In amongst a torrent of pretty mad analysis of the election result at the weekend, we noticed the most insane reason yet suggested for the loss of the SNP’s majority:
The co-founder of a much-lauded but little-read pro-independence website asserted that the SNP were cruising to victory until the Nats got the backing of the Scottish Sun and Nicola Sturgeon was pictured posing with the front cover endorsing her party.
The whole litany of gaping flaws in that argument is something the Yes movement has needed to talk about for some considerable time now. So let’s bite the bullet and do it.
The radical left has long had a major perception issue. It perceives that it speaks for “the working class”, and the blunt reality is that it doesn’t. Normal people simply DON’T despise the Sun. It’s NOT “toxic” – it’s the best-selling newspaper in both Scotland and England and most people who buy it and read it are working class.
Indeed, the radical left loathes most things that the working class actually like. You only need to say the words “Top Gear” to set them off onto a furious rant, yet it’s just about the most popular programme the BBC has ever made. The working class also overwhelmingly supports the monarchy, no matter how much Cat Boyd of RISE might shout about hanging the “parasites” from lamp-posts or whatever. C2DE demographics are the ones most likely to be angry about immigrants.
The Scottish Sun endorsing the SNP is not a new development, nor is an SNP First Minister posing with it.
Yet when the paper backed the Nats in 2011 and 2015 (having bitterly opposed them in 2007), and Alex Salmond was repeatedly seen happily posing with the paper, the SNP won a pair of vast landslides. It wasn’t “toxic” then and it isn’t now.
As revealed by the hashtag in Kevin Williamson’s tweet, the excuse for the fresh outpouring of rage at the Scottish Sun last week was the verdict in the Hillsborough inquest. The left has never forgiven The Sun for the 1980s in general, but in particular for an appalling front cover story it ran shortly after the 1989 tragedy, and for which it apologised in the most abject terms a few years ago.
But the Scottish edition of the paper never ran the Hillsborough story. Practically the only journalist still associated in any way with the Sun who was there 27 years ago is Kelvin Mackenzie (the editor in 1989 and now a columnist), and the Scottish edition doesn’t carry his column either. There’s no justification for anyone screaming furiously about the Scottish Sun in relation to Hillsborough. It did nothing wrong.
And the left’s capacity for nursing historical grudges is oddly selective. It’s only 15 years since the Daily Record (which was by far Scotland’s biggest-selling newspaper at the time) was at the forefront of the homophobic “Keep Clause 2A” campaign, yet it seems to have been entirely forgiven while the Scottish Sun is still savaged after 27 years over an article it never ran and a man it doesn’t employ.
The fact is that there’s nothing uniquely loathsome about The Sun. Its owner is an unpleasant and unprincipled power-hungry billionaire, but that in no way distinguishes him from Paul Dacre (ultra-right-wing director of the Mail group), Richard “Dirty” Desmond (porn baron and owner of the Express), the Barclay Brothers (tax-dodging plutocrats in charge of the Telegraph and Spectator and formerly The Scotsman), Evgeny Lebedev (KGB boss turned capitalist oligarch and chief of the Independent) or just about any other newspaper proprietor.
The Sun (both editions) also has a deeply hostile attitude towards benefits recipients, but once again that’s something it has in common both with most other newspapers (including the supposedly left-wing Mirror, which is as happy as anyone else to run stories about “scroungers”) and the general public, particularly the working class.
“Support for welfare spending on the poor has consistently declined over the past three decades, with this decline in support being particularly pronounced amongst Labour Party supporters, and the young (that is, those aged 18-34).”
Vitriolic, hysterical attacks on one newspaper that’s no worse than most are in reality nothing more than exercises in “virtue signalling” – a means by which those on the left jockey for position in the commentariat. They’re a kind of nuclear arms race, by which the only way to continue to gain attention is to continually be more and more extreme in your self-righteous holier-than-thou piety than everyone else – the left’s equivalent of a Katie Hopkins article.
But we’re getting off the subject. The relevance to the independence movement is that the radical left in Scotland are convinced that the way to win people round to the Yes cause is to promise them a Marxist utopia. (To that end, many have delighted in the loss of the SNP’s majority and the fact that the election result threatens to make the party more beholden to the Greens, who they hope will push the Nats to the left.)
It’s a view that this website has warned against for years:
But it’s one that persists in the radical left despite all the available evidence. The fact of the matter is that even with the benefit of a greatly increased membership in the wake of the referendum, far more money to campaign with and a high media profile including appearances on almost all of the leaders’ TV debates, the Greens still secured only 6.6% of the vote on the list, and a miserable 0.6% in constituency seats. Just 3.6% of the total votes in the election were cast for the Greens.
The Greens are NOT a popular party. They’re especially not popular with the working class – their vote was most heavily concentrated in comfortable middle-class areas. The only constituency seats they seriously contested were Edinburgh Central and Glasgow Kelvin, well-to-do bohemian enclaves. (The former was won by the Tories.)
RISE and Solidarity, the other two parties of the radical left, did even worse, scraping barely 1% of the list vote between them. Their combined vote was just over half of UKIP’s. Taking policy advice from them and the Greens is, by any remotely sane analysis, NOT going to win over any of the 55% of Scots who voted No.
(If the public “despises” The Sun, yet still hands over its money for around 220,000 copies of it every single day, then how should we assess its opinion of a party that can garner just 11,000 votes which don’t cost anything?)
Political activists in Scotland are going to have to decide quite quickly what’s more important to them – the pursuit of independence, a goal tantalisingly within sight which will give them the chance to make their case against the SNP’s small-c conservatism at the ballot boxes of an independent Scotland; or railing with futile impotence about the monarchy and The Sun and Kelvin MacKenzie and Jeremy Clarkson forever, in the hopes of maybe securing a couple of pointless, powerless MSPs for a few years.
The latter option, of course, is much easier. There’ll never be a shortage of right-wing hate figures to shout at. It’ll always be possible to spend your time having a jolly day out with some student pals to one of Donald Trump’s golf resorts, bellowing through a megaphone at the bewildered minimum-wage employees from Eastern Europe then scooting off after an hour to post pictures on Twitter and wait for the revolution of the proletariat to spontaneously erupt while you’re at a gender-balanced poetry workshop.
It’s also much easier to make a marketable name for yourself that way. If you want to wallow in grotesque, ghoulish grief tourism about an event that happened before you were born in a social, cultural and political environment that you don’t understand the first thing about, you’ll always find a willing audience that loves to hear bogeymen being vitriolically excoriated in a small but noisy echo chamber of self-congratulation.
The downside is that other than inflating your own hungry ego it achieves absolutely nothing. You’ll never reach anyone who wasn’t already on your side, and soon enough someone will come along prepared to be even more pious and intolerant and extreme than you, at which point you’ll be the new baddie in the endless People’s Front of Judea factional wars of self-absorbed ideological purity that have divided and subdivided the left for more years than most people have been alive.
(It can only be a matter of time before RISE, like Solidarity and the SSP that gave birth to it, tears itself into ever-smaller splinter groups shrieking at each other over some ridiculously hair-splitting point of arcane principle or language, or an argument about which order the letters of “LGBTQIFA” should go in this week.)
The Scottish Parliament controls almost none of the levers necessary to bring about real change, and the UK is a fundamentally Conservative country which has elected Tories roughly 65% of the time throughout the entirety of living memory. The only way there’s even a slim chance of reaching the left’s goals is to secure independence first, and that won’t be done by terrifying normal people with lurid tales of a nation turned upside-down and inside-out by a bunch of over-excited junior Trotskys.
Normal people want their bins collected and their fires put out and their streets kept safe and potholes in their roads fixed and their illnesses treated. They rather like and respect the Queen. They buy The Sun and they watch Mrs Brown’s Boys. They have no idea what “land reform” is and nor should they – it would make no difference to most of them even if it happened. They don’t give a toss about “standardised testing” so long as their kids get educated. They don’t want their taxes put up.
(They might say that they do in opinion polls, but what they actually mean by that is someone else’s taxes, and if you campaign on a platform of putting up everybody’s – well, ask Scottish Labour what happens.)
The biggest contribution the radical left could make to the cause of independence now would be a period of silence. They’ve had a big platform for the last 18 months to make their case, and the electorate has rejected it resoundingly. Now they’re turning viciously and jealously on the parts of the Yes movement that HAVE been successful in connecting with real voters and actually persuading them.
The SNP was so badly damaged by Nicola Sturgeon posing with the Scottish Sun, so out of touch with the public’s hatred of the paper, that, er, it got the biggest vote ever recorded in a Holyrood election, increased its vote in both the constituencies and the list, and secured a record 59 constituency seats, as well as – barring some pretty spectacular unforeseen events – very likely securing the 2021 election too.
(The Nats’ total vote was 234,148 higher than 2011’s landslide, a 13% increase.)
The vehemence of your own personal beliefs does not translate to those beliefs being shared by others. That’s a basic lesson the radical left has needed to learn for a long time, and sadly it shows no sign as yet of doing so. We can only hope that if they can’t or won’t just shut up for a bit, the electorate’s stoic total indifference to their diatribes will at least stop them from fatally damaging the indy movement until such times as another referendum might come along.