Are we watching an entire movement imploding in slow motion?
If I ever thought I’d say that, I’d have guessed it’d be a number of years from now, and with some smugness. As it is, I can only manage the words today with something approaching bemusement.
The nationalists lost the independence referendum with 45% of the vote. But it was more than many of them thought possible, tantalisingly close to the 50% + 1 vote they believed necessary to transform Scotland from a northern colony of the UK/Britain/England (you choose) to a proud independent nation. In the wake of what they saw as a near victory membership of the SNP leapt, their wider popularity surged, and they won 56 out of Scotland’s 59 UK parliamentary seats only eight months after the referendum. Labour seemed temporarily crippled by its leadership succession and the SNP became spoken of as ‘the’ opposition at Westminster. The old warhorse Salmond stood aside to allow the coronation of an overwhelmingly popular young(-ish) woman leader. She’s been voted Scottish politician of the year, ventured South to English curiosity, across the world to Asia and America promoting Scotland and even, highest accolade of all, revealed her choice of music to an eager world on Desert Island Discs.
And yet, and yet …
Everything seems to be going horribly wrong. So much so that even my list you’re about to endure seems only to scratch the surface. Here’s the picture.
- The SNP case for independence embodied in Scotland’s Future has been comprehensively trashed, not only by hawk-eyed sceptics like blogger Kevin Hague, but more painfully for nationalists by Salmond’s former special adviser Alex Bell who says ‘The SNP’s model of independence is broken beyond repair.’ Painful indeed.
- True believers insist the SNP’s record in government is as good as any. More objective observers point to problems or outright failure in policing, schools, further and higher education and social policy (the ‘named person’ legislation for children, for example), amongst others.
- The party’s 56 MPs look collectively shooglier by the day. Michelle Thomson has stood down/been suspended from the SNP group, as I write Natalie McGarry is ‘at [the] centre of [a] police probe after tens of thousands of pounds go missing from independence campaign group’ (Daily Record) and Alex Salmond has shown himself so in touch with the tenor of the times that he’s hied himself off to Dublin to tell everyone he believes Ireland will be united one day (just as he believes the UK will be disunited). Other heroes like MP Dr Paul Monaghan tweet approvingly to one of the most revolting cybernats yet to hit the web, Mark/Claire Robertson, and are forced to apologise for remarks interpreted by many, not least by the Jewish community, as anti-semitic (a trait in which he’s not alone – step forward SNP MSP Sandra White).
- Ms McGarry’s wee police probe problem relates to ‘Women for Independence,’ now revealed to be scarcely more than an SNP front organisation although many of its innocent members may not have realised that. The same happened with ‘Business for Scotland’ where one leading figure after another, not just Ms Thomson, has come out as an SNP supporter and threatens to clog up the SNP Holyrood back benches after the 2016 election.
- A whole raft of weird and wonderful groups and individuals hover around the fringes of the SNP specifically and nationalism generally, from the afore-mentioned Mr/Ms Robertson and his fellow cybernats, many of whom sport SNP logos online, the one-man industry of discontent and Twitter abuse that is the ‘Rev’ Stuart Campbell of Bath and Wings over Scotland (also with his own battles over funding and truth), through the bitter and sometimes incomprehensible online arty crowd (Eddi Reader, anyone?), to Scottish Resistance, the fissiparous extremes of the hard left, and the ‘proto fascists’ (Gordon Wilson) of Siol nan Gaidheal.
On the other side of the equation there’s what Harold Macmillan famously called ‘Events, dear, boy, events.’
The ISIS-related atrocities in Paris seem to have caught the SNP on the back foot. Suddenly, the balance of opinion in favour of responding militarily in Syria has changed and the first minister has been found wavering. ‘Come and convince me,’ she seems to be saying to Cameron. Her hubris aside, Cameron of course has other things on his plate. Like strengthening the UK’s defences, with announcements even in the last day or two of thirteen new frigates to be built in Scotland, and a new squadron of maritime reconnaissance planes to be based at Lossiemouth. There is a dividend for some from international turmoil and in the short term at least it seems to be one that Scotland might be reaping.
And while few would want to put a gloss on the UK economy it continues to perform better than many other advanced countries, certainly in Europe, and better than an independent Scotland would. Remember Alex Salmond’s ‘realistic independence date’ of 24 March 2016 set out in ‘Scotland’s Future’? Four months away precisely as I write. If you remember that, remember too the assumption of $113 a barrel oil. I’ve just checked this morning’s spot price of Brent crude for delivery on 16 January – $45.33. Events, dear girl, events, as the ghost of Harold might say to Nicola Sturgeon.
Of course, alternative analyses are available. I don’t know how many nationalists read this blog. One recently declined to on the ground that I’d used the word ‘separation’ rather than ‘independence’ somewhere. Few certainly comment on it but if any do respond I know the points that will be made. They will centre on my assumed age, my ‘BritNat’ unionism, my supposed fear and lack of faith in Scotland, the iniquities of the Tories, false regret at Labour-lost-in-the-wilderness, the SNP’s purported successes in government and, most of all, recent opinion polls.
I understand all that. I’d ask those people also to consider what I present here. Despite appearances, it’s not going well for the SNP and I can’t see things getting better for them in the near future. Convinced nationalists will not be swayed by anything in the picture I paint. Those opposing them will of course be nodding in agreement. But in the middle ground there’s a considerable swathe of people who could go either way. Nothing nationalists, SNP or others, have done, said or acted upon recently is going to move those in the decent middle ground in the direction of, yes I’ll use the word, separation.
Scottish nationalism is not in a good place.