The shallowness of BLiS

This article is a bit out of date. About 50 years out of date. Anybody who imagines the principal political divide is between right wing nationalists and left wing British Labour doesn’t exactly have their finger firmly on the pulse of Scottish politics.

All Findlay offers is one long whine about how the SNP has managed to capture the political ground that British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) assumed was theirs in perpetuity, unconditionally and with no requirement for any effort on their part. “Look!”, he says. “See all the nice labels I can adorn myself with! Left! Progressive! Caring! See how much better they are than the labels I attach to those horrible nationalists.”

To say that Findlay’s argument lacks “nuance” is a majestic bit of understatement. A comprehensive list of things that it lacks would run to several pages. Self-awareness. Reflection. Rational consideration. Perspicacity. All of these and more. It is, in a word, vacuous. Findlay isn’t comparing the reality and/or public perception of BLiS with the reality and/or public perception of the SNP. He is comparing how he would like BLiS to be perceived with the grotesque caricature of the SNP that he carries in his head. A perspective informed entirely by bitter resentment and not at all by any reasoned assessment.

He is not alone, of course. Findlay’s fallacious analysis echoes the attitude which pervades BLiS. When he supposes that the most significant thing about the SNP is its “nationalism” he makes the same doltishly simplistic error that the rest of the pretendy wee party makes. The SNP is so much more than the party of independence. But Findlay and his colleagues are so obsessively focussed on the most obvious difference between themselves and their electoral nemesis that they miss the crucial fact that the SNP has become what BLiS once aspired to be. Or, at least, what BLiS has long imagined itself to be.

Underlying all of Findlay’s whining is the notion that the voters are stupid. The voters have got it wrong. It simply doesn’t occur to him that the voters might be a lot smarter and more astute than he is.That they see very well what both the SNP and BLiS actually are. Findlay and his ilk think they need only bide their time and the people will realise the error of their ways and return to the fold like the sheeple of old. They reckon they need only chip away at the SNP’s reputation with a barrage of smears and voters will eventually come to see the SNP as it is seen by BLiS loyalists. The two thoughts that never enter their heads are that the electorate’s judgement may be sound; and that they themselves might need to make some effort to win the status that they assume to be theirs by right.

In a way, one can understand Findlay’s reluctance to face the reality of our new politics. Because, appreciating BLiS’s true situation, it’s difficult to see a way forward for them. The SNP hasn’t only captured the political territory that BLiS used to occupy, it has developed it. It has built things on that ground. It has grown things in that soil. Where BLiS was content to merely sit on the land like some bloated baron, the SNP has made use of it. It doesn’t merely occupy that territory, it has made that territory its home.

The SNP’s nationalism is important. The party is the de facto political arm of the independence movement. Of that there can be no doubt. But to suppose that this alone explains their electoral success is to take shallowness to the molecular level. When the voters look at the SNP they see something totally unlike what Findlay sees. They see a party which gets things done. They see a party that keeps most of its promises most of the time. They see a party that adheres to such fundamental principles as universalism, while being pragmatic enough to eschew dogma in favour of practicality.

As well as being the party of independence, the SNP has earned its credentials as a party of government. As an effective administration. The people’s verdict on the SNP is, not that they’re “perfect” or “never wrong”, but that they’re “no bad”. They’re “a’ right”. There’s little BLiS can do to compete with that. It’s certain they never will so long as they stick to a strategy of insisting that the people’s verdict is wrong. The starting point for any rehabilitation of BLiS is an acceptance of the fact that the SNP is actually pretty good, in all the ways that matter.

Principled pragmatism seems to be what the people want. In its frantic efforts to differentiate itself from the SNP, BLiS has been thoughtlessly seizing on pretty much any policy idea that floats by – only to suffer toe-curling embarrassment as it quickly becomes apparent why the SNP has rejected those ideas. If they were listening to what the voters are telling them their efforts would instead be concentrated on trying to find a form of principled pragmatism that is all their own.

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