MICHAEL Gove gave a masterclass in silver-tongued sophistry in the House of Commons on Thursday. Usurping the role of Home Secretary, he launched the Tory government’s new “initiative” on “extremism”.

Like a political matador, Gove parried concern and criticism from left and right. Unfazed, he praised his opponents for any criticism they threw his way. Nothing to see here. All very sensible. After all, we all hate Nazis.

Actually, there’s quite a lot to see here. Gove’s performance follows Sunak’s attempt to portray himself as custodian of the public’s morals just two weeks before. This is an exercise in political deflection, pure and simple. Out of ideas, out of support and almost out of time, this is a government desperate for anything to take the attention off its record.

So, why not create an enemy within? Demonise and vilify protesters who try to undermine the cosy consensus of what constitutes so-called Britishness. Underpinning this is a load of nonsense about British values – as if there were a universal set of beliefs and attitudes that we all share. It’s a 2024 version of John Major’s warm beer and the slap of leather on willow.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf urges members to send message to Scottish Tory MPs

Who decides what is and what is not an acceptable opinion? Undoubtedly, Michael Gove would count among his British values support for the Union under the crown. I support neither – does that make my values less respectable than his?

And what happens when views change over time. When I was at primary school, gay men were jailed for having sexual relations. I dare say at the time this was widely supported by the public. Was that a British value then? Why is it not one now?

The current initiative is about delegitimising those who do not agree with the prevailing orthodoxy. It is consistent with a government which in recent years has brought in the most draconian legislation on public order designed to incapacitate or outlaw protest and dissent.

True, Gove pulled back on some of the scary suggestions earlier in the week about blacklisting groups like the respected Palestine Solidarity Campaign. In the end, very few groups were named as he repeatedly referred to neo-Nazis and Islamists in the same breath.

The National: Pro-Palestinian protesters took to the streets of London after Israel stepped up its offensive on Gaza (Ian West/PA)

This was another dark day for Muslim communities. Although he was at pains to stress otherwise, there are plenty who will hear “Islam” when he says “Islamist”. The rabid right is none too discerning when it comes to theological distinctions. Rather than tackle Islamophobia, Thursday’s statement will enable it.

The Government points to the protests across the UK since October 7 and suggests that they are a prime driver in the rise of violent extremism and increasing attacks on both Jewish and Muslim people.

Strangely, it never once considered that its own actions might in some way be responsible.

It is no wonder that decent people are taking to the streets. They are horrified not just by what is happening in Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but also by their own government’s complicity in the tragedy.

They see starving people killed in an air strike while queuing for food. They see residential areas bombed for 150 nights in a row. They see more than 14,000 babies and children dead. Who wouldn’t be moved to protest?

But then they see a UK Government that does nothing. That sits on its hands at the United Nations. That continues to license the export of weapons and military systems to the IDF aware that some of it must be used in the commission of war crimes.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf leads tributes to SNP activist Gerry Fisher

Perhaps instead of trying to justify Israel’s actions as self-defence, if the UK Government had just once acted to prevent this humanitarian catastrophe, people would feel listened to.

It is the unwillingness – or the inability – of the Westminster consensus to tolerate views outside a narrow range that forces people to organise on the streets.

Any functioning democracy must have a way to register and adjust to public opinion and desire, a dynamic relationship which allows for policy change. This one only has denial.

Instead of listening to those demanding justice for Palestinians, the Tory government has sought to demonise them. They have been called antisemitic. They have been called hate-filled.

Now anyone who has been on these marches and rallies knows that this is not true. They are not antisemitic in character – indeed, many Jewish people and organisations are part of the protests.

We should never think we have to choose between standing up for Palestinian rights and fighting antisemitism. They are two sides of the same coin. We do both. In my experience, that is the overwhelming view of those who march for peace and for human rights.

The National:

The hypocrisy of pleading for tolerance by a party whose senior lieutenants claim London has been taken over by Islamists is astounding.

There is something otherworldly about the fact that the UK Government launched a statement on countering extremism and political violence in the same week that it was reported that its main funder suggested that Diane Abbott should be shot. You couldn’t make it up.

But the political irony over the member for Hackney North doesn’t end at the Tory Party. Incredibly, Labour took to social media condemning the Tory donor’s comments and seeking to raise funds themselves, somehow forgetting to point out that they had expelled her from their parliamentary party for her own comments on racism.

Gove’s statement was political posturing, nothing else. And it didn’t suggest any change to the law. None of this is to say that there is not a problem with rising political violence. There is. But it is one principally emanating from the extreme right who are hell-bent on attacking migrants and ethnic minorities.

This has been festering for years and the refusal by mainstream politicians to call out racism has allowed it to become ingrained in some communities. But the cosy Westminster duopoly which defines what is acceptable in polite politics and excludes the rest is to blame too. A corrupt electoral system in Westminster has left many feeling unrepresented and left them easy prey to the right-wing conspiracy theorists who spread poison in poor communities.

Thankfully, in Scotland the political debate is along other axes, and alternatives exist. But we should not get too blasé. There’s still ignorance and prejudice aplenty here and it can sprout quickly and virulently if not checked. Pollsters Redfield and Wilton report that Scottish voters now say immigration is their third most important issue at this election.

We don’t know why. But we would be foolish to assume that this degree of salience is because they all support the progressive policies of the SNP and welcome migrants. Some will, but others may be susceptible to the hostile attitudes being promoted by the Tories and insufficiently countered by Labour. This is why – whether it makes us popular in the short-term or not – we must ensure the fight against all forms of racism is central to our prospectus for change.