J.K. — Saviour of the Union?
Articulate with cross-generational appeal: Graham Stewart wonders if this non-politician could take on the Scots Nats
This article is taken from the October issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.
J.K. Rowling can have had no illusions about the denunciations, repudiations, and Twitter-spittle that would fleck upon her after her intervention in the Terf wars. She had been there before in 2014, when she had the temerity to give £1 million to the “Better Together” campaign in the Scottish independence referendum.
Scotland’s “cybernats” are among the most unremitting trolls of the internet, quick to tell anyone who dares to question the SNP’s moral certainty where they can shove their Union Jack. But when Rowling duly sent the keyboard warriors of Scottish separatism into paroxysms of fury, she responded with calm intelligence.
If we really must refight the issue, the unionists will need a Roman to hold the bridge against the nationalist onrush. Rowling has the profile and the pluck. She believes passionately in the cause of keeping Britain together for reasons that are both honourable and impossible to caricature as reactionary or out-of-date.
The Nats would surely attack her for being born in Gloucestershire. But is “Englishwoman go home” a winning retort to someone who has been a Scottish resident for more than a quarter of a century, who is her adopted home’s most famous modern writer, who has endowed Edinburgh University’s regenerative neurology clinic and who is married to a Scottish doctor?
J.K.Rowling possesses a quality whoever takes on the Scot Nats will need in spades: courage
They could attack her for her wealth, but what does that say about the Nats’ attitude to someone who has gone from benefits to international success entirely through her own hard work and who has given back generously to anti-poverty and childcare charities?
They could attack her as transphobic, but most Scots think her position is one of common sense. If all else fails, the Nats could jape: “Jo Rowling’s facts may be magicked-up at Hogwarts, but she cannae put a spell on the Scottish people.” The jibe would quickly become wearisome.
Would it work having an amateur such as Rowling trying to get a word in edgeways against a battle-hardened professional in Nicola Sturgeon? From Charles Dickens to Vaclav Havel, there is a history of artistic and literary figures deploying their rhetorical skills to shift political mountains.
Such is the challenge Scotland’s unionists now face — and they need someone big enough for the task. In 2014 they chose Alistair Darling, but he will not be to the fore next time. Nor indeed will almost anyone else of clout from Scottish Labour, now a husk of the party which dominated the Better Together campaign in 2014. The exception is Gordon Brown, who slumbers in his Kirkcaldy-les-Deux-Églises and could do a star turn, but his solution (ceding ever more powers to Scotland until all that remains of the Union is a Treasury direct debit) suggests he has learned nothing about the forces driving the logic of separatism.
Labour’s implosion north of the Tweed and the unionists’ determination not to be seen as a Conservative front makes a compelling case for the next campaign to be fronted by someone who is not a party politician. It need not fall to Rowling alone, as it did not fall to Boris Johnson alone to articulate the Leave cause in 2016. But J.K. Rowling is intelligent, articulate and has cross-generational appeal. Most of all, she possesses a quality whoever takes on the Scot Nats will need in spades: courage.
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