People ask me on social media what my dislike of the SNP stems from. I’m not Scottish, nor have I ever lived there; my only link at all to the place is my Glaswegian grandmother, but she has nothing to do with my anti-SNP vibe. It’s very simple: I don’t like nationalism, of any stripe. I often get this “the SNP engage in civic nationalism, not ethnic nationalism” thrown at me, but that just sounds like equivocation. Nationalism is nationalism as far as I’m concerned.
I see nationalism as an anti-progressive force, and I could use copious examples from the 20th century to back up my point of view. Pretty much all of the experiments with socialism in the last one hundred years started out with a type of “civic nationalism”, meant to be the precursor to a worldwide freeing of the international proletariat. Yet, that same nationalism always, always reared its ugly side eventually – don’t like what the government is up to and wish to protest? That’s anti-nationalist and thus anti-worker and thus pro-capitalism. Nationalism leads to a place where any dissent is forbidden, whatever descriptive adjective you place in front of it.
So the slightly pro-SNP slant of the left of centre media thus far since the dissolution of parliament has really irked me. In the wake of the leaked memo of Sturgeon’s discussion with the French ambassador; in the coverage of the debates; in any attack on the SNP from almost any quarter, we seem to get a robust defence of the Nats from certain outlets.
The thing that’s strangest about this position is that the party it hurts the most is Labour (the Tories have one seat they can possibly lose to the SNP). Given they are presumably trying to help Labour get into power, why support a party that directly threatens Labour? Because they have fooled themselves into thinking that a Labour-SNP government would usher in some sort of progressive golden era, I think, against any possible logic; against the lessons from history about the inevitable effects of nationalism.
If you think I’m exaggerating all of this for effect, get a load of this excerpt from a Zoe Williams article from the weekend, in reference to Sturgeon:
“But what if she’s not trying to maximise her advantage? What if she’s not out to embarrass Miliband? What if she’s actually on the level? What if she is genuinely worried about the entire nation, not just the bits in her purview? What if she’s trying to build a real alliance, based on a shared belief in social justice and humanity’s innate generosity? Then Westminster is really in trouble.”
What the type of thinking employed here has is a load of blind spots about how politics and indeed human beings work. The SNP only care about Scotland – I don’t care what anyone says to the contrary, that is by nature who they are as a party. They want to separate from the UK, to make that country obsolete in fact. If this affects England badly? Who cares, not the SNP’s concern. They only run candidates in Scotland for a reason – they are essentially a single issue party with a bulked out policy agenda to accommodate getting elected to achieve that one aim. Yes, some of it sounds fluffy and nice in a Zoe Williams kind of a way, but that isn’t really what a nationalist party cares about ultimately. Just as UKIP are about securing a British exit from the EU, the SNP are about making Scotland an independent country. Not making England a more progressive place. Not making the Labour Party more left wing. All of those things, in fact, would work against the SNP’s ultimate, stated aim. So forgive me if I don’t drink the Kool Aid on this one.
The reason I think the left media have taken such a shine to the SNP may have something to do with the Green surge petering out, and with it a credible pull on Labour from the left. Whatever it’s about, however, I wish they’d cut it out.
Frugal MacDougal says
Interesting. But more convincing if the stated intention of the Nats were to refuse their seats or decline to vote. By pitching up as, in effect, an active and engaged Scottish Socialist Party, they will shift the centre of gravity in Westminster firmly to the left, esp if Labour cobble together a government. If they then start to deliver left of centre policies, they weaken the case for independence. If they don’t there cover is we’ll and truly blown and the thesis of your article stands.
It’s that ToriesLite thing. Ed Miliband appears to be using the Blair focus group and spin playbook. So his desire to distance himself from Gordon Brown won’t permit him to defend any part of Gordon’s record, or try to explain the alternative Keynesian economic diagnosis, or indeed say anything that might upset the Daily Mail. So obviously any of us that think these forbidden subjects have some merit, and should get an airing will jump at anything that might help pull Labour far enough the left to make them worth supporting. You are correct that the risks of any co-operation with the SNP are large, but the risks of having a neutered Labour government, committed to these failed austerity policies are also huge. Devil? Deep blue sea?
Personally I’m glad to be in Caroline Lucas’s constituency, and so can vote for a principled politician who will probably win her seat, with a set of policies I substantially agree with, though obviously without any hope of implementing them. This is the first time this has happened to me, and I’m 65. Up to now, though I’ve always voted, I’ve only ever had the choice of the lesser of two evils.
Steve Peers says
But what would the logistics of a Labour government supported by the SNP be like in practice? If the SNP is not clearly seen to be pushing that government to the left, and if it in any way facilitates the return of or works with the Tories, then SNP voters will be stunned.
Liam Devine says
Very good article. I could hardly agree more.
Here – cut and pasted just now – are the rather hurried comments I made on the Guardian site yesterday re the Zoe W article, the relevant bit of course being: “The liberal English commentariat’s enthusiasm for the shiny new SNP (like yours here, for example, or Monbiot’s, or Owen Jones’ or Suzanne’s) is an abandonment of many lifelong Labour-supporting socialists in Scotland who know the reality of what the Nats are doing to our country and detest it.”
Is the memo real, Zoe? So far as we know it is. Is it accurate? We know that the parties to the conversation deny that (or at least partially deny it, with the French Consul General in particular havering over which bits he refutes, and which he just won’t comment on) but each has good reason to do so. Perhaps you have a theory as to why a civil servant writing what they thought to be a confidential internal memo would just gratuitously embellish it, thus putting their own job at risk? I don’t.
It DOES sounds very likely that the gist of the conversation has been accurately given, even if not so wholly accurately that there is wriggle-room for the principals. Th fact that they deny it is no debunking of it. Don’t forget Jonathan Aitken, Jeffrey Archer, Tommy Sheridan, all said that what was written about them was “100% inaccurate” and all went to court on that basis. Grant Shapps last year threatened a constituent with proceedings though we know now that he knew he was lying. Would Gordon Brown have admitted the “that bigoted woman” quote if it had appeared not on tape, but on a leaked internal Labour Party memo? I doubt it very much, and doubt I would do any different in the same position.
Yet from this you construct a pro-Sturgeon (and effectively anti-Milliband) narrative. Of course Sturgeon can challenge Milliband to back her against the Tories. She has nothing to lose and everything to gain. She wants the SNP to look like a normal social democrat party – WHICH THEY ARE NOT – at which point why does anybody in Scotland need Labour? Though I am definitely not extending the analogy to take in Sinn Fein’s IRA connection, this is the squeeze which Sinn Fein put on the SDLP. They said ‘look we are respectable and safe to vote for now, and if that’s the case, why would you split our community’s vote? If you were thinking of voting SDLP, vote for us and we will give you the same policies, but together our two voting blocs will be strong enough to win”. The liberal English commentariat’s enthusiasm for the shiny new SNP (like yours here, for example, or Monbiot’s, or Owen Jones’ or Suzanne’s) is an abandonment of many lifelong Labour-supporting socialists in Scotland who know the reality of what the Nats are doing to our country and detest it.
And incidentally, the comment NS is supposed to have made – that a Tory government would be fine by her – has been an absolutely standard one you come across on all Nationalist social media. Just have a look at the 45, Bella Caledonia, RIC or any of the others on Facebook or Twitter (you’ll probably need to go back at least a week till before Frenchgate, and you will find that line being argued again and again and again).
If you had had more exposure to the SNP at work in Scotland, or less exposure to biased media coverage in England, you would notice that the increase in the SNP’s numbers are from both sides of the Independence question. Politics is evolving and the SNP are evolving with it, something Labour isn’t doing and has felt the consequences of this. Did you see any of the ITV Scottish Leaders debate? Or in particular, Nicola Sturgeon’s answer to the question of independence? By reading your article I can see no evidence that you have, and why would you? You can’t let facts get in the way, especially when attacking the Scottish Nationalists, and it is clear that you hold Scottish politics in a lesser esteem than that of it’s English counterpart, a view that all parties north of the border have gotten used to, fueling the anti-Westminster sentiment in Scotland.
As to the SNP being a one issue party, are you aware that they have successfully run the scottish assembly since 2007, as a minority government before securing a majority in 2011. If they don’t care about anything but Nationalism, how could that have been possible?
You ask what it’s all about? It’s about being representative of the electorate they serve, something that is more and more untrue in English politics. A recent poll the BBC showed last night as 11% of voters feeling their MP understands and represents them. It does not surprise me that you want them to “cut it out”, the rise of the SNP, as well as the rest of the left across the UK, is showing that British politics is being left wanting.
I fully expect the inevitable wave of racist bile in reply to this, again something that has been gotten used to for a very long time as it is the go-to response when talking about the SNP but I have a question for you…How will Nationalism, and the negative connotations that go with it, ever be removed from politics when English parties keep perpetuating it in attacks on the democratically elected representatives of the Scottish people, who, while it being an overall party goal, the membership and electorate choosing the SNP, can look past this and work together? If Scotland can do it, why can’t you?