IN THE recent history of the SNP there have been three major modernisations of key nationalist orthodoxies.
IN THE recent history of the SNP there have been three major modernisations of key nationalist orthodoxies. The first was the decision by Alex Salmond to fight elections promising not independence, but a referendum on independence. This gave voters the confidence to vote for the SNP without the risk of a nationalist victory pitching the country headlong into immediate negotiations on withdrawal from the UK. Arguably, this was the reform that allowed the SNP to sweep to power in 2007 and again, with greater force than anyone could predict, in 2011. The second was the dramatic vote taken at the SNP’s annual conference in October 2012 reversing the party’s opposition to an independent Scotland becoming a member of the US-led Nato military alliance. And the third was a change of policy on who should be the head of state in an independent Scotland.
The old SNP policy on this, decided at a conference in Rothesay in September 1997, was that a referendum of the Scottish people would determine whether an independent Scotland was to be a republic or a monarchy. Exactly when this policy changed, and by what democratic process in SNP decision-making, is a matter of debate even within the SNP, but the current position as laid out in the white paper on independence and confirmed in a draft “interim constitution” published last week is that the Queen will be the head of state after independence. Perhaps it was the effusive way the Divine Right of the British monarchy was underlined in last week’s document – “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is to be the head of state succeeded by Her heirs and successors to the Crown according to law and will continue to enjoy all rights, powers and privileges” – that has precipitated this weekend’s republican rebellion by the united nationalist left and the Greens.
These groups are clear in their minds that they will use the processes outlined by the Scottish Government last week to do all they can to make an independent Scotland a republic. Under the system drawn up by the SNP they are quite entitled to do so.
We have grown used to senior nationalists enthusing about a new politics of new priorities after independence. So how then can the First Minister promise the voters of Scotland with any degree of assurance that if we vote Yes we will still be led by the Queen and her heirs, in the short, medium and long term?
This is a tricky one for the SNP because it highlights a contradiction in the nationalist strategy for independence. Salmond cannot say in one breath that Scotland needs independence so Scots can themselves make bold decisions about the future of their country, and in the next breath say that, actually, one exception to that is choosing who gets to be head of state. He cannot let a thousand flowers bloom, while at the same time wielding the garden shears to lop the heads of some of the most appealing blooms.
The importance of this issue may be pooh-poohed by some Yes activists who see it as a sideshow to the more important debate on fiscal and political powers, but they underestimate the SNP leadership’s seriousness on this point at their peril. In Middle Scotland there is no appetite for a republican revolution against the Queen. On the contrary, repeated polling shows Scots as a whole pretty relaxed about the House of Windsor, and there can be little question that the William and Kate show – now supplemented by Prince George – has a popular appeal that may leave anti-monarchists bewildered and exasperated, but cannot be denied. Central to the SNP strategy of achieving independence is the idea that Scotland can be transformed while staying pretty much the same. The party seeks both to revolutionise and reassure. Jettisoning the royal family puts this tricky balancing act way off kilter. The First Minister this weekend has a right royal problem on his hands.
What is the Iraq breaking point for Britain?
AT what point does a civil war in a country most British people couldn’t find on a map become a direct threat to the security and interests of those same British people? That is the dilemma David Cameron’s government faces as the Islamist insurgents caught up in the grim internecine slaughter in Syria and Iraq turn their attentions to these shores.
The video that emerged this weekend of a young British man from Cardiff, who went to fight against President Assad, calling on other young British men to join the insurgents in Syria and Iraq, is just one of a number of alarm bells ringing in the headquarters of the UK security services.
It is now estimated that 500 Britons are fighting for Islamist groups including ISIS in the region, and there is rising concern in Downing Street about the possibility – insiders now say the likelihood – of these men redirecting their jihadist intentions to targets in Britain.
The extent to which this has come front and centre in Downing Street’s statements on the unfolding crisis in the Middle East is indicative, say security specialists, of new and reliable information of these jihadists’ intentions.
It is one thing guarding ourselves from radicalised young men who have never travelled further than the provincial English town where they were born – it is quite another dealing with ideologically schooled and battle-hardened veterans of a brutal war.
This new threat poses an additional dilemma for David Cameron, as the Iraqi government redoubles its pleas for military intervention from the west to halt the progress of ISIS as it marches on Baghdad.
President Obama last week promised hundreds of military advisers to the Iraqi government. A change of that country’s leader to one less sectarian in outlook and thus more acceptable to western diplomats may well see more practical support forthcoming.
Downing Street’s dilemma is the connection between a stronger and more determined ISIS in the Middle East and a greater threat of increased terror attacks in the UK. Which brings us back to our original question – at what point does Cameron declare a civil war in the Middle East a threat to our national security, and acts to neutralise it?