The Curious Case of the English “Envenom” Meme about the Scots

By William K. Black
May 11, 2015

My intended series about the UK election is expanding because the material is just too good and too important. My “Kilkenomics” colleague Liam Halligan who is the lead economics writer for the Telegraph wrote a column dated May 10, 2015 about the election that sparked this column. The tag line for his column is: “Nigel Farage has opened a Pandora’s box that cannot now be closed.” Farage was the former (and likely future) leader of UKIP, the ultra-right party enraged by immigrants, particularly people of color.

Liam explains UKIP’s stunning voting success – and electoral failure (they won only one seat in the Commons) due to the UK’s voting system.

Whatever you think of Farage, though, you have to marvel at his achievement. In 2010, his party came first in no constituencies, second in no constituencies and third in 4, securing just 3pc of the popular vote. This time, Ukip were first in one constituency, second in no less than 120 and third in 364, the party’s national vote share rocketing to 13pc, getting on for twice that of the Liberal Democrats.

Having provoked the beginnings of a national discussion on Europe, and the UK’s broader place in the world, Farage has opened a Pandora’s box that cannot now be closed. Don’t be surprised if many of those Ukip second-places become Ukip victories in 2020 – and Nigel has the last laugh.

The Tea Party is the closest U.S. equivalent today to UKIP, but in (semi) modern historical terms UKIP would be closest to the Dixiecrats. UKIP wants the UK to leave the EU, as do most elected Tory officials.

UKIP draws the Tories ever farther to the right – and on economic issues they were already far to the right of the Republican Party. UKIP also takes working class voters from Labour if the voters’ priority issue is immigration. Farage is a far more effective leader, and far more restrained, than his counterparts in Europe. Indeed, Madame Le Pen appears to see him as her role model. Nevertheless, the most venomous “venom” in the campaign came from UKIP’s candidates and supporters. I explained Robert Blay, the most extreme version of this in a prior column. Blay was the UKIP candidate (and former Tory) who in an obscenity-filled rant caught on camera promised that he would assassinate his Tory opponent should his opponent ever become Prime Minister. His opponent’s capital crime was being of South Asian descent. Farage knows that many of his Party’s candidates are similarly consumed with bigotry, and strives mightily to keep them from letting it show to the general public. It is a more than full time job, and it is very unlikely that his successor will be as successful in masking UKIP’s racist core. I agree with Liam that it is likely that Farage will eventually return to leading UKIP.

But Liam’s most interesting discussion is of the party that enjoyed an even greater surge in voting and a dramatically greater increase in electoral success. This is the emergence of the party of the Scots, the SNP.

[T]he biggest story of this election is clearly what happened north of the border. With the SNP winning no less than 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats, up from just 6 in 2010….

It is the English reaction to the emergence of an extremely successful party of the Scots that is so interesting and curious from an American perspective. For if Liam is correct, the critical Pandora’s Box is not that opened by UKIP, but by David Cameron, the Tory PM. Again, from an outsider’s perspective, it is the self-blindness and self-satisfaction of the English bigots in (re) opening (wide) this Pandora’s Box of ethnic malice against the Celts that is remarkable. Admittedly, this Pandora’s Box has been open for centuries to varying degrees. But for decades it was not considered seemly to be too open in public about this malice and disdain. As Liam points out, “ancient hatreds and enmities [are] now unleashed.”

The context is, as I explained in several prior columns, that Cameron based his campaign strategy on getting the English to fear the Scots. Roger Cohen, in an unwittingly honest column in the New York Times designed to celebrate Cameron’s successful election strategy, described Cameron’s appalling “Southern strategy.”

Fear is a fierce force in politics. In the end fear told. It was the basis of David Cameron’s election campaign and he was entirely vindicated as he swept to a second term as British prime minister.

Cohen admits (actually, he praises) that Cameron deliberately stoked “fear” among the English of the Scots. Cohen is correct that fear “is a fierce force in politics.” Fear always breeds hate and usually violence. Only a crass politician would whip up “fear” of minorities in order to get re-elected. In U.S. terms, think of Pete Wilson’s attacks on Latinos in a desperate, and successful, effort to be reelected. Wilson won, but he essentially ruined the Republican Party in California. No one in the U.S. thinks that Wilson’s strategy was “vindicated” by his winning reelection. Wilson is viewed by Republicans with disgust and horror.

“Vindicate’s” etymology is to “avenge” or “liberate.” Cohen could not have chosen a worse word to express his delight in the success of Cameron’s campaign of spreading “fear” of an ethnic minority. Spreading fear of an ethnic minority is the opposite of liberating them or avenging centuries of abuse against them. It was the SNP’s political victories that would appropriately be described as vindicating the movement to demand respect of the Scots.

A statesman or woman would never whip up “fear” of an ethnic minority to get re-elected. The statesman or woman would know that doing so was ethically wrong and likely to unleash a “fierce force in politics” that would harm the Nation and, eventually the Party. But no one has ever accused Cameron of being a statesman. Cohen is such a hack that he thinks sowing fear of an ethnic minority is a strategy that has been “entirely vindicated” by Cameron’s election, but Cohen simply demonstrates the self-blindness that, along with hate and violence, are always bigotry’s comrades-in-arms.

The English bigots follow the same strategy American bigots have long employed – blame the victims of the “fear” campaign. Here is how our Supreme Court memorably used the strategy. The infamous Supreme Court decisions, Plessy v Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), upheld racial segregation under the rationale of “separate but equal.” The Court upheld Louisiana’s law segregating rail cars against the claim that the law violated the equal protection clause. The two sentences from Justice Brown’s opinion for the Court that have haunted Supreme Court Justices of conscience for over a century read:

“We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”

Richard Kluger quotes this passage from Plessy in Simple Justice (1976) and then comments:

“Of all the words ever written in assessment of the Plessy opinion, none have been more withering than those … [of] Yale law professor Charles L. Black, Jr., who [said that in] … the two sentences… ‘The curves of callousness and stupidity intersect at their respective maxima.’”

Blaming Celts is a skill that English bigots have perfected through centuries of practice. The English bigots are masters of devising bigoted statements blaming the victims of their bigotry in which “the curves of callousness and stupidity intersect at their respective maxima.” My all-time favorite is the English blaming the obvious inferiority of the Irish on their inexplicable preference for eating potatoes instead of meat. (Remember: callousness and stupidity.) The thing that is special about English bigots is that they have traditionally considered such “blame the victim” statements “brilliant.”

Liam explains how the Tories employed this strategy during their electoral campaign premised on spreading fear of the Scots among the English. Liam provides an example of a supposedly “clever” term being used to blame the Scots for being the objects of Cameron’s campaign of “fear.” It is fitting, given the quotation above from U.S. “constitutional experts” (our Supreme Court) that it was a “constitutional expert” who trotted out the latest, supposedly clever, means of blaming the victims.

And the more the SNP push, of course, the more they’ll “envenom” – to use a superb phrase wielded by the constitutional expert Professor Peter Hennessy on election night – relations with their British compatriots. The more Cameron yields to the Scots – providing an evermore fiscally advantageous deal, with greater Southern subsidies – the more English MPs, not least that Tory awkward, will help the SNP in their mission by pushing them away.

Notice that in Hennessy’s “blame the victim” meme Cameron’s deliberate strategy of sowing fear of an ethnic minority, the Scots, among the English disappears from the narrative. In Hennessy’s tale the problem arises with the “push[y]” Scots (now there is a bigoted trope that any American will recognize from its history as a purported excuse for bigotry in our country). The dread Scots “envenom” the English. In Hennessys’s meme the English are inherently good-natured, fair, virtuous, hard-working, and venom-free. They subsidize the freeloading ethnic group. Hennessy’s morality myth casts the Scots as the freeloaders. The ungrateful freeloading Scots demand ever greater subsidies from the hardworking English. Finally, the English are pushed past the breaking point by the vile Scots and become “envenom[ed].”

The English have no “agency” in Hennessy’s (im) Morality Play. The Scots are the only ones with agency. They act and “they’ll envenom” the English. The English are passive and are simply pumped full of venom by the dread Scots. It is a facially preposterous metaphor only an apologist for a campaign of “fear” against an increasing despised ethnic minority could carefully craft in order to blame the victim and excuse the perpetrator of the bigotry. It passes for clever – but it actually simply the latest in a long, sad line of apologies for bigotry in which callousness and stupidity intersect at their respective maxima.

The social networks and newspapers in England have been filled for many months with the vilest rants against the supposedly inferior character of the Scots, often with ethnic slurs in columns in newspapers and even the (once responsible) Economist. Americans who read these diatribes will be struck by two things. First, even major media outlets in the UK far surpass Fox News in their open animus against a very long list of groups they openly despise. Ethnic slurs (the equivalent of the “n” word in U.S. terms) are common not only in the comments made by readers, but in the columns – including purported news columns. People who object to the ethnic slurs are derided (even by the BBC!) as lacking “toughness” or being “PC.” They do not simply blame the victim – they chortle about the joy they take in first using slurs to demean ethnic groups and then the schadenfreude they enjoy in deriding the objections of their victims to the slurs.

Second, you will notice how much the attacks on the Scots sound like Mitt Romney’s rant to his billionaire buddies at his secretly videotaped fundraiser in which he dismissed “47%” of Americans as freeloaders. Romney, of course, would not have dared to launch publicly such a vile attack on nearly half the American people. In the election (in England), however, repeating endlessly the equivalent of Romney’s rant was Cameron’s paramount “Southern strategy.” The Republican’s “Southern strategy” relied on spreading fear against a racial minority. Cameron could get away with openly sowing “fear” about the Scots because they are such a small minority in the UK. Indeed, the more that Cameron’s Southern strategy attacks on the Scots upset the Scots the better for Cameron because the more seats Cameron could warn were likely to go the SNP the better for his campaign of sowing “fear” amongst the English against the rise of the Scots.

If anyone “envenomed” anyone in the election campaign it was Cameron who deliberately sought to “envenom” the Scots and the English. One hopes there is a special place is hell reserved for politicians who are so cynical that they devise and lead campaigns of “fear” against increasingly despised ethnic minorities.

As I wrote earlier, the thing that drives the peoples of large parts of the world that the English colonized nuts is the English demand to be loved by those they exploit and oppress. Far too many English still talk and write at these moments as if they were taking up the white man’s burden. They trot out professors who are considered “clever” when they develop a term like “envenom” to excuse bigotry and blame its victims.


Cameron has opened wide the Pandora’s Box by deliberately spreading the “fear” of an ethnic minority in order to be reelected. He is being praised by the English media and people like Cohen and Hennessy for his successful exercise in cynicism and bigotry. The English media is an oligopoly controlled overwhelmingly by far right-wing tax-dodging oligarchs who support the Tories. They will be late to admit that Cameron has set in motion a series of dangerous dynamics, which is why Liam’s column is so valuable.

Giving the corrupt banksters who infest the City of London what they want ensures the next series of elite fraud epidemics led by those banksters, recurrent. This will cause intensifying financial crises and rolling recessions (extended and deepened by more financially illiterate austerity). The banksters and those that aid their crimes grow immensely wealthy in the City. The City, however, is the leading threat to the UK’s economy and, net, it reduces the wealth of the UK and the vast majority of its citizens. With the banksters again given free rein due to the success of the politicians most deeply in the banksters’ pockets this will become worse.

Nothing could be worse for the UK’s economy than giving the City’s banksters what they want. UK financial regulation, enforcement, and prosecution is still a farce – and the Tories will now weaken it at the behest of the banksters, their leading campaign contributors. The Tories have decided that the answer to the City’s corrupt culture is to make it more corrupt. Recall that the City’s banks’ leading source of profits was ripping off the public (PPI) and small entrepreneurs (swaps). I disagree with Liam’s claim that the Tory victory means the UK will be “more business-friendly.” The banksters ripped off businesses as their paramount strategy. If Tory control means even weaker financial regulation (it is already pathetically weak) in the UK, then that is a profoundly business-hostile act.

When the stock market surges because of the Tory victory, it is quantifying the vast increase in theft from the UK public that investors believe the banksters will be able to pull off now that the Tories have a majority. The City is a parasite from the UK’s perspective, not because banking is inherently parasitical, but because the City is run by banksters. That is not supposition – it has been laid out in transcripts and documents and admitted by the bankers in scores of cases. Collectively, the number of felonies committed by the City’s leading banks during the last decade exceeds one million.

But spreading fear and malice towards an ethnic minority is a depraved and loathsome act that transcends the Tories’ assault on the UK economy. Cameron’s Southern strategy greatly increases the chances that the UK will be destroyed and will end in shame as opposed to Canada or Australia’s independence that maintained positive relations. Liam is right that the UK is now faced with a Pandora’s Box opened wide. Cameron yanked the Box open so violently that he broke the hinges and can no longer close it even if he were to have a Road to Edinburgh experience and developed a conscience.

I urge readers to contact the Economist and demand a retraction and unreserved apology for its shameless ethnic slur against Scots that it used to headline its article. If the English media cannot even meet the minimum norms of civilization and decency of ending its repeated use of ethnic slurs it should at least stop pretending to virtue.

The SNP should take up the call demanding (1) an end to the media slurs against Scots and (2) that the media and English society as a whole condemn Cameron’s Southern strategy of sowing “fear” of the Scots among the English. Any “union” that leads to such slurs being treated as acceptable, and leads to campaigns premised on spreading “fear” among the English of an ethnic minority such as the Scots fails utterly to meet the definition of a “union.” It is instead a system of domination designed to demean the Scots and keep them in their inferior place.

The English bigots’ great fear is that the Scots will realize these facts and rise up to demand that the media begin to meet the minimum norms of civilized behavior and show the Scots respect. One of two things will happen. The media and English society could stop the slurs and condemn Cameron’s “fear the Scots” campaign. Alternatively, the media and English society as a whole could admit that their vision is a United Kingdom in which they are free to vilify and demean the Scots, the Welsh, and the Irish as defective moochers. I “stacked the deck” in phrasing the alternatives so that anyone worth associating with would immediately choose the option of stopping the slurs and condemning Cameron’s “fear the Scots” campaign.

The frightening fact is that the English media and far too many English elites act like choosing between these two deliberately stacked alternatives is difficult. I do not understand the terrible strength of their attachment to abusing other ethnic groups as inferior. They do not simply demand to be able to think they are superior, they have a desperate, pathetic need to publicly label other groups as inferior and revile them publicly. You can see the gleam of pleasure in their eyes (like naughty five year old boys) when they attack minority ethnic groups in a rant to an American (as I personally witnessed several times a few weeks ago when I presented in Europe to a group with many City financial elites). They are so proud of themselves and their bigotry and they know we find their behavior appalling – which delights them. I think they feel they are being “brave,” but bigotry is a sure sign of a moral and intellectual coward.

In American terms, the only one famous who comes close to this behavior is Donald Trump. I can deliver no greater insult.

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