I’m flexible with my mental age. Sometimes I feel little different from when I was an eight-year-old: naive, enthusiastic, earnest, preoccupied with justice and fairness. When my friends fight, I feel like the small child when mummy and daddy are fighting, all petted lip and watery eyed. And other times, I feel as old as the hills: cynical, resigned, cautious, preoccupied with what’s best for everyone. And when my friends fight, I feel like the old grandfather butting in to stop an argument he has no right to impress upon.
Whether I am young or old in outlook depends entirely on whims of circumstances, but sometimes I find myself both at once: an ancient baby, a newborn elder. Maybe there’s something in it: new babies tend to look like old men.
… I think this metaphor’s running away from me fast, so I’ll move on. This is about people arguing on the internet, which seems like a big deal to all those involved, but probably isn’t that much of a big deal in the grand scheme of things – certainly not considering the battles yet to come.
People are disagreeing about what’s to be done with their votes this year. Last year, it was all so simple – with First Past the Post being what it is, it was tremendously simple for the SNP to position themselves as the party to continue promoting Scottish independence and the party who would fight for the devolution other parties have been dragging their heels over for decades. Hence no less than 35 of Scotland’s 59 seats individually voted in SNP MPs with overall majorities, vote shares ranging from 50% to over 60% – even the lowest SNP vote share was still a respectable 33.8%, greater than all but four candidates from every other party (three of which actually won).
This year, the vagaries of AMS and D’Hondt have muddied the waters. I don’t doubt everyone’s intentions are true – all are in favour of independence, but they disagree over how best to achieve a pro-independence majority. To me, there is only one certainty which I think everyone would agree on – that regardless of the makeup of the next parliament, it will all be for naught if people vote for more unionist MSPs than pro-independence MSPs of any colour. So the only certain way to stop that from happening is to convince people not to vote for unionist parties. There are still a tremendous number of Scottish voters who plan on voting Red, and far too many Blues and Oranges for my liking. And in the end, would it really matter if 60% of Scots voters elected pro-independence parties if actual support for independence wasn’t reflected similarly?
Alas, we’re going to be seeing arguments like this. We’ve seen them even within parties: older SNP members than I will surely recall the 79 group and others, and the SSP and Greens have had their moments, to put it lightly. Unionist commentators, journalists and politicos will doubtless be grinning with delight in seeing the SNP called “terrifying zealots” by other independence supporters, and for other independence supporters to be called unionist stooges. They will surely be cackling with glee: finally, those nasty nats are tearing each other apart! Just as the unionist vote was split in the general election, so it will be in Scotland as all the pro-independence parties eat each other! It will all be back to Business As Usual, a return to Normal Politics, and we can put all this horrid constitutional arguing behind us…
… Only that’s not going to happen, is it?
See, there’s a fundamental difference between the SNP and the unionist parties. For the SNP, government is a means to their goal of independence; for the unionists, government is the goal in and of itself. For those genuine politicians who want to change the world, it is the position from which they can bring their brand of politics to the UK; for careerists, it’s a cosy cloister to build a little nest egg; for those raised in the political lifestyle, it offers them a job and sets them up for life. So when one unionist party or another wins an election, particularly a majority, they are victorious: they have achieved their goal, and can do what they like for the next few years. Only sometimes they’ll lose: another party will come in, undo all the work they did, and after another few years, they’ll try to undo all their work… and it goes on, and on.
For decades, the Other Party winning Scotland was either part of a greater, more important UK-wide victory, or a consolation prize for a UK-wide defeat – and each victory or defeat would only last a few years. Contrast this with the SNP’s goal. Independence, as the anti-independence campaign were fond of pointing out, could be a point of no return: a threshold from which there is no turning back. It was very unlikely to be reversed half a decade down the line, and I cannot recall any former member of the British Empire re-applying. The Other Party have achieved their ultimate goal – government – many times. The SNP have not achieved theirs. Where the Other Party allowed complacency in victory to take hold, it was because they won exactly what they wanted. And this is why I believe the SNP cannot become the Other Party – because how can they possibly rest on their laurels when they have not yet won their ultimate goal?
Some are worried about the SNP being somehow milquetoast on independence: that the lack of clarity on a second referendum is indicative of some sort of reluctance on their part. I remember they were saying much the same in 2007: “Alex Salmond doesn’t really want a referendum,” even as the Unionist parties were actively trying to stop one from taking place. Then it was “Alex Salmond’s looking for any excuse to kick a referendum into the long grass,” “there won’t be a referendum,” “he doesn’t really want independence anyway.” What’s changed, now that it’s Nicola Sturgeon allegedly trying to “avoid” another referendum?
It’s the same old song: the SNP don’t really want independence. They’re happy being in the eternal opposition, safe in the knowledge that they’ll never be held to account when Scotland turns out to be the only nation in the world that falls flat on its face the very day it takes its own future in its own hands. Never mind that the SNP have been fighting for independence for eighty years. Never mind that many of the elected officials started off as activists back when a vote for the SNP was considered a wasted vote. Never mind that support for independence has not stopped at 45%, with a clear majority in the younger half of the population.
If the SNP don’t want independence, then why is the British Establishment so eager to destroy them?
The SNP survived the ’79 group, and the extremists, and the poor electoral performances, and the constant, concerted attempts to wipe them out by the British establishment since its very inception. Meanwhile, other parties have come and gone: the Liberal Party were once the great foes of the Tories, before the Other Party took their place. Then the SDP went from securing a quarter of the vote within two years of its appearance, to shutting up shop a mere half-decade later. In Scotland, we had a proper Unionist Party for decades, before it was absorbed into the Tories we all know and despise. The National Liberals, the Progressives, the SLP, the ILP, the Communists – all of them had various levels of success, but they’re no longer with us. The SNP are still here – and as long as there is an independence movement, it will have a party.
Friends fight sometimes. In this election, we can expect there to be more fighting, especially when the way is not clear to everyone outside the determined. I’m not going to tell my friends to stop fighting with each other, even if I do happen to have a view on it. But I am going to look in the direction of our mutual opponents, the ones who campaigned to ensure that we remained a small percentage rather than a whole, who by their actions clearly preferred a Tory government to independence… and watch them laugh. Just like they laughed all the way to the polls in 2011. Just like they toasted the death of the SNP on the 19th of September 2014. “This time, the nats are finished, you’ll see!”
Keep laughing. After all, it only makes us stronger.