Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Essence of SNP Politics

Dale Street writes:

“We are very close to independence and we must start campaigning right now,” said the SNP’s newly elected deputy leader Angus Robertson MP in his speech to last week’s SNP conference. 

Robertson, who is also the party’s leader in Westminster, was lying. 

The SNP’s campaign for a second referendum on Scottish independence began as soon as they lost the first one in September of 2014. 

The earliest mooted date for a second referendum is 2018.

That means at least another two years of the SNP’s unique brand of nationalist grievance-mongering, spurious claims to moral superiority, and politically poisonous populism.

All of these defining characteristics of the SNP were on display in the run-up to the SNP conference and at the conference itself. 

‘Our nationalism is better than yours’ has always been a subtext of the SNP’s politics.

But now, in contrast to the supposedly “civic and joyous nationalism” of the SNP, British nationalism is increasingly being lampooned as a form of incipient fascism.

According to Nicola Sturgeon, Theresa May’s speech to the Tory Party conference was endorsed by French National Front leader Marine Le Pen. 

In fact, the ‘endorsement’ was contained in a spoof Twitter account. 

According to SNP MP Mhairi Black, “I am not exaggerating when I say that the policies being brought forward (by the Tories) are reminiscent of early 1930s Nazi Germany.” 

The fact that the Nazis were not in power for most of the early 1930s is not the least of what’s wrong with that statement. 

Black was defended by fellow SNP MSP Humza Yousaf:

“To those criticising (Black), I have friends and family who have applied for dual nationality with Pakistan. Feel UK to be unbearable for Muslims in future.” 

Clearly there is prejudice and discrimination against Muslims in Britain.

But if things are really so bad, some of Humza’s critics asked, how come a Muslim had just been elected Mayor of London?

According to that undiluted expression of Scottish nationalism, “Wings Over Scotland”: “Statistically, measurably, unarguably, the Third Reich was less racist than our current government.” 

Comment on that political insight is superfluous. 

Echoing Martin Niemoller’s poem about persecution in Nazi Germany, SNP MP Peter Wishart tweeted: “First they came for berry farm-pickers. Then they came for the doctors. Next they came for the … #toryBrexit #yourUK.” 

While fellow SNP MP Peter Grant endorsed Wishart’s tweet (“For anyone who recognises where this quote comes from, it’s frighteningly accurate”) SNP MSP Christina McKelvie invoked the Nazi analogy in her speech to the SNP conference: 

“Now we have lists of foreign workers, reminiscent of the rise of Nazism in the 1930s.” 

SNP MP Chris Law did not explicitly refer to 1930s Nazism but got in on the act as well: 

“Given I’m adopted and look Scandinavian to many, am I Viking and not welcome in the UK? Scotland is my home.” 

(No, Chris, you do not “look Scandinavian to many.” You look to many like a man under police investigation because of allegations of embezzlement from your one-man “Spirit of Independence” campaign.) 

By far the most distasteful invocation of incipient Nazism was provided at the SNP conference when Gregg Brain took to the platform (to a standing ovation and prolonged applause) wearing a yellow badge with the letter “F” (for foreigner). 

The analogy with the yellow star which Jews had to wear in Nazi Germany was unmistakeable. 

The Brain family – white, middle-class, Australian, strongly Christian, pro-SNP, pro-independence, and (very important) with a child studying Gaelic at school – fell foul of a change in the Immigration Rules after their arrival in the UK. 

While Bangladeshis trafficked into virtual human slavery in the same constituency were ignored by the SNP – they ticked none of the above boxes – the Brain family was adopted by the SNP as a cause célèbre – and then paraded at SNP conference as the equivalent of Jews in Nazi Germany.

Of course, the Tories’ willingness to throw racist red meat to Brexiters and UKIP voters deserves unqualified condemnation.

But equating this with incipient Nazism is not only politically inaccurate. It also creates a false dichotomy between ‘bad Britishness’ and ‘good Scottishness’.

The proportion of immigrants in Scotland is half that of the UK overall. But 64% of people in Scotland want immigration reduced or stopped completely (UK figure: 70%).

50% of people in Scotland support the idea of firms compiling lists of foreign workers (UK figure: 59%).

30% of Scots think Eastern Europeans take jobs away from other workers, 26% say the same for members of other ethnic minorities, and 20% would be unhappy if a member of their family married a Muslim.

The proportion of SNP voters which voted Brexit was higher than the proportion of voters of any other party in Scotland apart from UKIP.

46% of SNP voters support companies compiling lists of foreign workers.

More SNP voters prioritise ‘controlling’ immigration in Brexit negotiations (41%) than access to the Single Market (37%).

And the ‘political discourse’ of many pro-independence supporters on Twitter is far removed from the avowed virtues and moral superiority of Scottish nationalism:

“Fuck off you (English) people. I hope it’s a cold harsh winter and the NHS you’ve screwed runs out of flu jab. #indyred2”

“Might be an idea for you to leave Scotland and go back to your wonderful Ulster please???”

“Fuck off all you English bastards.”

“Fuck the English. #albagubrath”

“You are either traitors or English living in Scotland. Either way, you are worthless oxygen thieves.”

The SNP is a straightforward nationalist party. It seeks to mobilise people on the basis of their national identity.

However ‘enlightened’ its official rhetoric, its core nationalist politics are inherently divisive.

One national identity necessarily defines itself against another national identity. All nationalist parties find some ‘other’ to blame for holding back the nation.

Who ‘us’ and ‘them’ are varies from one brand of nationalism to another – Mexicans, refugees, Muslims, EU migrant workers, ‘Westmonster’, the Labour Party, the English – but the core message is the same.

The ‘Tories and Brexit equal incipient Nazism’ trope may have only a short lifespan. Or maybe not.

But it sums up the essence of SNP politics: our nation and our nationalism are better than yours, and you are holding us back.

At the SNP conference Swinney boasted that the SNP would always put Scotland first:

“We are not a branch office of a UK party. … For us, country comes first. Always. … Make no mistake, we are the national party and we will always put the national interest first.”

(In the 2015 general election, when the SNP fantasised that a Labour minority government would be elected and the SNP would hold the balance of power, Sturgeon promised that the SNP would represent the interests of all of Britain. Swinney’s words prove otherwise.)

SNP journalist Lesley Riddoch spelt out the implications of Swinney’s words when she tweeted:

“John Swinney tells #SNP16 country comes first. Always country comes first. This will become SNP motif of next two #Brexit years.”

For two years before the 2014 referendum the SNP poisoned Scottish politics with its identity-politics nationalism.

In the two years that has passed since then, it has continued to do the same.

Now it promises the same again for the next two years.

The SNP will portray itself and the Scottish nation as the upholders of cosmopolitan political virtue, in contrast to inward-looking Tory Brexit Britain, blanking out of the picture the 13 million people in England who voted remain and the million people in Scotland who voted Leave.

For the SNP, voting patterns are not a reflection of material circumstances and political factors but national identity.

Scotland votes one way because Scots are like that. England votes differently because the English are like that.

Underlining its political opportunism, the SNP will also be highly selective in its denunciations of racism.

There will be no denunciations, for example, of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speech last weekend in which she called for “a national push” to deport foreigners with no legal right to remain in Germany.

To ‘sell’ independence to the Scottish electorate – the majority of whom remain opposed to independence, and an even bigger majority of whom oppose a second referendum – the SNP needs to portray EU governments as waiting to welcome Scotland with open arms.

So: no criticism of the ruling European parties and political leaders who share the Tories policies (other than membership of the EU).

In fact, the SNP is likely to adopt a largely criticism-free attitude towards the EU as a whole.

But the SNP will go full throttle on criticising Labour.

While protestors outside of the SNP conference paraded a banner demanding “Red Tories Out”, on the inside of the conference Swinney proclaimed:

“Shame. Shame. Shame on the pathetic Labour Party. … As long as Kezia Dugdale insists on powers over immigration, Europe and all the rest remaining in London, Kezia shares the blame.”

“And the people of Scotland will never forget that Labour were prepared to allow the Tories to rule Scotland to stop our country deciding her own future.”

In the SNP political universe Labour equals Tories equals Nazis.

That would suggest that the prospects for a ‘progressive alliance’ have just suffered another setback.

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