Tick tock, tick tock … who is time ticking away for in Scottish politics?

One of the more irritating tropes on social media is the response that some nationalists make to a reasoned but opposing point of view – Tick tock, or sometimes #ticktock.

The implication is obvious – time is running out for those of us who believe in maintaining our union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It’s irritating for a whole raft of reasons.

First and foremost, there have been brief periods – in the run up to the referendum in 2014, the SNP landslide in the 2015 Westminster elections – when it seemed that the easy jibe might just be possible.

But the evidence on the central question for nationalism, independence/separation, has been far from convincing for a long time (more on that later). And tick tock is more often irritating because it’s used as a glib put-down, one of the lower forms of argument; devoid of evidence and just above the level of insult and personal attack.

Anyhow, yesterday a nationalist previously unknown to me winged a tweet my way that simply said:

The tide is turning.

It struck me that this assertion, and again it was presented without evidence, was just another version of tick tock. Together with an announcement yesterday from the Scottish government, it sent me off on a riff about some loosely-related aspects of time and Scottish politics.

The first was about the SNP’s own management of time.

Yesterday’s announcement was one of a series on what the first minister said earlier this year would be the government’s highest priority – education (let’s not quibble for the moment at this claim although we know the SNP has a different priority above all others). In June education secretary John Swinney said:

I have instructed Education Scotland to prepare and publish a clear and concise statement of the basic framework within which teachers teach, which will be published in time for the new school session in August.

It was published yesterday, a week into the school year. So one of the first steps taken on the government’s highest priority is already late. It comes at one of the busiest times of the year for teachers as they cope with all sorts of other pressures and when they will have planned their work for the next twelve months.

Last week I noted delay on another education-related project, a book on how to play (yes) originally to be distributed to all 8-year olds in the (2016) ‘new year.’ Some were still being handed out last week.

And the biggest delay – or at least time-lapse since I’m not sure its progress was ever programmed in detail – was in implementing the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). The SNP inherited this root-and-branch reform of school education from the previous Labour administration in Holyrood and together with the education establishment took 8/9 years to put it completely into action. Ironically, much of the work John Swinney is now leading to improve education arises from problems with the CfE.

The SNP, as a party rather than a government, is also not that great at its own time management. Remember the summer review, includind a ‘wooing’ of No voters, that would prepare the ground for a second referendum? (Incidentally, when you hear this never forget ‘once in a generation’) It’s not even started and now we are to expect a ‘ fact-finding mission to “understand” what motivated No voters.’ It’s easy to conclude that the constant prevarication and ambiguity on the SNP’s ‘big one’ reflects the fact that it knows the project’s doomed but has to give the impression of forward motion for those 100,000+ (?) new members.

You have to wonder if time isn’t against the SNP for the forseeable future, because you can describe what might be called a general arc of success for all political parties in a democracy.

A party is elected to government on an upsurge of popularity, partly as a result of discontent with a previous incumbent party. Bringing new ideas and optimistic about the future, it’s successful in its first term of government. It consolidates its success in a second election but somewhere along the way becomes complacent and, in a metaphorical if not literal sense, bloated. The warning signs are there but it’s unable to heed them, it staggers on perhaps to a third term diminished and divided then succumbs to the electorate (or the sovereign will of the people, as Alex Salmond might say) at the next election. And the whole cycle starts again for another party on its own wave of optimism. We’ve seen this almost endlessly with UK Labour and Conservative governments since world war two.

The challenge for unionist parties in Scotland over the next 4-5 years is to develop the policies, programmes and popularity that will put themselves in pole position to replace a worn-out and discredited SNP government in 2021.

That thought brings me to a radically different view of time in Scottish politics, not one espoused officially by the SNP but one some of their supporters mistakenly subscribe to and most starkly expressed by Edinburgh sculptor Alison Rollo in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum:

rollo on age

Alas for Alison, apart from the crassness of her suggestion, her logic is likely to be faulty. The misconception that ‘the old voted No, the young Yes’ was far from universally true. She may believe, to paraphrase Gilbert and Sullivan, that every boy and every gal that’s born into the world alive, is either a little Unionist or else a little Nationalist. But people change their views and in particular the radical young become less-radical middle-aged and older (wiser, more mature some might say).

And so I come to my online protagonist’s ‘the tide is turning.’ Nationalists are notably tetchy when the facts don’t suit their world view, so here are the facts over time about support for independence in polls since the referendum (Yes = blue, No = orange, Don’t know/Refused = grey)

indy opinion polls 2014 to 2016

Click on graph to enlarge or see original here

Time is not on the SNP’S side. The clock is ticking but it’s likely to be ticking for them not the supporters of the union.

Tick tock …

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