A small thing happened yesterday.
One of the people I follow on Twitter was called a ‘turncoat’ by someone I didn’t know. It transpired that the ‘turncoat’ was a local councillor who had recently changed political parties, as it happens from the SNP to Labour.
I remonstrated mildly, pointing out that this happened quite often, certainly in local politics, and there were many legitimate reasons for it (it’s a subject worthy of a post in its own right although not on this particular blog).
I also pointed out that political parties change too. In particular I brought to the original critic’s attention my coincidentally recently published post on The serial promiscuity of the SNP. In two separate tweets this brought forth the claim that I was ‘vile,’ then ‘mad.’
I know what particular passage in my post had annoyed my interlocutor because he cut and paste it to his 850+ followers. It was one of what I called a whole series of infatuations by the party. I said:
First, the one the SNP hate to hear: their pre-war flirtation with, I’m trying to be discreet, right-wing nationalism and socialism. Oh damn, let’s say it – Nazism. Of course that was only for some of their members and only a passing fancy, albeit one the party has never wholly repudiated.
I’m prepared to admit my post was partisan. I am after all pro-union and anti-separation. I’m also prepared to admit it at least aspired to be a polemic. But vile? Mad? I was careful to qualify my words and I was not, a subsequent claim, accusing the SNP now of having Nazi sympathies. And I defy anyone to demonstrate that the words I used are incorrect. If anything they perhaps underplay what the party was like in its early years.
The minutiae of this not untypical Twitter exchange is not what really concerns me.
What interested me was that during the course of the exchange someone said to me ‘You do know of course he’s the partner of an SNP MSP?’ And so he turned out to be, as well as an SNP office-holder himself.
And this is the nub of this post. There’s a nastiness close to the heart of the SNP that their leaders seem to be quite happy to live with and will not repudiate.
But if your cause is a principled one, you should behave in a principled way.
In a post just before the referendum I cited an exchange Andrew Marr had with Alex Salmond on TV:
Marr: [In relation to ‘the darker, uglier side of the (Yes) campaign’] have you heard or seen anything you’ve flinched at?
Salmond: Well there have been incidents involving myself. They’ve been prosecutions about these incidents…
See how he ignored the legitimate question and immediately played the victim? Could you imagine great leaders like Mandela or Gandhi doing that?
You don’t even have to venture outside Scotland to see how leaders should behave if their cause is a principled one. Remember Jimmy Reid, who led the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders’ work-in during 1971-72 and addressed his fellow workers with these words:
… there will be no hooliganism, there will be no vandalism, there will be no bevvying because the world is watching us, and it is our responsibility to conduct ourselves with responsibility, and with dignity, and with maturity.
Not once have Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon spoken so unequivocally about the nasty side of nationalism. And it would be nice if they could acknowledge that the early history of their movement was not entirely without blemish.
At the tail end of my exchange with Mr Vile and Mad he sent me a photo, one many interested readers will have seen, of a small group of young people corralled by the police in George Square on the night after the referendum. If anything they seem to be loyalists rather than unionists but we’ll let that subtlety pass. Two or three of them have their arms raised, perhaps pointing at someone off camera, perhaps giving a traditional two fingers or, just perhaps, making a Nazi salute. Perhaps. Never mind. See, my online friend said, Nazis. That’s what you’re associating with.
Coincidentally someone else piled in with support for him at virtually the same moment (the only one so far: perhaps most of his followers are more sensible than him) with the same photo and a compilation of logos of organisations alleged to support the union. Inevitably the BNP and Orange Order were in there.
That, helpfully, reminded me of similar images that circulated during the referendum campaign. Smearing by association I called it. Probably the most widely copied, an image of a football pitch with two opposing sides, was retweeted approvingly by … Nicola Sturgeon.
So there you have it.
Because there’s far worse nastiness about than being accused by a minor party apparatchik of being vile and mad.
Have a look at the genuinely vile online abuse directed at Labour MP Margaret Curran. The link is to an excellent article by STV’s Stephen Daisley. Within hours of this appearing online Tory leader Ruth Davidson, no political friend of Curran, had tweeted
It’s not too late for Nicola Sturgeon to join in with a similar unequivocal sentiment. If she’s struggling for words I’m sure Jimmy Reid’s could be adapted to fit the circumstances.
We’re waiting but I expect we will be for a long time.