Andrew Wilson: SNP must go beyond ‘nationalist’

The Scottish electorate, including No voters, united around the SNP at the general election. Picture: Alistair Pryde
The Scottish electorate, including No voters, united around the SNP at the general election. Picture: Alistair Pryde
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ONE of the wisest perspectives on any election that I have heard is from Alex Fletcher, MP, the late 
father of a good friend of mine. Alex was the Conservative MP for Edinburgh Central before losing to Alistair Darling in 1987. His conclusion? “The people always make the right decision.” Amen.

Losing your seat is painful for most politicians and we have lost some quite outstanding public servants from our national life this week. I met one of the very best in my village on the Friday after poll. Hard to know what to say, but I have been there and know there is fine life beyond the immediate hurt of loss.

There will be bitter thoughts and words that must be forgiven and forgotten

It would do us all the world of good to thank them for their service and wish them well, if we ever bump into them. Be generous of spirit whatever your outlook. There will be bitter thoughts and words along the way that must be forgiven and forgotten. All should take the weekend to recover their composure and perspective.

Contrastingly, we should also recognise the heavy burden placed on individuals and their families when they are elected, especially to Westminster. It’s a tough old job when done well, as many novice members are about to discover the hard way.

In a world where we traduce our public figures without a moment’s thought, my sincere hope is that this election will mark the nadir of puerile and divisive behaviour that succeeds in only alienating the people that politicians are supposed to be trying to reach. We need to be gentler with ourselves and with each other.

What is crystal-clear from the result is that almost the entire Labour narrative and folk memory on the SNP – and how they deal with them – will have to be ripped up and replaced.

First myth into the fire is that Scotland needs to vote Labour to avoid a Tory government. If all 59 seats had gone to Labour, the Tories would still have won.

The Liberals and Conservatives likewise will need to consider how they reset their party’s position in Scotland for the longer term.

All three London-headquartered parties need to catch up with the reality of where the people’s perspective is now anchored. Their own organisations will know they need far greater autonomy and greater ambition.

What should now be obvious to all is that an “anyone but the SNP” strategy is self-defeating. Any party that wants to lead has to know its own purpose and what it is for. Defining yourself only as against someone else destroys all foundations for your vote.

And the Westminster and Whitehall system needs to urgently mature its approach to the SNP. Politicians and commentators dominated our airwaves with a wilful disregard for reality and truth. No depth too low to plunge, as long as a cheap line at the expense of those crazy nats could be landed. Evidently it is quite fine to suggest that modern Scotland is just like 1930s Germany. Yes, Nazi slurs, the last refuge of the desperate.

If the name-calling, invective, and dismissal continues, it will mark a far greater threat to the Union than anything any SNP politician could say.

The irony in it all is that by striking a wedge north and south in the way they did in a most primitive campaign, both Labour and the Tories’ London campaigns aided the SNP support and distanced themselves further from Scotland. Just as ironic is if they engage the SNP constructively in reforming government and policy-making in Britain, then the SNP’s own challenge will be how it reforms the way it makes its own case for its ultimate goal. It will be part of a system it previously has been able to criticise.

The SNP has come to a point in its history where it is ready for this next challenge of growth and maturation. It has a singularly outstanding leader with the unparalleled trust and auth­ority in the country and party respectively.

It has to move beyond “nationalist” to be the truly unifying “National” 
party of Scotland. Speaking to the ambitions of all, not just those who share its ultimate goal. All can travel together; where they choose to alight is up to them.

And at a UK level, it should be increasingly clear to all that the politics of division – driven in either direction – serve no cause positively. The SNP can be a force for good, pulling and testing the system, constructively offering different perspectives and ways of thinking, subject to the proper democratic checks of all.

Starting with the European referendum, I believe the SNP can earn the respect of the rest of the UK sustainably so all can understand that whatever the electoral choices any part of these islands take, we can all live together in harmony to mutual benefit.

Bridges need to be built to replace the trenches dug deep during a campaign that will not be regarded kindly by the history of political discourse.

The people have made the right dec­ision. They always do. It is up to their representatives to make that good. «