Having recently written an article for The Glasgow Guardian in which I joined the call against the government’s thankfully unrealised move to axe A-level Art-History, I attracted the reproach of a friend and fellow student who had discovered my article on Facebook and proceeded to impart some advice to the end of “stepping up my journalism”. What he so strongly objected to was my use of the loaded moniker “Tory” throughout my piece to refer to members of the British Conservative party. After helpfully reminding me that the old Tory party officially ceased to exist in 1834, he sent me an unflattering picture of Nicola Sturgeon to illustrate what people supposedly conjure in their mind’s eye whenever one uses such an unprofessional and provincial “Scotticism.”
The arrogant tone aside, and forgetting for a second that I was writing entirely about and for the affairs of English people, what immediately struck me as so ignorant about this ill-considered remark was quite simply that Tory is not a Scotticism. Google quickly taught me that not only do most Conservative MPs entirely accept the term – Dr Sarah Wollaston has stated that “I use them interchangeably and I don’t mind if other people do” – but that the official BBC style guide clearly states that although Conservative should be used in the first instance, Tory is acceptable thereafter. All this seemed to situate the term quite outwith the lexicon of nationalistic Scots and solidly within simple national discourse. Now, I can imagine my friend here raising the tired accusation of BBC left-wing bias, but he’d be pretty hard-pressed to claim the organisation was run, or its language dictated, by Scots alone.
I would also venture that most Brits (that is to say, the English) probably imagine the pejorative use of Tory delivered with the distinctive Scouse inflections. For sure, a Bootle acquaintance of mine, much like myself, very rarely employs the official Conservative in everyday speech and, as if to confirm this, the Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, once sneered “you may hear the word Tory and think of someone with a Scouse accent saying it, perhaps even with the word “scum” attached.” Jenkin would do well to remember just why that epithet is appended, but he neatly proves my point and makes rubbish of my friend’s belief in the exclusive Scottishness of Tory.
This isn’t to say that there haven’t been some embarrassing by-products of Scottish provincial thinking down the years. I’m of the opinion that people from small countries must constantly check themselves in this area (lest they buckle under shoulder-chips) and I’m now almost neurotically sensitive to such language. So instead of a Scotticism, is Tory a Lefticism? Our old Home Secretary David Blunkett would appear to think so: “I use Tory and Tories to describe our opponents because to me, those terms place them somewhere backward-looking, negative and reactionary.” I’d be inclined to agree that these connotations definitely exist but even so, if Conservatives themselves are comfortable with the term, it surely can’t be that sharp a dagger in Labour’s hands. It surely isn’t akin to, say, calling a Trotskyist a Trotskyite or calling anyone you happen to disagree with a fascist and of course, it certainly doesn’t make politicians like Blunkett sound like Scotsmen. That said, if it makes me sound like a man of the left (as opposed to, as my friend implies, a Saltire draped zealot) then I can’t say I particularly mind.
Loaded or not, it surely isn’t an SNP Scotticism and I don’t significantly feel the need to “step up my journalism” by censoring myself in this area. On the contrary, I feel safe in assuming that in the majority of my readers, my defence of A-level Art History in the student press at Glasgow didn’t engender a sneaking suspicion that Scotland’s First Minister was writing under a pseudonym. To employ something which can be perhaps more appropriately termed a Scotticism, my dear friend is opening his mouth and letting his arse rattle.