THERE’S a great line in the movie Trumbo – about Dalton Trumbo, the American screenwriter and communist, who was blacklisted during the Cold War era – where the actor playing Edward

G Robinson says of the right-wing McCarthyites: “They’re Nazis but just too cheap to buy the uniform.”

These days, without the black shirts and jackboots it is more difficult than ever to recognise your modern fascist type. However, I’m convinced that we are seeing the emergence across the Western world of a new breed of political authoritarianism – one hovering on the boundary between the conservative, populist right and a genuine fascism that condones violence against its democratic opponents.

This willingness to abandon democratic norms for authoritarianism – even if only in embryo form – is at the heart of the Dominic Cummings affair.

I’ve met and questioned Mr Cummings in Parliament, when I was on the Treasury Committee. Such is his utter contempt for the democratic process that Mr Cummings at first refused to appear before the committee. Only under threat of legal sanction did he so do. Even then, he was surly, truculent, and unhelpful when questioned about his stewardship of the Vote Leave campaign.

Dominic Cummings has never been a member of any political party, as he admits proudly on his blogsite. His blog is full of bile directed against elected politicians of all parties. He warns about the “systemic dysfunction of our institutions”, meaning Parliament, the civil service, the media, and legal system. He sees plots everywhere. Writing just before the December General Election, he warned of a “Corbyn-Sturgeon alliance” and its “official policy is to give millions of EU citizens the vote in the second referendum,” thus depriving English voters of their Brexit birthright.

What do you call someone who derides all elected politicians (except leader Boris) and who thinks existing democratic institutions have failed not because of the wrong policies but because they are controlled by elites rather than “project managers”?

Indeed, Mr Cummings has an almost sexual passion for apolitical project managers who can stand above the mucky world of compromise and debate that lies at the heart of the democratic process. In his blog, Cummings lauds the commandist approach to decision-making exemplified by the Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bomb, and the US missile programme in the 1950s.

Hates elected politicians and democratic institutions? Wants to replace democratic decision-making with non-accountable gauleiters wielding untrammelled powers? I call someone with that political psychology a fascist. And that is why I want rid of the Prime Minister’s chief adviser, not because he fibbed brazenly about why he took his wife out for a birthday drive to a beauty spot.

Of course, the epithet “fascist” has been used indiscriminately and erroneously since the 1920s and 30s, when genuine fascistic bands murdered trades unionists and socialists, smashed Jewish shops, and destroyed democratic institutions wholesale.

To be right-wing is not the same thing as to be a real fascist. The latter term denotes the abandonment of struggle for political supremacy within the democratic process. Instead, the forces of reaction take to the use of intimidation, electoral fraud, and downright naked violence to achieve or maintain power.

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It is my contention that across the Western world, reactionary, authoritarian forces are testing democratic boundaries in a way we have not seen since between the world wars.

Am I being too strong? Consider the evidence. The obvious first example is Donald Trump. Persistent Trumpian rhetoric against the entire US media led this week to Minneapolis police officers arresting a CNN journalist simply for trying to report (and for being black).

Trump’s tantrums at state governors enforcing Covid-19 lockdowns led him to incite armed militia groups to invade the local legislatures, to intimidate elected politicians. That’s a fascist provocation if ever there was one.

PERHAPS it is too early to call Trump a fascist. But his political antics are blurring the line between democracy and authoritarianism. This seems to be a growing phenomenon globally.

In Brazil, the election of populist Jair Bolsonaro portents a dangerous lurch to the authoritarian right. A former army captain and avowed fan of the former military dictatorship, Bolsonaro has proved spectacularly inept in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. However, that has merely led to speculation about another military coup. He has already appointed army officers to his cabinet to deal with the virus.

In Europe, we have seen the racist administration of Viktor Orban in Hungary, with its echoes of Nazi ethnic superiority. In Poland, the populist Law and Justice party has systematically sought to eliminate constitutional checks on its power, by crushing judicial independence. Even stable Germany has seen the rise of the anti-EU Alternative fur Deutschland nationalist party. In March, the AfD had to ban its largest internal faction – Der Flugel, representing one-fifth of the membership – after the group was declared “a right-wing extremist endeavour against the free democratic basic order” by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

What is causing this spread of these anti-democratic political currents? Partly, they are a reaction to the widespread despair at the economic stagnation which has followed the 2008 global financial crash.

Partly, they represent an attempt to scapegoat immigrants and marginal groups as the cause of the never-ending economic downturn. Partly, they offer a simplistic solution to the woes of the millions of people now living with marginal careers and marginal incomes. Also, as in the 1930s, the failure of the liberal and social democratic centre to offer a viable way out of the crisis has opened the door to rightist demagogues.

At first, we saw a spectrum on the far right running from conservatism to populism – but a spectrum that stopped short of fascism. Example: Nigel Farage, a petty demagogue and borderline racist who has stayed just within the democratic camp, as he still courts the approbation of the English middle classes.

Thus, Farage eschewed the open fascism of the BNP in case it upset middle-class voters. However, the political spectrum is moving ever rightwards to authoritarianism and beyond.

Why? Paradoxically, it may be a panic response to the first determined resistance to austerity from the left, which we saw last year before Covid-19 shut down normal politics. A resistance that is anti-capitalist rather than reformist.

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There were massive popular street demonstrations everywhere from Chile to Iraq. Last December, in Brazil, popular pressure forced the courts to release from jail the former left-wing president Lula da Silva – a blow for Bolsonaro.

In the UK, the rise of Jeremy Corbyn forced the Tories to select the erratic populist Boris Johnson as the only hope of beating Labour. And in America, running behind in the polls, Trump has become increasing shrill and dangerous.

Where does that leave Scotland? Anyone who thinks an SNP Government – even a majority one – can persuade Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson to grant a second independence referendum has failed to register the tilt in global politics towards the authoritarian right. Which means the SNP leadership’s policy of patience, patience and more patience is barking up the wrong political tree.

For sure, Scotland needs independence fast – especially before the economic realities of a hard Brexit hit home. But asking Dominic Cummings’s permission is unlikely to prove the way forward.