The issue of Scottish independence is one of the more interesting international political stories of the year, but the most unlikely character imaginable has weighed in on the issue from all the way Down Under. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott gave his opinion on the matter and in the process insulted the whole of Scotland. Abbott is well-known as a monarchist in Australia and his comments come as no surprise to the people in that country. Instead, many Aussies have found humor in what has been labelled another gaffe from an already gaffe prone politician. Scotland, on the other hand, has taken quite a bit of offense at the comments, for which they have the commiseration of many Aussies.
The independence debate has been going on in Scotland for some time and it will ultimately come down to a yes or no vote on the part of the people themselves. But that has not prevented many international leaders from weighing in on the matter. President Obama is just one such leader. He offered the comment that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” a sign of his support for the continuance of the status quo. One might expect that the leader of the country who fought against Britain for its independence in 1776 would be more supportive of Scotlands attempts at independence, but that was not the case.
Australia is yet another country that most people would expect to support Scotland’s independence movement. Currently, however, that country is being led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who, among other reputations, is a known monarchist. Abbott himself was born in England and immigrated to Australia at a relatively young age, but love of the land of his birth has been a constant for him. He is a self-avowed anglophile which apparently includes the monarchy. He has been the executive director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy and even wrote a book supporting the monarchy. Early in his time as prime minister, he reinstituted the ranks of knights and dames for Australia, a sign for many that his royalist loyalties were still strong. For a man who once said that respecting the monarchy was “as natural as respecting your parents,” all of this is a consistently held belief.
With that background, Abbott’s comments on Scotland are absolutely no surprise, but the way they were delivered is still somewhat shocking. The opinion he gave to The Times ran thus: “I think that the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, the friends of freedom and the countries that would cheer at the prospect… are not the countries whose company one would like to keep.” In one sentence, Tony Abbott managed to insult the entire country and population of Scotland in one fell swoop. Since then, he has been duly criticised and satirized for that opinion.
Australian Twitter users expressed their condolences to Scotland and commiserated on the ignominy of dealing with Tony Abbott as a politician. There were plenty of reminders that he was born in England, too, as a possible reason for his monarchist leanings. But perhaps the best response came from the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, a leader of the independence movement, who put the entire episode into perspective. “Tony Abbott has a reputation for gaffes,” he said, going on to note that he bears a striking resemblance to negative Westminster opinion of Scotland at the present time. That is perhaps the best summation of Tony Abbott that can be given, encompassing both his talent for political hilarity and his anglophiliac love of the English monarchy.
Tony Abbott is well-known in Australia and abroad for his unintentional humorousness. He has been the butt of jokes in Australia and even in America, where John Oliver satirized him as one of the “Other Countries’ Presidents of the United States.” The video of that sketch has been a popular response to the recent brouhaha over Scotland’s independence. Somewhat appropriately, it catalogues the people within his own country that he has insulted. The update of that video may include Tony Abbott’s insult of the entire country of Scotland, which is the latest victim of his proneness to gaffes.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury