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?Views: 3587
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