Many Americans, when they hear the word Scotland, will think of Mel Gibson in blue facepaint yelling: "FREEDOM!" That's how Scotland is viewed by non-Scots the world over: as a plucky, liberty-loving nation that sits atop snooty England and longs to be free and wild and beer-soaked in a kilt.
Well, if that's how you see Scotland, you urgently need to update your mind's image bank. For far from being a land of freedom-yearning Bravehearts, Scotland in the 21st century is a hotbed of the new authoritarianism. It's the most nannying of Europe's nanny states. It's a country that imprisons people for singing songs, instructs people to stop smoking in their own homes, and which dreams of making salad-eating compulsory. Seriously. Scotland the Brave has become Scotland the Brave New World.
If you had to guess which country in the world recently sent a young man to jail for the crime of singing an offensive song, I'm guessing most of you would plumb for Putin's Russia or maybe Saudi Arabia. Nope, it's Scotland.
Last month, a 24-year-old fan of Rangers, the largely Protestant soccer team, was banged up for four months for singing "The Billy Boys," an old anti-Catholic ditty that Rangers fans have been singing for years, mainly to annoy fans of Celtic, the largely Catholic soccer team. He was belting it out as he walked along a street to a game. He was arrested, found guilty of songcrimes—something even Orwell failed to foresee—and sent down.
It's all thanks to the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, which, yes, is as scary as it sounds. Introduced in 2012 by the Scottish National Party, the largest party in Scotland the Brave New World and author of most of its new nanny-state laws, the Act sums up everything that is rotten in the head of this sceptred isle. Taking a wild, wide-ranging scattergun approach, it outlaws at soccer matches "behaviour of any kind," including, "in particular, things said or otherwise communicated," that is "motivated (wholly or partly) by hatred" or which is "threatening" or which a "reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive."
Got that? At soccer games in Scotland it is now illegal to do or say anything—and "in particular" to say it—that is hateful or threatening or just offensive. Now, I don't know how many readers have been to a soccer game in Britain, but offensiveness, riling the opposing side, is the gushing lifeblood of the game. Especially in Scotland. Banning at soccer matches hateful or offensive comments, chants, songs, banners, or badges—all are covered by the Offensive Behaviour Act—is like banning cheerleaders from American football. Sure, our cheerleaders are gruffer, drunker, fatter, and more foul-mouthed than yours, but they play a similarly key role in getting the crowds going.
The Offensive Behaviour Act has led to Celtic fans being arrested in dawn raids for the crime of singing pro-I.R.A. songs—which they do to irritate Rangers fans—and Rangers fans being hauled to court for chanting less-than-pleasant things about Catholics.
Even blessing yourself at a soccer game in Scotland could lead to arrest. Catholic fans have been warned that if they "bless themselves aggressively" at games, it could be "construed as something that is offensive," presumably to non-Catholic fans, and the police might pick them up. You don't have to look to some Middle Eastern tinpot tyranny if you want to see the state punishing public expressions of Christian faith—it's happening in Scotland.
It gets worse. SNP officials have said that even singing "God Save The Queen"—the national anthem of the U.K.!—could be a crime at Scottish soccer. If it were to be sung by Rangers fans, say, as a way of winding up Irish-identifying Celtic fans, then that could "become offensive behaviour," an official says. You know a nation has truly lost the plot when it outlaws the singing of the national anthem in certain situations. Imagine if American football fans were told that they sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at their own peril, because if someone in the stadium finds their patriotic warbling offensive then they could be arrested. Welcome to Scotland.
Not content with policing what soccer fans sing and say, the SNP also polices Scots' smoking, boozing, and eating habits. It was the first country in the U.K. to ban smoking in public. Last month it announced that it will ban smoking in cars with kids. It is currently pushing through a ban on smoking in parks. And it has its eyes on smokers' homes: if a public-sector employee, like a doctor or social worker, visits your home, he or she has the right to say that you should "not smoke when they are providing [their] service." This, of course, is the ultimate goal of the global jihad against nicotine: to move from making bars, cars, and parks smokefree to making our homes smokefree.
Scotland has set itself the Orwellian-sounding goal of making the whole nation, every bit of it, smokefree by 2034. What will happen to any smoker still lurking in Scotland after the glorious dawn of the 2,034th year? It's probably best not to ask.
Scotland is also plotting to put a sin tax on booze. The SNP blubs about the fact that "alcohol is now 60 per cent more affordable in the U.K. than it was in 1980"—that's a bad thing?—and so it is pushing through the Alcohol Minimum Pricing Act, which will impose a state-decreed price on all liquid pleasures. It is trying to push the Act through, I should say: it's being held up by a legal challenge from the Scotch Whisky Association which, understandably, doesn't want the state telling it how much it should sell its wares for. I would say "God bless those whisky makers," but I'm not sure how much you're allowed to say "God" or "bless" in relation to Scotland these days.
The SNP insists minimum pricing is "not a tax." Yes it is; it's a sin tax, the taxing of larks, the imposition of a kind of Prohibition-for-the-poor, where, in the words of John Stuart Mill, "every increase of cost is a prohibition to those whose means do not come up to the augmented price."
Scotland's great and good also watch what the little people eat. Last month, BMA Scotland, an association of doctors, declared war on Scotland's "culture of excess" and said ads for junk food and booze should be banned. The SNP wants to go further: it's agitating for an EU-wide ban on junk-food ads, clearly keen that all the peoples of Europe, and not just poor Scots, feel the stab of its Mary Poppins extremism.
There is even—get this—a discussion in Scotland about making salad bars mandatory at restaurants. Yes, there exist actual officials who would like to force businesses to serve you vegetables, even if they don't want to and you don't want to eat them. Concerned that "Scots are 30 years away from reaching the World Health Organization target of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day"—apparently the average Scot only eats 3.5 portions a day—there is talk of "beefing up [get it??] the number of greens by introducing mandatory salad bars."
And then there's the authoritarian icing on the cake, if Scotland will forgive such an obesity-encouraging metaphor: the SNP's Children and Young People Act. This Act plans to assign a Named Person, a state-decreed guardian, to every baby born in Scotland, in order to watch him or her from birth to the age of 18.
Due to come into force in August 2016, the Named Person initiative is truly dystopian. Once, it was only abandoned or orphaned children who became charges of the state; now, all Scottish children will effectively be wards of the state under a new, vast system of, in essence, shadow parenting. In an expression of alarming distrust in parents, and utter contempt for the idea of familial sovereignty and privacy, the state in Scotland wants to attach an official to every kid and to keep tabs on said kid's physical and moral wellbeing.
There'll be a state spy in every family. In Scotland, Big Brother is not only watching you (it was recently revealed that Scotland has 4,114 public-space CCTV cameras and "camera vans," which drive through towns filming the allegedly suspect populace); he's also watching your kids.
In Scotland, we see in gory Technicolor what happens if the so-called nanny state—such a weak, quaint term for this lifestyle tyranny!—is allowed to run riot. Scotland is creating a truly cradle-to-grave system of state meddling in people's lives, where from birth to adulthood, and everywhere from soccer games to the pub, from the CCTV-saturated streets to your local restaurant, you're being watched, finger-wagged at, told what you can and can't say, what you should and shouldn't eat, where you can smoke, how much you can drink, even how passionately you may bless yourself.
Let Scotland the Brave New World be a salutary lesson. Challenge every act of state authoritarianism you encounter, because they will speedily accrue and you'll end up living in a nation where you can't even freely sing the goddamn national anthem. Adopt a brilliant Scottish turn of phrase and say it with abandon to all those who would interfere in your life: "Get tae fuck."