Sunday, 5 April 2015

Wiping the smear

When it comes to who forms the next UK Government, at a personal level, I have no preference. In fact, I find the idea that I must choose between British Labour and the Tories somewhat offensive. While I do not subscribe to the simplistic claim that they are both the same, I am aware that we can only expect the same outcomes regardless of which is in power. Both serve the same master - the ruling elites of the British state - and so both will work towards the same ends, even if they do so by means which are superficially different.

But I suspect that what many people may be looking for is, not my personal preference in the matter, but a reasoned analysis of what would best suit the SNP in terms of the party's immediate and long-term aims. (Aims which I unequivocally share.)

It is first of all necessary to understand what those aims are. The restoration of Scotland's rightful constitutional status certainly continues to be the ultimate objective. But despite whining claims to the contrary from various British nationalists, the SNP has very much accepted the result of last September's referendum. The party is now totally focused on Scotland's place within the UK and its role within the British political system.

The SNP's immediate aims are to provide a strong voice for Scotland at Westminster; to secure more powers for the Scottish Parliament; to press for a progressive policy agenda; and to break the stultifying duopoly of the British political system so as to facilitate meaningful reform. Analysis of the SNP's preferences as to the hue of the next UK Government must proceed on the basis of recognition of these short- to medium-term objectives.

We also need to recognise that the SNP will be planning for all eventualities. If one was to identify a single factor in the party's success in recent times it would be the skill with which the leadership team has contrived to retain that most precious of political commodities - options.

Bearing all of this in mind, any rational analysis of what might be assumed to best suit the SNP's purposes must lead to the conclusion that The Telegraph (and Damian McBride) have got it woefully, embarrassingly wrong. And it's not difficult to understand why. They've got it wrong because they they proceed from notions of the nature of the SNP which owe more to ill-informed prejudice than rational assessment. They are not talking about the real SNP at all. Rather, they are talking about the ludicrously contorted caricature of the party which is the product of their own increasingly vitriolic anti-SNP propaganda.

In part, this facile caricature depicts the SNP as wholly and exclusively obsessed with independence. It foolishly disregards the rather obvious fact that the SNP is an established party of government, with the kind of broad policy agenda that this implies. This blinds the likes of Simon Johnson and Damian McBride to the what is actually motivating the SNP at this time.

They have also convinced themselves that Scotland's independence movement is driven entirely by anti-English sentiment and that the SNP's sole strategy is to play on grievance. (Never mind the fact that there may be entirely just cause for such grievance. The label is always dismissive.)

By this "analysis", it might seem obvious that the SNP would prefer another Tory UK Government - so long as you don't question any of the exceedingly shallow assumptions underlying that analysis. But any analysis worthy of the name absolutely requires that all assumptions should be challenged. This is where the likes of Simon Johnson and Damian McBride fail so abysmally. They have no interest in rational analysis. They are propagandists, not commentators.

So let's look at the issue with our sensible heads on. In terms of both crude party advantage and progress towards the aims identified above, what does the SNP gain from a Tory government? Fuel for the democratic deficit "grievance"? Certainly! Especially if there is no more than a negligible Tory presence in Scotland. (By which, of course, I mean parliamentary seats, as this is all that matters within the British system.) But, if the polls are to be believed, British Labour is also set to be reduced to a rump in Scotland. So the democratic deficit argument is valid whichever of the partners in the duopoly gets the keys to No. 10.

So, what about "grievance" in terms of policy? Once again, we find little to pick and choose between the Tories and British Labour. In relation to the main areas where the SNP could find cause for complaint, British Labour is as at least as likely to provide ammunition as the Tories.

So far, there is absolutely no rational reason why the SNP should prefer a Tory government. Is there any justification for thinking they might prefer a Labour government?

Bear in mind that the SNP has ruled out any kind of deal with the Tories. This means that the party has also forsaken any leverage it might have had. Without cooperation there can be no concessions as a quid pro quo. Contrast this with the potential to wield significant influence in the case of a Labour minority government dependent on the votes of a large contingent of SNP MPs.

Bear in mind also that, however much the party's long-term aims may be anathema to fervent British nationalists on all sides, the SNP's progressive policy agenda at Westminster is going to find a lot of sympathetic ears among British Labour back-benchers. This would serve to amplify the SNP's voice and increase its influence.

This is crucially important because the people of Scotland anticipate that the British parties will join forces to shut out their elected representatives, so any degree of effectiveness in influencing policy will look all the more impressive.

A further thing to keep in mind is that part of the SNP's message in Scotland is that voting SNP is an effective way of keeping the Tories out of government. One might well ask oneself why Nicola Sturgeon would wish for an outcome in the election that makes the SNP look like they've failed in this respect. One might also wonder why Simon Johnson, Damian McBride et al never think to ask such questions.

It is now plainly evident that a Tory government would provide absolutely no advantage whatever for the SNP. And just as obvious that a Labour government would suit the party just fine. Johnson, McBride and all the screeching hordes of British nationalists who are frantically peddling the smear story about Nicola Sturgeon ask us to believe, not only that one of the most astute politicians around is incapable of figuring out where here advantage lies, but also that she would blurt out something that must inevitable be a massive embarrassment.

The whole smear story only "rings true" if you have a political ear attuned to anti-SNP propaganda and deaf to all rational argument.

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