What decent English people should know about the SNP

saltire and st georges cross

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.

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9 Responses to What decent English people should know about the SNP

  1. Pilsner says:

    Hopefully I am deemed ‘decent’ enough to answer this.

    1) “It was in the 1970s when a narrow selfish financial self-interest led them to parrot ‘It’s Scotland’s oil!’”

    Is that the same narrow self-interest which is why Unionists now parrot 9 Billion subsidy?

    2) “one definition of which is ‘an extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries”

    That one definition, tends to be the Unionist definition. You need to provide some solid evidence of this. I have rarely seen Scottish nationalists use exceptionalist rhetoric, usually it is quite the opposite. “Independence is normal”. Every pro-independence speech I heard explains, we do not feel we are better, just as capable as every other country. Of course this is very important to counter the daily Unionist accusations that Scotland would be ‘a basket case’ or ‘like Greece’.

    3) “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.”

    Of course the Texas sharp shooter fallacy is rife on Twitter. I could dig up evidence of abuse between any one side in a debate over cupcake making if I wanted to. Would it help to post evidence of British Nationalist abuse right now. I won’t. I have a sense of perspective. The Independence Referendum – given its very contentious subject matter – was a fantastic civic experience.

    4)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 fact they hardly mentioned another referendum until Brexit. A task which is darn right impossible seeing as every second question any of them were ever asked by the media was, “Will you be having another Independence Referendum”

    This is all besides the point however. Democracy does not mean shutting-up when you are defeated. The 4 million who signed the petition to have another EU referendum may be a little deluded but they are not undemocratic. Come back to me Roger when they start discussing Scrapping the result or universal declarations.

    As for their record. I personally think they have been great. So do almost a half of voters, who voted them in again in May. Quite an achievement, and if we didn’t have the semi-proportional electoral system, our parliament would be dominated by SNP. Strangely they still support proportional representation. Imagine Labour or the Tories actually supporting a system that would do harm to their election prospects.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Roger White says:

      Thanks for taking the time to make these thoughtful comments. You won’t be surprised that there’s much I don’t agree with, just as you etc etc. I tend not to engage in detailed debate with people who comment – on the basis that readers can compare and contrast and reach their own conclusions. On your use of the word ‘decent’ I’ll just say that the only basis I ever decline to publish comments is if they abusive. I think in the two years I’ve been writing this blog I’ve only refused to publish two comments as received – one I edited, the other I just wouldn’t publish (from a No supporter). I mention all this because you’ll see I’ve added a footnote to my article about the word ‘decent.’ Thanks again.

      Like

  2. g4rve says:

    Readers outwith Scotland will of course have limited knowledge of the SNP’s history and motivations. The author of this article aims to enlighten them, but obviously his explanations are going to be coloured by his own beliefs – and the author is not a supporter of the SNP or Scottish independence.

    I hope then that he’ll allow me to give an alternative viewpoint here.

    The author wishes to suggest that independence is the SNP’s only motivation. He says of the SNP “They have only one aim – to take Scotland out of the UK.” It’s true that one of the two aims in the SNP’s constitution is (a) Independence for Scotland. The other is (b) the furtherance of all Scottish interests.

    The truth is the SNP is not a monolithic block of died-in-the-wool nationalists. Many members (like me) believe in furthering the interests of the people living here first, but have come to the conclusion that the best way to do that is through independence.

    Many, perhaps most of the SNP’s parliamentarians are of a similar opinion. It’s not credible to suggest that Mhairi Black, Tommy Sheppard, Chris Stephens or Chris Law to suggest only a few would put nationalism above the wellbeing of the Scottish people if it ever came to it.

    The author, like many critics knows that nationalism has caused many of the worst ills around the world, and like other opponents of the SNP hopes to tar them with this brush. Perhaps it’s a shame that the SNP was ever named with the word ‘National’, but we’re stuck with it. However, on the day after Brexit, when Nicola Sturgeon, with the full support of her party (and indeed the Scottish Parliament) sought to reassure EU citizens living here that they were valued, and that Scotland was honoured that they had chosen to live here, the SNP surely dispelled any chance that the tar from that brush could stick.

    As to the SNP being undemocratic because it is ‘ignoring the result of the 2014 referendum’, Brexit means the No option which 55% voted for, a UK within the EU, no longer exists. The SNP’s Holyrood manifesto this year included just such a scenario as a trigger for another referendum, and the SNP were returned to power on that manifesto. There is a majority of independence supporting MSPs in Holyrood, and of course a vast majority of independence supporting Scottish MPs at Westminster. To decide that calling for a second referendum would be undemocratic is to ignore the results of the 2015 and 2016 elections.

    The SNP government in Holyrood is not perfect, but it has approval ratings which most governments in Europe can only dream of. This doesn’t happen by accident – it happens when a government listens to its electorate and tries to put policies in place which people want.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Lyndsey says:

    The only reason the SNP is in power is because Scotland has one nationalist party. It has three Union parties that between them have more supporters than the SNP. Unfortunately union votes are divided. It is a toxic situation with more and more not supporting independence and increasingly embarrassed by the antics of the SNP in Westminster as they search for Indy2 ‘triggers’. Social media is awash with calls of ‘Not in my name’ directed at the SNP. I have fought industrial wind developments for many years and I can assure you the SNP do not listen to very real concerns of environmental damage or health issues. They refuse to give communities the veto citizens south of the border have been given by Westminster. As planning is a devolved issues the SNP call the shots and backs a ruthless industry above the welfare of their own citizens.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sam Duncan says:

    “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.’”

    I don’t disagree with that, but to my mind extreme patriotism is one manifestation of nationalism, not its essence. At the root of it is always the conflation of the nation with the state: the belief that the state is the ultimate expression of the nation (thus a nation is incomplete without a sovereign state of its own), and the consequent promotion of national institutions to the forefront of public life. The nation/state/(in the extreme, party) becomes the centre around which everything revolves.

    This definition explains better than any other why…

    “the SNP are prone to speaking on behalf of the nation of Scotland”

    I’m not saying that every nationalist starts with this idea in his head or that every nationalist supporter thinks of it this way in so many words, and of course people who are already strongly patriotic are fertile ground for this stuff. But that’s its core.

    Of course, the SNP are now in the curious position of arguing for separation in order to continue an ongoing process of political union. This makes no sense for a nationalist party, unless they cynically calculate that they can gain even more support for their cause by enmeshing Scotland even further into a larger, less democratic, union than the one it’s known for three centuries. Or they don’t actually know what the European Union is. Frankly, judging from everything they’ve said about it over the last 30 years or so, my money’s on the latter.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Truth is that since the SNP came to power Scotland has the most centrist government in Europe. They froze council tax and forced most councils into virtual destitution. Police Scotland, Fire Scotland and now the NHS are to be ruled from the central belt. Since this centralisation things have gone from bad to worse. They talk about Community Empowerment and what it is in truth is part of the Nationalist Agenda. The Land Reform act is parroted as the next best thing since sliced bread whilst in fact being a marxist land grab not only of the wealthy landowners but down to four acres. Farmers beware. However before everyone panics it has been so badly drafted in law it will never produce the impact they think it will. Truth is that large tracts of land need deep pockets to run them and community buyout of land rarely has the access to such riches. In reality today most people are horrified by the antics of the SNP. Their behaviour is that of the school bully, nothing better. Scotland and England are today a truly integrated country with as many scots south of the border. Sons and daughters work in London, Liverpool and Bristol and mothers and fathers of Scots residents may live in the south too. In today’s society the young move towards where the work is and unlike the 19th century when for the Highlander and west Coaster it was to Glasgow they moved it is now more often than not the south east of the UK. Likewise there are a great number of English in the Highlands who chose to make their homes here and have brought their skills and trades with them. To divide Scotland from the rUK is to divide families and threaten our future. A totally illogical move based on a nationalist ideology based in the main on marxist socialism tarred with an element of fascism.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. lisztomega says:

    This is a very fair piece. The Nats are quite happy to be permavictims, and I’m not convinced that the ones in power REALLY want independence. They have to feed the zoomer vote base though, hence endless disingenuous claims, bragging, demands etc. There is no doubt at all that they have a very big percentage who are xenophobes and bigots. That rarely gets mentioned in public, but it’s true

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m happy to be critical of the SNP for many reasons. Their mania for centralisation is reminiscent of some of the worst aspects of ‘New Labour’ for instance. But. I voted for them in 2015, and gave them my constituency vote in 2016. In part for the very reason why I feel your piece is flawed.
    There are an endless number of articles and blog posts and even books all highlighting the failings of the SNP government. Where most fall down, and you, I feel, join them, is in not articulating what the better alternative might be. If the SNP government is so awful surely criticising that record is only truly valid if you can show what superior option(s) is on offer? The Tories are, to my mind, destructive, and Labour currently too chaotic. An SNP government is at present the best option available (although I would have preferred them to go into formal coalition with the Greens).
    So do you have the courage to tell us who would be better?

    Like

    • Roger White says:

      Thank you for your reasonable (and reasoned) comment. I take your point about alternatives but I see those alternatives not in terms of one party in government vs another, rather in terms of separation/independence vs staying part of the UK. The SNP is the only political party capable of delivering that separation so it is them I criticise. But I only do it when I think it relevant to that issue. Of course they have done some good things in government. I don’t criticise those things and if people look hard enough they may even find me saying one or two positive things about them. Thanks again.

      Like

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