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Ally’s Self-Harmy Army

Posted on December 07, 2011 by

Malcolm Harvey over on Thinking Unpopular Thoughts finally got round to his delayed assessment of the state of the SNP this week, completing his analysis of all five of the parties in the Scottish Parliament. And given that the SNP is currently riding at a dizzying all-time high in every measurable sense it's a pretty downbeat view, echoing (and indeed directly quoting) many of the recent complaints of the erudite legal blogger Andrew "Lallands Peat Worrier" Tickell. Over on A Burdz Eye View, meanwhile, Kate Higgins is bemoaning that the SNP's recent announcements about future projects have been overly "macho", and haven't focused enough on wimmin.

Here at Wings over Scotland, though, we must admit to being bewildered by the wave of negativity from some nationalists lately. Is there something in our national DNA that tends to self-destruction? Heck, you'd only have to look at our diet and drinking habits to find some supporting evidence for that theory. But is it in our politics too?

As it goes, we're fully behind just about everything the SNP government has done in its first seven months of majority (with the exception of the horrible railways consultation paper, but it's just that – a consultation). Labour's disgraceful opportunism over the sectarianism bill and their continuing refusal to act constructively over either that or minimum pricing, for example, are far more worthy of opprobrium, so we're not sure why some of the SNP's supporters have suddenly turned their guns on their own side.

I wonder if it's necessary to live outside Scotland to appreciate just how urgently serious action needs to be taken over the former in particular. Having lived down south for a number of years now, it simply never occurs to me to consider whether someone might be Catholic or Protestant, because it's never, ever an issue in England. In 20 years I've never once been asked what school I went to. 

But stumble into a discussion with people living back home and I instantly feel slightly dirty and ashamed, as pious, paranoid Celtic fans argue that it's all the nasty bigoted Huns' fault and that their own innocent "folk songs" of Irish history should be left alone, while angry, purple-faced Rangers fans shout that it's perfectly fine to wave Union Jacks and sing anthems of "Britishness" (even where that Britishness is expressed by wading up to your knees in Fenian blood) because they live in Britain, and that it's only the manky terrorism-endorsing Tims who need to be curtailed by the law.

The proposed law may be imperfect, but then all laws are, and all laws are subject to unintended consequences. If the Scottish Government can get the basics in place, it can sort out any wrinkles over time. But in fact the truth is that we haven't heard any compelling arguments for the bill being flawed anyway, just wild and borderline-hysterical extrapolations of what could happen if our police and courts were both to spontaneously lose all grasp of sanity.

Every one of us (where by "us" I mean "people born and bred in Scotland, and particularly the Central Belt") knows what sectarianism looks like when it happens. Regardless of the innocence of the gestures and ditties in question when viewed in isolation, we all know what's intended if Celtic supporters aggressively cross themselves in the direction of Rangers fans, and we all know that the singing of "God Save The Queen" at the opposition isn't a simple expression of shared British pride. I haven't a clue why we're all suddenly pretending we don't, or that this is some kind of "freedom of speech" issue. Freedom of speech already excludes shouting "FIRE" in a crowded theatre, because it would be likely to lead to violent disorder and injury or death, and Old Firm fans provoking each other comes under the exact same principle.

Harvey does at least note that maybe the SNP are just getting the unpopular stuff out of the way first in order to have a clear run towards the big prize. But I don't actually think anything they've done so far is unpopular with the Scottish electorate as a whole anyway, just the loud vested interests of a minority in Glasgow puffed up by a Glasgow-centric media. (Basically, if you've got Michael Kelly AND Rangers supporters clubs furious with you, you must be doing something right.) Ironically, the only thing that might actually cost them some votes is the gay-marriage consultation, and I'm sure we're all wholeheartedly in favour of that legislation.

I just don't see for the life of me where anyone is getting "despairing, girning, partisan, vacuous and dreary" from. Despairing and girning? The SNP have stayed positive and upbeat in the face of a relentless negative onslaught from the opposition and media, constantly highlighting new investment and new employment. Politically they've played an absolute blinder, somehow manoeuvering Labour off the devo-max ground and forcing them into a corner with the Tories, and already making very significant progress in polls on independence.

Partisan? Malc complains that the SNP haven't tried to achieve "consensus", but delaying the anti-sectarianism bill for further consultation when they could have just forced it through was exactly such an attempt, and look how much good it did. Labour sulkily declined to propose so much as a single amendment, and all that was achieved was six months of wasted time. On minimum pricing, the SNP have gathered some consensus, with the Lib Dems now backing the bill. And the SNP also tried to constructively improve the Scotland Bill by asking only for measures which were supported by at least one of the opposition parties, only to be comprehensively rebuffed by the Tories and Lib Dems at Westminster.

Vacuous? They've put forward three of the most substantial and brave pieces of legislation of any Scottish Government in the shape of the three already mentioned, as well as action on rape and releasing the documents over Megrahi. The only arguable misstep was the overheated reaction with regard to the Supreme Court, which might explain why the Peat Worrier is so huffy at the perceived professional slight but doesn't seem to present much reason for anyone else joining in – we certainly don't for a second think the Scottish public was the least bit upset.

Dreary? Hang on, we need to check something – the nationalist movement, which has wanted independence above anything else for close to a century, has finally managed to win over enough voters to elect a majority nationalist government which is going to hold a referendum on independence for the first time since the Union came into being 300 years ago, which there's a chance we might even win, and its supporters are complaining of being bored?

This blog really, really hopes the broader nationalist movement isn't going to be overcome with Scottishness and tear itself apart with silly, nitpicky, factional infighting just when it's finally in sight of the greatest possible prize. One Argentina 1978 in a lifetime is more than enough for us.

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    1. Malc says:

      Did you get the point that Unpoular Thoughts were supposed to be just that… unpopular?!
      I note (with no surprise whatsoever) that you've ignored the fact that I said things were rosy in the SNP's garden, and that I was picking two examples of where I feel they have failed to live up to expectation.  But that gets in the way of your contrived point that online nationalists are eating their young.  Sigh.
      I'm perfectly happy that you think things have gone well.  I think they could have gone better, which is basically what I've said – and which, I think, Lallands argues too.  We're offering constructive criticism.  But as I said before, that's apparently not allowed – we're just 90 minute nats when we point out the flaws.  I think that's sad.

    2. RevStu says:

      As I said to you yesterday, nobody's saying you shouldn't offer criticism, and I certainly haven't called anyone a "90-minute nationalist". I'm just bemused and surprised at the negativity, and perhaps more particularly the tone of it. You can't be claiming that this:

      "the SNP have presided over a political period which has been by turns despairing, girning, partisan, vacuous and dreary.  What a squandering of possibilities; what a waste; what folly"

      is constructive or positive, surely? And it certainly doesn't sound much like "things are good but could be better" – it's more in the line of "it's all gone wrong! We're doomed!"

      As you yourself noted, it's all very well saying "The SNP should try to work with Labour", but it's a lot harder getting it to actually happen, given Labour's continuing kneejerk oppositionism. What can't be disputed is that the SNP have tried, when they didn't have to. If you think they should have tried even harder that's fair enough, but I'd contend they've been trying for five years now with precious little success, and at some point they're entitled to say "sod this for a laugh, let's just get on with doing the job we were elected to do and worry less about the parties the voters rejected".

      Nobody said you weren't entitled to your view, so it seems a bit odd that you should react in such a manner when someone else expresses an opposing one. I haven't complained that you're trying to silence me just because you've criticised my opinion, have I?

    3. Malc says:

      You said you "really, really hopes the broader nationalist movement isn't going to be overcome with Scottishness and tear itself apart with silly, nitpicky, factional infighting just when it's finally in sight of the greatest possible prize."
      It is possible that I am reading that wrongly, but that sounds like you are saying "Oi – those of you who are criticising the Nats – cut it out – look, there's a bigger picture."  It sounds like you're saying that myself and Lallands are endangering independence because we're being critical of the SNP.  But like I say – maybe I'm reading it wrongly. Happy to be corrected if I am wrong?
      Lallands' comments – in the majority of his posts – ARE in fact constructive, aiming at improving what he sees as flaws in legislation.  And that comment was – I believe – frustration that the flaws he sees have not really been dealt with efficiently.  But even that quote can be read as constructive – it's a "buck up your ideas, the first seven months have been pretty poor (from my perspective) but you've got 4 years to get it right, so start now" kind of idea.
      Also, I'm delighted for you to express an opposing view.  As I said in my previous comment, I think things could have gone better, and you think they've gone great.  It's hardly a division of opinion which wars are fought over.  Perhaps we should start over?  
      Olive branch?

    4. RevStu says:

      Hey, I wasn't fighting in the first place, fella. Just an open and honest exchange of views between civilised people 😀

    5. Ken says:

      I think you're spot on with the 1978 analogy, (and I would also count my crushing disappointment with the reality of Tony Blair's 'Labour' government compared to my hopes and expectations).  We're deperately hoping that an SNP majority government will be different and better than what has gone before, and anything which has even the faint whiff of populist policies done for political 'look-we're-doing-something'  motives gives us pause for thought. 
      All of us here in Scotland know that, no matter how many times the media report 'no appetite for independence' etc- there is a very real possibility that come the referendum, there will be a majority 'Yes' vote. But, in order to achieve this, the SNP government will have to be seen to govern well (avoiding policy cock-ups, political scandals etc etc) for years.  They did a fantastic job as a minority government- but as a majority government the expectations now are even higher.  
      As the famous John Cleese line from 'Clockwise' says- 'it's not the despair I can't stand- it's the hope!'.               



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