BY EFFIE DEANS
It has been amusing watching the SNP self-destruct. It isn’t very long ago both under Salmond and Sturgeon that the SNP was like the Corleone family.
“Never tell anyone outside the SNP what you’re thinking” said Don Salmond.
“Don’t ever take sides with anyone against the SNP again. Ever.” Said Donna Sturgeon.
SNP MPs and MSPs imitated trained seals at the circus in their desire to please their godfather or godmother. There were no leaks, there was no dissent. They even clapped in unison.
But far from being trained seals now the three candidates for First Minister resemble nothing so much as two wildcats and a strong and steadfast lion going at each other with claws.
SNP politicians were willing to keep silent (omerta) so long as they thought it would lead them to independence. No one was going to tell the media about rumours and allegations, which must have been known to lots of people in 2014, because there was an independence referendum to be won. So let the Don make various offers that could not be refused. It would be worth it when Scotland got independence. It would be worth it even if you were one of those who had received an offer.
So too when rumours about Sturgeon began to emerge and when she was questioned in the aftermath of Salmond’s acquittal. The SNP members of the panel made no effort to find out the truth and would have acquitted her no matter the evidence. Because it was all worth it if Sturgeon led Scotland to independence.
But gradually since her peak popularity during the pandemic it became clear that Scotland was not going to have another referendum anytime soon, because the British Government would not give permission and this made all other de facto strategies more or less nonsense, because if the British Government failed to give in, they amounted to UDI.
But with no one left to lead the SNP to independence anytime soon, why keep silent, why hide what you know for the good of the family? It turns out there isn’t a family at all. There is no shared viewpoint. Where we once thought the SNP agreed about everything, we now know it agrees about nothing except independence.
It has socialists, progressives, cultural conservatives and tartan Tories. It is now leaderless and in retreat and has shown itself to be a mere rabble rather than a disciplined army. We have the chance to turn its retreat into a rout.
The problem that the SNP has had since before 2014 is that its only argument is nationalism. People support Scottish independence not for political reasons but for the same sort of reasons they support Scotland at football. It is a patriotic/nationalist movement. The argument goes, if you are Scottish, you ought to support the SNP because Scotland is a country with a long and proud history, and we should be independent because countries ought to be independent. Added to this is hostility to Tories and sometimes hostility to England.
This argument is very good. The nationalist card is the strongest card in the deck, but it was only enough to get 44% in 2014. Since then, it has sometimes been able to get to around 55%, but it always quickly goes back.
Now Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes are hinting that they may need 60% for a year or more before asking for another referendum. Well, the last poll put Yes on 39%. So, they are 21% behind. But the SNP has still not come to terms with the fact that they would not get a Yes/No question, but rather something like a Leave/Remain question. That would put them still further behind.
But the problem for the SNP is that they only have the nationalist card. But this means they have nothing to say to the rest of us who are not persuaded by their nationalism.
The SNP’s best chance was in 2014 when it would have been possible to have independence and retain a close relationship with the former UK. But even then, the SNP did not properly address the downsides of their argument. It was still wishful thinking and everyone including the former UK and the EU agreeing with Don Salmond because he would make them an offer they could not refuse. But the EU is not an SNP underling scared to snitch on the Don and the former UK would have to have been persuaded that giving Scotland a generous deal was in its interest.
The situation is much worse now. Scotland is poorer and depends economically on the UK. Brexit destroyed the SNP argument that Scotland and the former UK could retain a close relationship after independence. But Scotland can’t be in the EU and the former UK out and maintain open borders. Scotland is not Northern Ireland and would have no leverage to turn itself into Northern Ireland. That is just more wishful thinking.
But all we ever got from Sturgeon was deficit denial and we never had a convincing argument for how Scotland could make up the loss of UK Treasury money that pays Scots on average much more than people in England and Wales. It’s our own money given back to us say the SNP, but that’s just deficit denial again as Scotland has a nominal deficit that is much higher than the UK as a whole.
The three candidates are still just talking to the already converted or about something else entirely like homosexual marriage or the rights of transgender people. Not one is honestly reflecting on why the Pro UK argument is still winning nine years after 2014. This is why they convince no one but themselves.
Almost no one in Scotland wants a separate currency or the Euro. Almost no one wants any sort of border. Almost no one wants to be poorer than they are now. But if they were brutally honest with themselves the SNP would admit that this is what they are offering. It might convince nationalists who think it would be worth it, but for those of us not interested in marching, waving flags, and wearing Jacobite costumes it is thin gruel compared to what we have.
Whichever candidate the SNP chooses they are going to struggle until they honestly address how Brexit changed what an independent Scotland would be like. Failure to do that is the cause of Sturgeon going nowhere.
Worse still the SNP now faces a nightmare General Election. I dislike and fear a Labour Government. It will make a muck of things like it always does. But SNP voters will have a chance to kick out a Tory Government now rather than wait for independence some decades from now. The campaign will have nothing to do with Ash Regan’s attempt to turn it into a plebiscite on independence. It will instead be about Keir Starmer versus Rishi Sunak.
With a new leader less well known than Sturgeon there is every chance that support for the SNP will fall like it did in 2017. Well, that kicks independence into the long grass for another five years and the goal of 60% begins to look insurmountable.
The reason is that not one of the SNP candidates can explain why he or she wants independence apart from nationalistic reasons and dislike of Tories. They used to keep silent, but now they are shouting at each other they still have nothing whatsoever to say to the rest of us. This is why whatever the SNP offers, Scotland will continue to refuse.
The Excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.