SNP must beware fairweather friends like Alastair Campbell – Kenny MacAskill

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s selfie with Alastair Campbell caused a stooshie in nationalist ranks. Some shouting treason, whilst others lauded her fame. Frankly, it was much ado about nothing as declining such invites can be rude and they’re more indicative of a celebrity culture than political views, writes Kenny MacAskill.

Attendance at the People’s Vote march was the right thing to do, the social and economic welfare of Scotland and Britain demanding it. Speeches by Nicola Sturgeon and Ian Blackford were acclaimed by leading Remainers. But the SNP would be wise to be wary of fairweather friends in the London liberal elite.

Nicola Sturgeon proved popular at the People's Vote march as the crowd wished UK party leaders were more like her (Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire)

Nicola Sturgeon proved popular at the People's Vote march as the crowd wished UK party leaders were more like her (Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire)

For they should be under no illusion, the reason the latter were so gushing was that it was what they wished their own leaders had said. They’d have much preferred that Jeremy Corbyn had attended rather than absenting himself and that he’d committed himself to a second vote; even better for them would be having a leader like Yvette Cooper who would actually believe in it.

The same applies, though on a lesser scale, within Tory ranks, where Lord Heseltine was loudly cheered and a leader such as Amber Rudd would be preferred. Even those less politically partisan longed for an English equivalent amidst the current political morass.

The warm embrace for nationalist leaders was for what they could do for British, rather than Scottish interests. Flippant comments about moving to Scotland or wishing Nicola Sturgeon was Prime Minister were just that – not indicative of an ideological shift on Scottish independence, any more than an intention to relocate.

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That self-same liberal elite, and probably many of the crowd, opposed a Yes vote back in 2014 and likewise will be hostile come Indyref2. Throwaway remarks about understanding just why Scotland might want to leave will be replaced once again by a mixture of gushing love about “don’t leave” and dire warnings of catastrophe if we do. As with snow off a dyke, the fairweather friends will melt away.

As the threat of a no-deal Brexit diminishes, opportunities but also risks arise for the SNP. Their best chance is an election. With the main British parties hopelessly divided and Britain visibly diminished, an early poll would be ideal. Not just would they do well but their leverage either through power broking or simply an enhanced mandate would be increased. The possibility of Indyref2 or slipping away entirely – in the manner of Slovakia from Czechoslovakia – greatly enhanced.

More likely though it’s a delay for a second EU referendum of whatever options but including remain. That suits the SNP, given their European position, but has huge risks for independence. The timescale would make Indyref2 hard to hold before 2021 when the next Holyrood elections are set. Will there be an SNP or independence majority then becomes the critical question.

For the SNP, the issue isn’t how they’re fawned over by a London elite but what ordinary Scottish people think. I wasn’t at the People’s Vote march, instead I was at a minor league football match. Knowing many in the crowd and its demographics, I’d hazard a guess that a majority voted Yes in 2014. But there was little talk of EU, nevermind Indyref2.

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Many of these games being as much about banter with pals than the match itself. Instead there’s a fatigue with politics and a growing dislike of referenda, even if another may be necessary. Constitutional burnout’s a real danger for the SNP.

During the Cold War, Mikhail Gorbachev was feted by Western liberals but that couldn’t save him from the disdain of his own people on social and economic issues.

By all means soak up the applause on the world stage, but make sure the home base is covered.

What’ll dictate options and support for the next Indy vote won’t be London liberal voices but the state of the Scottish economy and public services.

It’s votes in Scotland not applause in London that matters.