Whomever is briefing that the SNP is going to U-turn on its opposition to Nato must be stopped immediately by the Party leader. If this speculation is allowed to continue, the inference that the left will draw may irreparably damage the Party’s support.
In today’s Scotland on Sunday we read: “An independent Scotland would not be able to clear nuclear weapons from its military bases and remain in Nato, one of Britain’s leading defence experts has warned”. Fine, that’s that sorted then, one might conclude. Since SNP policy is both anti-nuclear and anti-Nato, there would seem to be no problem here.
Except further down we discover that SNP defence spokesperson Angus Robertson is briefing that they’re “looking at the policy options”. As a political party the SNP is a broad church in terms of the left-right spectrum of its membership. However, while this is true, it is not as true as many people would like to believe. In fact, the SNP has been a pretty solidly left-of-centre party for almost its entire existence.
And it has benefited greatly as a result. The SNP won election in 2007 because it won over the left – the collapsing SSP/Solidarity vote went to them (along with the votes of students who supported its universalist stance on education). That’s how it squeaked the majority that put it in government for the first time. And in 2011, the SNP swept up all sorts of left-of-centre votes, from civil libertarians abandoning the Lib Dems to public sector health workers scunnered with Labour’s position on minimum pricing for alcohol. It was very much a left-wing victory.
But does the SNP understand this properly? Whenever there is a right-wing victory the voices of the right hammer home the point. If there is any hint that (for example) a flashy corporation tax cut promise has wowed the corporate media, the CBI and the rest of the business lobby will be jumping up and down shouting ‘see! you can’t afford to lose all that support by reversing this right wing dogma!’. And so the politicians begin to believe that, actually, the right is where the support comes from.
Meanwhile, since the Scottish election, the sense of the SNP acknowledging that it won on a left-wing agenda is not all that strong. Certainly, if the emails that I’ve been getting from people who’ve joined up for the Foundation Network are anything to go by, there is disillusionment settling in. People are writing that they voted SNP for an agenda to the left of the one being offered by Labour and instead what they have got is Trump and Murdoch, corporation tax cuts and now this proposed Nato u-turn.
Now, some of this is a little unfair – it is impossible to be a national leader or a national government and not attract the attention of dodgy millionaires. Should Salmond really have refused to meet Murdoch? The real measure is not who the government is meeting but what happens after those meetings; there is a world of difference between a cup of tea and a hello and leaving afterwards to rewrite a policy agenda. But the ongoing commitment to a blanket, swinging corporation tax cut (which I don’t think anyone seriously believes is a genuine economic strategy for Scotland any more) and this posturing on Nato are unnecessary and self-inflicted stances which are alienating the very people that put the SNP in power.
Yet there are not that many signs that the SNP is listening with its left ear. I’ve spoken to a number of people who say they have raised the corporation tax issue with the SNP and they all seem to feel like they are simply fobbed off with not that much of a pretence of listening. OK, this is a bad policy that the SNP dreamed up back in the days when Ireland was seen as the all-conquering economy (and not the shaky, corrupt basket-case it actually was) and they may feel they can’t reverse it without embarrassment.
But those who are briefing on Nato are actively picking a fight with the left, and on a stupid issue. In the last decade about the only legal thing Nato has done was Afghanistan – what a wonderful advertisement for the organisation that is. Most of the rest of it – reliance on illegal weapons of mass distraction, invading Iraq, rendition, detention without trial, torture, the use of arial bombing in civilian areas, the use of depleted uranium and cluster bombs, the many ‘fog of war’ crimes (which in reality have involved rape and the murder of children) – are a resoundingly strange choice of ground on which to choose to u-turn. Nato may have been conceived as a defensive organisation but it has become a perpetrator of wars of choice and under international law that makes Nato responsible for all actions resulting from those wars. It is not incendiary or inappropriate to ascribe to Nato the consequences of its actions; it is a simple statement of the law.
I doubt that is the intention of the party generally to pick a fight with the left, but if it believes (as New Labour did) that the left can be ignored because the left has nowhere to go then it will pay a price and it will deserve to. The Scottish Labour Party is starting to reach out to the left it abandoned 15 years ago. This is greatly to be welcomed. If the SNP doesn’t understand what is happening and believes its own hype of invulnerability then it will become just another party of government compromising its left credentials (parties of government never compromise their right credentials).
So here is a simple message which I assume the entire left of all parties and none can converge around. After Trump, Murdoch and all the rest, Salmond must send a clear message to the constituency that put him in power making clear that the SNP is not selling out its principles and tacking to the right. The simplest and most immediate way to do that is for Salmond to come out in public now and make an unequivocal statement to nip this pro-Nato stuff in the bud. He has more than enough status in his Party to put an end to this now. If he doesn’t, at least let there be no mistake about the message he is sending us. Even for his own ends he must surely realise that the people who will be out campaigning for his policy of independence are not going to be of the right. If the SNP walks away from the left now, it may look behind it during the referendum campaign and wonder why it is standing on its own.