Michael Kelly: The SNP... a party of deceit and weasel words

THIS government is not interested in principle, it’s interested in power – and every ethic will be sacrificed to ensure a Yes vote, writes Michael Kelly

THIS government is not interested in principle, it’s interested in power – and every ethic will be sacrificed to ensure a Yes vote, writes Michael Kelly

Deceit is a way of life with the SNP. That was the conclusion I reached last week after examining SNP policies on everything from the referendum to the economy. And this week the Scottish Government itself confirmed it. It was a shocking reversal in a week which had started so well for the independence movement. Alex Salmond had shown his smooth control of his party by winning the vote on Nato.

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He had demonstrated his superior television skills by besting Andrew Marr’s efforts to trip him up. Since none of the UK’s most respected commentators had managed to make a dent in him, his debating abilities could have been the deciding factor in the run-up to the referendum vote.

While viewers were watching his latest triumph on Marr’s Sunday morning programme, they were reading in their papers of a new poll which suggested that fear of another Tory government in 2015 would boost the Yes vote. It was hailed as “sensational” and a “game changer” by cybernats. If not that, it at least allowed separatists to move from their defensive, “no polls count until the last few weeks of a campaign” mode on to the front foot.

Then came Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement on how campaigning spending limits should be fixed to ensure a level playing field. She has a strong case to argue. Generally, parties are allowed to spend far too much on elections. The situation in the US is beyond control and here we are going the same way.

In the case of the referendum, we have four large parties, Labour, Tories, the Lib Dems and the SNP, each to be allowed to spend significant sums. Yet there are only two sides to the question. It seems the fair way is to allow both Yes and No to spend equal amounts of money. As she was addressing her party conference, the Deputy First Minister dressed this argument up with what appeared to be defiance of the Electoral Commission, which has a legal role in ruling on fair play.

But it seems inconceivable that the SNP would risk incurring the Electoral Commission’s formal disapproval of any aspect of how the referendum will be run. That would destroy the vote’s credibility. Unless, of course, as we get near to October 2014 the SNP see a No vote and want the referendum abandoned.

Falling out with the Electoral Commission would be an ideal way to do that by again blackening London’s name as the culprit.

But fast forward to Wednesday when events proved that this is a party and a government of weasel words. When Sturgeon blithely announced that her government was going to seek legal advice on Scotland’s status vis-à-vis the European Union, she must have been aware of the outrage it would cause among opponents and the shock it would give the rest of the SNP. Until then, not least because the government had gone to court to resist disclosing the advice everyone mistakenly assumed it had received from its law officers.

People believed this on the basis of a number of government positions. Not least was the interview the First Minister had given to Andrew Neil in March. In response to the direct question on the EU, “Have you sought advice from your own law officers on the matter?” Alex Salmond replied “We have, yes…” It seemed clear and unequivocal even to the sceptical boy from Paisley Grammar like Neil.

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Misleading answers undermine fair debate. Even more insulting is the contempt for Scots and their beliefs. This government treats the referendum consultation process as its plaything. It sought views on how the referendum should be conducted and then suppressed the 26,000 replies until after negotiations with the UK government were done.

The government is not in the least interested in Scottish views if they conflict with what it is determined to do anyway. This is not an isolated example. A previous consultation on gay marriage which came out forcefully against was brushed aside.

This week has demonstrated that there is no chance that the SNP will conduct this campaign fairly. Kenny McAskill’s speech last weekend spelled it out. This government is not interested in principle. It is interested in power, and every ethic will be sacrificed to ensure a Yes vote. We have received policy commitments – on the monarchy, the EU, Nato, the pound, the euro, control of monetary matters and a fiscal pack – designed to make post-independence Scotland resemble the present-day situation.

This is to avoid frightening an electorate that is proving increasingly uneasy about change. Many of these commitments conflict with the views of grass-roots nationalists and with the history and tradition of the party. Most of these members have stayed loyally within the fold for fear of jeopardising the great prize. For the first time we have seen resignations over the greatest principle that has been sacrificed – the agreement to join a first-strike nuclear alliance.

If no resignations were triggered by the other concessions it seems entirely plausible to argue that other dissidents are keeping their weapons hidden in the knowledge any new sovereign Scottish parliament cannot be bound by assurances given now.

This is a lousy, corrupt government. And this week’s events have ended up both being “sensational” and “game changers” for future debate on separation. For a start Mr Salmond will no longer find interviewers such easy meat. Questions will be better researched and more specific. He’ll be made to look a lot less comfortable. He’ll be subject to the same forensic cross-examination by all journalists and his dominance of First Minister’s Questions will be ended by Johann Lamont who will pin him to the wall.

This is the opportunity that the No campaign has been waiting for. Opponents of separation knew it is merely a matter of time until the deception and obfuscation caught up with the SNP and it has come early.

A self-respecting party would be demanding that its leader resigns. But, conscious of how much of a one-man-band it is there is no chance of that. The Orwellian bluster will continue unabated.

But it has been exposed as that.