There are many words with a high level of usage but a low level of understanding. Quisling is a good example of this. The term quisling was coined by the the Times in an editorial in April 1940, entitled "Quislings everywhere" after the Norwegian Vidkun Quisling, who assisted Nazi Germany as it conquered his own country so that he could rule the collaborationist Norwegian government himself. The term soon came into common use internationally. With the passing of time it had fallen into disuse again until more recently. Quisling, as synonymous with ‘traitor’, is one of the favourite terms of abuse used by cybernats and others on the Yes side of the Scottish Independence debate to describe those who stand up for Scotland to continue to be part of the UK. They plumbed the very depths of abuse last week by using this and other hateful words to smear the character of young Mum of the Year, Clare Lally, who provides 24 hour a day care for her disabled daughter, for daring to speak out at the Better Together 100 Days Rally.
There is of course an irony in any nationalist using that term to describe someone who disagrees with them. As has been featured in the media and internet blogging recently, the SNP has a hidden past which fits more accurately with the description ‘quisling’ than any views expressed by a modern day supporter of the UK. MI5 documents were released recording the wartime conversations of leading Nationalist, Arthur Donaldson, who became SNP leader in the 1960s. Apparently he had been talking about setting himself up as some kind of Scottish "Quisling", in the event of a Nazi invasion of the UK. At its conference in 1939, SNP leader Andrew Dewar Gibb told party members that “imperial England” had no right “to criticise the actions of any other country [i.e. Germany]”. Hugh MacDiarmid, still hallowed as Scotland’s foremost nationalist poet, argued in the 1930s that Nazism should be a model for Scottish socialist nationalists; in 1940 he wrote a poem admitting that if London should be destroyed by bombs, “I hardly care”. Professor Douglas Young was Chair of the SNP in 1940 when he was imprisoned for leading a group of Nationalists who refused conscription in an English war. I doubt if either Arthur Donaldson or Douglas Young had genuine Nazi sympathies but they couldn’t see past the nationalist’s paranoia and therefore saw their enemy’s enemy as their ‘friend’.
The 1930s is a period ‘whaur extremes meet’ as McDiarmid himself wrote. Ideologies of left and right sometimes became indistinguishable. Labour had its Oswald Mosley, who with others went off to form the fascist New Party and the blackshirts. The Tories had their appeasers of Germany along with sections of the establishment. The Daily Mail carried the front page story ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’ by Lord Rothemere. We shouldn’t judge today’s political parties by their blackest moments in history. In the famous words that begin the Go-Between, ‘The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.’ The real danger is when we choose to blot out the past from memory, to unlearn its lessons and begin to do things exactly the same.