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By Jason Michael
EVERYWHERE WE LOOK on Scottish social media we see the same tired old refrain, ‘I Trust Nicola.’ I do not trust Nicola Sturgeon, and this should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. But my inability to trust the current leader of the Scottish National Party does not mean that I have given up all hope in the party. Thankfully, as a socialist and a republican, I have never been a member of the SNP. Thus, I have managed to keep myself reasonably detached from the Byzantine and stormy internal politics of this less-than revolutionary political party, yet involved enough in the politics of independence to see in it, from time to time, a useful ally in the wider campaign for our nation’s independence. Still, given its size and influence, it has all the potential to strengthen or destabilise the entirety of the movement and the cause — and this is precisely what has happened.
Whether readers are prepared to accept reality or not, the facts speak for themselves. The First Minister has misled the Scottish parliament, she has acted with other senior members of the SNP in a conspiracy involving the unholy trinity of the British establishment in Scotland — the crown, the British civil service, and the unionist media — in a potentially criminal project designed to imprison Alex Salmond. Irrespective of the dubious legality of this behaviour, the fact that she has colluded with the instruments of the British state, as the de facto leader of the independence movement, makes her position and her continued leadership of the SNP wholly untenable.
Rather than accept the validity of the case being made by a number of pro-independence bloggers and other activists, the leadership of the SNP has mounted a campaign to both vilify and marginalise those who have worked tirelessly over the past decade to make the case for independence and build up the movement in a hostile media environment dominated by British government-aligned outlets.
The fallout caused by these events, from the chaotic mishandling of the party’s internal complaints procedures to the First Minister’s present refusal to accept the fact she has been caught red-handed, has driven a wedge right through the heart of the independence movement. Rather than accept the validity of the case being made by a number of pro-independence bloggers and other activists, the leadership of the SNP has mounted a campaign to both vilify and marginalise those who have worked tirelessly over the past decade to make the case for independence and build up the movement in a hostile media environment dominated by British government-aligned outlets. This monstrous behaviour — a profound betrayal of our greatest democratic values — has resulted in a situation in which a growing number of people now feel alienated from their political leadership. It has affected a break in the solidarity of the movement; turning pro-independence activists and campaigners against one another. It has endangered all of the political achievements we have made since devolution and threatens to undermine the entire campaign for independence.
Yet, as things continue to deteriorate for the leadership of the SNP, what we are witnessing both within the party and across that fraction of the independence movement still fiercely loyal to the person of Nicola Sturgeon, is a frantic and desperate effort to regroup and circle the wagons. And we can understand why this is happening. Both the political careerists within the party apparatus and the pro-independence culturati who depend on the patronage of the National Party rightly intuit that their incomes and fortunes depend on their subaltern and hegemonic relationship to the political elite of the new Scottish establishment. Across the movement, among those whose connection to the party is purely a matter of loyalty and emotion, support for the current leadership of the party continues due to ignorance and fear.
While no one can doubt the passion and commitment of the grassroots independence movement in Scotland, the frustrating reality is that this movement has been left without political leadership since the end of 2014. Unlike the situation in Ireland, where Sinn Féin and the broader Republican movement has engaged the people of Ireland and provided necessary political leadership and ideological education for over a century, the independence movement in Scotland has been left entirely to its own devices and so has been reduced to what the Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci described as a ‘generic loyalty, of a military kind:’
The mass following is simply for ‘manoeuvre,’ and is kept happy by means of moralising sermons, emotional stimuli, and messianic myths of an awaited golden age, in which all present contradictions and miseries will be automatically resolved and made well.
Without any real or meaningful grasp on the realities of real world politics, without any training in political theory, and with no clearly definable ideology of independence, the great majority of pro-independence supporters in Scotland have been kept on a tight leash. The extent of their political involvement has been limited to the position of a chorus or audience hyped-up by sloganistic rhetoric and vague promises of jam tomorrow, and their vision of independence has been narrowly defined as something manifest in one political party and more particularly in the messianic adulation of the leader of that party. It is therefore perfectly understandable why so many in such a movement would place a quasi-religious trust in the party and the leader. Furthermore, it is perfectly understandable why to such a movement any difficulties in the party or any challenges to the party would equate to a potential problem for the future of the cause of independence. This, then, explains why we are seeing such uncritical support for Nicola Sturgeon and the leadership of the SNP despite the irrefutable and damning evidence against them. It also explains, in large part, why the imaginations of so many in the movement have been limited to a point at which the SNP and its current leadership are seen as the only and last chance for the people of Scotland to regain their independence.
It is therefore perfectly understandable why so many in such a movement would place a quasi-religious trust in the party and the leader.
This is not clever politics, and, as has been pointed out a number of times, contains within it all the potential for the creation of a totalitarian style of Scottish politics in the future. That the SNP, under the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon, has allowed such a situation to arise is reason enough to have her ousted from her position and for the rank-and-file membership of the party to act without delay to remove and replace those at the top responsible for this unmitigated mess. It is simply a fiction to imagine that this or anytime is a last chance for the politics of independence.
The cause for Scottish independence is as old as the union, and it will continue for as long as our union with England exists. And while we all hope it will not last for much longer, the politics of a nation do not depend on the immediate and present requirements or desires of any individual. Many Scots hoping for independence and who have worked for independence have lived and died over the past three-hundred years – and yet, without their efforts and sacrifices, we would not be where we are now. independence may not be tomorrow or the next day but the work we do now, the sacrifices we make, will continue to progress the cause of independence and make it easier to achieve in the future. That so many people in Scotland are struggling to come to terms with this idea is a terrible indictment of the SNP’s failure to engage and educate the independence movement. So, whatever happens, this is the work we must begin. We must become a more educated and mature movement, and only then will we have the tools we need to prepare us to weather whatever storms may come.
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