2013: Can the SNP move beyond preaching to the already converted? - Spectator Blogs

9 January 2013

Alex Salmond is back in Bute House, refreshed and chippered by a much-needed holiday. If 2012 was a year in which the Referendum Guns were first deployed it was still, in the end, something of a phoney war. At the risk of exhausting an easily-exhausted electorate, 2013 should see more action.

This week’s column at Think Scotland argues that the SNP need to broaden their vision and approach the campaign with a greater sense of generosity than is sometimes seen. At present they depend too heavily – in my view – on the idea that independence is a way to Tory-proof Scotland. That’s a negative, not a positive, case. Moreover it’s one that muddles a short-term inconvenience (A Tory-led government with little support in Scotland) with a long-term reality: independence is for life, not Christmas. Are you really asking people to dump 300 years of history just because you think David Cameron a wrong ‘un? He won’t be around for ever.

Anyway, this is the thing: if anti-Toryism is the SNP’s favourite stance then what is the point of the SNP? We already have the Labour party for that kind of thing? No, Labour and the Tories are not “just the same” and no, this line does not become any less ridiculous the more often or the more loudly it is repeated.

Suppose, however, that it did not contradict people’s own experience of politics? What message are the nationalists sending? Vote Yes to “save” Scotland from conservatives who cannot – we are told – possibly have Scotland’s best interests at heart. Vote Yes to “save” Scotland from a Labour party that is – at best, we are told – some kind of bizarre collection of Tory stooges.

Now I can understand why the nationalists think this makes sense. What baffles me is why they think people who are not already nationalists will be persuaded by it. Surely it cannot be stressed often enough that the Yes campaign requires the votes of thousands and thousands of Scots who do not ordinarily support the SNP. Insulting these voters – and their intelligence – seems an odd way to go about persuading them to support the nationalist cause.

Again, I understand why this strategy might seem appealing to people who already support independence. But preaching to the converted is not enough and nor, in the end, is this kind of negative anti-Tory argument for independence. Which, again, is why the Yes campaign needs a bigger, broader, better kind of vision if it is to prevail.

Campaigns are also about signalling. A good deal of the SNP’s present rhetoric is predicated upon the suspicion that many Scots are actually “anti-Scottish” simply because they fail to see matters in quite the same way as the nationalists do. It is as though there is only one true faith and all those who fail to fall into line are heretics.

That may be a comforting view from inside the nationalist citadel but it’s not the kind of signal liable to persuade other people that the SNP are as open-minded and generous as they could or even should be. In this respect at least there are times when elements of the nationalist movement remind me of some of the wilder elements within the American Republican party. There too we have witnessed a form of what has been termed “epistemic closure” or, to put it in less fancy terms, a reliance upon confirmation bias that eventually distorts and ruins political judgement.

Whole thing here, like.

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  • terregles2

    The SNP don’t need to be doing very much to put their case across. labourforindy are out and about building a lot of support. I have found that my work colleagues and friends etc are all doing a lot of research themselves on the Independence issue and they are exchanging the info amongst themselves.
    The internet has opened up so much and the latest things we are discussing is The Great Obfuscation-GERS-2006 and the Tony Blair annexing of 6000 SQ miles of Scottish sea water in 1999.
    We are all finding these things out for ourselves we never got the info from the SNP. In my office about three months ago amongst about 50 employees only about 7 were in favour of independence. Now with all the discussions and exchange of info there are about 30 people in favour of Independence.

  • Dave_Coull

    Comparing the YES Campaign to “the wilder elements within the American Republican party” is just plain silly. One of the things the Republicans failed to do was to make any appeal to immigrants. By contrast, the YES Campaign is rather good at that.

    Another big difference is in the class basis. The Tea Party held little attraction for the poor and excluded. The YES Campaign will be more like Obama’s supporters in “widening the electorate”. I’m not a supporter of Obama, I’m just pointing out how inaccurate this comparison with “the wilder elements within the American Republican party” was.

    I’m neither a member nor a supporter of any political party, and I never have been. I didn’t vote for Alex Salmond, or for any member of his party, at the last Scottish election, and I won’t be voting for them at the next election either. But a referendum is NOT an election; and in the referendum I’ll be campaigning for independence. The flaw in this article is that the author thinks we supporters of independence need to
    convince Conservative voters in order to gain a clear majority in the referendum. We don’t.

    Not only are Conservative voters a minority, they are also the group most hostile towards independence, and the group least likely to change their minds. By contrast, Labour voters are a much larger group, they are in general less hostile to independence, and they are in general more likely to listen to the case for independence.

    But there is another group which this article fails to even consider – the
    significant percentage of the electorate who don’t normally vote at all, because
    “politicians are all the same”, or because they feel voting won’t change

    Although there are always exceptions to the rule, in general, Tory voters tend to be fairly-comfortably-off; while those who don’t vote tend to be disproportionately the poor. It is going to be very important to ensure people are registered to vote, and that they turn out to vote.

    There will be a very high turnout for the referendum. We’re going to make sure of that. To those who say politicians are all the same, it will be pointed out that, on
    this occasion, they won’t be voting for any politician, or any political party.

    So far as voting not changing anything is concerned, it will be pointed out that one immediate effect of independence would be to rid us of the corrupt and un-democratic rule by Westminster.

    The MAJORITY of members of the Westminster parliament are un-elected.
    The great majority of members of that parliament are, of course, Members
    of the House of Lords. Furthermore, there have been widespread speculative reports in the media that David Cameron is planning to create ONE HUNDRED EXTRA members of that un-elected House. Even if that turns out to be an exaggeration, one more is too many.

    Not all of these extra peers would be Tories. It’s well known there are plenty of folk in other political parties who fancy a comfortable semi-retirement still in parliament but without the inconvenience of having to seek re-election.

    So not only is the creaking and corrupt machinery of Westminster unlikely to be reformed, there is the possibility it could become even worse. Only independence
    gives us a chance for a complete break with that corrupt system.

    This message will have little appeal to Tories. But it will appeal to Labour voters, and, perhaps even more important, it will appeal to those who have a low opinion of politicians in general, and don’t normally think voting can change anything.

    If we can mobilise these two groups, we can win the referendum for independence quite decisively, even if it should be without a single Tory vote.

  • CraigStrachan

    Just caught up with your big news of the New Year, Alex.

    Congratulations, you’re in trouble now!

  • FranzFerdinand

    And another thing Alex !!

    All the best with yer up coming big day….

    Having read your linked piece I agree Cameron (or Blair for that matter) isn’t the bogey man the YES campaign him make out to be….neither comes close to the outright loathing of Thatcher.

    But on the Anti Tory thing….didn’t Murdo Fraser conclude (admitedly in more diplomatic terms) that the major electoral problem for Scottish Tories was that they were attached to the English Tories who most Scots unfairly see as ‘Namely: wealthy, smooth, Etonian, English.’ (The regular appearances of the likes of Jacob Rees Mogg only confirming the impression).

    So a significant figure and a decent part of the Tory party membership in Scotland agrees on the problem if not the solution…..kinda makes a lot of political sense for YES Scotland to tap into this too

  • FranzFerdinand

    Actual Alex I think the SNP strategy is like the famous scene in Zulu…’Their counting your guns’…happy to let opposition expand valuable ammo and accept short term damage for the long term good.

    The No campaign is attacking too loudly, too often (you can already predict that at least 3 days a week the lead in the Scotsman will be ‘SNP Accused…’…people stop paying attention if there is a scare story every week….

    Especially when they are on such narrow semantic points….take EU membership….the only error the SNP was ‘implying’ it was guaranteed when in reality it was only 99.9% certain to happen (no one credibly argues Scotland would be ejected from the EU for voting YES…and Senor Barraso hasn’t explained yet how and why he would strip 5 m EU citzens of their citizenship despite the Unionist joy at his ‘intervention’)…

    And of course when I say ‘implying it was guarenteed’, that exactly what a Senior Labour Politician claimed the SNP where doing when it was pointed out to him that every document they have ever produced on the subject says there would be negotiation with the EU.

    Fact is like Holyrood in 2011, until the final 6 -8 weeks or so of the campaign enforce the overwhelming majority of the electorate won’t care or pay any attention to the Unionist attacks (or for that matter any attempts at wooing by the SNP)….it’s the old tree falls in forest no one hears it scenario

    The YES campaign have as you’ve said kept their powder pretty dry only venturing into the shallow safe Scottish political waters of Tory bashing (Better Together reciprocate with the safe shallow SNP/Alex Salmond bashing….though god knows why most Scots know Salmond has a touch of the Arthur Daley/Del Boy about him and still like him and vote for him in large numbers none the less)….

    It makes sense to only join battle at a time of your rather than your opponents choosing…..and they also have the advantage of knowing where and how their opponents will attack and 18 months to perfect their counter points….especially when the broadcasters are legally bound by rules of balance and impartiality, rather than the chaotic free for all right now.

    And isn’t it obvious given that this is about replacing Holyrood with Westminister, you would seek to critisice Westminister and thus the governing party. That happens to be the Tories*.

    The almost inevitable consequence of last nights vote on the Welfare Bill (whether you agree or disagree with it) will be print and broadcast pieces on those who will almost inevitably lose out thru no fault of their own…….

    The YES Campaign can legitimately point out that an overwhelming majority of Scottish MP’s voted against the Bill, and that this is ‘another example of Westminister imposing it’s will on Scotland just like the Poll Tax’…..

    As you know the ‘imposition’ of the Poll Tax a Year earlier than anyone else is widely seen to led to the establishment of Holyrood in the first place….if Scots are convinced by the tales of misery and woe the Bill will inevitably create then the Coaltion have just handed YES Scotland it’s best vote winner….

    Throw in a UKIP victory (or strong 2nd) in the 2014 Euro’s (Scots are as Euro Sceptic as the rest but less enamoured with Farrage and Co), a successful Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup, a Murray win at Wimbledon or Flushing Meadow and the Scottish electorate flush with patriotic pride may be very open to persuasion

    So having delivered a referendum, when they said they would on a timetable of thier choosing, the YES campaign can pretty much pick and choose when it decides to fight….especially when Better Together and The Coalition seem to be unintentionally doing their work for them

    *We’re lucky it’s not Labour in power at Westminister right now or the NO campaign would be even dirtier, nastier and more personalised than it is now…..I suspect it’s the Tories/Lib Dems who are keeping the attack dogs on a short leash

  • Cath Ferguson

    “dump 300 years of history”

    It’s this type of unbelievable stupid comment that turns people off the No campaign. It isn’t possible to “dump history” even if you wanted to. History exists, including all the vast amount that came before the union. Similarly, it isn’t physically possible to “break Britain” or for Scotland to “separate” from England.

    What is possible is the normal, common sense control any country should have over its own politics, economics and democracy. Countries are better off independent. As to preaching to the converted – I only converted to the SNP this year, along with a large number of others. I’d have happily accepted a more federal UK, if only for a quiet life and not to provoke the shrill outrage of the kind of words above. That isn’t on offer, and nor is any sensible, normal amount of power any country should have.

  • JPJ2

    “Are you really asking people to dump 300 years of history just because you think David Cameron a wrong ‘un? He won’t be around for ever.”

    The Conservatives have not won a plurality (never mind a majority) of the Scottish seats since 1959. It is unlikely that they will win a majority of Scottish seats for Westminster in anyone currently alive’s lifetime (or perhaps for another 300 years, if ever).

    Last night’s benefits vote showed a majority in England (and thus, as usual, the UK) for the cap, and an entirely ineffective majority of Scotland’s MPs against it.

    The referendum issue to be addressed is only partially stopping the Tories from governing Scotland, It is even more about why the “Scottish” Labour Party de facto prefers regular, frequent, Tory governing of Scotland from Westminster, rather than Labour (or at least Scottish majority supported) government from Edinburgh.

  • Spammo Twatbury

    A Tory government is not a “short-term inconvenience”. To call what happened in the Commons last night an “inconvenience” is close to disgusting.

    And it’s not short-term either, because even if Labour were to be elected in the future, they would pursue policies barely distinguishable from those of the Tories, because they have no convictions, only career ambitions. They’ll adopt whatever policies they think will get them elected, regardless of what their party is supposed to stand for.

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