Discover more from Notes on Nationalism
The SNP are looking less and less relevant to the General Election debate in Scotland.
I take more than a passing interest in the idea of Scotland leaving the UK but I had missed that the SNP had published a new document on the subject. My first thought was ‘I suppose I should read it.’ But then I thought, why should I take independence more seriously than the SNP?
The overwhelming sense around the SNP at the moment is of a party going through the motions. Last week when they published the document on Immigration (didn’t read that one either) and journalists’ questions centred around why so much resource was being put behind a hypothetical question.
One thing around the coverage of the latest paper did snag my eye though. In August Humza Yousaf was asked the big question about a separate Scotland’s currency and replied “we’ll keep the pound.” This week Angus Robertson said “we will be moving as quickly as we can towards having a currency of our own.” The leadership of the SNP cannot be bothered to stick to a simple line on the central weakness of their 2014 case. John Ferry has written in similar terms to this. Their heart just isn’t in it.
In the absence of leadership from the SNP, the wider nationalist movement continues to gather to try to wish Scotland out of the Union. But the question mark at the end of this weekend’s The End of Britain? conference reveals their lack of belief too.
Being ignored is fatal in politics. Conflict with your political opponents is what keeps parties relevant in the debate. The SNP’s defining political position feels increasingly irrelevant to the debate of the moment. It’s easier than ever to ignore their cause. The SNP pretence on independence only works if there is a howl of rage from unionist opponents. The current response is, and should continue to be, a weary shrug of the shoulders.
The battlefield on which the early skirmishes of the general election are being fought does not suit the SNP. The conversation is about replacing the UK government rather than rejecting UK governance.
Think back to Nicola Sturgeon’s ability to place herself and her party as central to the story of a General Election. Then, as now, it was in the Conservative’s interests to amplify this story. Ed Miliband in Nicola Sturgeon’s pocket worked as a defining image because 2019 Sturgeon and 2019 Independence were credible threats. In 2023 nobody believes Humza Yousaf is in control of his own party let alone someone else’s. An effective tactic on Gaza this week was reminiscent of the SNP at its most relevant - but it was overshadowed by Yousaf’s weak leadership around the Matheson expenses scandal.
The SNP’s winning coalition was built on uniting fanatical nationalists with voters who were willing to ignore rational doubts about the wisdom of leaving the UK if it offered change from the status quo. At the last three general elections in Scotland, the unpopular status quo seemed to stretch on forever and change was too far over the horizon for those voters who longed for it. Today the UK’s status quo is decaying ever faster and it is independence that has disappeared over the horizon.
Political frames are like concrete: they harden if undisturbed. The longer the current framing of the Scottish general election debate continues, the more difficult it will be for the SNP to change it.