Finger right on the button. By Kevin McKenna. Originally published in the National
‘IN those blue remembered days when real issues affecting real people hadn’t yet been replaced by the contrived politics of identity, you knew where you stood with the Tories.
In 2002 Theresa May, then chairwoman of the party, in a rare moment of self-awareness, told her members: “There’s a lot we need to do in this party of ours. Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us – the Nasty Party.”
At least the Tories reserved most of their beastliness for their opponents. In 2021, the SNP, who have always portrayed themselves as a rainbow organisation open to all, are now considered to be Scotland’s nasty party. Troublingly for the SNP hierarchy it’s not their traditional opponents in the Tory/Labour Unionist alliance who are loudest in saying this, it’s many in its own rank-and-file membership.
For much of the last two decades the SNP have carefully cultivated an image of itself that sat somewhere between Mother Theresa and Sir David Attenborough. Theirs was a new political way free from the machismo and braggadocio of Labour and Tories whose favoured modus operandi was the knife in the back and interment in concrete flyovers.
The differences between the old way and the new one were most evident at annual conferences. These didn’t seem like political events at all: they were like old-style parish bus-runs with everyone singing “here we are again, happy as can be, all good fun and jolly fine company”. It was a triumph of the party’s marketing division and indicative of Alex Salmond’s almost uncanny ability to discern the mood and instincts of ordinary people.
These were not necessarily party activists or those eyeing an opportunity to build a political career and an income beyond their dreams by touching the hem of the leadership. They simply wanted Scotland to be independent and felt that the time for this was now approaching. There was a sense of boundless optimism at these conferences such as you might find at university Freshers’ Week.
Within a few years this party, though, has begun to devour itself. This is partly due to the assiduous irrelevance of both Labour in Scotland and the Scottish Conservatives. So peripheral have these parties become to the heartbeat of Scottish life and so inconsequential their leaders that neither is considered worthy of hostility.
With all that spare energy and the certain knowledge of continuing power the party leadership has become self-indulgent. Candidates seeking to become MSPs know that this is less about falling on the mercy of the voters but on ticking the boxes and clearing the increasingly esoteric hurdles set by the SNP’s internal examiners. Virtually certain of electoral triumph next year, the SNP’s vetting machine will determine what Scotland will look like and feel like for the next four years, not the electorate.
The SNP is now in a state of open warfare with itself. This is falsely assumed to be a doctrinal battle that defines our age between a socially progressive and enlightened woke brigade opposed by a force of more the socially austere. This, of course, is a gross distortion. Many of those issues now considered woke have been fought for by feminists, gay people and ethnic minorities for generations. While those now considered a social embarrassment by the party leadership have formed picket lines, lost their livelihoods and seen their communities menaced by Thatcherism and neo-liberalism.
Playing at progressive politics is a lot easier to do and a lot less expensive than actually changing people’s lives by addressing persistent deprivation. The communities worst affected by social inequality in 2020 remain the same as in 1999. The Gender Recognition Act and the proposed Hate Crime legislation will not make an ounce of difference in these communities. Instead, they are being used to judge them and to find them wanting.
IRONICALLY, support for Scottish independence has seen its sharpest rise in these neighbourhoods. They saw independence as an opportunity to decouple from a political system that persistently kept them out. They didn’t view independence as an exercise in self-indulgent and contrived social experimentation.
Much of the rancour that currently exists within the SNP has been whipped up by a party machine now almost entirely out of touch with its rank-and-file members. Their favoured instrument of ensuring social and cultural purity is the NEC, a body which now resembles a student union. This body has been stealthily annexed by those for whom independence and the struggle against inequality are subordinate to an esoteric programme of social engineering. This isn’t politics, it’s posturing.
Every now and then of course largesse is dispensed to favoured organisations as a means of conveying diversity and high-mindedness. This can come unstuck, though. Like the £470,000 given to Glasgow University’s John Smith Centre for Public Service to support young BAME people into leadership, without asking why the entire board of this boutique organisation comprises affluent white people. Or the huge awards it dispenses each year to anti-sectarian charities, none of whom are trusted by the community most adversely affected by it.
Nicola Sturgeon was correct to highlight abusive behaviour on social media earlier this week following some unpleasant targeting of the young SNP hopeful Rhiannon Spear. Yet, many of the comments were reasonably expressed and valid criticism of Spear’s campaign video: nothing more. Many of the respondents did not appreciate being dismissed as abusive and misogynistic just because they opposed one of the First Minister’s favoured few. No-one can doubt the sincerity of her intervention but it would have carried much more weight if the party she leads wasn’t so choosy about who deserves such support.
Joanna Cherry, the party’s most formidable operator and the natural successor to Sturgeon, is still waiting for acknowledgement of a number of complaints she’s made about an orchestrated campaign of violent intimidation and abuse over her public misgivings about GRA.
Passion and justified anger which might include swearing and uncouth sentiments have always driven political debate at street level. What’s the point of political involvement if you’re not angry about injustice and inequality? Some who have hitched a ride on the SNP gravy train and many in the wider political bubble just don’t like the look and sound of politics in the raw, expressed by real people. They prefer a quiet life and largely unscrutinised to get on with their chi-chi existences free from all online beastliness. Life is just grand as it is and they don’t want it threatened by, you know, actual independence and the oiks who keep talking about it.
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2nd October 2020