One truly tragic consequence of the rise of social media has been the advent of the hashtag. And especially the variant that is the pompous, prattish political hashtag. George Osborne must never be forgiven for the offence against graceful language that is #longtermeconomicplan, while Jeremy Corbyn is culpable for the zoomer-magnet #jezgavemehope (of what, comrade? Cheaper quinoa sourdough? That all toasters will one day have a bagel setting?).
Scotland, though… well, when it comes to politics you can always rely on Scotland, where the debate isn’t so much juvenile as infantile, to out-tragic anywhere else. The main thing for outsiders to understand about its Leftie culture is that it secretes an oily, wholly unjustified moral superiority. The establishment comprises lumpen politicians, Z-list playwrights, failed authors and musicians, desperate, ageing newspaper columnists and assorted Y-fronted weirdo warriors who perma-rant from darkened bedrooms, lit only by the light from suspiciously stained computer screens – if these people were made of chocolate, as the saying goes, they would eat themselves (although a chocolate Alex Salmond alone would feed a reasonable-sized football crowd).
The height of Scotland’s web sanctimony was, until recently, #bairnsnotbombs, a hashtag used by the kind of tartan fathead who believes unilateral disarmament is a sensible geopolitical strategy and whose debating style on any given issue quickly reverts to the meaningless trope ‘it’s fur the weans’. The inference is obvious: if you support Trident renewal, or anything market-friendly, you must hate children, including your own.
This kind of brainless emotionalism has largely been the preserve of the SNP and its grisly hangers-on, who base their independence campaign on the political equivalent of a moist-eyed, pissed-up singalong. But now, enter Scottish Labour, a once-mighty movement reduced to a single MP at Westminster, viscerally loathed by many of its former voters, and facing a grim fate in May’s devolved elections. With principle and purpose replaced by panic, the party has begun to seesaw crazily from side to side, as if the ship’s captain has suffered a heart attack. It is reducing the infantile to the foetal.
Having already announced that Labour members will be allowed to campaign for independence if there’s another referendum, leader Kezia Dugdale has now unveiled a plan to raise income tax by 1p. There are many things to be said about this, none of them good. The move is a wholly transparent attempt to re-establish Labour as being to the Left of the SNP. Given Labour could promise every Scot a golden haggis and still get banjaxed in the coming election, it is purely tokenistic. It means Labour goes into the campaign pledging to raise taxes on everyone earning more than £20,000. It sends a terrible message to employers and investors about what Scotland’s politicians will do with the full income tax powers they are about to be granted. It would make Scotland the highest-taxed part of the UK. And it exposes a party utterly devoid of meaningful policy thought, reduced to its core practice of taking more of people’s money off them. The last thing this unreconstructed nation needs is another yank to the Left.
All this is bad enough. But then there’s the accompanying Twitter hashtag, #kidsnotcuts. I mean, really. Even by Scottish standards, this is patronisingly offensive guff. It has pulled off the trick of making this staunch Unionist feel a smidgeon of warmth towards the comparatively sensible Nats.
Of course, Holyrood won’t be the only occasion that Scots visit the polling station this year. The EU referendum is proving much less divisive north of the Border than south – which, given the wounds inflicted by 2014’s indyref, is probably a good thing. Scotland will almost certainly vote by a healthy majority to stay in, which is pleasing, given my strategic affairs company Charlotte Street Partners has been hired to work on the official Scotland Stronger In campaign. We will of course claim the victory was down to our silken advice and deft touch.
It’s also a joy to watch the various UK Leave campaigns collapse in on themselves – the splits, the resignations, the petty jealousies. Nothing is more off-putting to the electorate than a very obvious lack of unity. When you add to this the speculative arguments and back-of-an-envelope calculations of the Outers, I’m no longer convinced the final result will be particularly close.
We have an ongoing debate in the office about what constitutes appropriate workplace attire. True to my hack roots, I can accurately be classed as an appalling scruffbag, while my partner Malcolm dresses at every moment like a peacock on the pull. I will go to any lengths to avoid wearing a suit and tie; he spends much of each day with his tailor, having his trousers adjusted. But out there in the big, bad world, I detect an increasing relaxation when it comes to the dress code. It’s in the nature of our business that we spend time with organisations in every sector you might think of, and I notice my ill-fitting, mismatched, crumpled outfits attract fewer looks of approbation and outright horror than they once did. Although I still, perhaps justifiably, take a bit of flack for turning up to interview David Cameron for the Mail last year in a ratty old V-neck and a pair of baggy grey chinos.
Chris Deerin is a partner at Charlotte Street Partners, a strategic communications consultancy, based in Edinburgh and London. Follow him on Twitter: @chrisdeerin