The SNP has forgotten how to fight for social justice

The SNP has forgotten how to fight for social justice
The Guardian, by Kevin McKenna 


When the SNP finally wakes up and realises that it had better fire the starting gun soon on the second independence referendum, it will be faced immediately with some decisions that will have a significant bearing on the final outcome.


The first one will be to determine who decides what goes into the new white paper on independence. This must be followed quickly by a decision on how significant a role the party itself will play during the campaign.


The SNP, which has already been in power for nine years, is set fair for at least another decade. This is why those who have spun their tales for it for a few years are highly prized by the corporate community: not only have they gained experience in how decisions are taken but they can lead their new paymasters directly to the front doors of ministers, in the secure knowledge that the person sitting behind the desk will not belong to a different party.


In the last two years, several of the SNP’s most able advisers and strategists have walked into highly paid jobs with companies keen to maintain some connection with the party. If you want to see them in action, secure a small personal loan from the bank to pay the entrance fee to the SNP’s next massive party convention. In the hall set aside for the purposes of allowing corporations to sell you their products, you will soon see how busy is the bridge between the SNP’s back office and the private sector.


It’s reasonable to conclude that by the time the SNP finally leaves office, around 20 years will have elapsed. A chap could grow accustomed to snapping his fingers and making things happen during a 20-year administration. Why would he want to jeopardise it by sailing in the choppy waters of the constitution? In this place, danger lurks everywhere.


To lose two referendums in a row would lead to disillusionment among the 100,000 new members and a possible return to apathy or apathy’s little brother: the Labour party in Scotland. To actually win the next one is virtually to consign your party to the history books, with a note of thanks for helping us over the line. Who needs all that uncertainty when you can have a ball for a few more years, getting people to do as you ask and embellishing your CV?


I’m sure, though, that once it realises that, in an affluent country that isn’t actually being physically occupied by a hostile foreign foe, enthusiasm for self-determination is a fragile and capricious thing: it won’t last for ever. This concerns those of us who would prefer that they get off their arses and grasp the moment at a time when the rest of the UK is turning in on itself and on the verge of committing the biggest act of economic self-immolation in European political history.


What concerns some of us more is the prospect of the SNP once more leading the independence movement from the front and brooking very little opposition over tactics and authorship of the second white paper. The SNP, you see, is fast becoming the Yes movement’s weakest link. Its mismanagement of the NHS has been evident for many years, as is its excuse that Scotland has an ageing population. Well, there’s one way of solving that: get people to drink and smoke more and take bobbies off the street. Isn’t having an ageing population a desired socioeconomic outcome?


But it is its spiteful little illiberal interventions that hint at something distasteful with the SNP; that, underneath all the lofty rhetoric about fairness and equality that lets it win elections and hang on to power, there is a reactionary core.


Despite saying all the right things about the spread of betting shops in deprived areas, the party curiously backed away from giving local authorities powers to prevent the big betting companies buy up empty shops. Sure enough, there was a stall at the SNP conference the other week where you could get a selfie with the Scottish Cup courtesy of… the Association of British Bookmakers.


The party’s backing of a third runway at Heathrow was another puzzle. Why would a party with a commitment to making Scotland the greenest wee country on the planet want to have anything remotely to do with a project that will pollute everything in its path and very likely be in breach of EU regulations on noise and air pollution? If the SNP’s fabled 56(-ish) at Westminster are not too busy collecting rents on their second and third properties they will find that they will be required to ensure that Theresa May gets her way on this.


Meanwhile, the fight for justice for miners falsely convicted of wrongdoing by a politically motivated police force during the 1984/85 miners’ strike goes on. Many of these men were deliberately targeted on the orders of the Tories because of trade union activity and subsequently blacklisted and unable to find work because of the stain of conviction. Again, curiously, the SNP has refused to pardon these men or mount a public inquiry into the conduct of the police.


In the wake of the SNP’s plans to pardon men convicted of same-sex sexual offences under outdated legislation, the Labour MSP Neil Findlay has written to the justice secretary, Michael Matheson, requesting that wrongly convicted miners receive a similar act of compassion. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though.


If the Labour party in Scotland wasn’t still starring in its own grim pantomime, it would be exposing the reactionary nature of the SNP much more effectively than it does. My fear is that the SNP’s essential conservatism will be laid bare during a second referendum. I’d like to see the SNP take a back seat next time and then disappear when independence is gained and a government with an authentic commitment to social justice is installed.