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The true colours of the SNP leadership are becoming more obvious with each passing week
Usually when I sit down to write this newsletter I’m in a determined frame of mind. Determined because it seems to me there are a number of key arguments that must be taken up when it comes to the SNP, a party which enjoys sustained political dominance and spends huge sums of money on its public relations operation. Indeed, the Scottish Government is one of the largest media organisations in the land.
Lots of the time that means cutting against the grain. This is made all the more difficult when thousands of well meaning people have put their faith in the SNP, and understandably, want to defend it. Throughout the various debates, I have never once aimed criticism at the movement or rank and file SNP members, but at the leadership.
You can end up taking a fair bit of flack. Thats fair enough, and it’s never been shirked. Anyone who disagrees with the content here is free to vociferously disagree in the comments section. Indeed, that’s encouraged.
This edition, covering the Resource Spending Review, is no different. But the topics covered in Independence Captured are becoming more urgent with every passing week.
After you have finished reading, you might feel the same.
Political struggle since 2000
There have been a few significant political struggles since the turn of the century in the UK. The wars fought under Tony Blair radicalised a whole generation of people. Not just into the anti-war movement, but into a broader analysis of how the global system functions. Iraq in particular, has had long-term effects on domestic politics.
In the Scottish context it was key to unraveling support for Labour. The SNP joined the demonstrations against the war and many members played an active role. Indeed, this is where I met a young Humza Yousaf. John Swinney also made an admirable speech on the issue as party leader. In addition, the SNP led on opposition to the war as it entered the 2004 European election campaign. A far cry from the SNP today who seek to ingratiate themselves with the foreign policy establishment.
The next major, national, political confrontation came over the question of austerity, when in 2010 the now infamous “Con-Dem” coalition was formed between David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Together, alongside the architect of austerity, George Osborne, they unleashed a brutal package of spending cuts that would last a decade.
Many of us were in involved in a major political battle to oppose cuts to services and the attendant privatisation this bred. We fought to keep day care centres in Glasgow open. We supported strikes and demonstrations. We even organised an open top bus (below) to deliver solidarity to picket lines. We did all of this not just to push the austerity agenda back, but because of the ideological conflict it embedded in the politics of the era.
Why were working class people paying the price, instead of the bankers who caused the crisis in the first place? Why were the rich getting richer, as millions suffered a decline in living standards and came to rely on foodbanks, while homelessness spiked?
The SNP also took up an anti-austerity position. Once the Edinburgh Agreement was signed and the independence referendum made a reality, many in the anti-austerity movement decamped to campaign for independence as a means to oppose the British state and those in Westminster who had crafted and implemented the cuts.
In February of 2014, in the heat of the campaign, I wrote a column in The Herald titled, Our Message to the Victims of Austerity:
“Our campaign is targeted. On the streets – where we never, ever see Better Together canvassers – persuading people that UK Plc has failed is not difficult. If we get people registered and out to vote, the status quo are in for a shock. We oppose the big business stitch up, and outline our alternative to austerity and privatisation.”
Opposition to austerity was not limited to the left-wing political scene within the independence campaign. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The genuinely mass movement that arose, involving hundreds of thousands of people, had opposition to austerity at its very core.
After the referendum, the SNP won 56 out of 59 seats in the 2015 general election, and recruited around 100,000 people in the surge towards the party. They railed against cuts in the run up to the vote in their party broadcast (below), feeding upon the radical energies built up in 2014.
Since then, the SNP has retained its electoral dominance. But the SNP leadership utilised the votes, money and activism of working class people to integrate the corporate lobby into almost every aspect of their operation. At the same time, they utilised independence as a means to deflect criticism of their domestic policy and to shore up their base when elections came calling.
An especially easy task given the state of politics at Westminster.
The SNP public relations machine
To understand how far the SNP have fallen, we first need to have a bit of a grasp on how public relations and political spin works.
To begin, this is not a government of substance:
The SNP does not have a leadership that sits down to devise a proper industrial strategy. We know this because it is non-existent, preferring to rely on amorphous phrases like “entrepreneurialism.”
It is not a body of people who work out how best to marshal Scotlands natural resources, for the benefit of the people. We know this because they have already sold off large portions of our wind energy to BP and Shell .
It is not a group who have sat down to work out a solid, deliverable and popular plan for independence. We know this because throughout the last 6 years since Brexit, there has been no evidence of a campaign, a policy platform that makes any sense or of movement building.
We could go on for quite a long time. The point is this is a party who obsess only about appearance, while behind the scenes the corporate lobby effectively make the policy decisions. It has a leadership who ride above any pretence of party democracy. It doesn’t matter what members pass at conference, when they actually have one, as has been shown repeatedly.
But the key to the SNP public relations strategy when navigating from one disaster to the next is this: never let anyone join the dots. Because as soon as you do, you realise just how intellectually moribund the project really is. It dawns on you that everything you thought about how far the party had degenerated since 2014 was wrong. You were much, much too generous.
So, using the example of the Spending Review, let’s join the dots, and see what picture emerges.
The Spending Review in context
The Spending Review involves, among other things, massive cuts to the public sector. Before we get to the numbers, the framing of this strategy is just as important when it comes to understanding where the SNP are ideologically.
Kate Forbes, in her own words, invites Scotlands public sector to:
"Consider scope for innovation that embraces entrepreneurship, improves value for money, offers opportunities for commercialisation, better manages assets & brings benefit to the public purse."
To translate, Forbes is arguing here not about “cutting cloth” due to funding pressures. Instead this is a deeply ideological move, and one that mirrors the approach of George Osborne. Nor is it the fabled “managerialism” that has come to define the SNP. This, is hard economic liberalism.
The objective of the Scottish Government is to shrink the size of the public sector, or in their words to “reset” it to pre-pandemic levels. In practice, the graph below shows this means the loss of between 30,000 and 40,000 jobs. The STUC have broken this down to suggest this includes: 13,300 NHS workers, 8000 local government workers, 5000 railway workers and 3700 civil servants (mainly delivering newly devolved social security powers).
Alongside the ideological framing, Forbes and the wider Scottish Government say that they are limited in what they can do by the existing fiscal and economic powers. The arguments goes, that because they do not have full control over the Scottish economy, they are bound by the limitations Westminster and the UK.
To which many independence supporters might say, “this is precisely why we need full power here in Scotland, we can’t possibly blame the SNP.” But that’s before you join the dots and see that the official prospectus for independence doesn’t deliver monetary sovereignty and as such would result in austerity and privatisation due to the reliance on private and foreign capital. You can read in detail about this policy, known as Sterlingisation, in last week’s newsletter.
When any SNP representative is properly challenged about the public sector cuts, they will say, “if only we had the power to act differently, then we would do so.” Yet they must know that even their own plan for independence won’t deliver that kind of sovereignty. They rely on this minor detail being left unspoken.
Another response has been to suggest that cuts might be required to pave the way for the National Care Service (NCS). To most people the NCS sounds like a good idea, indeed a laudable one. But what you don’t get told is that while it is deployed as a means to offset criticism of public sector cuts, work on the NCS has already been outsourced to PriceWaterhouseCoopers and KPGM. Both of whom have a track record of promoting private health and social care.
Outsourcing in this fashion is now systemic in Scotland, which fast becoming a neoliberal laboratory. We saw the same with the ferries and “Project Neptune,” covered previously on Independence Captured, for example. Corporate interests have become so hardwired into the operation of the Scottish Government that they design everything, from what should be a National Care Service run on the model of the NHS, through to the prospectus for independence itself.
Even the “build back better” plan was brought together by something called the Economic Recovery Group, overseen by the Chair of Buccleuch Estates, Scotland’s most prominent feudal landowner.
How far away is all of this from the movement of 2014 that unlocked supreme political power for the SNP? It might as well have existed a hundred years ago, on a different planet.
Our hands are tied
There is a semi-permanent air of helplessness about the SNP these days. Everything is someone else’s fault. Sometimes a kind of tepid responsibility is taken, contoured by that mournful “we own up to our mistakes unlike other politicians” yarn which has been spun once too many times.
So, true to form, critics are scolded for, apparently, not grasping the finer points of the law when it comes to managing deficits:
Is this it? Is this really an SNP government standing up for Scotland? There appears not only be zero fight, but total acquiescence to Westminster. Might even a hint of resistance be possible? The answer is a resounding no.
Indeed, because there hasn’t been a serious plan and vision for independence bedding in, alongside campaign infrastructure, the SNP are disarmed in the midst of a crisis they have exhibited no understanding of, and offer no solution to.
So just listen to the Scottish Government, we are told. There is nothing, literally nothing, we can hope for other than to manage deficits and sit by passively as tens of thousands of public sector workers lose their jobs. Nothing at all could address local government funding, and no structural reforms that might confront the impending economic catastrophe are possible. What we can do is symbolically blame Westminster and pretend we have a plan for delivering full economic powers to Scotland to divert attention.
Yet, scratch the surface, and this argument collapses. Remember the SNP pledge to scrap the Council Tax over a decade ago? That is a dot not to be connected. Imagine, for example, if that were to be replaced by a Land Value Tax to generate revenue. Imagine we had been doing that for the years building up to this moment.
Imagine the Scottish National Energy Company had been set up, as SNP members voted for, and how that revenue might have changed the situation. Instead, communities near wind farms have been left with with an insulting £125,000. Imagine rent controls were up and running, instead of landlords cashing in before 2025, when they might not even come into being at all. Imagine the SNP had developed a strong prospectus for independence, and had been campaigning on it for years. Imagine the SNP had actually done something with its political hegemony.
For the SNP leadership, these kinds of ideas must remain on the shelf. On a good day, maybe they will be sent out for a consultation, before being dropped. Anything that might cause the slightest bit of friction, even if it is democratically mandated by SNP conference or in election manifestoes, is left to rot while the next PR wheeze is reeled out.
What we have then is a picture of bad faith emerging. The authenticity the First Minister exudes when speaking is undercut by the reality of her government. This is a rudderless party, reliant on a decision making process which permanently favours the status quo, whether that be the UK financial institutions, the Scottish corporate establishment, the European Commission or NATO. Meanwhile the SNP appears to have no internal democracy, or challenge, to speak of.
I have a feeling this process is going to become more evident, to more people. Indeed, just as I conclude this newsletter, a story pops up in my Twitter feed. It is being reported that the SNP foreign policy spokesperson, Alyn Smith, made the following statement at a recent event:
“We're having the issues about signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and there are issues with that for us because the nuclear element of NATO is part of the Acquis Communautaire and that needs to be signed up to."
Like dominos, principles fall one into the next. But a clearer picture is surely rendering now, even to previously loyal supporters of the present leadership.
Soon, you won’t have to join the dots to see what is so obviously in front of us.