There was a debate in the Commons yesterday on the renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. It seemed to go on forever and at some stage a number of SNP members were, quite properly, called to speak. Twitter was abuzz with comment about who said what and how and why and why they were right or wrong.
One of the stranger consequences, for me, of this sort of exposure is that people outside Scotland who may have little connection with the country start to say positive things about the SNP. In this case support seems to have been triggered by SNP MP Mhairi Black’s contribution to the debate. I haven’t listened to it and I don’t intend to but I am happy to accept the judgement of others that it was both sincere and effective.
Her contribution led immediately to a whole range of comments on Twitter along the lines of:
- Oh, I wish we had politicians like her/them
- Can I set up an SNP branch in Swindon?! *sighs*
- There are more socialists now in the SNP than Labour
- Nicola for PM!
- and so on.
It must be attractive if you believe in, say, unilateral disarmament to know that there is a well-organised political party that unequivocally, and uniquely at Westminster, expresses precisely what you feel at a time when others are gung ho for Trident renewal, in disarray about the subject, ineffective in their opposition, or just plain silent. I’m sure the same was true for other issues where the SNP took a position, like fox hunting or Sunday trading.
They say, however, that distance lends enchantment and there are a number of things you may not realise about the SNP.
They have only one aim – to take Scotland out of the UK. They may give the impression of being cuddly/progressive/left wing and but their political positioning is only a means to an end. It was a means to an end in their early pre-war days when leading members were sympathetic to fascism. It was in the 1970s when a narrow selfish financial self-interest led them to parrot ‘It’s Scotland’s oil!’ And it is now when the only way they can gain ground in Scotland is at the expense of Labour.
Their true political philosophy is nationalism, one definition of which is ‘an extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries.’ With this baggage, the SNP have worked hard to construct the concept of an inclusive ‘civic’ and ‘joyous’ nationalism. Scots who are in favour of remaining as part of the UK experienced how joyous and inclusive nationalism could be during our independence referendum. It was not a pleasant experience.
As a nationalist party, the SNP are prone to speaking on behalf of the nation of Scotland, as in ‘Scotland wants/demands …’ These claims are usually spurious. Scotland contains as many diverse, and sometimes contrary, opinions as England. If you listened to the SNP in the Commons yesterday you wouldn’t know that a recent poll (by ICM, cited here) found slightly more Scots in favour of retaining Trident than not. The only time the SNP’s one aim has been put to a democratic test, Scots voted 54:44 in favour of staying as part of the UK, and nearly all subsequent polls show a not dis-similar split around 50%.
Their single aim drives the SNP to reject any expression of democratic will they disagree with. It was true with the Scottish independence referendum. They said it was a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ but ever since have talked about a second referendum. In other words, keep holding them until you get the result you want. It’s also currently true with the UK-wide EU referendum. I disagreed profoundly with the result but, imperfect as I believe it to be, I accepted it. I did not agitate immediately for a way around the decision.
Although it will not affect you directly, do not believe the SNP have a particularly good record in government in Scotland. Their ‘progressive’ policies (‘free’ this, that and the other, a council tax freeze, abolition of university tuition fees for example) often benefit the well-off and middle classes more than they do the poor. They are centralising and controlling (for example, instituting single national police and fire services) and their proposal that every child should have a state-appointed ‘named person’ is currently before the UK supreme court. School performance is at best mediocre and after nine years in government the SNP have instituted a major review of, essentially, their own failure to drive improvement over the last decade.
There are other issues that are more for you to consider than me. How, for example, the loss of Scotland would diminish the diversity of the UK. How you’d have another border North of Carlisle and Newcastle to cope with. How, if you have Scottish family, they would become citizens of a foreign state. How, if you’re inclined to think of the UK’s place in the world, that would be diminished too.
In short, if you like what the SNP say on a single issue at Westminster, fine. But don’t delude yourself into thinking they’re something that they’re not.
Footnote. Twelve hours after I published this article it has been viewed by more people than anything else I’ve written for a long time. You’ll see two ‘anti’ comments below and they are fair enough. I’ve received some stick on Twitter for it too, some as usual by people who I suspect haven’t actually read it (a guy called Stuart Campbell who lives in Somerset, known to Scots as the owner of a pro-separation web site and an abusive tweeter, is one example).
Curiously, one adverse comment has been recurrent – my use of the word ‘decent’ in the title. It has been variously interpreted as my implying that there are English people who are not decent, that I think only people who agree with me are decent, or, more oddly, that I don’t think English members of the SNP are decent. The truth is that all I was doing was using a small rhetorical device that has become a cliche amongst politicians – the phrase ‘ordinary, decent [often followed by working] people.’ It’s a way of getting your potential listeners/readers on your side before you start. That’s all. The article could stand with the word deleted from its title but I’m not going to do that.