The Red Tory Problem
‘Red Tories Out.’ The Red Tories are out. Have these folk not been paying attention? What on earth were they protesting against?
Scottish Labour have one MP sitting on the benches of the Commons. We are the third largest party in the Scottish Parliament. Outside of Local Government, Scottish Labour is not in power anywhere, and even in former strongholds like Glasgow and Lanarkshire our jackets are on the shoogliest of pegs.
Just over a week ago, the Prime Minister and Home Secretary took the breath and clenched the buttocks of decent liberal types everywhere. Yet against this backdrop, a cadre of Scottish nationalists decided to direct their ire against Kezia Dugdale and chums? I mean seriously, what a total riddy.
This embarrassment will be felt most acutely by the sensible SNP members who were inside the SECC keeping warm and thinking hard, not outside protesting against an opposition party in the cold. It is also important to note that many of those protesting may not even be SNP supporters, let alone members. Yet this display highlights a strain of nationalism that frankly needs to grow up.
In this outstanding Drouth piece, Andrew Tickell drew a vivid picture of the ghoulish sway that the Scottish Labour bogeyman held in the consciousness of Scottish Nationalism. Things had changed when he wrote this piece. They have changed even further since. Scottish Labour is not a foul enemy waiting to be taught a well deserved lesson. The lesson has been delivered, and we are busy struggling to find our way in Scotland’s redrawn political cartography. We are not the only ones.
Scotland’s colouring book and crayon nationalists share a trait with some of the far left. They are far happier wallowing in the indulgent moralising of protest, than confronting the equivocating and sometimes cynical reality of power.
Scottish Labour have not been in power in Holyrood since 2007. I understand that while the folk memory of a fiefdom still lingers, the reality increasingly does not. The policy challenges in education, health, transport and justice cannot be laid at the door of Scottish Labour . I think for some Scottish Nationalists, and I stress some, there is a reason they don’t want to move on from the Scottish Labour bogeyman. It means confronting reality. The reality that we have had nearly a decade of SNP Government, and while it has not been a catastrophically bad administration, it has not been positively transformative either.
It means acknowledging that being an established party of Government, means becoming a sort of Scottish establishment. For a movement that so often has defined itself against elites wielding power, elements of it do no want to reconcile itself to the fact that they belong to a type of elite wielding power.
Cannier yes supporters know that the flag waving and mindless banners can only be tolerated so far at a critical juncture for their movement. The intellectual energy of yes supporters can be used to gloat over vanquished foes, or it can start to build the case described in Gordon Guthrie’s challenging new E-Book.
Chris Deerin’s excellent piece on Saturday, I think, speaks for many Scots. We are not yet convinced by the merits of Independence. There is however, in our fluid and uncertain politics, an openness to the notion that simply wasn’t there before. You’ve got a new stage. What performance do you want to put on?
The core reason I’ve blogged here at medium it is to talk about nationalism. I think the way Scottish Labour talks about nationalism hurts the fibre of our civic conversation, and actually hurts our own political interests. ‘I don’t care what you say, you are a nasty nationalist whether you think you are or not. Now, um, vote for us.’
I’m not a Red Tory. When I have a moan on twitter about the latest misdeed of the UK Government, don’t tell me I voted for it. I did not. I voted to keep the UK system of Government, but with a very different party in control of that system. To overlook this, is not just a basic failure of human empathy, but an act of political self harm in the long term. I and others like me, might, just might be persuaded of the merits of the Scottish independence this time round. If a Scottish Nationalist does not like to be distorted and caricatured by his or her’s opponents, then neither does a Scottish Labour supporter. Vilification doesn’t win votes.
We live in a country filled with distressed liberals and dismayed social democrats. We might vote differently in another independence referendum. We might not. But banners re-fighting old battles with Scottish Labour, or indeed, the Tory Liberal coalition won’t win us over.
We could be dealing with a political system balanced by the tragic equilibrium of a pair of Pyrrhic victories. Scottish Labour who won a referendum but lost the political system they wanted. The SNP who lost the referendum, but won the political system they didn’t want.
If the wider yes movement is going to break this deadlock it has to make a choice. Do you want to flaunt your moral superiority over your opponents, or do you want to persuade them? As a Scottish Labour member I know all too well that you cannot do both.