I was watching This Week on the BBC last night, and Andrew Neil teased John Nicolson that the SNP had given up campaigning for Independence, and never mentioned it any more. I have known John since student days, and much respect him. He is a very professional man and put in a very professional performance on the show. He can be relied on, despite his arch asides, to follow a party line.
How did John reply to the charge that the SNP had stopped campaigning for Independence? Did he reply, “No Andrew, we remain fully committed to the goal of Independence and that is our number one priority.”?
He said “we have to respect the decision of the electorate”, a line taken straight from Nicola Sturgeon.
The problem with this is that it is exactly the Blairite line. Liz Kendall argued in effect that the electorate voted Tory, so Labour have to be Red Tories to respect the electorate.
It is a trite phrase. Nobody would argue you should disrespect the electorate. But it then elides into a distortion. To respect the verdict of the electorate means to accept your loss on this occasion and the processes of the state proceed on that basis, without any attempt to subvert the democratic decision. It does NOT mean the losing side had to change its beliefs, go quiet, or stop campaigning ready for the next time.
Since the referendum I have spoken on many stages in favour of Independence across Scotland, under the aegis of a whole variety of organisations only a minority of which are anathema to the SNP. Yet it occurs to me that of all the distinguished people I have shared platforms with, I have not witnessed a single one of the SNP’s MPs argue for Independence. To my certain knowledge they have declined many invitations to do so.
The SNP instead is setting out its stall as a kinder and more efficient manager of the governmental institutions of Scotland within the UK. It is elevating managerialism into a cult. Forget Independence and admire John Swinney’s figures. This is reinforced by another managerialist subtext, “the only organised opposition at Westminster.” Opposing the Tories is undoubtedly a good thing. But all this is symptomatic of the SNP becoming over-comfortable within the governmental institutions of the United Kingdom. All the energy expended pointlessly on the glorified local council powers of the Scotland Act while our country is dragged into yet another neo-con war against the will of the Scottish people.
When the media were promoting a narrative of potential ill-behaviour by new SNP MP’s, Tommy Sheppard famously declared “We have not come to act up, but to settle up!” What precisely have the SNP MP’s done that showed a scintilla of desire to “settle up” and end the Union? Where are the Parnellite tactics? A more honest declaration would be:
“We have not come to settle up, but to settle in!”
John Nicolson was led on to discussing his prospects of re-election last night, in response to a joke about Michael Portillo’s defeat. Andrew Neil gently reminded him he was not meant to want to be in Westminster long term. I am willing to bet a million pounds with anybody that the SNP structure is already giving more thought to defending its Westminster seats than to ending the union before the next Westminster election. I think deep down everybody reading this will find they believe that too.
Leadership loyalists will respond with a) more managerialism – we run the country better blah blah blah – and b), the argument that the SNP has to entrench in power before trying again for independence and win trust by – more managerialism. Oh OK, that’s actually the same argument. They don’t have another one.
The problem with this is gravity. In politics no party remains at the heights of popularity forever. Events take their toll. I suspect that what Nicola agreed with Dave this week about extending the extreme surveillance state to Scotland will be a little wave of erosion once we get told of it. The SNP will, regardless of anything I think or write, sweep the Holyrood elections. But that will likely be the high point of their absolute dominance of Scottish politics.
Let me put it this way. It is definitely a possibility that the coming real domination of both MPs and MSPs will never happen again. If the SNP do not even try to use that dominance to deliver Independence, then what is the point of the SNP?
Oh sorry, I forgot. They manage the institutions better, and are an effective opposition at Westminster. That apparently is the point. But not what I joined for.