Science and snake oil

I don’t mind admitting that, in the week or so since the election, I avoided reading articles by Robin McAlpine. Just as I avoided reading articles by Gerry Hassan and others. I body-swerved them because I knew well enough what they would say. And I knew they would irk the shit out of me.

I suspect I’m far from alone in being utterly pissed off with what Derek Bateman calls the ‘I-Know-Where-the-SNP-Went-Wrong’ pontifications. I’m sick of the solemn lectures on how the answer to every known political, social or economic problem is an increased dose of ‘Dr Shafi’s Radical Snake Oil Liniment’. I may well gouge out my own eyes rather than let them light upon yet another one of those ponderous ‘Independence: The Next Steps’ pieces.

Don’t get me wrong! I respect Robin McAlpine’s undoubted abilities. And I don’t doubt his commitment to the cause of independence. But he’s a technocrat. And his greatest enthusiasm is for the tools and techniques of his trade. So much so that he sees every situation first and foremost as an opportunity to deploy his expertise and use his shiny instruments. Show him a headache and he’ll skip the cold compress on the forehead and go straight to the brain surgery.

But here’s a curious thing. For all his conviction that his methods will be effective in selling independence, he doesn’t even consider the possibility that those methods might work with selling the SNP. He’s absolutely certain that his science can change people’s attitudes to independence, but accepts their attitude to political parties as if this was something immutable, enforced by an iron law of nature.

I am not discounting the relevance of campaign strategists and their strategies. I’m merely suggesting that there may be a tendency to work backwards from the strategy. An inclination to say I have a hammer, so I’ll treat the problem as if it was a nail.

I see the words “we now need to find a way to run an independence campaign that doesn’t rely entirely on the SNP”, and my blood runs cold. Then starts to boil. For a start, there never was a campaign that relied entirely on the SNP. Nor was there ever any suggestion that there should – or could – be a campaign that relied entirely on the SNP. The problem that afflicts so many of those seeking to advise the independence movement is that they are so intent on devising a campaign which doesn’t rely entirely on the SNP that they completely lose sight of the fact that any campaign must rely ultimately on the SNP.

Working backwards from a predetermined ‘solution’ – be it exponential radicalism or the appliance of science – these ‘experts’ eventually come up against an obstacle that they’ve already accepted is impervious to their ‘solution. They reach the point where what is required is effective political power only to find that their ‘solution’ involved discarding the only way of accessing that effective political power.

Here is a scientific truth and a rather ‘radical’ idea. Given that effective political power is absolutely essential to the independence project, it should be the starting point in formulating an independence campaign. We will not move people to Yes unless we can first persuade them to accept the crucial role of the SNP. Any strategy for an independence campaign which fails to take due account of the need for a political force operating within the British political system, is incomplete and doomed to failure.

That is why people like me get irked by those within the Yes movement whose first instinct always is to run with the narrative of antipathy towards political parties in general and the SNP in particular. We’re not motivated by ‘blind loyalty’, as the shallow-minded insist, but by a cold, hard pragmatism that others could really do with emulating.

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18 thoughts on “Science and snake oil

  1. Mark Rowantree

    I agree somewhat, whilst I have a great deal of sympathy for the ideas advanced by Inter alia, CommonSpace I too get annoyed by certain individuals who blame absolutely every fault of the independence movement on its political wing the SNP.
    Having supported the party for more than thirty years I,am onLy too aware of its faults. Nonetheless, over that period it has been the main political vehicle for the articulation of debate and force for Scottish independence.
    We still have the benefit of a mass membership party and if we
    wish to recover from our lacklustre election performance we must mobilise and take advantage of that membership.
    If we fail to do so our the coming months I”ll be the first to call for rapid and substantial change: until then I feel that we owe it to Nicola our trust and faith in the way ahead.

    1. Peter A Bell Post author

      Lacklustre election performance? Nearly six times as many seats as the last comparable election. Excluding the 2015 result, as any sensible analysis must, more than three times as many seats as the previous high. More seats than all the British parties combined. By every relevant measure, another decisive election win for the SNP.

      If anything is ‘lacklustre’ it’s the attitude of party members.

      1. Ottomanboi

        Lacklustre is too strong. In other circumstances the performance would have been hailed as superb. However, the loss of 21 seats, more than any other party, ought to give cause for deep reflection.

        1. Peter A Bell Post author

          The other parties didn’t have 21 seats to lose! Comparing with 2015 is just fucking stupid. Wouldn’t it be good if people didn’t keep on doing fucking stupid things even after it’s been pointed out how fucking stupid it is?

  2. Ottomanboi

    The wider ‘independence movement’ may need to have a quiet word with those currently running party strategy what the SNP’s prime function is. An indyref may be a matter of expert timing but the question of whether Scotland ought to be an independent state has no such restrictions.
    The SNP silence since the election is suggestive. Of what, one shudders to think.

      1. Ottomanboi

        Do we really have to resort to an Albanian website?
        The silence from the SNP is notable for allowing speculation and discontent to grow in the past ten days. If it were not for the tragic events in London the media would be giving the nats a real roasting.

        1. Peter A Bell Post author

          What the fuck difference does it make which website it was on? It’s the same fucking constitution. Duh!

          Silence? What silence? You mean the silence the media tells you about? But, of course, you’re not stupid enough to believe the media, are you. So what fucking silence are you talking about?

  3. Ottomanboi

    The wider ‘independence movement’ may need to have a quiet word with those currently running party strategy about what the SNP’s prime function is. An indyref may be a matter of expert timing but the question of whether Scotland ought to be an independent state has no such restrictions.
    The SNP silence since the election is suggestive. Of what, one shudders to think.

  4. MacGillieleabhar

    I think the SNP has to up their game as the unionists have had a bit of success with tactical voting this time out but next time they will be tactical voting on Viagra with restricted choice of unionist candidates to concentrate the vote.
    Never mind all that and the fact that SNP lost about a third of its MPs and about a million voters.
    Didn’t they do well ?
    That’s complacency sponsored by Prozac.

    1. Peter A Bell Post author

      So, according to this fucking genius, the SNP lost “about a million votes”, still managed to win the election, and that’s a disaster. I wonder what drugs this clown is on.

    2. Abulhaq

      Judging by the response to any crit. of the ‘holy grail’ SNP I suspect all is not at all well among the party faithful.
      The silence from Sturgeon and co is actually the issue.
      We’re not seeking an explanation but a recognition that the party has some strategic rethinking to do would be beneficial. Complacency and smugness we do not need.

      1. Peter A Bell Post author

        I’m prepared to believe you are the kind of cretin who will take my impatience with cretins as indicative of whatever you are cretinous enough to imagine it is indicative of. Less stunted intellects will, of course, recognise that it is indicative of nothing other than the act that I am no longer prepared to treat cretins such as yourself as anything other than the cretins that you are.

        And why should I not lose patience? All these cretins queuing up to parrot the same cretinous pish about “silence from Sturgeon” would try the patience of a saint. And I have absolutely no ambitions in that direction. Did even one of these cretins stop to ask what silence? No! Why? Because they’re fucking cretins!

        There is no fucking silence! Not saying something that doesn’t need to be said is not the same as remaining silent when something does need to be said. The cretins are not asking that Sturgeon break silence. They are asking that she pander to the same media hype that the cretins are in thrall to. Why the fuck would she do that? She is NOT a cretin!

  5. Peter A Bell Post author

    It is not complacency to point out that the SNP won the election. It’s just me declining to pander to media hype by wetting myself on cue.

    1. Tony Little

      You seem a wee bit fucking pissed off today Peter?

      I empathise, but some people are wondering what’s happening because it’s isn’t being pushed down our throats. Frankly I’m glad the SG is getting on “with the day job” and continuing to bring jobs and investment to Scotland.

      Brexit has finally begun, and the next few months will begin to reveal the calamitous situation we have been dragged into. (I may of course be wrong, and by some miracle Brexit is actually a far better deal than we have now. *comic interlude*)

      The GE17 was not a surprise in itself, although I had expected about 40 MPs to be the minimum and underestimated the focused campaign of the Unionist party (it is only ONE party in Scotland now). We’ll be better fixed come GE17-part II

      The YES movement IS a movement, the SNP have a vital and critical role to play, but it also depends on everyone else. This ‘in-fighting’ only helps our opponents. And the “useful idiots” we see reported in the Unionist MSM make me want to scream, but we’ll get there despite them.

      Try not to take things too much to heart Peter. There are more people who read and support your view than otherwise.

  6. Kenny

    Spitting venom doesn’t help our side, folks.

    The election result wasn’t good primarily because any decline in SNP seats waa going to be portrayed as a calamity and a loss. The SNP still won (and I would argue aggressively that the Thatcher Doctrine on independence should apply and that majority should be immediately leveraged into a Section 30 Order) but the losses are instructive.

    Two years ago, virtually every Yes voter swung behind the SNP. That was enough to sweep most constituencies. In some, like in Glasgow, the size of the Yes vote was sufficient to take more than 50% of the vote overall. This time, some peeled off to Labour but a lot also stayed at home. At the same time, The Ruth Davidson No Surrender Party, called on and hardened the strongly anti-indy, Loyalist vote. I believe that if Labour continues to stumble at UK level and as this Tory government collapses in on itself, I think some voters will begin to reconsider the SNP. At the same time, the election of so many Tories in Scotland will galvanise many of those who stayed at home.

    I actually agree with elements of what both Hassan and McAlpine had to say on the subject, though I understand much of your frustration with them. Hassan thinks the SNP ought to start building a better Scotland now. Yes, they’ve done a lot of good but where’s it going? Replacing council tax with an LVT, for example, is an easy, money-making win that negates an attack line from Labour, raises new money in a perfectly progressive way AND stimulates new business. At the same time, it begins to push the idea to people that Scotland can be different and should be different because it IS different.

    McAlpine points out that we need to focus less on a referendum and more on what independence could do. We need to explore every aspect of our country and figure out what our new Scotland could do better. Those then open up new attack lines. If we have big ideas and we can’t implement them because they’re reserved, what does that tell people? Just being “Stronger for Scotland” doesn’t inspire many people.

  7. Hugh Wallace

    Peter, I’m finding it a bit hard to match your comments following this post with another of your recently published articles. There is a ‘silence’ of comment from NS and the likes of Tommy Shepherd and Kenny MacKaskill are filling the void. And, yes, we know the media are spinning things for all their worth so the SNP need not shoot themselves in the foot.

    As Kenny (poster above) mentions, any reduction in the number of SNP seats was going to be spun as a defeat for the idea of independence, or at least indyref2, so why wasn’t that anticipated? Why didn’t NS have a speech ready to deliver heralding yet another historical victory for the SNP and a categoric victory in the triple-lock needed for indyref2? Why did she need to utter her need to go away and ‘reflect’ on the outcome of the election that she just won? Victors don’t go away and reflect they say ‘thank you for you support’ and proceed from there. Why is there clearly dissension in the upper ranks of the SNP about whether or not indyref2 needs to be shelved for a while? (Maybe there isn’t, but even hinting at that idea is dangerous in the extreme given who our opponents in the media are.) I am sure the campaign itself could have been run better in many ways but we won! We f***ing won yet all the leadership types (elected or self-declared, inside the SNP or not) are running around behaving and speaking as if we’d lost.

    What appears increasingly clear to me is that while on June 24th 2016, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP had a very well developed game plan for what to do in the aftermath of the Brexit vote while on June 9th 2017 no such plan was in evidence. Considering the polls, it might have been a bit much to expect the SNP to have a plan for being actually defeated in the GE2017 but to not appear to have a plan of winning the election with a reduced majority, even if the actual number was a bit of a surprise? That smacks of complete lack of planning. And, considering how we still don’t have a government in the UK, why is a certain someone not taking the opportunity go off and repeat her highly impressive First Ministerial performance that she managed last year? When your political opponents are reeling then is the time to make political capital at their expense. Corbyn and Labour are as much an opponent of the Indy movement as Teresa and the Tories are yet we are all getting wet pants at the appearance of success he has had in England (where he lost).

    Yes, NS has got back to her ‘day job’ of running the country, and no doubt performing it very admirably too, but another of her day jobs is being the defacto leader or the Scottish Independence Movement and, speaking as one life-long member, I don’t feel very lead anywhere at the moment. (Anyone who hasn’t yet read it should head over to Mark Frankand’s latest blog post.)

  8. Bibbit

    ‘cold, hard pragmatism’

    that’s it, in a nutshell. thank you so much for articulating that simple fact.

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