Sunday 23 August 2020

Dead Parrots.

I've kind of lost interest in "the blogging". This is partly because of the very argument that I made in my last blog. There isn't going to be a second independence referendum and yet even talking about it, to explain why not, only feeds the narrative that there might be.

But Scottish politics goes on and there are a few small lights at the end of the tunnel to indicate that others get that.

The estimable Dani Garavelli  made a radio programme for the BBC this week, "Scotland's Uncivil War" which started to look at what there not being a referendum might ultimately mean. I would strongly commend it. The civil war she refers to was not the larger contest between Unionism and Separatism but rather the internal war within the SNP, which is already in its early stages in the aftermath of the conclusion of the Alex Salmond trial. 

Her contributors, many themselves in the nationalist camp, largely endorsed the theory that the SNP is, or at least has become, two Parties. There is the fundamentalist wing for whom Independence is, and always will be, the Party's only real purpose. If there was the prospect of a second referendum tomorrow or even the prospect of a unilateral declaration of independence, they would be up for it in a moment.  Despite the self same group being most likely to endorse the "secret oil fields" or "whisky export tax" nonsense which features in the nationalist blogosphere, they are also those given to admitting that if the price of "Freeedum!" was living in a cave and subsisting on dried bread (and whisky), it would all still be worth it to throw off "the English yoke". Even if a second referendum was lost, once they had exhausted conspiracy theories about why, or even whether, they had failed, they'd soon move on to demanding a further contest. That's what happened in 2014.

But there is second significant grouping. The current "apparatus" of not just central but local government, including a large part of the third sector. They have a significant interest in the status quo of well paid elected and/or supportive roles. They are not against independence per se but they are aware, not least at the level of their own personal wellbeing, of the cost of trying and failing again. They are also much less certain they would win a second vote,not least as they get their information from sources beyond The National and Wings over Scotland. They therefor wish to proceed more cautiously.

The two groups view the current (don't forget of less than six months duration) polling quite differently. The first group see it as a moment to be seized (even though, logically, during a pandemic, it can't actually be seized). The second group however see these polls as the first steps to securing what Gramsci would have defined as ideological hegemony for  the idea of Scotland becoming independent. In the meantime they are content to wait. That this serves their personal interest of not losing what they have, in pursuit of what they want, is of course a mere incidental.

There are all sorts of divides here, not least age. It is easier to contemplate a long game if you are thirty five rather than sixty five. But there is also geographical place of employment. It is a much more palatable existence to be in power, at Holyrood or local government in Scotland, than to be in permanent opposition in "a foreign parliament" in London. And the former group have much more to lose. 

There is also, frankly, rationality. The idea that there was a conspiracy to bring down Alex Salmond (from what position?) is risible, given that it would have had to involve not just the Police and Prosecution service but the SNP themselves. A conspiracy conducted under the radar of people within all three organisations who are, presumably on current polling, themselves supporters of Independence. Even within the SNP.  But undoubtedly a lot of Nationalist activists are prepared to sign up to this. Because, basically, conspiracy theories are the lifeblood of all nationalisms. Similarly, the idea that ending the union would be a simple and painless process requiring only a fractional expression of common will to be seamlessly achieved is not a view truthfully held by many of the second group. If you believe some of the contributor's to Ms Garavelli's programme, a view not even held by Nicola Sturgeon herself.

But the outcome of the real battle coming will depend on neither of these groups, although they will clearly provide most of the generals. It will be decided by the SNP rank and file members.

And here the parallels here are not good.

All Party memberships lie on the extreme flank of their leaderships. The leadership hold a number of important cards to control events: in dictating the composition of internal committees; by appointing full time staff and by controlling conference agendas. But, as the (then) broadly pro European leadership of the Tories learned in their dealings with their eurosceptic ground troops, just as surely as the (then) broadly centrist leadership of the Labour Party learned in their failure to stop Corbyn's election, these advantages only buy you time. Even with the complete dominance Hillary Clinton had of the (then) Democratic machine, she was nearly undone by Bernie Sanders. The (then) Republican leadership couldn't even achieve that scrape through when faced with the phenomenon of Trump. And in each and every case a good number of people supported the insurgency even if they thought it had no chance of prevailing with the wider electorate. Because they "believed" in it. 

So, at some point, there will be a reckoning between the SNP leadership and their rank and file. And why does anyone (careerists aside) join the SNP? To achieve independence. 

I don't think (even) the SNP ground troops would be daft enough to voluntarily get rid of the asset that is Nicola Sturgeon. Even her bitterest opponents would concede she is a politician of the first rank. There is as much prospect of Fidesz getting rid of Orban Viktor, the politician she most resembles.  Even if a videotape was found of her discussing with her closest staff, the Chief Constable and the Lord Advocate how to "fit up" Alex Salmond (ROFL),  I still doubt that would finish her.

But I equally don't think that the SNP Leadership will be able to get away with "waiting for a s.30" forever. 

And so at some point Nicola will have to face this down. Not, by constitutional jiggery pokery to prevent any farcical "plan B" from being debated by her Conference, but to face that "Plan B" down as being..... farcical.

Problem is that this would involve admitting Independence itself is a dead parrot for the forseeable future. So she might well not win. For, even if (a big if) the interminable competent management of a devolved administration was the alternative to Independence on offer, nobody (or at least no true believer) ever joined the SNP to pursue the goal of the interminable competent management of a devolved administration. 

The additional problem then for the SNP is that (perceived) competent management of a devolved administration was a significant reason they were ever elected at all. Certainly a big reason for their current polling. Bolted on, for some voters, of no more than a toleration of their other selling point. But take away that other selling point and voters will start to focus on whether they were actually that competent at all.