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Power-hunger and doublethink; Scottish politicians use Orwell to sling barbs

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - The leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson used British writer George Orwell, a darling of the left, to attack her Scottish nationalist adversaries on Monday, saying no one party could purport to be the authentic voice of the nation.

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“We must remain vigilant against nationalisms’ seductive simplicities - and always be ready to embrace the complex, the difficult, the other,” said Davidson.

Davidson, an English literature graduate, was speaking as the first Conservative chosen to deliver the lecture associated with the Orwell prize in London, which celebrates honest writing and reporting. She joked that the writer himself would not have approved.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has dominated politics north of the border for the last decade, and is again looking to take the majority of Scottish seats in next month’s national election.

Davidson’s Conservative party, which holds just one seat in Scotland, has campaigned almost exclusively on one issue - keeping the nation as part of the United Kingdom.

The party has posted leaflets saying “Scotland doesn’t need or want another independence referendum” across the country and polls show them winning more seats in the election than they have for decades.

While political parties across Britain had at different times claimed to have a monopoly on the national mood, “the modern SNP has made this technique its own,” she said.

Davidson cited Orwell saying that “Nationalism (...) is power-hunger tempered by self-deception”, adding “Amen to that.”The leader of her party in Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May, said she called an election on June 8 to strengthen her hand in talks to take Britain out of the European Union.

Most voters in Scotland, one of the UK’s four nations, wanted to stay in the EU and the battle between the parties has become increasingly bitter.

The pro-independence SNP retorted that Davidson was guilty of “doublethink”, the term Orwell used in his novel “1984” to describe a willingness to accept contradictory arguments due to political indoctrination.

“It is Orwellian to lecture others on nationalism when she’s the one who drapes herself in a flag and drives around in a tank,” said SNP candidate for Edinburgh North and Leith, Deidre Brock, referring to a photo shoot in which Davidson posed in a British army tank and a Union Jack, the symbol of British unity.

Davidson argued that nationalism was part of the Scottish psyche, and it would be hypocritical not to admit as much, but defended patriotism as inclusive and welcoming of plurality.

“Nationalism runs deep in Scotland - particularly when, as is often the case, your football or rugby team is once again getting hammered,” she joked.

“Indeed, on such occasions, I am sorry to have to report that even the most passionate pro-Union Scot may have questioned the fortune and parentage of large swathes of the English population.”

Reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary, editing by Pritha Sarkar