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"Whataboutery" – “The technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue.” – Oxford dictionary


Whataboutery is a cornerstone of Scottish political discourse. It’s so much easier to hit out with a counter accusation than it is to address a difficult question, especially when we are governed by two parliaments with opposing objectives. There are times however when whataboutery is not only appropriate, but necessary.


When the Scottish government is under scrutiny, nationalists will often point to comparable issues in Westminster. The question posed is why focus on Holyrood shortcomings when there are far bigger issues at a UK level?


A similar tactic is employed by unionists when the UK government is criticised. For example, when discussing the massive overspend and ultimate failure of the HS2 project, some unionists point to the delayed and over budget construction of two ferries in the Ferguson Shipyard. This amounts to a ‘people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’ defence.


The problem with whataboutery is that it allows us to deflect from issues which need to be dealt with head on. Inefficiencies in Scottish governance should be discussed regardless of whether they pale in comparison to Westminsters. Nonetheless, it can be incredibly frustrating to feel that Scottish institutions are held to a higher standard than their UK counterparts.


Graham Grant of the Daily Mail recently wrote that the SNP has “forfeited the right to govern”, after it was revealed that Scottish government officials were instructed to delete WhatsApp messages during the Coronavirus pandemic. He stated that “every day it remains in office it undermines democracy”.


Meanwhile, Grant supports the governing Conservative party despite the fact that Boris Johnson was unable to locate five thousand Watsapp Messages from the beginning of the pandemic. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the UK COVID Inquiry that he has no messages remaining from the pandemic period.


The failure of the UK government to retain communications does not exonerate the Scottish government of its failure to do the same. However, it’s vitally important that the media hold both governments equally accountable, especially given the nature of the constitutional debate.


Shortcomings of the Scottish government are frequently used to cast doubt on the ability of Scotland to operate as an independent country. The Scotsman published an opinion piece on the “Ferguson Ferries Fiasco” which suggested that “Independence would simply provide an opportunity for financial blunders on an even bigger scale.”


If examples of money wasted by the Scottish government are used to make a case against independence, then comparisons with Westminster become relevant. The Conservative government spent billions of pounds on unusable PPE during the coronavirus pandemic. It also spent up to one hundred billion pounds on the HS2 rail project which was eventually scrapped.


The idea that the union safeguards Scotland from financial blunders is evidently untrue; readers won’t need reminding of Liz Truss’s disastrous mini budget and its consequences. Why would we allow proponents of a Westminster system that imposes such mistakes on Scotland to question our ability to govern ourselves unchallenged?


As independence supporters we must shine a light on unionist hypocrisy and Westminster incompetence, but we can’t allow ourselves to use whataboutery as a way to deflect from valid criticism.



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