THE Conservative leadership contest has taken a very dark turn.

Rishi Sunak has promised that if he becomes Prime Minister, he'd expand the definition of extremism to include those who "vilify Britain". Sunak announced he intends to change the definition of extremism if he is elected as Tory leader, in order to ensure that people with what he calls "an extreme hatred of Britain" can be put through the anti-terrorism Prevent programme.

Sources in Sunak’s campaign specifically mentioned “extremists [who] did not just want to attack the UK's values but also the country's very existence”. By definition, this includes people who seek Scottish or Welsh independence from the UK.

Dr Maria Norris, assistant professor in international relations at Coventry University, believes that this form of words is very telling and sees it as a clear attack on independence supporters.

As an expert in the Islamist radicalisation which has until now been the reason for most referrals to the Prevent programme, she notes that "[Radical Islamists] are not attacking the UK's right to exist or anything like that, the whole thing about attacking the country's very existence – that is about separatism and independence, so it is a very deliberate inclusion."

She added that any definition of "extreme hatred of Britain" would be inherently subjective and of course those doing the defining would be Conservative government ministers who leap on any pro-independence criticism of Westminster and cite it as supposed proof that independence supporters "hate the English”.

This is a deeply alarming development for those of us who support Scottish or Welsh independence as our case for independence is in large measure based upon the many shortcomings and failures of the Westminster system. It's a very small step indeed from classifying "vilifying Britain" as dangerous extremism requiring a referral to the government's deradicalisation Prevent programme to classifying Scottish and Welsh independence supporters as dangerous extremists.

This is particularly a risk given that members of the Conservative Party are constantly seeking, on the flimsiest of evidence, to portray mainstream parties and individuals who support Scottish independence as vile bigots who are motivated by anti-English racism. 

We may now be facing a Conservative government and party which being bereft of any compelling positive case for the Union and unable to make significant inroads into the electoral support for pro-independence parties is now toying with the idea of criminalising so-called "separatism".

The Tories cannot defeat the campaign for Scottish independence in the ballot box, they are terrified of another independence referendum, so now they are looking to stamp out pro-independence sentiment by nakedly authoritarian and anti-democratic means.

Liz Truss, who is ahead of Sunak in opinion polling among Conservative Party members, and who barring some unforeseen upset will almost certainly become the next prime minister, fully shares the Conservative antipathy towards the Scottish independence movement and to the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales.

Fresh from her childish attack on Nicola Sturgeon, Truss took a pop at Mark Drakeford – the Labour First Minister of Wales – calling him a "low-energy Jeremy Corbyn" and promising that she would "crack down on his negativity”.

It's not clear what that even means but it certainly doesn't sound like the kind of thing that would be said by a prospective prime minister who intends to respect the democratic decisions of the Welsh Senedd or the Scottish Parliament.

Truss has already made it clear that she will not “allow” Scotland to have another independence referendum, no matter what the people of Scotland vote for. The real nationalist extremists we need to worry about – the ones who pose a very real threat to democracy and freedom of political expression in Scotland – are the flag-shagging Anglo-British nationalists of the Conservative Party.

It would be nice to see the Labour Party in Scotland loudly condemning the existential threat to Scottish democracy posed by Truss and Sunak and the anti-democratic authoritarian disgrace that the Conservatives have become, along with the SNP and the Greens, but I won't go holding my breath. Labour are far too preoccupied with fending off independence and chasing Tory votes in England.

This piece is an extract from today’s REAL Scottish Politics newsletter, which is emailed out at 7pm every weekday with a round-up of the day's top stories and exclusive analysis from the Wee Ginger Dug.

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