No more Nicola…just a bit less maybe?
‘The final say now as leader of the party is now mine … That’s how the leadership works, I am the leader.’
‘My priority for my time as First Minister – and let me be clear I want to be judged on this – is that every young person should have the same advantage that I had when I was growing up in Ayrshire.’
Commentary by Dr John Robertson
Right off, let me say, I’m not trying to start a coup here. I’m with the ‘Nicola as First Minister Strategy’ but I want a more collegiate, dare I say a more democratic form, of party politics. I want this not just because I’m an old lefty but because the current drift to a presidential style is not actually working. I’ll say more on this later. First, though, a few words on the last election campaign.
I’m with Nicola…I’m with Nicola…I’m with Nicola. I was, day after day, on the streets of Ayr in the weeks before the Scottish elections. Despite my ageing bones, I delivered around 1000 ‘I’m with Nicola’ leaflets, bags, pens, key-rings and even paper windmills, up and down steps. I tripped twice on steps and went my length…for Nicola. I nearly lost my fingers to dogs, waiting quietly for them behind the letterbox…for Nicola.
Well, actually it wasn’t just for Nicola that I did those things. I did it because I desperately wanted the Tory town of Ayr to turn SNP. It didn’t. Some of the people I met didn’t really like Nicola. It was the wrong strategy there, I think, and it was the wrong strategy nationally too. I didn’t spent a lifetime promoting collectivism, solidarity and collegiality as a means to achievement, in education and outside of it, to spend my retirement years appearing to campaign for one person while handing out fetish objects bearing her celebrity name.
I’ve been advised by female family members not to comment on clothes, but I see that as just another form of fascism on their part. Expensive clothes and staggeringly high ‘killer heels’ worn by an equally-high-profile politician are not just a private matter. They say something very powerful about the values that party is projecting. Typically of social democrats, as opposed to democratic socialists, they say appearances matter too much, individualism is good, consumerist fetishism can be managed, more than many of us in the party think they should. Remember that Liz Hurleyesque red dress from Edinburgh-based Totty Rocks? Totty Rocks? Totty Fnnnn Rocks, sisters!? Oh, they’re Edinburgh-based are they? Sorry, of course, that makes all the difference. (What’s he talking about here? Unfashionable Ed).
The SNP election results were not a failure, by any means, but neither were they a sign of optimism for the future. This was not a ringing endorsement of the new First Minister but rather a cautious acceptance that she should continue. The Tory results, of course, were nothing like resurgence. The latter was frankly a pathetic failure to be more popular than Thatcher, aided by the electoral system and also, sadly, by the uniform application across the country of the ‘Both Votes SNP’ strategy.
While both votes for the SNP ensured three list MPs in the South of Scotland, the same strategy in areas where the constituency seat was near certain may have prevented a larger number of Greens in Holyrood and, consequently, more Tories. That sickens me. Further, the decision not to attack directly sitting MSPs such as Gentleman Farmer John Scott in Ayr, did not succeed either. Indeed, Scott held on with evidence of support having been transferred to him from former Labour voters. That sickened me too. There was clear scope to attack Scott directly on his pro-austerity record, his membership of the party of that same nasty Etonian elite and presentation of himself as a champion of the local area. His son, Eton-educated Gordon is a London financier (The Free Library, 2000). It’s really difficult to find the previous evidence.
Though Ayrshire-born, Scott attended George Watson’s College in Edinburgh. Though a member of a party opposed to wind farms, Scott seemed to profit from one. See this from the Herald in February 17th, 2013:
‘Scott, the Conservative MSP for Ayr, has a deal which lets Spanish- owned Scottish Power use his farm near Girvan to access its 60-turbine Arecleoch wind farm in South Ayrshire. The deal is understood to be worth more than £5000 a year.’
Drawing attention to any of Scott’s potential weaknesses such as these was discouraged strongly. The word from above (Nicola?) was that we should stress the positive in the SNP’s achievements, and say nothing negative to rile his many loyal supporters. That these people were in any way more likely to abandon him if we remained polite, was naïve in the extreme. A more aggressive approach might have stemmed the flow of labour voters to him and drawn others to support the SNP.
Finally, for now, the planned return to national testing in schools, upon which Nicola seems to have rashly staked her future, is the strongest evidence yet of a need for a change at the top. In a recent Newsnet.scot piece, I explained the dire consequences which will result from the inevitable failure of national testing to close the attainment gap. Was there consultation on this, with academic experts, with the teacher unions or even across the membership? This is a bear-trap, which the SNP must take immediate action to avoid falling into by modifying the nature of the planned testing to make it both less harmful and less dangerously ambitious. It would be better to back-off now and take the flak rather than wait to have its completely unspinnable failure thrown at us in an election year. I am available for advice at no cost at all other than a free lunch. Have bus pass will travel, but only after 10am when I come round.
I only joined the SNP in January of this year, so some may wonder what gives me the right to complain. Well, it’s a democracy (SNP) isn’t it? I’ll complain if I like. After loyal Labour voting, as a young man, up until but not including Kinnock in 1983, I began voting SNP and have never stopped for these further 33 years. I only stayed out of membership because I thought it would be unethical as a teacher and then a lecturer to be so aligned.
Others might accuse me of betrayal of the central aim of independence and of offering sustenance to unionism in the form of feeding the critics in the mainstream media. However, we now have years to sort this out before the next test. I wouldn’t have written this before the election but that doesn’t mean I have to be bound to blinkered loyalty when there is a chance to get things even more right before the next event. As for the unionist hacks in the mainstream media who might want to try to use me to undermine the SNP, they know where they can stick their odious little opinions!
Come on Nicola… and all the others. All together now!
Footnote: Big party syndrome, several careerists, expenses-enthusiasts, borderline narcissistic psychopaths and one, just the one, innocent abroad: As I wrote the above, I couldn’t help but notice the recent media frenzy on badly-behaved SNP politicians. Before these recent reports of clearly, if surprisingly, vain, disappointed, alpha-males being easily seduced and then exposed by a cold-hearted, ambitious Southern journalist, we had unproven reports of too much entrepreneurialism in the housing market and misjudged tweeting followed by an apology to a right-wing activist previously unknown to most of us.
Before I go any further, let me exclude the tweeter, the clearly good-hearted and principled Natalie McGarry, from any of the above negative labelling. Her record on campaigning, courageously, for very good causes, such as exposing the near-genocidal treatment of the Kurds by our NATO ally, Turkey, should be a model for the others I haven’t named.
Of course, you could say that the predatory media reporting is the problem here and many have commented, indignantly on this. You could also shrug your shoulders and say that this is just what happens to big parties – keep calm and carry on? I don’t agree. The SNP leadership needs to win the respect of the voters and many of its new members by slapping these people down pronto! Where there is evidence of real misdemeanours, suspension from the party will make little difference to day-to-day business so soon after elections and so long before the next test. Where they’ve just made a bloody fool of themselves, demotion from leading roles is clearly in order.
Those of us on the (majority?) leftist, anti-monarchist and anti-imperialist, anti-war wing of the party kept party discipline before the election. With plenty time now for internal review, here’s a real task for Nicola – close the widening public and internal confidence gap before it gets any bigger!
Retired Professor John Robertson