It’s true, the SNP is no longer flavour of the month and hasn’t been for quite some time. After a decade in power, with admittedly mixed results, even sections of the Yes movement have grown irritated and disillusioned, to varying degrees, by a party they once passionately championed. This feeling of alienation comes not only from specific policy choices, like reneging on pledges to reform local taxation, but also from the deep sense of fatigue many feel at the hostile political climate.
Who you hold responsible for that will likely depend on your own personal politics but, objectively speaking, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Beneath the masquerade of our politics and culture lies a well of bitterness and antagonism which, rather than healing, appears to be going septic. Scottish culture has become infected; tainted, spoiled at its most basic integrity.
The need to settle a score often takes precedent over the need for restraint, humility and common sense. Just last week, Third Force News, a publicly-funded third sector publication, conducted a rather bizarre poll about Neil Oliver’s appointment at National Trust of Scotland; a pointless debate which, itself, grew up out of the bottomless swamp of constitutional acrimony.
We have all, to some degree, become deeply invested in the false belief that our personal resentments are legitimate and, therefore, rarely examine our true motives when lending our voices to the cauldron of endless escalation.
It’s in this regard that many of our elected representatives should be attempting to set some kind of example. But the demand for mudslinging is such that any attempt to reach out to – or agree with – the opposition may be construed as a betrayal or lack of commitment to the cause. Take Scottish Labour leadership hopeful Anas Sarwar’s current campaign, which seems hinged on his willingness to violently baulk at the suggestion of collaborating with the SNP in any way. Not only will Sarwar ‘never, ever’ support Scottish independence, but he seems to relish excitedly articulating just how adversarial he intends to be should his party make the grave error of appointing him as leader. And people wonder why the SNP is still hanging on, despite everything.
While the Sarwars of this world would like to take credit for the recent contraction in SNP support, in truth it’s been a victim of its own unparalleled success. When Sturgeon took over from Alex Salmond, the party they dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century was transcending Scottish politics, on its way to becoming a genuine cultural phenomenon.
This success, and the political elasticity it enabled, came not from wealthy donors or friends in high places – though these things did help later on – but, largely, from the ground up. Yes, the SNP machine is guilty of misappropriating some of that energy self-servingly, but it cannot be denied that of all the Scottish parties, the SNP provides the most vibrant, dynamic, socially diverse and active political culture – even with the famous gag order prohibiting people from criticising it.
The SNP is now at a point where it can do no right. When they stubbornly follow their own agenda, like they have with closing the attainment gap, they are accused of being hard headed, arrogant and totalitarian. If they respond to public opinion, like they have over the second indy referendum, they are accused of either doing it too late or of being politically manipulative.
If they respect the will of the parliament, like they did with fracking, then those who don’t accuse them of U-turning quickly try to take credit for the change of heart.
Yet they persist. Not just that, but are likely to retain enough core support to dominate for the foreseeable future and there’s a very simple reason why: their core message remains one of hope, at the risk of appearing naïve, aspiration, at the risk of being reckless. They have the audacity to endure, while surrounded by a political and media culture that’s been actively trying to flush them down the pan for decades.
For all its flaws, and they are many, the SNP has tapped into a facet of the Scottish psyche which has been largely unexplored by the other political parties. That part of our nature that refuses to back down, that becomes even more dangerous when our backs against the wall. Granted, the nationalist hold now so evident on Scottish society can be a source of great irritation and narrowmindedness, but for every so-called ‘cybernat’, there’s a humble volunteer somewhere, handing out flyers in the rain.
For many, the division in Scottish society is not solely the fault of the SNP, but in the fundamental inequities of the status quo which remain unaddressed.
For us, independence is an option that should always remain on the table, so I’d urge those thinking of throwing a party to celebrate the decline of the SNP to hold their unicorns. For should the SNP ever face the prospect of electoral oblivion, then I suspect those of us who’ve been politically promiscuous of late, and received hell for it, will revert to the party of independence for one reason: to keep our naïve, reckless little dream alive.
Truth be told, for all Corbyn’s frothy appeal, I hear two minutes of Anas Sarwar and think to myself: ‘You make me want to vote SNP again.’