4 May 2015

Jim Murphy confronts ‘the ugly face of nationalism’

At last! The election gets real, unscripted and interesting.

The ScotLab boss Jim Murphy and comedian Eddie Izzard were on Glasgow’s Buchanan Street this morning where their speeches were drowned out by loudspeakered protesters, and their plans to give interviews afterwards descended into chaos: minor scuffles and a retreat to what was, in effect, a getaway car.

So – let’s get the language right. I spoke to most of the key disrupters and asked how they should be described. They described themselves as “socialist”, “class activist”, “people of Glasgow”, “Marxist” and “nearly Marxist”.

None used the word “nationalist” until I asked about that. Then all said they were not members of the SNP – but all said they would vote SNP on Thursday.

And that is why what Jim Murphy did today is maybe one of the most effective single pieces of campaigning of the entire British election.

Because free speech was unquestionably denied on Buchanan Street today. It was ugly and it was perpetrated by people who say they will vote SNP.

Read more: Election 2015 live blog

It was undeniably intimidating to some – I saw parents herd small children away. It was aggressive but it was not violent.

You could not hear either Murphy or Izzard. That is shameful in a democratic election.

The last time Murphy spoke here protesters did allow him to get his message across, albeit with near constant heckling. This was different.

As Jim Murphy said, with protesters shouting in his face as he tried to get to his car: “This is the ugly face of nationalism.”

And that is a problem for the SNP. The disrupters said they would vote SNP, ergo they are SNP supporters (whatever else they may be).

The SNP has defended its supporters in the past. During the referendum lead-up last September, then leader Alex Salmond said of the party’s proponents: “You must allow people to express a view in a peaceful and joyous fashion. That is part of the democratic aspect of politics.”

Current leader Nicola Sturgeon spoke to Channel 4 News a few hours after the Murphy incident, as more than 2,000 people gathered in the seaside resort of Largs to see her.

She told me what happened in Glasgow today was “disgraceful” and “nothing to do with the SNP. All parties have the right to be listened to respectfully.”

Of course every mass movement attracts its ugly fringe and the party cannot be expected to police those outwith its membership.

But maybe it’s about time it got its supporters to these events and made some attempt to police an anti-democratic fringe who are – they tell me – also its supporters come Thursday.

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