Contradictory attacks on a party that is in reality neither dictatorial or timid

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Commentary by Derek Bateman

The SNP is not the party of social justice after all. They’re letting everyone down and are no better than the Tories. Two sentences that sum up 10 days of derivative onslaught from our loyalist media echoing the plodding propaganda from the losers in our imminent election.

Derek Bateman
Derek Bateman

As we’ve commented often here, you have to wonder why die-hard Unionists – and makeweight columnists with a living to earn – constantly urge the Nationalists to be ‘more radical’. Most of them represent a political interest that hasn’t had a radical idea since 1945. Although, to be fair, the Tories’ underhand and insidious dismantling of the state as we know it and their retribution on the vulnerable do qualify as radical, if only in the sense that Hitler was a social trailblazer.

It used to be said, with some justification, that it was the alternative media that operated in an echo chamber. But a cursory examination of commentary in Scotland reveals the reality – 99 per cent of voices are either Unionist and by definition, anti-SNP, or they are politically aligned with Greens or RISE. I’m glad about the latter because these are new voices and do genuinely offer a different viewpoint that challenges so many standard assumptions. Good luck to them. They are the spear carriers in what looks like a gradual rapprochement with the mainstream. My point is rather that we have a country with an SNP government of nine years standing which had a successful period in opposition before that…so about 10 years of high profile parliamentary politics. They have just scooped 95 per cent of all the seats in Westminster. They are averaging somewhere north of 50 per cent of all votes for the next election, crushing the combined opposition. They will form the next government.

POLICY

Now count the number of regular commentators you know who (broadly but not uncritically) can explain and (mostly) justify SNP policy. Think hard, because I had to. I don’t mean an SNP version of the kind of slavish and embarrassing parroting of a party line that you get in the Record or the British Empire despatches in the Telegraph. Just a columnist or regular on-air voice that mostly stands up for the SNP line.

Any luck yet? I thought first of Andrew Wilson but he’s lost his spot in SoS. I suppose you include Andy Nicol of the Sun who often dispatches the twisted drivel from the usual suspects with aplomb. (Hope he doesn’t mind being included). Then I remembered Kevin Pringle who writes in the Sunday Times – which I don’t read. He’s a recent staffer and I imagine is unlikely to deviate from general policy positions. Apart from anything, he’s hired by a lobbying outfit because he has close links to the party.

So possibly a single political hack and a once-a-week columnist could be said to represent the view of the party of government and its membership of over 100,000. That is barely believable in a modern democracy. Given that it is same people whom the BBC invite to pontificate in their taxpayer-funded studios – whether they actually know anything or not – you can see why a democrat would regard Scotland’s political landscape as distinctly warped.

I don’t just enjoy other voices and views, I used to make a living arguing to get them on air and debating with them. But the skewed nature of Scotland’s media today is a disservice to our democracy. I don’t want the SNP ‘making programmes’ or running a national broadcaster. I want the BBC to do what it was set up to do – to represent ALL of Scotland and reflect our country back to the Scots. If the papers don’t hire people able to do that, then it isn’t good enough for the BBC which takes our money only to reflect the one-sided view of the press. It should be searching for people who can at least articulate why, despite doubts about aspects of policy, they think so many of our people do continue to back the SNP.

CONCERN

Still, the BBC’s output does at least give us a laugh. Our old Unionist chum Jim Naughtie has been having dinner with Ming Campbell again, I think. He had a report on Radio 4 which leant heavily on Willie Rennie’s input and which informed the British people that there is growing concern at the SNP’s one party state. This is astonishing propaganda from a once fine journalist who totally failed to explain what that means. The very fact he’s reporting on an election should be a clue even to doddery Jim. I saw six leaders on television and I hear RISE are also standing candidates. By whose definition does that constitute a one party state? Should the BBC send Morningside Jim to North Korea for re-education on one party states?

When he was publicly supporting Labour did he miss them having a majority of Scottish MPs, the MEPs, almost every local authority followed by the lead in the early Holyrood administrations? Ach, you know the arguments… It’s just embarrassing to hear that flammed-up nonsense misinforming the English voters. Some of us are proud of the parliament and our political culture – and it’s proportional voting system (somewhat rare in one party states). Naughtie demeans it and Scotland.

But to return to the SNP failing to live up to others’ expectations. If one of the 99 per cent of hacks says they’re not radical enough, discount it immediately as they’re programmed to find complaint and would like nothing better than a chance to paint the Nats as socialist extremists ‘after your money’. Kenny would commission Alex who would commend David who’d be flattered by Stephen and they’d all tweet JK.

AUTHENTIC

The one voice that made a telling point was Loki whom I know and whom we commissioned for Newsnet before he became the anti-SNP brigade’s poster boy. Darren is talented. A one-off. Authentic. And I’m glad he’s getting a gig with STV. In his recent blog there he said more in one article than two years of poncy drivel from the journalistic crew mentioned above. He’s upset with the SNP having voted Yes and, as I understand it, will be giving both votes to RISE. I’m not surprised. He and I were on a programme during the anniversary of the indyref and he’d already moved away from the SNP, and possibly even independence, at that time. (I jokingly called him a Unionist).

But there is a flaw running through so much of this Nats-are-too-timid narrative. First of all, vote your own way and don’t be put off by anyone. Just don’t expect to get anyone elected by voting RISE. The electoral math means you’re more likely to usher in a Labour MSP, if you think that will help fight poverty. It is exactly the generational failure of Labour to address fundamental issues when in power that lost them the trust of voters. (They still did much but not enough). They were still at it in Smith – trying to keep welfare reserved and opposing employment law devolution.

If you accept the SNP case that a higher rate of tax would lose money, reduce a much-needed tax base, or at best deliver very little revenue, why play the Tories’ game of forcing Scots to pay more while they tie our hands with only a single principal tax power – the one most people understand best and which is regarded as toxic? Isn’t it Labour that has walked wide-eyed into the trap demanding that everyone pays more to cover Westminster cuts? That just makes Mundell’s day.

TOKENISM

I agree that symbolism matters in politics but there’s a difference between that and tokenism. To play politics with taxes when it’s at best revenue neutral verges on gimmickry when Scotland is a long way from having the kind of control that allows our economy to diversify and grow. Even the powers we do have are undermined by market theology in London, so for example, our burgeoning renewables are sabotaged by the nuclear-mad Tories. And despite the best efforts of the excellent Iain Macwhirter and Dave Watson of Unison, who wrote a brilliant blog on it, I don’t believe the Scottish voters are queuing outside Waterstones to read Thomas Piketty.

Look, I know there are disappointments and policy shortcomings. The truth is that no government anywhere gets it all right and none is above criticism, including this one. But people don’t vote on individual policies. If that were true how would Labour have lasted so long? Folk used to say they’d stick with Labour no matter what happened because they felt comfortable, like buying the same newspaper. It wasn’t about individual issues. How could it be when they treated the unions with contempt, traded honours for money and ignored international law?

Most of us vote out of habit knowing our party isn’t perfect but regarding them as the best of a bad lot. Cynicism prevails and rightly so but eventually we have to choose. Scots will vote SNP in that knowledge and trust the judgment of Sturgeon and Swinney.

VOICES

Just don’t let the siren voices trick you into thinking the decision on upper rate tax means the SNP are doing nothing about poverty. Instead of disinformation like KidsnotCuts – dishonest nonsense since not a single school will close and not a single child will lose out – do what I did and see how public services actually work where you are.

First I admit I’m glad about the council tax being fixed because my income is fixed too. I’m ready for a change in the system but am scared how much it will cost me.

Our kids attend a new school – built without PFI contracts – which is so good it attracts parents from across the city.

When I go to my health clinic, I cross the road and get a free bus journey on my over 60s card.

It takes me to one of the best hospitals in Europe where, once I’ve worked out how the lifts work, I meet the same expert consultant I’ve had for five years.

I get four drug prescriptions that I collect free from Mr Jandoo, the pharmacist.

Round the corner they’re building a new housing block for students attending our world-leading universities where I hope my kids will go one day – free of charge.

I pay £6 a week as a community member of the brand new university gym.

I drive through a north Glasgow transformed with new housing, an impressive joint campus school at Ruchill – from the council that says it’s short-changed by the government – past a successful college and into what many (sorry, you weegies) would call sniper’s alley…Saracen Street is the centre of one of the worst health blackspots in Europe. But on the right hand side is a gleaming new building that houses a full array of social health services which is working to transform the lives of the poorest. Two female doctors are the heroes who make it tick. Read about it here.

Another centre like it is going up off Maryhill Road. Further down that same street there is an early years centre which is run as a charity but has direct government input and has been adopted by them to introduce a version of what was England’s, and Labour’s, successful SureStart system. It engages with families even before the birth of a child to begin helping to improve their life outcomes in what is still a largely depressed area.

The government, with our tax pounds, is fighting poverty on the ground in a programme to lift the next generation up. They do this with the voluntary sector, with local government and other organisations through 116 voluntary groups to tackle inequalities and poverty, support parents and carers, improve learning and build skills and help thousands of children, families and communities across Scotland.

Everything from drug use to school attainment, from healthy birthweight to suitable housing is covered. Every day, every week. You don’t end poverty with a political gesture that at best raises in the short term a few million quid. You do with direct intervention, hands on help driven by political will and in the knowledge it will take at least a generation to reap rewards. The work to rescue Scots from poverty goes on daily in ways you rarely see in the media. It isn’t their agenda when the fun is in kicking the Nats.

PREJUDICE

So those who think a party still not a blip in the polls will do more than the SNP to end poverty can vote accordingly. The quiet and often unsung work will go on regardless. And don’t dismiss the wider political point that, while it may make you squirm, the unbending middle class Unionists we need to win over to independence are still there. Raising taxes would confirm every prejudice they have imagined about the SNP’s real intentions – to take away their pensions and hard-earned cash. They regard the tax move as sensible and pragmatic economic management – the very characteristics most likely to convert them eventually to the cause. The cause that remains the goal of all nationalists.

If you want an illustration of that No attitude, imagine what those middle class folk made of Sean Clerkin and the Scottish Resistance together with Comrade Tommy reading their updated Declaration of Arbroath on the Concert Hall Steps. That was a vivid reminder of how many of them still like to regard the independence movement…as angry cranks harking back to the past and bereft of any economic competence.

So believe the SNP doesn’t do social justice – as the media commands – or open your eyes to the evidence around you. I’m keeping the faith, and both my votes, for one party.