Common cause

Nicola Sturgeon’s address to the SNP Conference on Saturday is unlikely to make it into any anthology of the greatest political speeches of all time. But that is because such compilations, of necessity, tend to assume little or no detailed knowledge of the context in which the speech is being made. Being aware of that context, one realises just what a difficult task faced the SNP leader as she prepared this address. Expectations were high. But the complexity and fluidity of the situation in the wake of the EU referendum made it more important than ever that Sturgeon tread warily and keep her options open.

The Scottish Government must, at all costs, avoid any perception among EU leaders that the Brexit shambles created by the UK Government is being used to leverage independence. It is essential that the First Minister maintain the position that she is ready to pursue any option to preserve Scotland’s relationship with Europe. At the same time, she must keep faith with the party and the wider Yes movement who demand that independence be front and centre at all times. Sturgeon’s speech managed this dilemma remarkably well. Well enough to earn a place in any compilation of particularly astute political speeches.

Make no mistake! This was a very clever piece of oratory. A speech full of subtle messages and profound meaning; as well as a fair bit of emotion. Its overall purpose was to contrast Scotland under an SNP administration with the British state envisaged, and being made real, by the vicious right-wing clique that has usurped the government of the UK. Throughout her address, Nicola Sturgeon emphasised the distinctiveness of Scotland’s approach to relations with Europe. This was then tied to initiatives in domestic social and economic policy – health, childcare and, most especially, the care system – in a way that made manifest the practical implications of this distinctiveness.

The SNP has now staked its claim as the principal democratic force standing in opposition to the far right. As Ms Sturgeon said,

The primary contest of ideas in our country is now between the SNP and the hard right Tories.

By this, Sturgeon has acknowledged the reality of British Labour’s current status as an ineffective entity reduced to carping from the sidelines in between bouts of internecine warfare. Distracted and debilitated by cancerous factionalism, British Labour allows the Tories to set the agenda and lead them by the nose. Sturgeon is reaching out to progressives, not only in Scotland but across the UK with a message that is both aspirational and pragmatic.This is as much about persuading people to question the media’s generally malicious portrayal of the SNP as it is about winning over people to the cause of independence.

The Scottish National Party remains the de facto political arm of Scotland’s independence movement. But it has become much more than that. It’s nature as a moderate social democratic party dedicated to the principles so eloquently articulated by Nicola Sturgeon, allied to a record of quiet competence in government, has won it massive popular support in Scotland despite a relentless campaign of smears and lies mounted by the British parties in Scotland and their media accomplices.

But circumstances have also thrust the SNP into the role of countervailing force against the prevailing power of the British state. A role that British Labour had, for decades, been decreasingly able or willing to fill. A role which they have lately abandoned completely. The plaintive rhetoric from Jeremy Corbyn serving only to emphasise the extent of his party’s failure.

The British state deals with threats to its structures of power, privilege and patronage either by crushing the challenger, or by absorbing them. It long ago absorbed British Labour – once a challenge from the left. It has now done the same with Ukip and other challenges from the right. The British Conservative and Unionist Party is the new, and very ugly face of the British state.

The SNP represents those who reject what the British state stands for. We might debate whether the British state was ever other than what it so unabashedly is now. But that should not divert us from the urgent need for a vehicle for those who want to oppose what is being done in their name. Nicola Sturgeon is offering the SNP as that vehicle.

When Ms Sturgeon talks of unity, she isn’t only talking about a coming together of all the diverse elements of Scotland’s independence movement. Although, obviously, that is crucial. She isn’t even talking only about the people of Scotland continuing to unite in unprecedented numbers to secure SNP administrations in local authorities as well as at Holyrood. Although this too is hugely important to the task of realising the ambitious objectives she has set. Sturgeon is taking her theme of inclusion beyond Scotland. She is talking about uniting all the disparate progressive voices across the UK. She is saying to those who abhor this xenophobic, isolationist Tory government that the SNP can be their champion at Westminster.

It is critically important that independence campaigners in Scotland understand and reconcile themselves to the new role that the SNP has taken on. The British establishment will be determined to drive wedges into every crack it can find or create. They will use all the considerable resources at their disposal to separate the independence movement from the SNP, because they recognise that, while the SNP may be only a relatively small part of the Yes movement, it is a vital component without which the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence is going nowhere.

Even those who, despite everything that has happened, still harbour doubts about independence surely cannot fail to be inspired by Nicola Sturgeon’s vision for Scotland. And those in the rest of the UK who manage to hear her message over the hateful clamour of British nationalist propaganda must find such a positive, aspirational message both novel and appealing. Ms Sturgeon is asking that those people also lend their support to the only political force capable of effectively challenging the Tories.

Some people may not yet be wholly persuaded that independence is the way forward for Scotland. But unionists must ask themselves whether the union is so precious to them that they are prepared to reject the vision offered by Nicola Sturgeon in favour of the dismal prospect of a Tory British state.

If they are not prepared to stand with the SNP for independence, will they at least stand with the SNP for a better, fairer, greener and more prosperous society?

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7 thoughts on “Common cause

  1. Dan Huil

    Labour supporters in Scotland must surely realize that only in an independent Scotland can Labour survive – and thrive. If we vote No again we will only have decades of tory rule from Westminster to look forward [!] too.

  2. Paul

    Nicola’s speech at the conference on Saturday was very good apart from her reference to Syria where she adopted the Westminster govt./USA govt. meme that it is the Syrians and Russia that are responsible for the atrocities taking place. The situation is far more nuanced than that and she should know this. It would have been far better had she simply referred to all the violence being perpetrated on the Syrian people and left it at that.

    1. Kangaroo

      @Paul
      Agreed. The situation in Syria is abysmal, but it is not Russia or Assad that is to blame. Unfortunately our allies are up to their necks in criminality and need to be taken to task. Unfortunately only Putin seems to be in a position to do anything. I hope Killary is impeached before she can take office otherwise we may be in for WW3 nuclear style.

  3. Philip Maughan

    ‘The British state deals with threats to its structures of power, privilege and patronage either by crushing the challenger, or by absorbing them ‘ Beautifully put. The honours system is a classic example of how the British state neuters the potentially disruptive influence of sports and pop stars by drawing them into its net through a knighthood etc. Rod Stewart is the latest example and I’d bet they are keen for Andy Murray to accept a gong to make it more difficult for him to speak out in favour of independence.

  4. Heidstaethefire

    While I agree that her contribution on Saturday was excellent, I think her two speeches need to be taken together. When opening the conference she did the tub thumper, and buried the idea that the S.N.P. didn’t really want independence. Having covered that, on Saturday she made a more thoughtful, considered contribution. In it, she not only outlined the kind of Scotland that she wanted to see and contrasted it with Brexit Britain, she also nailed the recently developing unionist canard about neglecting the day job.
    Very, very impressive.

  5. Andy McKirdy

    Sturgeon is head and shoulders above any other politician in the U.K. If Scotland was Independent she would be a leader on the world stage and her opponents in the U.K. And Scotland know this full well. Her speech on Saturday brought more than a few tears to these old eyes!!!
    I have thought for a few years now and especially since 2014 that Scotland should just act as if we are an independent country in our dealings with the wider world and people would get used to and feel comfortable with Scotland playing an influential role in domestic and international affairs, this appears to be what Nicola is doing, good on her. The Uk government is hopeless in comparison.
    The problem in Scotland for us Yes voters is not just British Nationalists(don’t call them Unionists) but the traditional enemies of apathy, ignorance and our historical talent of fighting amongst ourselves.
    Nicola and the SNP have to firstly be a party of sound government, which they have been since 2007, better than any in the U.K. In my life time, but they also have to further the cause of Independence as well and if other supposed Pro- Independence parties spend time sniping at them, it hampers the cause, rather than helping.
    We surely have reached the point where politicians in other parties must come out from behind the couch and put the future of their country before the self interest of their party or themselves, Scottish Labour especially( Henry McLiesh are you listening).
    England is a basket case due to the “British Establishment” and the only hope for Scotland’s future generations (and England’s, for that matter) is Independence, everything else is secondary!!!!

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