Last week in London audiences were treated to a variety of speeches about the iniquity of the Union by Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP’s actual leader.
It would have been interesting to know what she really thought when she saw her London audiences. Did she see a foreign audience in a foreign city? Does she really think those who heard her thought that they were listening to someone foreign? I don’t know, I can’t know what Scotland’s First Minister truthfully feels but I do know that the lectures she has been handing out to the rest of the Kingdom are consistently incomplete and inaccurate. The SNP has a story to tell about itself, which many of Scotland’s voters may listen to this time, but the tale it has to tell about the rest of us is invented and unbelievable.
The fable goes wrong, badly wrong from the start. For Sturgeon’s Scotland, like Salmond’s Scotland, has no Right. It’s not a legitimate thing to be a Tory in the Scotland the SNP would invent. Unique among nations, Scotland’s nationalists would deny that conservative voters can patriotically exercise that choice. You might not like Tories, you might not be a Tory, but it’s quite something else to behave as both Salmond and Sturgeon do and affect that Tories are an ‘other,’ to blame, indeed, for many of the country’s ills.
This exclusive sense of Scotland and what it means to be Scottish quickly, inevitably morphs into self-pity. Nicola Sturgeon last week berated unionists from across the British political spectrum because they have a problem in inviting people who aim to break up the United Kingdom into the national government.
But that’s the thing, rejecting the SNP because they want to destroy the country is not the same as rejecting Scotland. It’s a disagreeable trait of nationalist parties everywhere to seek to conflate themselves and the country they claim to speak for. Scotland is bigger than the SNP. When Alex Salmond says it’s ‘disrespectful’ to rule out any UK government being formed off the back of SNP votes, he’s at it too. It’s not disrespectful towards Scots. It is, however, perfectly reasonably, antagonistic to the SNP and the principle which motivates it. It’s a very great pity neither Salmond nor Sturgeon seem capable of distinguishing between party and country.
Then there’s the matter of reliability. Which is to say, the SNP say a lot of things which can rather suddenly and unaccountably turn out to be no longer operative. The Referendum campaign showed this all too plainly. Indeed, the very fact of the Referendum is proof of this characteristic for what did they did say of it, in advance of it happening? That the Referendum would settle the national question ‘for a generation.’ A strident and sincere claim which turned out for the SNP to be just words just the day after the Scottish people spoke.
On issue after issue, nationalists seem to have some sort of mystical appeal to a higher truth that allows them to discount everyday realities and facts. Thus when, during the Referendum, inconsequential figures like the President of the European Commission said that the SNP’s policy on EU membership was entirely wrong, they were dismissed. Alex Salmond knew best – of course a separate Scotland would still be in the EU after it left the UK. What did it matter what the EU said?
In London, at the LSE last week, Nicola Sturgeon took Westminster to task for supposedly deficient British policies relating to the North Sea. Not once either during or since the referendum has the SNP ever explained how their economic case for independence was supposed to add up, even when there was an energy boom, let alone now.
The SNP claim they’ll be ‘constructive’, should they arrive in larger numbers at Westminster after the next election. Yet how can they be? Their policy is explicit: the Tories are untouchable, regardless of the parliamentary arithmetic voters present us with. And remember the blatant contradiction there. It’s, to Alex Salmond, utterly unacceptable that anyone should rule him out from anything, but, it’s of course completely fine for him to rule others out (in this case, the Tories).
There’s no pretence that the interests of the country will be weighed up after the votes are in. On Trident, on the public finances, on the constitution – on each of these issues, the SNP will act in their own interests, not in the interests of the UK as a whole. And of course, to do so they have to casually go back on yet one more pledge. Remember when the SNP said they’d only vote in the Commons on Scottish issues? That’s now being washed away as soon as it’s politically expedient to do so.
The SNP’s goal at Westminster is obvious. They aim to get out of England an answer they failed to get in Scotland. Their tactic will be to try and turn England against the rest of the country and their means will be whatever parliamentary opportunities fall to them.
I’ll not lead the largest unionist party in the next House of Commons, not by some distance. But what all of those genuinely committed to the maintaining the Union need to do – what all of David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg must commit themselves to – is resisting the division and discord the SNP are deliberately aiming to bring to parliament. The Scottish people spoke loudly and clearly to the SNP less than a year ago. It’s long past time unionists from all parties and none reminded Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond to listen to what they said. Scotland’s not foreign, the UK’s not broken and we really do remain better together.