When the SNP government’s record on the NHS was criticised by a nurse during the Scottish party leaders’ debate a fortnight ago, the response from the SNP and their followers was to vilify the nurse.
SNP MSP Jeane Freeman and SNP (ex-)MP Joanna Cherry led the charge, falsely claiming that the nurse was the wife of a Tory councillor. Once unleashed by Freeman and Cherry, the allegation was then taken up by other SNP parliamentarians and by SNP cybernats. In fact, they ratcheted up the smear campaign to the level of a frenzy, claiming that the nurse had been a BBC “plant” and that she was not actually a nurse. While her criticisms were ignored, the nurse herself became the target of systematic abuse and denunciation. But the nurse was a nurse. And she was not the wife of a Tory councillor. (Even if she had been – so what? Women won not just the right to vote but also the right to have their own political opinions a long time ago.) The SNP’s social media campaign of smear and vilification crumbled within a matter of hours. But not before it had demonstrated that Scottish “civic and joyous” nationalism is just as putrid as any other variant of nationalist ideology.
The SNP itself is the most undemocratic party in Britain. Policy adopted at its 2015 conference bans its elected parliamentarians from public criticism of any other parliamentarian, and from public criticism of SNP policy. The SNP’s intolerance of criticism by an NHS employee is emblematic of its intolerance of criticism in general. Substituting itself for the people which it claims to represent, the SNP responds to criticism of its record by denouncing critics for “talking Scotland down”. The SNP does not use rational political arguments to bond together its cult-followers. Instead, it specialises in emotional denunciations of its political opponents.
Thus, Labour are “Red Tories”, even as the SNP simultaneously proposes a “progressive alliance” with Labour, and also sits in coalition administrations with Labour in Scottish local authorities. And the Tories are defined as the party of the “Rape Clause”, even though the SNP ignored the “Rape Clause” until they found a role for it in their current election campaigning.
In 2017, as in 2015, the SNP claims that only SNP MPs will “stand up for Scotland” and “give Scotland a stronger voice” in Westminster. In fact, its MPs have consistently ignored the majority of the Scottish electorate, which remains hostile to independence and a second referendum. At Holyrood, where the SNP has now been in power for over a decade and has had a real opportunity to “stand up for Scotland”, it has made steady progress backwards. Cuts in council funding, declining literacy and numeracy standards, less teachers, less FE places and teachers, less working-class access to Higher Education, falling NHS standards, declining economic performance, and more child poverty. In fact, the SNP’s main achievement in recent years has been to revive the Scottish Tories’ electoral fortunes.
The polarisation of Scottish politics around the single issue of independence has allowed the Tories to rally support from “No” voters in the 2014 referendum. Through its sole official spokesperson (i.e. Nicola Sturgeon), in the six weeks since an election was called the SNP has bounced back and forth on whether the election results in Scotland should be interpreted as a mandate for a second independence referendum and for Scottish membership of the EU. But this is all a matter of political calculation.
To argue openly that the general election in Scotland is all about independence (and for the SNP, it is) would fuel the growing backlash against the SNP. To argue openly in favour of EU membership would alienate the one third of SNP voters who backed “Leave” in 2016.
Sturgeon has dismissed Corbyn as “unelectable” and as someone who “won’t be going anywhere near Downing Street.” As in 2015, the optimum outcome of the general election for the SNP would be either a Tory government or a minority Labour government. The former would allow the SNP to run with the theme that only independence could save Scotland from permanent and alien Tory rule, even though over a quarter of the Scottish electorate are now likely to vote Tory. The latter would allow the SNP, or so it hopes, to demand a second referendum in exchange for not bringing down the government, even though Corbyn has rightly ruled out any deals or alliances with the SNP.
Doorstep canvassing confirms that support for the SNP is in decline. In the time remaining before the general election, Labour canvassers need to push the SNP vote into further decline, and to make sure that the decline is to the benefit of Labour rather than the Tories.