The right-wing drift of the SNP is turning into a march. The same is true of the left whose drift away from the Party is accelerating. Has the SNP left just resigned itself to becoming like the Westminster Labour Left? Is there now no challenge to the creation of New SNP?
As a very general rule I try not to use either fascism or child pornography as material for cheap analogies when writing about politics, but in this case the latter is utterly appropriate. Imagine Alex Salmond has discovered a stash of child pornography in his house which was absolutely nothing to do with him and by which he was rightly disgusted, repulsed. He would immediately recognise the moral and legal position and would speak out against those involved. He would call in the authorities and do what he could to make sure this heinous crime was stopped. What he would not then do would be to try and flog it on Ebay.
So how is talking about the bankrupt morality of weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde and pointing out the illegality under all international norms consistent with seeing if you might be able to “trade it for something better”? Setting aside the NATO question altogether, what does this one comment tell us about the ‘moral compass’ of the SNP? You can’t campaign your whole life to end the presence of illegal weapons in Scotland and then just decide that for your convenience you will now seek the maximum financial benefit you can by ensuring their on-going presence elsewhere on the same island. This is not sophistry, clever-clever party positioning, understandable opening gambits in a long-game negotiation. This is hypocritical and wrong.
Some on the anti-independence left have suggested that it is morally wrong for those campaigning for independence to cite removal of Trident from an independent Scotland as inherently hypocritical because it always solves the problem only in Scotland. This seems unfair to me – all you can do is try and do the right thing on the basis of the power you have. An independent Scotland can do no more than clean up its own act; it would then be for the remainder of Britain to then accept or act to resolve its own hypocrisies. But to suggest that Scotland should seek to gain from trading illegal weapons is a different category altogether.
On an analysis of what’s happening to the SNP there is little to add to Iain MacWhirter’s excellent column in yesterday’s Sunday Herald. Every single turn the SNP has made since it won a majority has been to the right – NATO, same sex marriage, the Monarchy, Murdoch media monopoly, privatisation and so on and so on. After the 2011 election I took to asking almost everyone I bumped into whom I’d describe as the ‘Scottish left’ whether they saw an SNP victory as more threat or opportunity (to gauge for myself in an unscientific way what was the reaction). Other than some linked to the Labour left and a few of a more fundamentally Marxist leaning, and with plenty reservations, a big majority saw more opportunity than threat.
If my more recent conversations are anything to go by, these same people are turning their back on the SNP in droves. Many of these were people who, for a while in the late 1990s, thought that New Labour offered a chance to reform the British state. It did not take them very long to realise their mistake. And as a result there is very little patience for giving the SNP the benefit of the doubt. Been there, done that, got the body bags and the P45s to show for it. This is the constituency which won the election for the SNP. There is no doubt about that – if the SNP hand’t wooed the Scottish left with talk of universalism and pulling out of NATO and a host of social justice-flavoured policies the left vote would have fragmented across different political parties and at best the SNP would have required the Greens for a coalition.
This is also the group which is most active in preparing to try and win a Yes campaign – the launch of the campaign and everything since has had a strong left-of-centre tone. Optimism about this Government has been fading for a while; the first signs of optimism about independence also fading among some of the pro-independence left. Scotland’s left elected an SNP Government and it is has given them not a single thing more than the minimum it promised. So no university fees, no privatisation in the NHS and minimum pricing for alcohol. But it replaced PFI with a different kind of banker’s club, introduced a market in university fees for English students, privatised ferries, seems to be converting its ‘green energy’ policy into more corporate welfare, has avoided any social issues with all its might (same sex marriage isn’t even controversial in Scotland – it’s just a tiny minority making a lot of noise while no-one else bothers much), stuck rigidly to its neoliberal tax plans and has rubbed the left’s nose in it with its gushing love of the undemocratic and elitist Monarchy and worse still its fawning attitude to Rupert Murdoch. I know that some in the Party think this latter is a side issue; well, not for us on the left it isn’t. For our entire lifetimes Rupert Murdoch has been the single biggest and most consistent opponent to peace and social justice. He predated Thatcher and outlived Blair. He is an emblem for what we have spent our lives opposing. If you take tea with him we are uncomfortable; if you offer to do his bidding you cannot expect us not to read into it a message of contempt for what we believe in.
Without the left the SNP will lose the independence referendum and then suffer in the subsequent Scottish elections (the former my interpretation, the latter a statement of fact). The way it is going it will deserve to. Not just because of the every-rightward drift of its policies but also because of the utter ineptness of its political strategy. No party wins by showing its own voting base contempt without any gifts. Even Tony Blair offered the left-of-centre vote an alternative to out-and-out Tory rule. It proved just enough to turn out the low numbers of people who kept Blair in power. Salmond can’t even offer that – he is no longer trying to outflank the Labour Party on the left and the Tories getting in isn’t a risk.
Because there was only about one thing left in the SNP bag which was unequivocally ours, which belonged to the left; it was a moral position on Trident (no-0ne believes the SNP has a moral position on NATO any more). Last week Alex Salmond flushed that down the toilet when he revealed that his Trident position isn’t moral but venal. It seems he just wants the money.
I am no arbiter of these things; my comments are only impressionistic. But I feel that the loose, arms-length alliance much of the left formed with the SNP is already broken. Not under threat, already broken. That the SNP leadership doesn’t seem to care is unbelievable. Where is Nicola Sturgeon? Where is Fiona Hyslop? Where now lie the opinions of Kenny McAskill and Alex Neil? I know that the SNP left is organising – but will it become like the Westminster Labour Left which blinked every time the leadership faced it down? How has the entire Scottish media been allowed to form the opinion that no-one in the SNP really cares about the NATO issue?
The Scottish Labour Party thought it was bulletproof – until many left-of-centre voters simply walked away. It seems the SNP now thinks it is bulletproof, even as the same people are walking away from it. If New SNP thinks it can dominate Scotland in an alliance with the Tory voters it appears to be targeting then good luck. It’s going to need it.