Publication of the SNP administration’s Programme for Government (PfG) is welcome, if for no other reason than that it provides some real politics for us to chew on rather than the meagre fare of what has been a particularly vacuous ‘silly season’. Pretty much anything would be a treat after a diet of smears, sensationalised trivia and the festival of stupidity that is Brexit.
Impressive as the PfG is – and there’s some fairly bold stuff in there – it will be subjected to the customary mindless pillorying by the British politicians squatting in the Scottish Parliament on seats that should be occupied by a functioning opposition. They will castigate it for reasons that are inconsistent and contradictory and, not infrequently, inane. They will criticise it in ways that raise doubts about whether they’ve actually read it. They’ll excoriate policies that they’d previously embraced and bemoan the absence of policies they’d previously condemned.
In short, the British parties will continue to behave like ill-bred bairns. They will continue to disgrace Scotland’s Parliament, besmirch Scotland’s politics and embarrass Scotland’s people.
The public will doubtless continue to ignore these British politicians; as they have done for the eleven years that they’ve been electing SNP governments on the grounds of general competence and satisfactory performance. The whining and carping of the British parties has become no more than the background noise to a political culture in which they are increasingly struggling to find any relevance. The crashing disconnect between the crisis, calamity and catastrophe stricken Scotland they proclaim and the Scotland of everyday lived experience reflects, and is reflected in, the disconnect between the British parties and Scotland’s people.
Intellectually crippled by bitter, resentful hatred of the SNP and fanatically obsessed with preservation of the British state at any cost, the British parties have almost totally lost touch with the realities of Scottish politics, and seem daily more out of place in Scotland’s distinctive political culture.
The British media echo and amplify this weird and woeful perspective on Scotland and, accordingly, the people of Scotland tend more and more to dismiss and disregard them. The traditional media is losing something more than its audience. It is losing its authority. Respect has been squandered as trust has been betrayed. A media sector which is 80%-90% supportive of British Nationalist ideology cannot speak meaningfully to an audience which is at least 50% opposed to that that ideology. People just stop listening.
What the representatives and agents of the British establishment say about Scotland’s politics can safely be ignored. For the most part, they are not talking to us or even about us. They are blaring propaganda at us from a place outside the Scotland we know.
If Nicola Sturgeon has a problem it is not with these representatives and agents of an increasingly alien British state. The downside of quiet competence is that it doesn’t ignite any fires. The disadvantage of a moderately good record in government over a long period of time is that it becomes the norm. It comes to be taken for granted. There is a danger that voters – especially those who have forgotten the past or never known anything different – will suppose that this quiet competence is just the way things are. There is a risk that the satisfactory record may cease to be associated with an SNP administration. Voters might suppose that the gains of the last decade are secure. Or that further progress might be won regardless of who they vote for.
The SNP could well be a victim of its success. It may have so firmly established principled pragmatism as the ethos of the Scottish Government that voters will think it a fixed attribute – a constant on which they can rely even as administrations change.
Nicola Sturgeon has to tread a cautious path between the desert of dull managerialism and the mountain of raised expectations. Whether the SNP administration’s Programme for Government achieves this remains to be seen. But one thing is certain. It is not the verdict of the British parties and the British media which matters. The people of Scotland will decide.
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