Monday, 27 October 2014

Nicola Will Take Advice - But From Whom?

Even before assuming office as First Minister and leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon has not been short of advice on how she should proceed. Fears have been expressed, mainly by the Unionist press and others who voted No, that the "fundamentalist" wing of the SNP will now hold sway, as disappointment at the Referendum result bites deep. There will be more of that below, but in the main, fear of the "fundamentalists" has been expressed by those who haven't a clue what a "fundamentalist" is. I reacted with incredulity when I first saw Jim Sillars described as "the darling of the fundamentalist wing of the party". Whatever term is used to describe Jim's political philosophy in the context of the SNP, the least accurate is "fundamentalist" but the label has been allowed to stick, which merely reinforces my point.

The Scotsman leader earlier this month said, "Ms Sturgeon is about to become the gradualist leader of a party of nationalist fundamentalists" and "Her natural instinct is to take a pragmatic approach...but this clashes with the more fundamentalist view held by tens of thousands of new party members" and "let her lead by example, finding solutions that suit the majority (those who voted No) rather than play to the unrealistic demands of her new allies." There has been much more of this type of grossly superficial analysis from the Unionist media in general, all of it geared to dampening the enthusiasm and determination of those who voted Yes, to continue to campaign for independence. With the total disarray of the Unionists, both in Westminster and Holyrood, the last thing they want is to see is an organised, determined and growing section of the Scottish people, committed to independence; not the ersatz concoction with which we were presented in September, but the real thing.

Whether we will get that from Nicola is still a moot point and it will depend largely on the advice she both receives and accepts. A useful starting point would be to stop the re-writing of the history of the SNP which has gone almost unchallenged since 1990, the year Alex Salmond was elected leader. The media would also do well to take note. "Fundamentalist" was a term of abuse, used by the '79 Group to describe those members of the SNP who argued that the pursuit of independence was more important than the pursuit of socialism or branding the SNP with a pseudo left-wing image, in order to attract the working class vote. They also claimed "fundies" were not interested in anything other than independence. As one of the "original" so-called fundamentalists, I never knew anyone from the "traditional" wing of the SNP who was disinterested in the social problems created by decades of neglect and mismanagement of the Scottish economy, by successive Westminster governments. As we had all suffered to some extent from them, why on earth would we not want to change them?

The views of the '79 Group prevailed and under the leadership of Alex Salmond, the pursuit of independence was set aside, in favour of a strategy of making the SNP electable by appealing to the working class, hence the visceral hatred of Labour and Labour of the SNP. The reality is that neither the Labour Party nor the SNP is a socialist party, their appeal is based on class consciousness rather than political principle. After twenty-five years of Salmond's strategy, the SNP has become electable - for Holyrood - but the middle classes have been almost totally alienated, something the traditional wing of the party always warned against, and the majority of Scots have rejected independence. On her endorsement as leader of the SNP, Nicola said, "let us build a better country". That cannot be done without the support of the majority of Scottish society and an appeal to only one section of that society, will do little to encourage that support, as the referendum showed. Independence must also come off the back burner and Scots encouraged to embrace it as the only means by which that "better country" will be achieved.

Early reports of branch meetings of the SNP, suggest that many of the new members see themselves as the "class warriors" that made up a substantial part of the foot soldiers of the Yes campaign. They are angry, feel let down by Westminster, even conned but what they are not, are "fundamentalists". Many of them are demanding independence, while denying they are Nationalists, therefore it has to be asked exactly what they mean by independence? How long will their current anger sustain them, will they still be there a year from now, are they prepared for the kind of long haul the SNP's recent strategy makes inevitable? Are they prepared for the machinations of the Westminster parties, as they seek to kick Scottish unrest into the longest grass they can find, hoping to bury the promises that were made until the unrest dissipates? It would be criminal if this was allowed to happen and if it is not, I am convinced a change of strategy will be necessary.

Nicola's "better country" should also embrace an appreciation of Scotland's culture. I cringed every time Humza Yousaf, or some other leading member of the Yes campaign asserted, "this is not about identity" or "this is not about the kilt or haggis..." as if this was the totality of Scottish culture, those things which identify us as Scots. For some strange reason people like Pete Wishart MP, who made his name with the Celtic band Runrig, or Elaine C Smith, a highly successful actress, did not have a word in their ears, pointing out that The Proclaimers, Deacon Blue and more recently Twin Atlantic, have international reputations. We have world renowned artists in film and theatre, art, music and literature, all of them dismissed as "kilt and haggis". Is it any wonder the No side were so disdainful of us when we portray ourselves in such a dismissive manner?

During ten years as Alex Salmond's deputy, Nicola did not break ranks once, but neither did the party in general. Arguments about currency and the EU, neither of which could be sustained, were allowed to dominate, such was the internal discipline of the SNP. Others in the Yes campaign were not, or should not have allowed themselves to be, constrained by SNP membership, but unfortunately did little to counter the more nonsensical arguments on the currency and EU. That will have to change. Nicola is starting with a high public approval rating and, as the only candidate for the leadership, obviously has the support of the vast majority of SNP members. The sell out for her tours is testimony to just how popular she is. Hopefully she will use that personal popularity to good effect, as she pursues her aim of "building a better country". As a true "fundamentalist", I just hope it includes independence.

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