Discover more from Notes on Nationalism
Pulling Off a Plaster
The first day of the Rutherglen by-election told a story about the fortunes of the challengers. Plus: Robin Harper goes from Green to Reds.
Journalists are sadists. They get off on the pain of politicians. When you stand for election they seek out the thing that will most discomfort you and invite you to become embarrassed.
The launches of the by-election campaigns in Rutherglen and Hamilton West tell a story about what the media believe those areas of discomfort are for the main challengers.
For Labour, the media decided to punch at an old bruise: differences of opinion between the UK party and the Scottish party. On one level such stories are a reworking of a classic frame for political journalists: a split party. In the Scottish context it also offers a nationalist framing too: will the party follow the Scottish leader or the UK leader? Both stories only work if Labour allows them to.
It was this that Labour’s brilliant candidate Michael Shanks was pressed on at his launch. He clearly understands that the only way to deal with these stories of discomfort is to refuse to be uncomfortable. He came over looking confident with the idea that Scottish Labour has its own personality and priorities. More importantly, as a candidate, he showed he was his own man: elect him and he’ll go to Parliament to say what he thinks rather than to do what he’s telt. On the first proper day of the campaign, he stood in front of the assembled media and showed the questions didn’t make him flinch. Job done.
The other classic story around a by-election is that an unpopular leader is staying away out of fear that their presence on the doorstep is turning voters away. Humza Yousaf clearly wanted to pull that plaster off quickly by personally dominating the first day of the SNP’s campaign. He knows he’ll face calls for a change in leader and a shift to the right with Kate Forbes if he loses in Rutherglen anyway, so he has nothing to lose by being the face of the campaign.
The problem is that he is the problem, so every appearance that seeks to avoid that perception problem deepens the substantial problem: the more voters see of him the less they like.
The Camera Never Lies
The other problem with Yousaf dominating was the contrasting image it left of the two candidates, as captured in the images below.
Of course, the photographs are part of media sadism. In Things Can Only Get Better, John O’Farrell wrote brilliantly about how Michael Foot seemed to be constantly providing visual metaphors for Labour’s faltering 1983 campaign:
Photgraphers from The Sun would follow him around hospitals and wait until he was standing in front of the sign saying “Psychiatric Ward” or whatever. ‘Could you move to your left please Mr Foot, we want to get you under the sign saying “Terminal cases only”’.
The true status of a party is always revealed by the photographs: Labour’s candidate confidently exposing himself to scrutiny, the SNP’s peaking over the shoulder of the leader is a visual representation of the two party’s fortunes. One Labour candidate this week described conversations with voters as being “like a warm bath.” An SNP Councillor told The Herald that he could not “in good conscience” ask people to vote for the SNP.
When the SNP’s candidate was permitted to speak to the media, she was asked about whether Glasgow SNP MSP Nicola Sturgeon would be seen on the campaign. Then, with perfect comic timing, this happened:
From Green to the Reds
Former leader of the Scottish Greens Robin Harper has said he has left the party and will now vote Labour. He says “across the country, Labour are the only opportunity for getting the Tories out.”
It’s easy to understand why a committed environmentalist would have lost faith in this way. Harper’s party grew out of the inclusive, internationalist politics of the old Ecology Party, Harvie’s grew out of the divisive nationalist, politics of the divisive Yes movement.
It’s why Harvie went to the international climate conference, not to argue for climate action but to criticise Greenpeace and defend the SNP’s policy of fossil fuel extraction. It’s why his party rule out ever working with Labour, a party committed to massive green investment, if Labour don’t become a nationalist party. It’s why he now finds himself in a fued with both industry and unions over his heat pump policy. A nationalist party exists to fight and defeat, not to persuade and unite.
In case you missed it…
You probably did miss it, but the UK and Scottish Governments have completed a review of the Fiscal Framework. Prof David Bell writes on why this should be more of a thing. I suspect the reason there has been little attention is identified in the IFS commentary on the framework: Scotland gets the decision making on income tax while still having the security of redistribution across the UK. It’s a story about the benefits of the Union so the SNP don’t want a row.
The Ferret has an important story about cuts to emergency provision in Glasgow for those who would otherwise become rough sleepers. This feels like cuts to services that they assume have no voice to raise in complaint so please do share this one.
These Islands looks into SNP Government claims on tidal power. Once again it asks why a nation with few customers but large capacity would choose to remove itself from the larger pool of bill payers and the investment it brings.