I found it difficult to get involved in campaigning this time around. Campaigning with the SNP is very different compared to campaigning with Yes: there are all sorts of party protocols and regulations and whatnot, there are policies that I may or may not agree with, there are partisan considerations which I might not be interested in. But let’s keep it simple: what are political parties for? To further a political cause and enact policy according to common views.
Keir Hardie’s original Labour party was founded to be the political arm of the Trade Union movement; the Scottish Socialist Party are the political arm of the Socialist movement; the Scottish Green Party are the political arm of the environmental movement.
What does that make the SNP? The political arm of the Scottish independence movement.
So with ten days to go with the election, I figure I may as well make a go of it: why SNP?
I’ve already talked about why I back Ronnie Cowan on the blog before, and nothing has changed. He has consistently proven himself an able and nuanced debater, an insightful speaker, and a considerate representative of Inverclyde’s SNP branch.
We are into the final days of the most important UK general election in recent memory, yet the way the debate has been going, you’d think we were still waiting for the referendum. Scotland is at the forefront of discussion; the feasibility of Scotland’s economic autonomy is questioned; the practicality of nuclear weapons is challenged. You could be forgiven for thinking the 7th of May is a second independence referendum. Certainly you’d think everyone would’ve moved on, right?
Some lay this at the feet of the SNP. After all, weren’t the SNP “trounced” in September, rendering the matter settled for a generation? With almost 80,000 new SNP members in the last seven months alone – eclipsing the Scottish membership of all other parties combined – and several polls announcing majority support for another referendum within the next ten or even five years suggests otherwise. No, a referendum in the next five years is not “once in a generation.” A referendum in the next ten years is not “once in a generation.” Yet if that is what the majority of the people of Scotland want, who in blazes are you to deny them the opportunity for them to make that decision, if it’s what they want?
The SNP, even with their hearts broken, acknowledged the decision made on the 18th of September by the larger part of the people of Scotland. New Labour, the Conservatives, and the Neoliberal Democrats fought an election platform denying the people of Scotland the chance to make that decision at all. Do not lecture me on the SNP “dividing the country” because they wanted to offer a choice to the people of Scotland – one that they haven’t been asked in 300 years. When it comes down to it, the SNP fought for 2 million people’s right to vote for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom. The Westminster parties did not – in fact, they campaigned to prevent those 2 million voices from asserting that choice in a referendum. And what we see from the likes of Mr Murphy, Ms Davidson, and Mr Rennie, is that even if polls show a majority of Scots want another referendum within the next 20, 15, 10 or even 5 years, those same parties will fight to stop it from happening again. Just like they did before.
This is why people say the SNP are the party of Scotland: they did more for No voters than any of the UK parties ever did.
Elections, even in the UK, are all about one thing: a community choosing which candidate and which party they want to represent them. It isn’t to elect a prime minister, or a cabinet, or even which party is in power. As a constituency, all Inverclyde can do is choose who they think will represent their interests. Yet parties are still important, for even the most rebellious candidate will more often than not whipped into the party line. It’s all well and good if you are a compassionate, intelligent, principled individual, but when the chips are down, most of the time the party will come first. So you have to consider which party you believe has your best interests at heart, whether they’re in power or not.
Well, I can tell you what the SNP have done for me personally.
I have a Higher National Diploma, and an Honour’s Degree, Bachelor of Arts. I travelled to the Glasgow Metropolitan (then Glasgow College of Building & Printing) four days a week from my home in Gourock, an hour’s journey on train and foot, for two years; then I went to University of the West of Scotland (then University of Paisley), 40 minutes by train, for another two years. Scotland’s education has always been distinct from that of England & Wales, but the graduate endowment scheme introduced just as I started studying meant I would pay later, rather than before. If I had to pay even £3,000 in tuition fees like in England or Wales – not to mention funds for supplies, travel costs, accomodation, etc – then I would never have been to college or university, certainly not in Glasgow or Paisley. The SNP’s commitment to free education has made my adult life as I know it possible.
I have a few medical conditions which require medication. I take three different types of medication daily: one of these is very expensive for the NHS, because the pharmaceutical company which produces the drug has not released the formula into the public domain. As a result, I should be paying upwards of £27 for two weeks’ prescriptions for no reason other than a company’s greed. Even if Scotland was in line with England & Wales’ £8.20, that’d still be £8.20 I’d have to pay for my own misfortune. I have zero patience for those who call prescriptions a “middle-class subsidy”: all I know is that without the SNP’s free prescriptions, I’d be in much worse shape than I am now.
I can quite easily point to the exact laws and acts introduced under Blair, Brown and Cameron which have made my life more difficult for little gain. I won’t get into the specifics of my home situation, but I will say that I was personally affected by such policies as the Bedroom Tax: the SNP’s mitigation of that monstrous legislation is one of the more direct examples of the SNP aiding me on a personal scale. Likewise, the SNP’s Council Tax Freeze has been little short of a lifesaver for me despite my local council’s bleating about funds, and it being yet another of those magical “middle class subsidies.” I, and I suspect many others in my situation, are quite happy to let the middle classes enjoy these “subsidies” if it makes life easier for the rest of us.
Those are all well-known and popular SNP policies. But there’s something else that the SNP offered me and my family that I haven’t had for a long time – community. I grew up during a time where it felt like my community was experiencing a disaster in slow-motion: voluntary organisations, clubs, groups, all sorts of gatherings were starting to melt away. The devastation of Inverclyde’s industry was washing away our community in the undertow, and it seemed nothing could be done about it. But in the last ten years, the tide has come back in: we’re seeing greater support for communities, new and old, through funding and regeneration. And through it all, the SNP have kept in regular contact – even though our MP, MSP, MEP and most of the local council were all New Labour, the SNP government at Holyrood still worked hard to see Inverclyde benefit.
But this is not a Holyrood election: what could the SNP offer to the people of Scotland within the structure of the UK? After all, people seem happy to vote SNP at Holyrood, but are still reluctant to vote anything other than New Labour for Westminster. Is there anything the SNP can do there?
Well, we’ve already seen what they can do. In March 2006, Angus MacNeil was one of three MPs who exposed the Cash for Honours scandal which rocked the establishment and even brought the then-Prime Minister Tony Blair under intense scrutiny by police. This action made Mr MacNeil many powerful enemies, but most importantly, it showed how an SNP MP can make a direct, transformation affect on the Westminster government. Back in 1988, another SNP MP – one Mr Alex Salmond – interrupted Nigel Lawson’s Tax Reform Budget, and was summarily dismissed from the chamber: an action which was just the first in a series of calamities to befall Thatcher’s third term in government, and arguably a nudge which set the wheels in motion for the next thirty years.
These are examples of what one SNP MP can do. The SNP have, thus far, never had more MPs in Westminster than 11 in one term. Yet even with less than 5% of members in the Commons, and even less including the House of Lords, the SNP are treated as if they’re some unstoppable force. Ian Davidson once accused SNP Pete Wishart of trying to “shout down” their opponents – quite how 6 MPs would manage to shout down over 250 New Labour MPs, let alone 300 Conservatives, is beyond me. But I’m hardly going to complain about that.
The media and establishment are wringing their hands in mortal terror about an “SNP coup” led by “the most dangerous woman in Britain,” regularly comparing what is increasingly considered the preferred party of Scotland with the architects of the worst atrocities in history. This is because the SNP do present a very real threat – to them. They are threatening their privilege, their extravagances, their opulent lifestyles, their pride, their sense of order. The SNP want to abolish the House of Lords, scrap Trident, end Austerity, hold the powerful and the wealthy to account – in other words, everything the UK establishment stands for and defends to the last breath. So of course the press barons, the international tycoons, the career politicians, and the landed gentry wail and moan an weep and scream bloody murder on the front pages. The problem is they don’t seem to realise that the people of Scotland, and the UK at large, don’t share that existential fear of what the SNP offer – in fact, a great deal actively support it.
The SNP cannot be another “Feeble Fifty,” for the Scottish members of the UK Labour Party must toe the party line, even if their party leaders are incompetent or corrupt. There is more, much more, to being an MP than voting in the commons – though that, of course, is vital – as we have seen in the cases of Messrs MacNeil and Salmond. Imagine what having even more SNP MPs could do: what changes they could make to redress the appalling imbalance between the elite of Westminster and the UK establishment and the vast majority of all the people of these isles. The UK establishment fought tooth and nail to keep Scotland’s resources in the UK, but they didn’t reckon on the electorate doing what they pleased after it. The decision has been made, and come May, perhaps it will become clear that even if the majority of the people of Scotland didn’t support independence in the referendum, it’s clear they want something different from what Westminster are offering.
Yet beyond the policies and realities of politics, the SNP have become something of an extended family to me. Before the referendum, we were friends with local SNP members, activists, and local figures – hard not to, given the SNP’s raison d’etre. We went out together, watched each other’s children, helped each other. After the referendum, many of the Yes activists migrated naturally to the SNP – even a few from other parties jumped over from Labour, the SSP, the Greens, and more. They did this not only because of the SNP, but because of the friendships they made during the referendum. They weren’t ready to let go of that family, that sense of fire-forged brotherhood that can happen in politics. And neither was I – the people in the photos spread throughout this post feel like family to me.
For years, apathy, disenfranchisement, and disillusionment made me feel like I shouldn’t have anything to do with politics. Now, I feel like my political opinion matters. Years, now, of engaging, debating, and even arguing with these people has given me the confidence and strength to realise that I can make a difference. My vote does matter. My opinion does matter. My voice does matter. That is the greatest gift the SNP have given the people of Scotland – by turning Yes Scotland over to the people, a grassroots movement rather than top-down organisation, they have offered them a route of empowerment which they grasped with both hands. Not enough to get over the finish line, but closer than they’d ever been before – and have repaid the SNP by making them the largest party in Scotland. The SNP has changed; it is no longer the same party it was on the 17th of September. It is reborn.
It feels like this is my life now. After this election, there’ll be another one next year, for Holyrood. The year after that, we’ll be voting for the council. Then the year after that, the European elections. And then we start it all over again. Politics is hard work: canvassing, leafleting, researching, debating, and conversing takes a lot of exertion. But with my friends in the SNP, it doesn’t seem like work at all.
Inverclyde is changing. Be a part of it. Vote Ronnie Cowan; vote SNP.