Sunaks' name and shame game reveals desperate depths of the Unionist cause

PM Rishi Sunak’s rambling rant in which he implied Scottish independence supporters are “extremists” is set to go down in history as a massive misstep. Tagging the half of Scots who support independence onto the list of deplorables starting with Vladimir Putin shows just how far the Unionist cause has fallen since its “lead don’t leave” pitch in 2014.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has since backed his boss Rishi Sunak, speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Douglas Ross was asked if Sunak consulted him before “he declared almost half of Scots voters extremists”. He did not say he had been consulted but rushed to stick up for his controller in Westminster. “this was a wide-ranging speech on a number of threats [to the UK]”. But many saw the irony in this coming from the head of a UK government that is breaking international law and undermining Britain’s unwritten constitution in the cause of right-wing extremism.

The speech was delivered against a backdrop of actions by the UK government that many might see as examples of right-wing extremism. The UK has passed a law that says British courts have to say Rwanda is safe for asylum seekers - even if it isn’t. Under cover of Brexit, they have attacked laws designed to protect the environment, human health workers' rights and food safety. Draconian new Voter ID laws deny the vote to the poorest and most marginalised. They have dished out lifelong seats in the UK Parliament to dozens of cronies and donors. Millions have vanished from the public purse in Covid contracts.

Believe in Scotland founder Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp said: “The fact the Prime Minister of the UK is trying to label a fully democratic, civic and internationalist home rule movement as extremists tells you more about the UK than it does about those that believe in Scotland. The great irony in this is that it's the UK Government and its copycat opposition/government in waiting that are the extremists. The two London parties are turning the UK into an embarrassment. This shows how urgently Scotland needs the powers to make all the decisions that matter to Scotland in Scotland and by the people of Scotland."

Sunak said: “The dangers that threaten our country are real. They are increasing in number. An axis of authoritarian states like Russia, Iran, North Korea, and China is working together to undermine us and our values….Extremists are also exploiting these global conflicts to divide us…Scottish nationalists are even trying to tear our United Kingdom apart."

Viewers of the speech were surprised when they checked the government’s transcript online. All mention of Scottish independence supporters was removed - with the explanation: ‘political comment has been redacted’ - but you can still find the remark in online recordings. Some Scottish independence supporters joked about their inclusion in Sunak’s name and shame game. Retired home help Mary Tait commented on X: “I have had another extremely extremist day in the garden bossing my extremist husband aboot, in now and in my extremist goonie”

Scots writer Billy Kay author of “Born in Kyle” responded: “Ye’re aw richt…it’s the yins wi the extremist goonies AND the extremist baffies that they’re arrestin.”

Others were angered. Yes activist Steven Marwick wrote: “It is far from an extreme view to believe the people who make the decisions about Scotland should be those who live here. I have always been proud to be part of a movement that has eschewed violence in pursuing our aims and striven for an inclusive and civic form of nationalism. Winning independence peacefully by voting for it can never be considered extreme. What is extreme is the PM's language. Sunak may believe that he sounds strong in issuing this insult to around half of the Scottish population, but what he actually sounds is desperate. 

Award-winning sports writer Neil Drysdale commented: “The whole speech is another massive foot-in-mouth moment for Sunak. Every recent opinion poll shows there are between 45% and 53% of Scots who back independence. Are we all just being written off? Yes, we are!”

Sunak did not mention climate change - although scientists agree it is the major threat Britain faces. The controversial speech was given at the base of a right-wing think tank called “Policy Exchange” - which is part-funded by US oil giant Exxon-Mobil.

Co-leader of the UK Green Party Adrian Ramsay said that Sunak had missed off the real threat from his list: “The prime minister’s speech on security failed to make a single mention of the threats posed by climate change in spite of the government’s own Climate Change Committee being clear that this is one of the biggest challenges of our generation. With land and sea temperature records being broken on an almost daily basis, this is an emergency.”  

The BBC in Scotland may have further damaged its own reputation by not featuring this important story on Reporting Scotland even as social media lit up. STV News ran with it, under the headline “Rishi Sunak lists Scottish nationalism among 'dangers' as election gets going” but there was nothing at all on Reporting Scotland. (BBC Scotland’s radio show Drivetine and The Nine carried items about it).

Asked about its coverage of this story. a BBC Scotland spokesperson said: “BBC Scotland covered this on Drive Time - featuring a clip of the PM, and 2- way with David Porter. Martin Geissler drew attention to the PM’s linking nationalists to fringe groups and extremists.  The Nine also covered the PM’s speech and referenced the line on nationalism. It was not on Reporting Scotland.”

MP Mhairi Black, deputy leader of the SNP at Westminster, called the speech a "desperate attack on Scottish voters". She said: "Independence is supported by half of Scotland's population…the "real extremists" are the Tory party who have "trashed the economy, imposed deep cuts to public services and dragged Scotland out of the EU against our will".