SNP are now faint-hearts, not bravehearts

Share this article

IN PUBLIC, the reaction from the Scottish National Party to the radical ideas for Scotland's future being proposed by Dennis MacLeod and Michael Russell in their book Grasping the Thistle has been haughtily dismissive.

The official party line is tepidly to acknowledge the book's existence, but claim that it contains old ideas, comprehensively rejected by the party when it chose Alex Salmond over Russell in the 2004 leadership contest.

Politics being what it is, the judgment of most senior Nationalists in private is more forthright. The thoughts of MacLeod and Russell provoked a stream of invective at Holyrood this week. The word "rubbish" was one of the more polite descriptions.

It has clearly not occurred to these many critics of the book - a further extract appears in this newspaper today - that there is a fundamental contradiction between their attitude to two of their own and their attitude to the Scottish government.

How often have we heard the Nationalists castigate Jack McConnell, the Executive, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Water, Uncle Tom MacCobly and all for failure to think big, for poverty of ambition, for ... well, failing to grasp the thistle? Answer: so many times, it is impossible to count them all.

And yet when two serious people come up with a provocative and stimulating contribution to the debate on Scotland's future, they are ostracised by their own tribe, which fails to acknowledge the prophets in its own land.

ONE does not have to agree with some - or indeed any - of the ideas in the book to give credit to the authors for trying to have original thoughts about how Scotland can be improved as a nation.

Ross Martin, a former Labour candidate and someone who is trying to stimulate original thought within his party, has perceptively said that one of Scotland's problems is that we have been fed a constant diet of "social democratic soup".

That may have helped feed the nation in the late Nineties, but it is not nutritious enough for the fast-moving 21st century.

So one would have hoped that members of the SNP, a party which has as its raison d'tre the ultimate form of constitutional radicalism, might at least have been willing to engage in a discussion on radical ideas. Alas, no.

The party of independence clearly has a problem with independent thinking. The party which, in its view, seeks to set Scotland free, is uncomfortable with freedom of expression. The party of bravehearts is really a party of faint-hearts.

And it is not as if Russell, who by virtue of his high place on the party list in the south of Scotland, is likely to make a welcome return to Holyrood, is defying party discipline. In order to remain a candidate, he has made it clear that he is bound by official policy.

Over the last year or two, the SNP has made progress in trying to escape from behaving like the political equivalent of Oliver Twist, constantly going back to the state to ask for yet more of that social democratic soup.

SOME of its more progressive thinkers - such as John Swinney, the finance spokesman and former leader - have become increasingly perturbed by the size of the state, the uniformity of public provision and the tendency for the public sector to serve the producers, not the consumers.

Yet as soon as someone like Russell - who until fairly recently would also have filled his bowl with Martin's soup - takes those worries and expresses them in a deliberately challenging way, his colleagues take pot-shots at him in public and rubbish him in private.

The Scottish National Party is not in government, where, as Labour is finding, the airing of fresh policy thoughts is extremely difficult. The Nationalists are in opposition, where the only power it has is the power of ideas.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland have so far failed to come up with inspirational policies ahead of the next election. They are vulnerable in the battle of ideas that will form part of the battle for Holyrood next year.

Yet, by failing to respond positively to MacLeod and Russell - not endorsing every idea but welcoming the debate - the SNP is in danger of depriving itself of a potent weapon in that battle to come.