Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ian Hamilton's distorted look at the thistle

Winnie Ewing once received rapturous applause at the SNP conference for affirming that "we are all fundamentalists". What she meant is that the entire party - or as close to the entire party as makes no difference - is wholeheartedly in favour of full independence for Scotland. For most of us that may not be much of a revelation, but there's no harm in pointing it out occasionally, particularly given the tendency over the years for parts of the London-based media to characterise gradualists within the SNP as the "pro-devolution wing" of the party, and fundamentalists as the "pro-independence wing". It seems that they struggle with the notion that a Scottish party could conceivably have a 'moderate' wing that nevertheless supports independence from London!

But, sadly, it appears that it's not just ill-informed London scribes who need to be reminded of that truth. Many fundamentalist nationalists themselves like to fondly imagine that they are the only ones authentically agitating for independence. The latest example of that world view is a thoroughly unjust post from Ian Hamilton QC, in which he brands the current SNP leadership "collaborators", and asks "what about us who aren’t meek and who want our grandchildren to inherit a free Scotland?". Well, that'll be all of us who support independence, Ian, gradualists and fundamentalists alike. It's at times like this that I (almost) start to sympathise with unionist politicians who complain that the SNP shouldn't regard themselves as having a monopoly on patriotism. Some of the langauge Ian uses is truly astonishing -

"It [the SNP] is nothing if it isn’t revolutionary. It should never be a party of government. Now it’s a party of collaborators, preparing to enforce England’s budget cuts. Edinburgh has become Scotland’s Vichy...

Also, I am a trouble maker. Once we were a nation of trouble makers. Once they sent tanks into George Square against us. Now the meek moderate the mild."

Ian's starting-point is just fundamentally different to that of the gradualist camp. He clearly perceives Scotland as a literally "occupied" country, and therefore looks around in bewilderment wondering where the "resistance" has gone. In contrast, most of us accept that we live within a democratic framework - a deeply flawed one to be sure, but democratic nonetheless, and one that provides a clear theoretical path by which independence can be achieved. That being the case, the rather prosaic reason for Scotland not currently enjoying the normal powers of a normal nation is quite simply that the Scottish electorate hasn't voted for that yet. The remedy to the problem is therefore to persuade the electorate of the merits of independence, not to idly fantasise about taking to the streets and fomenting an anti-London revolution.

Of course the sentiment that moved Ian to write his post right now is one we can probably all share - he fears that the SNP in government will be "implicated" in London's cuts, and that the cause of independence will be set back as a result. But if that happens it will not be a failure of the gradualist strategy in itself, but instead a failure to effectively communicate the (self-evidently true) message that the Scottish government simply don't have the powers to protect Scotland from the cuts, and that if the electorate want that to change they'll have to vote for a more powerful parliament. At least the SNP have a story to tell here - by contrast, what would a new Labour-led government have to say for itself next May? They'd have no choice but to implement the cuts, and yet won't even be asking for the extra powers that would afford them that choice. "Scotland can do nothing but moan - let's keep it that way" isn't a great message to be selling to the electorate.

Lastly, I can only sigh wearily at Ian's fixation with the issue of parliamentarians having to swear allegiance to the Queen. In principle, I entirely agree with him - an oath of office should primarily be about upholding the highest standards of integrity, and shouldn't force people to say things they don't believe in. But to criticise the SNP leadership for not making that issue a 'dealbreaker' in deciding whether to take up office just seems crazy. Have the republicans in the party been remotely hobbled by holding their nose once every four years and taking the oath? It seems odd to say, but I think the former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble once summed up the 'real' meaning of the oath better than anyone I've heard - he suggested that the Queen as Head of State symbolises the "rules of the game" as set down by the law of the UK, and therefore the allegiance sworn to the Queen is simply a de facto pledge to abide by those rules. Constitutional nationalists shouldn't find too much difficulty with that - the whole meaning of the term is that we work within the rules to change the rules. To change them utterly. In that sense, we are all fundamentalists.

1 comment:

  1. it seems to me that the SNP isn't that motivated about independence. i dont know if it has to do with being too complacent or comfortable in government?