I’m halfway through reading Project Fear, Joe Pike’s newly published account of the Better Together pro-Union campaign during the Scottish referendum. So far it is unputdownable and very funny. A full review follows on here next weekend. Spoiler alert: the Unionists win and the Nationalists are defeated 55-45. Then, in the UK general election that follows, the Nationalists win 56 seats to three.
What is most odd though is that there has been nothing remotely similar to Pike’s account covering the Nationalist side. Alex Salmond has published his happy clappy memoir, which is a bizarre document and yet another exercise in self-promotion from a man so addicted to the limelight that he couldn’t even retire properly. Declaration of interest: in his book he describes me as being “unified in buffoonery” with Boris Johnson. That is quite good, and I am having it struck as a medal, with one for Boris and the other for me.
Perhaps it is not so odd, though, that there has been no colourful, eye-opening account of the Yes campaign, when one considers the mindset of the most devoted Nats and their incomprehension when it comes to criticism. Yes was run as the tightest of ships with lines to take ruthlessly enforced and dissent not tolerated from the main participants. Underneath that, a movement developed in which those with a wide range of views could forget their differences and parrot the mantras (on self-determination, currency, Scottish exceptionalism, supposed moral superiority and the Tories) devised by the sloganeers and spin doctors in the SNP elite. Both groups, the elite and the movement drew considerable strength, from the other but it is one of the ironies of the referendum that a movement that its supporters billed as a flowering of democracy was controlled and directed to an extent that is creepy.
Excessively stringent party control always troubles me, as a voter and a hack. I didn’t like it when New Labour tried it and I thought the Tory media-management in the recent general election was worrying too. But the Nats make New Labour in its pomp look like an ill-disciplined rabble.
In a democracy it is good to see the wiring whenever possible, much as leaders hate it, or precisely because the leaders hate it, so that we see what is really going on and what these people who want power over us are really up to. Forget all that Mandelsonian nonsense about why the media should never focus on personalities. It turns out that at the root of New Labour’s problems and failures was an epic personality struggle between Blair and Brown that was worthy of Shakespeare. Personality was the problem, and policy mistakes were a manifestation of deeper tensions.
Yet, after almost a decade of dominance, the SNP is still a stranger to public disagreement or discussion, despite history suggesting that all political operations in a democracy have their internal divisions and problems. Relations between Salmond and Sturgeon are rumoured to be problematic. The party’s group of MPs contains bright people with divergent views yet on no major area of policy do they surface. Salmond’s economic gamble on currency was a disaster for the SNP in the referendum, so where’s the serious public discussion about why and how that happened? Is this an inevitable consequence of modern movement politics when individual desires are sublimated? Why are the Nats so terrified of their leaders?
When I asked on Twitter about this, there was the predictable shouting from cybernats that everyone on the Yes side agrees on everything (that can’t be true and it isn’t true). Incidentally, I don’t mind the abuse that follows on these occasions. It is standard operating procedure and it is revealing to see cybernats prove the point by being unable to accept criticism or answer a genuine question thoughtfully. It does make me wonder though why they behave in such a sheep like fashion. What part of their brains is not functioning?