Martin Hannan: ‘Skintland’ slur is a hate crime

The Economist's cover map of 'Skintland'
The Economist's cover map of 'Skintland'
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Having long since become used to my American relatives calling this city “Edinboro” or “Edinburg”, I am never upset when people mispronounce the name of this wonderful capital of Scotland.

Until last week, that is, when The Economist magazine looked at possible Scottish independence and decided to have some “fun” at Scottish expense by printing a map of “Skintland” on its cover with the Capital renamed “Edinborrow”.

We in Edinburgh did not do too badly – they handed out puns like Falterkirk, Donedee, Shutland Islands, Glasdone, Stonehaven’t, Nilmarnock, and pathetic tripe like that.

They even renamed Lockerbie as Locklustre – to do that to the place which is synonymous with one of the great tragedies of this age is not just unfunny but utterly cruel and small-minded.

That latter description sums up whoever is responsible for the cover. You can just imagine a tiny-minded coterie of former public schoolboys who never got over their acne sitting round the editorial conference table discussing how to wind up the Jocks. Maybe there was even a traitorous Scot or two involved as The Economist was, after all, founded by a Scotsman, James Wilson, who also founded what became the Standard Chartered Bank. He was also a member of a dying breed – he was a Liberal MP.

Suffice to say their “jokes” were about as funny as haemorrhoids and just as strangulated. Some apologists for the magazine – usually from the Unionist side – have accused my party, the SNP, of having had a humour bypass, but how can that be when the only “humour” on display is the sort you find in the third year dorm room of a particularly inbred preparatory school?

I have a real problem with this cover. As a journalist, I passionately believe in freedom of speech, but I equally passionately detest the sort of casual racism displayed on the cover.

I understand what The Economist was trying to do, but there is no doubt in my mind that the cover is racially offensive and possibly a criminal act.

The trouble for The Economist is that while it may have published its cover in a failed attempt at satire, as far as I can see the editor and publishers may be guilty of a criminal offence, to wit subsection 1 (b) of section 19 of Part 3 of the Public Order Act 1986.

For the avoidance of doubt let me quote you the exact words from the Act: (1) A person who publishes or distributes written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting is guilty of an offence if (a) he intends thereby to stir up racial hatred, or (b) having regard to all the circumstances, racial hatred is likely to be stirred up thereby.

The Act helpfully explains what is meant by racial hatred: ‘in this Part “racial hatred” means hatred against a group of persons . . . defined by reference to colour, race, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins.’

Note those words ethnic or national origins – as the United Nations, the European Court of Human Rights and both the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments have made clear, racism is not just about the colour of your skin.

So it seems a fair cop to me, guv. I don’t think The Economist people really intended to stir up racial hatred but in terms of the relevant law, they have certainly done so. For if you look at the appalling anti-Scottish material and also, sadly some anti-English comments, which have polluted the internet since the magazine came out, you would not need to be Sherlock Holmes or John Rebus to conclude that the cover has stirred up racial hatred.

Personally I think their real crime was against humour and their own journalism. The cover just wasn’t funny, and it distracted from the serious issues the magazine was raising inside, some of which they got plain wrong, others which are at least debatable, but which prove yet again why we will need two years and more to sort out all the issues about independence so that the people of Scotland will know exactly what they are voting for.

Why no one has yet raised the possibility of a criminal prosecution against The Economist under the Public Order Act is beyond me. Any Lord Advocate or procurator fiscal reading this is hereby invited to consider doing so.

For there is a simple test to apply to the cover – if The Economist had written its “jokes” about Bradford, Leicester or Birmingham and made references to, say, underachievement on the part of the Muslim citizens of those fine conurbations, do you have any doubt that the editor would have been sacked or subjected to a fatwa, and the publishers prosecuted?

But it was insults about Scotland and the Scots, so that’s all right then, isn’t it?

I say The Economist has let down its journalists and its readers by an ill-judged cover that is hopefully not representative of the London-centric coverage of the independence issue. Sadly, I fear it is all too much in keeping with the pathetic, puerile, racist views of the Metropolitan mediacrity (sic).

The fact is that we do not live in Edinborrow, but a vibrant city called Edinburgh in a country which will respond to nonsense flung at us. Nemo me impune lacessit.