From Protest to Power
This week Edinburgh University Press have just published this book The Modern SNP from Protest to Power. This launch essay from author Gerry Hassan was published in the Sunday Times Ecosse section, which isn’t published online, so the link for the full article is to Gerry’s own site:
“While not disputing the centre-left nature of today’s Nationalists, what drives the party in its soul is not social democracy, but a sense of being ‘Scotland’s party’. This can at times be articulated as an ‘I believe in Scotland’ outlook, which has seen some of the party’s opponents believe they are perceived by the Nationalists as being ‘anti-Scottish’. This infuriates Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem politicians who believe that the SNP see themselves as having exclusive ownership of ‘Scotland’.
The SNP have with their emergence, rise and securing of office, changed Scottish politics, and threatened and put out their political opponents – both north and south of the border.
No battle has been more bitter than the Labour-SNP struggle, examined in-depth by myself in the book. What this study shows – from the origins of the expletive ‘tartan Tory’ in the mid-1960s to lambast the Nationalists – is that Labour’s detestation of the Nationalists has worked much more to Labour’s disadvantage and the Nationalists benefit.
SNP spokespeople have at points used indiscrete and offensive language about Labour politicians – think of Alex Neil comparing George Robertson to ‘Lord Haw Haw’. However, what has been more common has been Labour spokespeople through the years – from Willie Ross to George Robertson to Iain Gray today – pathologising the SNP and refusing to normalise relations with them.
Robert McNamara, JFK’s Secretary of State, in the film ‘The Fog of War’, observed that the first rule of conflict is to ‘empathise with your enemy’ and refuse to dehumanise them so you can understand them better. This is something Labour has consistently refused to do, and seem in opposition in Holyrood to have no want to change.
In parts of Scotland and Britain there are still people with an instinctual gut distrust and dislike of the Nationalists. Often these are older voters who have an attachment to the idea of ‘Britain’. In England, parts of centre-left opinion in the media and intelligentsia cannot understand that the SNP are a conventional centre-left party in Scotland and not outsiders or some anti-system force.
A recent article by academic Tom Gallagher on the website ‘Harry’s Place’ compared Alex Salmond to Hitler and Mussolini. Others lump the rise of the SNP with the BNP and see all nationalisms as bad and xenophobic. Such distortions of the SNP’s character only serve to emphasis that many in England just don’t understand Scottish politics and certainly don’t understand the SNP.
As for the record of the SNP Government two visible trends are evident. First, on policy the record is patchy. Across economic, social and cultural policy – analysed by Jim and Margaret Cuthbert, Stephen Maxwell and Philip Schlesinger respectively – the party has drawn ideas from the grain of prevailing orthodoxies rather than challenge them. This has meant it has taken many of its policies from the same narrow well as New Labour and the Cameron Conservatives, which may store up problems, post-crash, for the future.
Second, the role of Scotland’s Government – now recognised as such across the world – has dramatically changed, underlined by the al-Megrahi case. Alex Salmond has first transformed the SNP into an election-winning party, and then transformed the perception of Scotland’s Government.
The cause of Scottish independence matters not just as a Scottish, but UK and international story. Why do five million Scots matter across the globe? The answer is to be found in the nature of the UK, the geo-political space it occupies, and the fixation of the British political classes with a one-sided ‘special relationship’. And then there is the thorny issue of the British nuclear deterrent being based in Scotland at Faslane.
Whatever Michael Portillo and some Tory parliamentary candidates state, Scottish independence is a direct threat to the modus operandi of the United Kingdom, and something its governing classes would do everything to avert.
Independence matters and it is the last major faultline in Scottish politics. A referendum is inevitable – if not in 2010 – then the near future. We know that at points Gordon Brown and David Cameron have seriously given consideration to holding a vote.”