Siol nan Gaidheal


Velvet Nationalism
The SNP's Strategy For Regionalism

In March of this year (2000), the Scottish National Party announced a 'revised strategy for independence'. Alex Salmond and the leadership of the Party have set the year 2007, the 300th anniversary of the union with England, as their target date for achieving independence.

The announcement came less than two weeks after Siol nan Gaidheal sent a communiqué to every Constituency Association in Scotland, calling on the SNP to outline a clearly delineated route towards achieving independence. To some extent they have done this but doubts over the Party's commitment to independence remain.

Everyone who has worked closely with the Nationalist movement in Scotland is aware of the Party's talent for inflicting substantial psychological injury to itself; its capacity for disillusionment is only matched by its persistent over-confidence, however there is a distinct feeling among most members of the SNP that the Party hierarchy has forsaken independence and opted instead for a new, redefined interpretation of freedom.

Indeed some senior members of the Party could only be charitably described as regionalists, happy to have become the big fish in a small pool. The side-lining of independence has come around from the refocused and reorganised decision making dynamic within the SNP, which has clearly decided to follow the Blair example and re-modernise the party 'into an effective political force'. Many of the grassroots fear that by following the New Labour example, that independence will become for the SNP what socialism has become for the Labour Party.

Before last May's election, policy making and day to day position orientation was decided, and directed from, North Charlotte Street. The change to Parliament Headquarters on George IV Bridge has had more than a mere geographical impact upon the Party. The party now has a small army of researchers and press officers who busy themselves with generating literature on a variety of subjects at the instruction of their respective MSP. MSPs and their staff are focused on doing the job within the devolved framework, unfortunately this has led to them and the party forgetting why they are involved in politics in the first place.

The party is divided but not along the independence-nothing-less fundamentalists and the devolutionary gradualists. It is divided between old time socialists who still believe in McLean's Socialist Workers Republic, and the software programmers and entrepreneurs who see at worst a career opportunity for themselves within the SNP or at best will be better placed to reap the economic rewards of independence when and if that day arrives.

The leadership is walking a delicate tightrope. The real political strategy for the party, will, for obvious reasons, never be publicised. The party is led by three main individuals, Alex Salmond, Mike Russell and John Swinney. Their politics with a small p is mild, tax-and-spend social democracy aimed directly at Labour voters. The leadership believes that this is the best position for the SNP to be in order to make the political breakthrough they need and secure a majority. The strategy is that eventually there must come an SNP government.

The major mistake they have made is, that in democratic politics there simply is no such thing as inevitability. The process, if indeed one actually exists, has to be driven. The danger the SNP face is that by backing a centre left, social democratic and liberal front, they will both alienate their core vote and lack the drive required to lead the country to independence. Historically social democratic politics have still to deliver a national freedom of any kind, anywhere.

What the leadership of the Party appears to have forgotten so readily is that it was nationalism not social democracy, which brought the party to where it is now. James Connolly once wrote of the fact that many of his former socialist colleagues could not understand why he had decided to take an overtly nationalistic stance against the imperialist forces ranged against Ireland. Connolly knew and understood the futility of talking about, and arguing for social justice, if you did not first have national justice and national freedom. He also understood the dynamic and powerful force nationalism offered in delivering the country towards independence.

Nelson Mandela in his autobiography 'Long Walk to Freedom' remembered the works of Anton Lembede, a founding member of the ANC. In the newspaper Inkundla ya Bantu, Lembede wrote about nationalism and those forces opposed to it. Lembede's view struck an immediate cord with Mandela and urged him on in the struggle for freedom. Lembede wrote:


"The history of modern times is the history of nationalism. Nationalism has been tested in the people's struggles and the fires of battle and found to be the only antidote against foreign rule and modern imperialism. It is for that reason that the great imperialistic powers feverishly endeavour with all their might to discourage and eradicate all nationalistic tendencies among their alien subjects; for that purpose huge sums of money are lavishly expended on propaganda against nationalism which is dismissed as 'narrow', 'barbarous', 'uncultured', 'devilish', etc."

In fact there is probably a stronger case now for more overt forms of nationalism than ever before. As imperialism has evolved into globalism (meaning Americanism) mercantile junk culture, nationalism offers the one coherent answer to that culture. The global Pax Americana may be real and it may even offer a business opportunity, but for those who actually believe in democracy, this culture undermines it at almost every level.

The current political fashion is to suggest that nationalism is irrelevant in a globalised world, and even more so within the perimeters of an ever expanding Europe. It is this belief that has already turned some of the SNP leadership into what can only be described as regionalists. It has led many both in and outwith the Party to wonder if these 'nationalists' really want independence.

Andrew 'The Brit' Wilson, the SNP's Finance Spokesman reacted to this by attempting to reduce the independence argument by suggesting that national freedom would be little more than a political technicality. A national freedom whereby Scots could still feel 'comfortable' with Britain in terms of popular culture and social and economic matters, but staunchly independent as to all the bits left over. As one writer put it, nationalism without the tears.

The false presumption Wilson made was that his argument relied on the premise that politics is a self-contained activity, detachable from every other area of life and culture. This position might be acceptable for British mainstream parties, but for a party which time and again, attempts, however feebly to define itself in cultural terms is nonsense. The second presumption is that all economic unions, whether British or European, inevitably lead to the surrender of national identity. In fact what Wilson is subscribing to is the Unionist belief that it is possible to be both Scottish and British. By doing this Wilson appears to be agreeing with both Tories and Labour, that Scotland is so embedded in the Union that a genuine break would be both psychologically and practically impossible. But if that was true, why have the Unionists put so much time, effort and money into trying to discredit the SNP?

What is more worrying is the echo this line has with a former 'fundamentalist' standard bearer, Kenny MacAskill, who appears to have made the switch from socialist to entrepreneur overnight.

MacAskill has demonstrated the symptom, which has gone straight to the core of full-time SNP activism. The quest for respectability. If you listen to MacAskill now, you would believe that socialism is dead, and history ended, but where does that place the Party's promise to build a new society as well as a new country?

Within the SNP thinking is taking place. Arguments and positions are being tested and reassessed. The problem for the SNP is that much of what is being offered sounds as if it has come straight of the back of a New Labour think-tank. The ideas are second or even third hand. Supporters of this approach will point to the success of Blair to re-modernise and ultimately succeed in getting his party elected. The down side is that Blair destroyed the party to build the new one. The SNP will not have that same opportunity. As Harold Wilson once said: "The SNP is a crusade for independence or it is nothing."

Of course a change in circumstance requires a reassessment of party structures and organisational frameworks. One fact remains untouchable, that this is a small nation in a big world. Does it want to depend on the acquiescence of others, or make its own decisions? No other nations have difficulty making the decision, whatever the shift in economic or ideological circumstance. Why should Scotland be any different? Doubt that, in any shape or form, and not only are you not a nationalist, you are not, and can lay no claim to being a Scot.

Some notables within the Party have spoken out against the direction of the Party. In October 1999 Jim Sillars released a pamphlet entitled 'Selling the Jerseys'. In it Sillars warned against offering Scots "soft talk and soft options". Scots have to be reminded that independence carries with it real responsibilities as well as real freedom. As Sillars rightly said: "The result of having gone soft on independence, is that the SNP now has ground to make up in persuading people to support that objective."

The current look-warm approach to independence has been sensed by other, senior members within the party. The former party leader of the SNP, Gordon Wilson launched a thinly guised attack on the direction of the Party. Wilson wrote: "For most of its history it [the SNP] was, by necessity, a pressure group. Its parliamentary victories were part of the campaign for independence. Now it is embedded in the Scottish establishment it formerly held in contempt." Wilson understood the 'honey trap' Scottish devolution offered the SNP. The radicalism which burned at the heart of the Party was replaced by an urge, and now a dependency on, being seen as respectable and safe. All of that would not be a problem except for the distancing by the current leadership of its raison d'être - independence.

Wilson also acknowledged that the process is certainly not inevitable and would not "drop into our hands like a ripe plum. It must be worked for unceasingly." As things stand the party is working, but to which end is unknown. The SNP Parliamentary Group are 'focussed' on making the 'powers' they have work to the full benefit of Scotland. The problem is, the people and more importantly the Party's activists are gradually becoming very disillusioned with the Parliament and the placing of independence on the back burner. Wilson believes that the future of the Party, as the carrier of Scottish independence, lies in the balance.

In March 2000, John Swinney finally announced the strategy which, if you believe their press statements, "respects the democratic process of the Scottish People". In short, for the first time in the Party's history, a vote for the SNP does not mean a vote for an independent Scotland; it now means you can vote again, in a referendum, on that specific question should the SNP first win a Scottish Parliamentary election and secondly gain a majority in order to organise the referendum. Even then Westminster will ultimately rule on the legality of the result. That may go down well in the respectable chattering classes that the SNP hierarchy now find themselves, but is a complete acknowledgement, however subconscious, that the leadership cannot, and indeed have no intention of, delivering independence. Even if they were 100% committed, the democratic system makes it almost impossible for this to happen.

The strategy is dependent on the 'inevitability" of the process. In other words, wishful thinking. Like the devolution referendum before it, which was widely denounced by the SNP, the leadership of the party have now embarked on a programme which makes, in intellectual terms, a laughing stock of the SNP and the activists who support the party.

Only the reassertion, in unambiguous terms, of our right as a people to govern ourselves, without interference from foreign interests, will lead to the ultimate freedom. We are either all free or we are not free at all. There is no middle ground. There is no respectable compromise. The very fact that Siol nan Gaidheal has to raise these concerns; or the fact that the YSI has submitted a resolution calling on the party to reassert its aim of independence; or that SNP branches are supporting the resolution; that former senior members and leaders of the party are now uncertain of the party's commitment to independence, all of this means that we, fellow Scottish Nationalists, can no longer stand ideally by and watch the cause of national freedom relegated to the ideological waste bin. The time to reassert our aim of an independent Scotland has come.


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