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By Jason Michael
EVERY SO OFTEN someone will drop me a private message on social media asking me to explain things (Correction: My inbox is always packed). Obviously, it is not possible to get back to everyone and so I try to address as many questions as possible in what I publish. But every now and then something stands out. One stood out this afternoon, and I have asked the sender’s permission to quote her here and do my level best to answer her question. Donna writes:
I’m lost! … I have been an SNP voter since I was 16 … I love Scotland, but what the fuck is happening? Let us know the best way for the yes movement to win.
This question is important because it expresses rather succinctly the sense of uncertainty and worry which is right now spreading like wildfire over the independence movement. While support for independence and the Scottish National Party remain high, a growing number of independentistas are arriving at the conclusion that something stinks in the SNP. Most, as yet, can’t quite put their finger on exactly what it is, but something is wrong. Something is rotten, and the rot is spreading.
Again, it is incumbent upon me to repeat that I am not a member of the Scottish National Party and that I bear no particular animus towards the party. As one party representing a single faction or constituency of the wider independence movement, I have been content to lend the SNP my support and have been willing to treat it as an ally in the campaign for Scottish independence. Like all political parties, the SNP is made up of individuals who each have their own opinions and agendas. Some of these opinions and agendas I like and others I do not.
Like all political parties, the SNP is made up of individuals who each have their own opinions and agendas. Some of these opinions and agendas I like and others I do not.
As early as 2015 myself and others were raising concerns about the direction the SNP was taking. We were concerned that independence and the prospect of another referendum appeared only to be priorities when a general election was on the horizon. It bothered us a great deal when the leadership of the party put its weight behind efforts in England to stop the Brexit for which the people of England had voted, rather than using Scotland’s rejection of the same to come good on the promise that we would not be dragged out of the European Union against our will. In case you haven’t as yet noticed, we have now been taken out of the EU against our will.
Many too – within and outwith the party – have come to the conclusion or at least the suspicion that there was a conspiracy in the upper echelons of the SNP to politically assassinate and even criminalise its former leader, Alex Salmond – the man who led the party and to a considerable extent the whole movement to and through the 2014 independence referendum. The overt collaboration between people at the top of the SNP and the BBC – the British state broadcaster – to continue a campaign against Mr Salmond following a court case which upheld his innocence has enraged and frustrated a great many people throughout the movement.
And by no means has this odious behaviour been limited to the treatment of Alex Salmond. The SNP might like to take the credit for creating the independence movement, but this is simply not true. Long before 2014, when the SNP was still very much a party in the wilderness, the driving force behind the growth of pro-independence sentiment was the Scottish political blogosphere; websites like Newsnet Scotland, Wings Over Scotland, and Wee Ginger Dug – the work of dedicated independentistas without whose efforts there would have been no 45 percent vote for independence in the 2014 referendum and no SNP parliamentary majority in 2015, and without whom the SNP would not have become the largest political party in Scotland.
The blogosphere was and remains an essential component in the vital process of informing activists and propagating the arguments for Scottish independence. Without these websites, in the face of a media landscape absolutely dominated and controlled by the unionist narrative, independence would shrivel up and die on the vine – and yes, it would. Until it secured its place as the dominant party in the Scottish parliament and on the Scottish benches at Westminster – effectively becoming the party of and ‘vehicle’ to independence, the SNP and its elected members couldn’t get enough of the pro-independence blogs, and many of them were made by these blogs. But now that many bloggers – the majority – have turned a critical eye on the Frankenstein of their making, they have become the enemy.
Long before 2014, when the SNP was still very much a party in the wilderness, the driving force behind the growth of pro-independence sentiment was the Scottish political blogosphere.
‘Grouse Beater,’ a man of outstanding commitment and integrity, was branded an anti-Semite by the SNP’s Fiona Robertson and others and expelled from the party for accurately comparing Adolf Hitler’s thoughts on trade unionism to the behaviour of a number of trade unionists – one of whom happened, quite unbeknownst to the author, to be Jewish. It contained no invective about Judaism or Jewish people, and it certainly was not in support of Hitler. But this was weaponised none the less in order to besmirch the reputation of a good man and to have him removed from the SNP.
Then it was my turn. During a speaking tour, the Daily Mail, the Herald, and the Scotsman newspapers picked up on a tweet I had posted about how there are people in Ireland, in the event of the Good Friday Agreement collapsing – which was a possibility at the time – who would treat the police in the north of Ireland as ‘legitimate targets’ – quoting the IRA’s operational manual, The Green Book. They delved into my website to find an article where, citing Jewish and Israeli authors, I had written that the State of Israel uses ‘a fictive narrative’ of the Holocaust so as to implicate Palestinians and thereby delegitimise the Palestinian cause. SNP MSP Maree Todd then took it upon herself to describe my views – my views according to the Daily Mail – as ‘abhorrent.’ Regardless of my work in the Irish Peace Process and my academic credentials on the Holocaust, I was now a supporter of the IRA, a Holocaust denier, and an anti-Semite. And, of course, Ms Todd’s intervention resulted in me being detained by the police under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act – the Terrorism Act!
All the while, the assault on Stu Campbell and his Wings Over Scotland website – an online resource that has had far more influence over the independence movement than any party, newspaper or blog – has been unrelenting and vicious. Pete Wishart, like most SNP politicians, a huge fan during the 2012-14 campaign, would have us believe Campbell is the single greatest threat to independence. Mike Small and a number of so-called Leftists – they’re nothing of the sort – in the SNP’s National Executive Committee have now taken to describing Wings as an ‘Alt-Right fascistic platform’ – code, as we all know, for neo-Nazi. But this is a recurring theme; interestingly following the Conservative Party’s playbook, the SNP is performing intellectual acrobatics to brand those it wishes to silence as anti-Semites – and we must ask why.
The purge is ongoing too. Recently, under the cover of a reshuffle, Joanna Cherry – an outspoken critic of Nicola Sturgeon and supporter of Alex Salmond and one of the party’s most competent people – was unceremoniously sacked from the Commons frontbench. She has endured merciless bullying within the party and has never once had Sturgeon come to her defence. The clear authoritarianism, together with the cloud of suspicion sitting dark and heavy over the First Minister and her husband, is causing a significant amount of worry and concern. It is no wonder more and more people – SNP voters – are asking ‘what the fuck is happening?’ Something is happening.
But what is happening? Three things are happening; two things which can be shown and a third that can be inferred. The first thing that is happening is the working out of history. The Scottish National Party is not actually a pro-independence party – oh, the shock! But it’s not. Presently, the party supports independence, sure, but that has not always been the case and may not always be the case. John MacCormick’s 1955 memoir of the establishment of the SNP, The Flag in the Wind, is quite clear that the SNP was about ‘a better deal for Scotland’ within the union. At best this was a Home Rule party, and one of its first actions was to expel the ‘wild men’ who wanted independence. The fact the book doesn’t even mention John Maclean – MacCormick got involved in politics the year Maclean died (1923) – speaks volumes. This was very much a party appealing to Scotland’s landed establishment, and this current is still evident in much of the party – certainly in its less-than radical economic thinking. The endemic political centrism and crypto-unionism on show everywhere – but not by everyone – informs us that this old Home Rule party is still very much alive.
While it is true there are excellent people even at the highest levels of the party, there is a visible trend of the leadership preferring incompetents, financial dependents, and impressionable neophytes – Yes-people.
Secondly, there is the problem – and it is a problem – of ambitious concentrated power and the careerists it attracts to it. While it is true there are excellent people even at the highest levels of the party, there is a visible trend of the leadership preferring incompetents, financial dependents, and impressionable neophytes – Yes-people. Anyone critical of the leadership qua the leader becomes a target within the party, and open season is declared on anyone who becomes too critical or too dangerous to the ambitions of the boss. We see this played out daily on social media when MPs, MSPs, staffers, apparatchiks, and student hopefuls adopt the party line no matter how inconsistent this is with their previous statements. Censorship, self-censorship, and outright hypocrisy are the order of the day, and this is not the behaviour of a healthy democratic political party.
The third thing that is happening – the thing we can deduce logically – is the compromise. The engine room and the bridge of the SNP have been compromised to a considerable degree by the British state. Of course they have! We know that the infiltration of political parties and efforts to influence them are standard operational tactics of MI5 and other agencies of the British state security services. And their work becomes apparent the moment we begin to ask why certain things have happened. Why, for example, would persons within the leadership of the SNP be prepared to commit perjury in order to destroy Alex Salmond? Why would the SNP-led Scottish government legislate for a route to independence that effectively gives London the power to always refuse consent? Why would the SNP refuse to support a voting strategy that would result in a pro-independence supermajority in the Edinburgh parliament? Why would a pro-independence party align itself with unionist parties in England to save the union by stopping Brexit – the one change that guarantees the breakup of the union? No genuinely pro-independence party anywhere, as Sinn Féin’s leader in Dublin, Mary Lou McDonald, said quite clearly, would do these things. So, why was this the consistent behaviour of the SNP? You can come to your own conclusions.
So, yes, a few things are happening, Donna. But there are things, to answer your question, the Yes movement can do to win. For a start, we can all stop being so bloody naïve. There are no messiahs and no one political party or faction of the movement can represent the whole independence movement. We can acknowledge the fact that not everyone is always who they say they are, and that some people – most people – can be bought or otherwise persuaded to act in ways contrary to their political beliefs and principles. English gold and skeletons in closets have always been Britain’s best friends. Yet, this does not mean we must reject the SNP. It remains a powerful instrument for the independence cause. Both inside and outside the party things can be done to influence the direction it takes and the things that it does – and we should be making that effort.
In my last article, I wrote about the necessity of a national Assembly representative of the entire movement. Please do read it. We need a vehicle that can at once reclaim the power arrogated by the SNP and bring the SNP and every other group together in order to give us direction and momentum. Independence is very much within reach, but unless we take responsibility and put the required prophylactics in place the prognosis is awful. As I have said a thousand times: No matter what the polls say and no matter the number of seats ‘we’ have, unless we have a political body capable of movement we are going nowhere. Writing these things has not made me a popular person. But, as much as I hope I can be, I am not here to be your friend. I am here to help secure independence. And I sincerely hope I have answered your question.
Life of an MI5 Spy – Stella Rimington