Much has been made of the SNP’s watertight party discipline and the remarkable binding that a shared belief in independence can bring. Last year’s NATO debate is the only significant issue in the recent past that I can think of that has torn the party in two, and even then it was conducted so professionally and respectfully that other parties must surely have looked on in frustrated envy.
As a result, and in order to pull layers off the SNP (and Yes Scotland by association), the press and opposition have had to play a clever game.
Rather than wait in vain for party disarray to fall into their press releases and front pages, a more proactive approach has been taken. A noticeable and increasing trend recently has been for the voices of Yes Scotland’s internal critics to have their arguments complimented and their voices amplified by friendly unionists, resulting in the bigger picture getting lost and unwittingly ending up effectively batting for the other side.
It can arrive via the temptation of having a go at Salmond amongst the ‘other’ parties or the temptation to be ‘reasonable’ for those in the SNP, but the ramifications of a lack of solidarity across Yes Scotland should not be underestimated and the reasons for it happening should be scrutinised.
My concern, pure and simple, is that too many in the pro-Yes camp are getting played by a disingenuously chummy opposition.
Behaviours are influenced to the pavlovian extent that if you criticise the SNP you’re being objective and if you praise them you’re a cybernat, a Yes voice lost in the crowd. It’s a gloriously subtle and highly effective way to damage the Yes cause. If a bigger reaction is gained by being a wee bit controversial, and journalists will give you a slap on the back, then you could be seduced into selling out your side more often than you should.
I know, I fall for it regularly, whether I ultimately catch myself or not, not that I’m a member of any political party any more so there’s precious little risk of damage.
The fairly regular DMs from unionists (from low level activists right up to high level MPs) complimenting my ‘reasonableness’ when I’m critical of the SNP, is some evidence of what is going on out there. I wasn’t naive enough though to fall for one journalist’s ‘friendly’ email offer to run blog posts past him for advice before I posted them, back in my SNP Tactical Voting days. Nice try (not really).
As I say, I’m not a member myself, but it’s quite clear that the phrase that may do the most damage to Yes Scotland over the coming year or so is ‘I’m a member of the SNP but…’.
There are plenty of individuals who do it, I could list off a few across the Nationalist spectrum, but I’ll only name Jim Sillars as a classic example, his dubious contribution is after all at another level altogether.
It’s not clear whether Jim truly believes he’s being helpful to the independence cause when he is seemingly duped into providing juicy headlines such as ‘Sillars warns SNP that Yes campaign is on the ropes‘ and ‘Jim Sillars: SNP a ‘totalitarian’ and ‘intellectually dumb’ party‘. I could continue. As, I sadly suspect, will Jim.
Those genuinely seeking a Yes vote would do well to privately agree to disagree more often than they publicly disagree to agree. This isn’t silencing dissent, it’s simply smart politics to aid a wider cause in the face of an understandably ruthless opposition. Who wants to squabble their way to a 74%- 26% defeat, regardless of how many RTs they get or hits they get on their blog?
The rather brutal oppression of supposed Cybernats is, for me, part of the same game. If some idiot spouts something stupid online, they should be ignored, it should not be front page or even middle page news, and nor should Callum ‘Judge Dredd’ Cashley’s attempts to sort them out. Offence taken in these stories is almost always exaggerated and the message to those ‘reasonable’ Nats cleverly delivered: ‘Look what we ‘ll make of you if you get too wrapped up in this independence business’. What a Cybernat is actually defined as remains conveniently unclear.
Furthermore, the press will have no hesitation to rapidly promote someone to ‘senior activist’ (blogger) or ‘prominent politician’ (councillor) if they can get a good SNP or Yes Scotland rift story into the press. Don’t be an idiot of course, but don’t be afraid to wear your pro-independence opinions on your sleeve either.
Not that this game is limited to individuals. Broadly speaking, if the SNP criticise the Greens for not being Nationalist enough or the Greens criticise the SNP for not being environmentalist enough or the Socialists either feel excluded or exclude themselves, the joint venture of Yes Scotland is simply not going to take off due to prevailing winds.
If I can compare the alliance to a hot air balloon (crack your own Salmond jokes now), the entity only gets off the ground if each side is appropriately balanced and has enough activation energy pulling it upwards. The Yes balloon is a bit wobbly right now, and whether each stakeholder is puffing in the same direction remains to be seen.
A symbolic incentive to work together has already been presented to the Yes alliance though. The Holyrood 2011 election results yielded 50 odd % of the votes for independence-favouring SNP + Greens + Socialists + Margo. These weren’t votes for independence many will be keen to point out, but a majority of voters have voted for independence-minded parties and whose to say they won’t be persuaded do so again?
Criticism is healthy and necessary for both campaigns and Yes Scotland’s greatest risk remains acolytes nodding Salmond into a crushing defeat. However, even though the SNP can just about survive with the fundamentalist vs gradualist tension continuing to bubble under the surface up to Autumn 2014, adding the amplified consternation of internal detractors into the mix will probably stretch Salmond’s big tent politics too far, and ultimately to the unionist’s delight.
Or maybe I’m just being unreasonable…