


nationalists, he wrote, ever thinks all talks all rights of anything


else except the superiority of his own power union, he will show great


sensitiveness about such things at the corrects display of flags, the


order in which different countries and named. Secondly, he identified


instability, the nationalist fervour remains constant when the object of


his or her obsession may change. Thirdly, indifference to reality,


the nationalist will not just of the negative matters affecting his own


side, road Orwell, he has a remarkable capacity for not even


hearing about them in the first place. I have to say that the those


of us in Scotland, many of us, at least, it all sounds remarkably


familiar. Obsession, tick. We've not had an awful lot else from the SNP


in the last few years. Sensitivity about the size of headlines, tick. I


think no further than they SNP MP who claim national industry and


claimed BBC bias about the size of Scotland on the BBC weather map.


Instability, the further remaining constable of the object changes.


When Nicola Sturgeon join the SNP 1986, she was attracted to a party


whose policy was to withdraw from the European Community, she now


claims that leaving the EU is the reason that Scotland needs to


revisit independence. As we had yesterday, she will not promise to


take an independent Scotland straight back into the youth. Then


there is the point about superiority, and it all brings the


truth. In Scotland, political nationalism has introduced the idea


that one side of the constitutional divide can be the authentic voice of


the people of Scotland and only it has the right to be heard. The other


voices are, by their very nature, illegitimate and phoney. As Billy


Connolly said, I love Scotland but I hate the way the nationalists think


they own the place. To repeat, I do not suggest it is only the Scottish


National Party that is guilty of this trend, or political parties in


Scotland are elsewhere in the UK have been at fault at time, claiming


to have a monopoly on the national mood, as if there was one political


party which can claim the collapse of the nation. But I would suggest,


that the modern SNP has made this technique its own. If I can give you


a few examples in recent weeks that may not have made it down here. Back


in March, the Prime Minister set out her opposition to the second


referendum on independence. Responding, Alex Salmond declared


that no self-respecting Scot would accept a Westminster Prime Minister


undermining Scottish nationhood. The implication being that to agree with


the prime Minster on this issue would be to somehow concede that you


were a lesser type of Scott, of pig last week talking about the local


council elections Nicola Sturgeon said the following, Labour let


Scotland down by losing so many seats to the Tories. In other words,


Labour had not just built be attracted to the Electric, they had


actually shamed the nation by allowing the hated Tories to win


seats. Or, looking at it in another way, Scottish voters couldn't vote


for one of the main political parties without it being an Scottish


and someone else's fault. Or in a similar vein at the SNP party


conference, the economy minister summoned Terry summed up a debate on


Brexit with the following comment, this debate comes down to Scotland


that is the Tories in Scotland is going to win. As a member of


government who had just seen over half a million of his fellow


countrymen and women vote Conservative at a Scottish election,


is that half million not Scotland is well? I'm Scottish, in fact I've


never lived or worked outside the nation of my birth. A seed to no man


in backing blue in any round. Apparently I had to choose between


being Scottish and being conservative is according to Mr


Brown I cannot be both. What do you think about immigrants? Can we leave


the questions because there will be a question session after this. The


implication hangs in the air, we are other, we deserve to be shouted


down. The media has often assisted in the narrative. After the council


results one tabloid declared, the back, that the Tories were now


preparing to invade Scotland once more. -- one tabloid declared, they


are back. Think about that, people putting themselves forward at an


election to gain support of their neighbours in a democratic vote


because they want the local communities in which they live are


now being referred to as some sort of invading force. This technique


has, for a long time been effective and if people feel bullied and


hectored in supporting the SNP than I do not blame them. The Juncker


Plan works. When I became leader said Wood has change the culture of


the party. -- the othering works. I wanted to make the culture, saying I


believe in X and if you believe in X you are a Tory as well. The question


that is handing over others in this coming election is whether that is


about to change. I very much hope it will. After ten years of the SNP


government, there is an undoubted sense that people have rather had


enough. They include parents have begun to notice that while these


constitutional contortions of capital hugely occupied, the


children's education has been getting steadily worse and worse,


and that perhaps that is the greatest rebuke against nationalism.


It does not actually make the changes, any good government will do


that. My hope is that in Scotland decades long obsessed with the


constitution will come to an end and that we can start using the enormous


powers of Parliament to improve the actual fabric of our country. The


lesson that I hope is also heeded right across the UK, as well, as we


the EU. To conclude, the difference between nationalism and patriotism


is not a question of degree, all well is correct about that.


Nationalism is about power and its obsessive pursuit and the


dichotomised nation of population into the authentic and the


inauthentic. Nationalism, Orwell wrote, is power hunger, temperate by


self perception. Amen to that. Yet, here in the second decade of the


21st-century, despite his efforts nationalism is still confused with


patriotism and that is because too often the political movements that


would put fully insured that that's the case. Showing that we must


remain vigilant against nationalism's seductive simplicity


is and always be ready to embrace the complex and difficult and the


other. Like Albert Camus, I love my country too much to be a


nationalist. To Orwell, it is nationalism not patriotism that is


the last refuge of the scoundrel. Like all well I say we should not


confuse the two. Thank you APPLAUSE -- like George Orwell I say we


should not confuse the two.