Not the messiah, just a naughty... Photo:Getty
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If you think the SNP are a left-wing force, think again

Many on the Left see the SNP as a progressive partner - the reality is very different. 

Len McCluskey this week praised Nicola Sturgeon and said that Labour should be prepared to work with the SNP. He isn’t the only English lefty to fall for the charms of Scotland’s First Minister. ‘Can I vote SNP?’ was one of the most popular Google searches among non-Scottish voters who watched the main leaders’ debate at the start of the campaign. The effect has been similar to Cleggmania in 2010 with a rival party leader appearing to say the sorts of things many Labour supporters have longed to hear from one of their own. Why shouldn’t they be attracted to the idea of Labour forming a progressive alliance with the SNP, Plaid Cymru, SDLP and possibly a Green or two? For very good reasons, as it happens.

The case against a deal with the SNP is usually made by Labour tribalists and couched in terms so self-serving as to be immediately discounted by its intended audience. The party might do better if it showed more self-awareness by acknowledging that there are valid reasons for people in Scotland to feel angry with it.

The argument for steering clear of the SNP isn’t that Labour has a monopoly of progressive virtue. It clearly doesn’t. The real reason for being a Nat-sceptic is that, aside from nationalism, the SNP has no ideological core of its own and simply instrumentalises progressive ideas to advance the regressive goal of separatism. For the non-Scottish left there can be no question of a principled and trusting relationship with the SNP because you can’t build a common project for social change with someone whose first and only purpose is to smash up the political community to which you both belong. The left in England and Wales may want the UK to work differently, but they definitely want it to work. Nicola Sturgeon and her party want it to fail.

The SNP could have proved otherwise by refocusing its priorities on areas of shared interest with the rest of Britain when it lost the referendum, but it spurned the opportunity. Like true vanguardists, the self-styled ‘45’ decided to set democracy and majority opinion aside and behave as if they were real voice of Scotland. Their pledge that the referendum would be a “once in a generation” event was immediately ditched in a frenzy of debate about how soon a rerun could be engineered and what ruses would be needed to secure a different outcome. Everything the SNP does is now framed with that solitary objective in mind.

The effect has been to foster a dominant attitude that is highly sectarian and trending towards totalitarian. There is only one truth and one way to be authentically Scottish – the nationalist way. Anyone who disagrees with this is, as one SNP parliamentary candidate put it, the moral equivalent of a Nazi collaborator. There is no space for pluralism and honest compromise with a movement in this state of mind. The normal rules of democratic conduct don’t apply because it answers to destiny alone. When Nicola Sturgeon says that she wants to help the Labour Party, she does so in the same spirit that Lenin once advised his British followers support the Labour Party of Arthur Henderson: “as the rope supports a hanged man”.

The SNP’s progressive credentials don’t, in any case, stand up to serious scrutiny. When Sturgeon was asked at her manifesto launch to name a redistributive policy enacted by the SNP in Holyrood, she was unable to cite a single example. There has been plenty of middle class welfarism, but no effective measures to reduce inequality or poverty. Indeed, the SNP in power has resembled nothing as much as New Labour in its pomp, combining the worst reflexes of authoritarian statism and market liberalism with a superior, “we know best” attitude that brooks no opposition.

With the creation of a single national police force, the routine use of armed response units, a stop and search rate four times higher than the rest of the UK and plans to create an integrated ID database, the SNP has strayed into areas that even Tony Blair’s Home Secretaries backed away from. A new ‘named person’ law will create an army of state employed snoopers with a right to pry into the affairs of every family. The party has also taken a lurch towards democratic centralism with a new gagging rule that obliges its MPs to "accept that no member shall within or outwith the parliament publicly criticise a group decision, policy or another member of the group".

The SNP’s ‘business friendly’ approach of sucking up to powerful tycoons like Donald Trump, Brian Souter and Rupert Murdoch is scarcely any better then Blair’s cloying embrace of the super-rich, and arguably worse. The party’s flagship post-independence economic policy of attracting multinational companies by slashing corporation tax and undercutting the welfare budgets of other countries is the sort of tax piracy beloved of the neo-liberal right. The SNP’s claims to be anti-austerity have been revealed as baseless. Only opposition to Trident sets it apart; hardly an act of principle given that an independent Scotland wouldn’t be able to afford nuclear weapons.

At a time when Britain is crying out for a politics of the common good, the SNP stands for a militant politics of sectional advantage. It is rapidly acquiring the characteristics of a political religion, a faith-based movement that vilifies unbelievers and subordinates all other considerations to the attainment of national ‘rapture’ through independence. This sets it apart from other parties, even Plaid Cymru which takes a more pragmatic approach to independence and has already worked as part of a coalition in Cardiff. There are good reasons for people on the left to want a new kind of pluralist politics, but it’s no use pretending that you can pursue that vision with people who aren’t pluralists. Short of a second referendum defeat, the SNP is likely to remain a belligerent and destructive force in British politics. Progressives beware.

David Clark was Robin Cook’s special adviser at the Foreign Office 1997-2001.

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In her first interview of 2017, I pressed the Prime Minister for Brexit clarity

My week, including running out of cat food, reading Madeleine Thien – oh, and interviewing Theresa May on my show.

As the countdown to going live begins in your ear, there’s always a little rush of adrenalin. Especially when you’re about to launch a new Sunday morning political programme. And especially when you’re about to conduct the Prime Minister’s first interview of 2017. When you hear the words, “Cue Sophy,” there’s a split-second intake of breath – a fleeting moment of anticipation – before you start speaking. Once the show is under way, there’s no time to step back and think; you’re focused on what’s happening right now. But for that brief flicker of time before the camera trained on you goes live, you feel the enormity of what’s happening. 

My new show, Sophy Ridge on Sunday, launched on Sky News this month. After five years as a political correspondent for the channel, I have made the leap into presenting. Having the opportunity to present my own political programme is the stuff that dreams are made of. It’s a bit like having your own train set – you can influence what stories you should be following and which people you should be talking to. As with everything in television, however, it’s all about the team, and with Toby Sculthorp, Tom Larkin and Matthew Lavender, I’m lucky enough to have a great one.

 

Mayday, mayday

The show gets off to a fantastic start with an opportunity to interview the Prime Minister. With Theresa May, there are no loose comments – she is a cautious premier who weighs up every word. She doesn’t have the breezy public school confidence of David Cameron and, unlike other politicians I’ve met, you don’t get the sense that she is looking over her shoulder to see if there is someone more important that she should be talking to.

In the interview, she spells out her vision for a “shared society” and talks about her desire to end the stigma around mental health. Despite repeated pressing, she refuses to confirm whether the UK will leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. However, when you consider her commitment to regaining control of immigration and UK borders, it’s very difficult – almost impossible – to see how Britain could remain a member. “Often people talk in terms as if somehow we are leaving the EU but we still want to kind of keep bits of membership of the EU,” she said. “We are leaving. We are coming out. We are not going to be a member of the EU any longer.” Draw your own conclusions.

 

Women on top

This is probably the kind of thing that I should remain demurely quiet about and allow other people to point out on my behalf. Well, screw that. I think it’s fantastic to see the second female prime minister deciding to give her first interview of the New Year to the first woman to front a Sunday morning political show on television. There, I said it.

 

Escaping the bubble

In my view, every journalist should make a New Year’s resolution to get out of London more. The powerful forces that led to the political earthquake of 2016 came from outside the M25. Every week, I’ll be travelling to a different part of the country to listen to people’s concerns so that I can directly put them to the politicians that I interview. This week, it was Boston in Lincolnshire, where the highest proportion of people voted to leave the European Union.

Initially, it was tricky to get people to speak on camera, but in a particularly friendly pub the Bostonians were suddenly much more forthcoming. Remain supporters (a minority, I know) who arrogantly dismiss Leave voters as a bunch of racists should listen to the concerns I heard about a race to the bottom in terms of workers’ rights. Politicians are often blamed for spending too much time in the “Westminster bubble”, but in my experience journalists are often even worse. Unless we escape the London echo chamber, we’ll have no chance of understanding what happened in 2016 – and what the consequences will be in 2017.

 

A room of one’s own

Last December, I signed a book deal to write the story of women in politics. It’s something I’m passionate about, but I’ll admit that when I pitched the idea to Hachette I had no idea that 2016 would turn out to be quite so busy. Fitting in interviews with leading female politicians and finding the time to write the damn thing hasn’t been easy. Panic-stricken after working flat out during the EU campaign and the historic weeks after, I booked myself into a cottage in Hythe, a lovely little market town on the Kent coast. Holed up for two weeks on my own, feeling a million miles away from the tumultuous Westminster, the words (finally) started pouring on to the page. Right now, I’m enjoying that blissful period between sending in the edited draft and waiting for the first proofs to arrive. It’s nice not to have that nagging guilty feeling that there’s something I ought to be doing . . .

 

It’s all over Mao

I read books to switch off and am no literary snob – I have a particular weakness for trashy crime fiction. This week, I’ve been reading a book that I’m not embarrassed to recommend. Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by the Canadian author Madeleine Thien, tells the haunting story of musicians who suffered during the Cultural Revolution in China. It’s also a chilling warning of what happens when anger towards the elite is pushed too far.

 

Political animals

However busy and exhilarating things are at work, my cat, Ned, will always give me a reality check. In the excitement of the first Sophy Ridge on Sunday, I forgot to get him any food. His disappointed look as he sits by his empty bowl brings me crashing back down to earth. A panicked dash to Sainsbury’s follows, the fuel warning light on all the way as I pray I don’t run out of petrol. Suddenly, everything is back to normal.

“Sophy Ridge on Sunday” is on Sky News on Sundays at 10am

Sophy Ridge is a political correspondent for Sky News.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge