Great fault lines run through each of the three main UK Unionist parties – their San Andreas faults, so to speak, waiting to tear the parties apart.
With the Tories, it’s Europe – the Great EU Fault.
With Labour, it’s the Great Blair/Iraq Fault, with the party heading for polarisation behind Ed Miliband and the trades unions at one pole, and the right-wing, big money, shadowy interests represented by the Blair/Sainsbury supporters, now called, of all things, Progress. (This abuse of the language goes hand in hand with peace envoys and faith foundations)Unions fight Labour's Blairite faction 'in struggle for party's soul'
The LibDem fault line is the fact that the party is a deeply unstable, cobbled-together artefact (1981) of left and right, represented by the Orange Book right-wingers -Tories in all but name - and the old-fashioned liberal left. This is now compounded by the appalling mistake of the Coalition. What can we call this thing? It is really just one big fault line, so let’s name it the Great LibDem Fault and leave it at that.
Up to this point, the SNP haven’t had a major fault line. They have, of course, the kind of differences that exist in every party: some are monarchists, some are republicans, some lean to the left, some lean to the right, and views vary on the nature of Britishness.
But the great unifying factors in the SNP has been the party’s unswerving commitment to full independence for Scotland, to an anti-nuclear Scotland and to the removal of WMDs (Trident) from Scottish waters after independence, and to a social democratic vision for the nation.
It was inevitable that once the party secured a clear mandate to govern for a second term and to call a referendum on independence - with independence now within its grasp, but with a mountain to climb to shift the perceptions of the Scottish electorate towards a decisive YES vote - that the pressures of a YES campaign would shine an unforgiving, roving spotlight on every policy.
Within the party faithful - and among crucial ranks of those supporting independence who were not SNP – the question increasingly became – independence, but what kind of independence? This in turn led to two conflicting pressures: the party strategists needed to maintain a disciplined consistency of approach in a unified message to the whole electorate, one that would reassure those who feared change, and who clung to the familiar, the traditional, but it also needed to keep the faithful on board, because they were the foot soldiers of the independence movement and of the YES campaign.
I believe the party has made a number of assumptions in doing this that are dangerous, and that it urgently needs to revisit them before the autumn, when the psychologically important two year lead time to the referendum really starts.
1. In trying to flatten out different perceptions of change in the minds of the wider electorate, e.g. monarchy, currency, Britishness, NATO, etc. it has focused the attention of at least a minority of committed nationalists on exactly these differences, causing them to probe what looked initially like a minor fault line and question if it was symptomatic of something deeper. (In tyre manufacturing, a hairline crack in the sidewall revealed at the final inspection stage usually results in testing the tyre to destruction by sawing it apart in sections, since hairline cracks can be the beginning of major faults.)
2. The party has assumed that the crucial defence issue – the quiescent elephant in the room for so long – could safely be kept quiet by resounding, crowd-pleasing conference statements about unswerving commitment to an anti-nuclear policy, and the detail could be quietly ignored, with membership concerns being fobbed off by anodyne statements and reassurances. The elephant is no longer quiet, in fact it’s out of the room and rampaging around, causing mayhem and confusion on all fronts.
3. The party has badly underrated the nature of its nascent support from the non-SNP left, including the Greens, the minority socialist parties, the Scottish Labour Party and the trades union movement by failing to understand the deeply-held economic and social views that underpin the Left, and the wider forces that motivate them.
4. The constitutional monarchy issue, although it was a bullet some republicans found hard to bite on, would not in itself have been a problem (in my view, as a republican) but when allied to concepts of Britishness and the questions of the Union of the Crowns and flags, began to sit more and more uneasily with some nationalists.
It was probably inevitable that the party would look at the Obama campaign and draw lessons from it. But one lesson it appears to have misunderstood is from where it should draw its professional support.
Scotland has some of the finest intellects in the world in every professional disciplines, including psychology and political science. It would not have been hard to find a combination of these skills to advise the Party on the psychological aspects of its YES campaign messages and the presentation of policy.
Faced with this abundance of intellectual riches, the SNP chose to go here for its support – RED Co. It is not a choice I would have made, for a whole range of reasons, but since my focus at the moment is on the crucial issue of defence, I won’t go there for the moment. Today’s Sunday Herald has an article on this – Don’t Mention Independence by Paul Hutcheon and Tom Gordon. I can’t find a link to it at the moment – buy the paper, it has loads of excellent stuff today.
I had planned to start the day with a blog covering in detail the deliberations of the so-called Referendum on Separation for Scotland Select Committee defence enquiries. (Before the BBC bashers rush in, let me say that was the title given to it by the Labour-dominated committee, and the BBC were at pains to point this out regularly on the strapline during the channel 81 broadcast of the 13th June meeting.)
However, two stories this morning changed my agenda for the rest of the day -
The Sunday Herald front page – Goodbye Trident – a blueprint for a nuclear-free Scotland two years after independence, a report by Scottish CND ‘welcomed by the Scottish Government’.
The Sunday Telegraph with Go-ahead for new nuclear weapons by Robert Watts and Patrick Hennessy
Nowhere in the story, nor in the Telegraph Leader article on page 25 - Trident is an essential part of our armoury – is Scotland’s independence mentioned, nor the fact that the UK’s entire plans depend on the referendum outcome.
They have their heads in the sand and a nuke up their arse – not the most comfortable position to adopt …
The Telegraph Leader is instructive, in that every line of it effortlessly demonstrates exactly why we should not have nuclear weapons – not quite the leader writer’s intentions. But read it -and shudder …
For your further entertainment, I offer my unedited clips (in three parts) of the Referendum on Separation for Scotland Select Committee, where the unionist Coalition of Labour, Tories and LibDems aimed at keeping Scotland and the UK resolutely WMD-mad, and opposed to the independence of Scotland, plough their contemptible furrows, acting as straight men with feed lines for the representatives of the Coalition and the monumentally incompetent MOD.
To the credit of Nick Harvey and Peter Luff, they did not always give the Committee the answers they clearly craved. I will analyse, edit and clip these when I get time – meanwhile, eat it raw, and prepare to vomit …