SNP meltdown should not prompt Scotland to descend into self-loathing, its brand of green social democracy is the way forward – Joyce McMillan

As Scottish politics lives through its dramatic post-Nicola Sturgeon meltdown, it can be tempting, for those of us interested in this country’s political story, to focus entirely on that drama.

We may even allow ourselves one of those World Cup 1978-type Scottish spirals from relentless boosterism about “the greatest wee country in the world”, to self-hating jeremiads about Scotland as the armpit of the universe; even though we surely know, by now, that these exaggerated mood-swings tell us only that Scotland, as a nation, has become all too used to talking nonsense about itself, while relying on a government elsewhere to provide some semblance of stability.

Those tempted to approach the current crisis in the same spirit, though, may be in for a shock; for while Scotland weathers its current storm, England is also undergoing a profound crisis of political direction and accountability. Essentially, the problems besetting the governing Conservative party are three-fold. The first lies in the effective collapse of their economic project of the last 45 years, as in area after area of national life – from housing and water to gas, electricity, public transport and depressed wage levels – the long-term negative consequences of their long drive towards privatisation and deregulation finally come home to roost.

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Then, to add to their woes, after 13 years in power, there is a mounting barrage of questions about the relationship between the Conservative party and its friends and donors. The colossal sums lost to fraud during the pandemic, the “fast track” PPE procurement scandals which cost further billions, the failure as yet to prosecute anyone in connection with those scams, the presence of Russian money in Conservative politics, the new questions raised this week about Chinese influence, and of course the scandal surrounding the apparent Downing Street party culture during the pandemic; all of these, to varying degrees, suggest an entrenched culture of privilege and double standards at best, and outright corruption and influence-peddling at worst, sometimes on a massive scale.

Then finally, there is Brexit, the big lie that underpins the current uneasy condition of Westminster politics. The arguments for Brexit were always weak, and often based on outright falsehoods; and the fact that the whole process has been a disaster for Britain is becoming more evident every day, as once-successful export businesses close their doors, freedom of movement withers, and the UK’s major economic and well-being indicators continue to slide down global rankings, in figures that reflect shameful levels of human suffering.

All of which raises tough questions, for those interested in how this disastrous period of Tory rule can be brought to an end. The first concerns Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, and how far it is willing to confront and reverse the forces that have brought us to this point. It seems, for example, that it will not – because of the perceived popularity of the project in some key electoral battlegrounds – confront the absurdity of Brexit, or pledge itself to oppose the forces which led to such a disastrous national decision. And that stance, along with other similar positions, severely limits the possibility of political healing, and restoration of trust, that might come from a frank acknowledgment of the historic mistakes that have been made, and of the reasons for them.

And that, finally, has a bearing on the ultimate outcome of the current Scottish political meltdown. In the immediate aftermath of Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation, it seemed as though some, both inside and outside the SNP, might succeed in using her demise to make a bonfire of social democracy in Scotland, particularly the kind of green social democracy favoured by Nicola Sturgeon and her Scottish Green party allies.

As the weeks wear on, though, that outcome begins to look less likely; not least because there is now so little obvious future, anywhere in the UK, for the largely discredited economic orthodoxies that have dominated British politics for the last 40 years, or indeed for the purple-faced dismissal of all and any “green” policies that still persists among some UK politicians of a certain vintage.

Archie Gemmill scores against the Netherlands in the 1978 World Cup, raising hopes that are soon dashed as Scotland go out on goal difference (Picture: SNS Group)Archie Gemmill scores against the Netherlands in the 1978 World Cup, raising hopes that are soon dashed as Scotland go out on goal difference (Picture: SNS Group)
Archie Gemmill scores against the Netherlands in the 1978 World Cup, raising hopes that are soon dashed as Scotland go out on goal difference (Picture: SNS Group)

That these forces exist in Scotland, and in the independence movement, is undeniable. Yet even among those senior figures currently framing themselves as representing “change” within the SNP, the amount of real divergence from the broad policy positions established by Nicola Sturgeon during her First Ministership remains small.

This week, for example, three leading “dissident” SNP MSPs – Kate Forbes, Michelle Thomson and Ivan McKee – published a Common Weal paper on the well-being economy which more or less argued that the Scottish Government should carry on doing what it has been doing, but do it better, in a less top-down style, and with greater support from the enlightened business community; and that while continuing to explore the idea of “well-being” as a better measure of success than traditional GDP, the Scottish Government should, for now, stop making people nervous by talking about an end to GDP growth.

In other words, the areas of disagreement within the SNP seem to be exactly those that should exist in a modern social democratic party, as it works out how to implement its principles under 21st-century conditions. As for independence – well, despite frequent attempts to dismiss it as “irrelevant”, it remains self-evident that Scotland could do more, in successfully developing those policies, if it had all the powers of an independent EU member state. And that fact should, perhaps, encourage Keir Starmer to consider whether it is right or wise for any Westminster government to continue to impose all the pains of Brexit on Scotland, which voted against it even more emphatically than Northern Ireland, although history suggests it is unlikely that any such thought will trouble the Labour leader, as he sits by the Thames, preparing for power.



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