The dilemma of conflicting imperatives

The trouble with saying that this isn’t what it looks like is that it induces people to think about what it looks like rather than what it’s being presented as. A bit like telling someone not to think about a pink elephant. Deferring the spring conference looks very like a pink elephant.

The problem wouldn’t arise, of course, if there weren’t reasons for supposing the SNP might wish to postpone the conference that have nothing to do with whatever it is that isn’t a pink elephant. If there weren’t widespread concern within the party and beyond about Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional question then people would not be able to ascribe ulterior motives to those responsible for putting conference off for three months.

People tend to think the worst of politicians and party managers. I wonder why.

Let’s deny them the benefit of the doubt for the moment. Let’s suppose the worst. Let’s assume the conference has been delayed to save the platform-sitters from having to face awkward questions from delegates who are less than enamoured with elements of their leadership’s performance. Will a two or three month delay solve the problem? Let’s think!

If the party hierarchy thinks a conference in March or April would be marked (marred?) by scenes of discontent and even dissent then they must reckon there to be cause for that discontent/dissent. And if they think it’s safe to have the conference in June, they must be calculating that the aforementioned cause of discontent and/or dissent will be eliminated before then. Which in turn suggests that something significant is going to happen in the interim.

What might that be?

Speculation is rife. Well, it is in my head. Thing is, there’s not that much to speculate about. It’s that old thing about imperatives and options again. The key to some kind of understanding of the ebb, flow and swirl of the political tides. Or at least, the key to turning idle speculation into informed analysis.

In terms of the constitutional issue, the British state’s overarching imperative – what drives its behaviour – is the need to preserve the Union at quite literally any cost. Their options all derive from the Union and the power relationship that it creates and perpetuates whereby the British state – or England-as-Britain or Borissia – is in all respects and at all times around eight times more powerful than Scotland. As if every voter in England-as-Britain had eight votes to every one vote for individuals in Scotland. (This, incidentally, is a major factor in the increasing number of English people in Scotland supporting independence. They are better placed to see the imbalance than ‘native’ Scots who have only ever lived in Scotland.)

What this means is that the British state has, if not unlimited options, certainly uncountable options. Effectively, the British political elite can do as it pleases with and to Scotland. The Union was intended to solve the ‘Scottish problem’. It was meant to remove Scotland as a threat to England. To achieve this, a grotesquely asymmetric political union was devised and imposed on Scotland. Even three hundred years ago the people detested the Union. But Scotland’s ruling elites were assured that they would be protected from the effects of this imbalance of power.

That constitutional arrangement; that grotesque imbalance of power, remains fundamentally unchanged to this day. Society has changed beyond recognition since 1707. But the Union has not changed accordingly. Such changes as there have been – notably devolution – were intended to reinforce and preserve the imbalance rather than to reform and rectify it.

In the UK, people in Scotland are second-class citizens at best. The Union makes it so. We have a second-class parliament. The Union so stipulates. We have a second-class government. The Union allows no more. Not second-class in the sense of qualitatively inferior. Certainly second-class in terms of political power. Our Scottish Parliament may have immeasurably greater democratic legitimacy than Westminster. But it must always be subordinate. Our Scottish Government may be considerably more effective in addressing the needs, priorities and aspirations of the nation’s people. But it must always be subordinate to even the worst of administrations in London. Our people may be little different from the resident of Borissia. But we do not have the same right to choose the government that best suits our needs. The Union underpins this inequity.

This is the reality of the Union. A reality that is abhorred by many who appreciate the true nature of Scotland’s predicament; tolerated by those whose fear or apathy outweighs their self-respect and sense of justice; embraced by those whose conceit of themselves is that they are, or can hope to become, part of the cossetted elite.

But to our speculation. The foregoing has, I hope, served to explain why the British state has so many options. Or, to put it another way, so few constraints on how it acts towards Scotland. This is why restoring Scotland’s independence will require an exceptional effort on the part of boldly imaginative and utterly determined people.

Which brings me to the Scottish Government. No! really! Settle down!

What is the Scottish Government’s imperative? What drives the SNP administration? There can be no doubt that in relation to the day-to-day governance of the nation, the SNP administration seeks to serve the interests of Scotland’s people. And does so with quiet competence. Perhaps too quiet. Everybody will have their pet gripes, of course. But overall, the SNP administration has done a truly remarkable job considering the daunting constraints of devolution and an increasingly hostile British state.

All of which may well be part of the problem. The SNP is not only supposed to provide good government. It is also the de facto political arm of the independence movement. A role which bestows upon the party duties and responsibilities quite distinct from the duties and responsibilities of government. In relation to its role as a party of government the SNP’s imperative must be to stay in office. To win elections. To conduct itself in such a way as will enable it to win elections.

In relation to its role as the political arm of the independence movement, however, the driving imperative must be the restoration of Scotland’s independence. But to the considerable extent that options for action are related to power, the SNP is relatively powerless against the British state and its uncountable options. This we know. This we understand. What may be less well recognised or appreciated is the conflict between the two imperatives driving the SNP. On the one hand, its role as the governing party means it must conform to and comply with the unjust conditions imposed by the Union. On the other, its imperative in relation to its role as the party of independence obliges it to behave contrary to those conditions.

Basically, the SNP can’t do its job as a government if it fulfils its role as the party of independence.

Which imperative wins? Ultimately, the party must choose. It may well be that this choice was on the cards for the SNP’s spring conference. Whispers are growing daily about grassroots pressure on the party leadership for a change of approach to the constitutional question. It would, from a pragmatic point of view, be understandable if the leadership preferred to postpone this confrontation. Much as they’ve avoided the confrontation with the British state which will come at some point if the shackles of the Union are to be broken.

If the postponement is to allow the party bosses time to prepare for the coming contest of priorities – or imperatives – I’m fine with that. It’s a crucial issue. It deserves and requires preparation. If the postponement is for the purpose of preempting the confrontation by taking some kind of extraordinary action, I’ll be even better pleased. But if the postponement turns out to be nothing more than kicking the can down the road from reluctance to face up to the issue, I will not be well pleased.

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16 thoughts on “The dilemma of conflicting imperatives

  1. Another excellent analysis.

    I believe that the contradictory position of the SNP has been getting more and more visible since the Brexit vote in 2016. From this event it was established historically that England and Scotland were now diverging. I wrote about what I thought it all meant here:

    There are now perhaps several options:

    Sacrifice the SNP government and send it back into opposition as Unionist parties squabble over how to do what they demanded of the SNP for so many years. The upside would be to give the party a kick up the arse; the downside that Unionists will oversee the dismantling of the Scottish Parliament.

    Start a new party called something along the lines of the Independence Party and prepare to stand candidates on the lists and in selected constituencies. Upside again gives the party a kick up the arse, downside splits the independence vote, it is dependent on elections which are still far off and on a clever electorate.

    Start assorted court proceedings against all sorts of stuff the Brits are up to or have done. Upside it will keep them busy, downside it backfires.

    Get more involved in local branch activism, push for change within existing party protocols.

    Forget about the SNP completely and let it footer along while the movement concentrates on creating more favourable conditions. In this category there is space for many creative efforts and any activities designed to winkle out and expose MI5/special branch agents who have infiltrated the party and the movement.

    Or we keep the heid and make strategic interventions of one sort or another as the chaos of events comes to dominate politics. The forthcoming Irish election for example might shift things considerably there and make a difference here. The climate summit fiasco is fertile ground for demonstrations and so forth.

    It is very clear that the SNP machine does need a serious kick in the backside. I read the following article this morning and found it apposite:

    Whatever else, we must surely shout the perfidy of Albion from the rooftops.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the new political Party idea.
      If SNP were to work alongside it, then it shouldn’t split the Independence vote.
      Whether SNP actually would like to have such a new group, is another thing, of course, and they probably would rather not.
      But as we have seen, hoping SNP by themselves get the numbers needed at Edinburgh, is not the best way forward.
      I don’t really trust the Greens, and some of their ideas and polices are counterproductive, and not being very helpful either.The would like Independence, but I think, for different reasons, however, it isn’t their main aim.
      One thing I must add tho, on any new Independence group. is that it must not be anti SNP. Labour style) But it can have differing policies, but in that cordial EU type way.
      That is what I would like to see.
      Tho, I sill think SNP should do more of course, and still want them to pull their MPs from Westminster.
      That one move alone, would definitely cause waves!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It looks like England is going down and they are taking us with them.

    We should have used the life rafts when we had the chance. Hate to say it but I can’t see a way out of this now!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would add Peter.

    Whether this is comfortable or not. We need a complete clear out of the SNP leadership. There is a stench at the heart of the party caused by Murrel and Nicola. We have no voice!

    Personally I think it would be a breath of fresh air for party members, and would go down well overall. Nicola may or may not survive the Salmond trial anyway.

    The problem most of us feel now. Is that we no longer trust what Nicola is telling us.

    It’s turning into a dictatorship.


  4. This was exactly what I was saying the other day. The SNP as a party of devolved government is incompatible with the SNP as a campaign to secure Scottish independence. The SNP high command needs to face up to this.

    The first has to act cautiously within the limits set by the Scotland Act or it could be removed from office.

    But the second must act boldly and freely and ultimately challenge and break free of the Scotland Act. As you’ve pointed out, at some point this must involve a direct challenge to the authority of the UK government.

    The solution in my mind is that the FM cannot be the same person who leads the independence campaign.

    This leader needs to be somebody who can’t be removed from public office because they don’t hold one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I.e., it’s not to do with individuals or the personal ability of the current FM to lead an independence campaign, it’s to do with strategy. Under devolution the office of FM is a controlled on which has to toe the line set by the British state and if it does not, either the person holding that office or the office itself will face severe reprisals.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I just think Nicola has reached her sell by date. She has ran out of ideas in government, and on the indy front. Stale and stagnating.


    1. Not sure I agree Big Jock. She has introduced those national assemblies in a bid to better understand priorities in government and build consensus between the 45% and the 55%. Then there was the Growth Report (albeit widely condemned by most Yessers) and the Scottish Investment Bank. I know there’s nothing to set the heather alight in all of this, but I think she is acting within the narrow orbit of her powers in taking small incremental steps to improve Scottish government and earn respect across the board. I think she is highly conscious that the country is dangerously divided and is trying to bridge that divide. She is governing devolved Scotland very ably but I as regards independence I just feel she is severely constricted by her role as FM.

      What I can’t know is if she is frustrated by that and would rather be doing something bolder, or is quite content to be the able top manager of a devolved Scotland.

      But the thing is: Time and tide wait for no man/woman. It’s all very well her taking these micro steps but meanwhile the world is changing rapidly around us.


  6. You got me thinking about where the direction of travel is. My starting point was that I do believe Nicola Sturgeon wants an independent Scotland as the end point but the road became unclear to her following the 2017 election. What she did see was anger at issues which were seen to have been, true or not, put on the back burner in favour of independence. That was the Tories strong message after all.

    What then followed was a push by various factions to gain control of the narrative as independence wasn’t their ultimate goal hence the message from many ‘favoured’ folk of ‘wait and see’, ‘not yet’ and the implication of a secret plan and the alienation of anyone, bloggers for eg, who pointed out the flaws in the ‘plan’.

    The fact that the polls hadn’t moved much probably made a lot of folk think that their advice was correct!

    We are coming to an end point because as you say the membership are having no more cans being kicked down the road. So the logical conclusion is there needs to be a serious challenge to the British state. Of course that would require a strategy and I don’t see one hingin’ aboot anywhere.


    1. The strategy surely involves a leader of the campaign who is not in a public office that they can be removed from but who collaborates with the FM.

      A vigorous campaign should see support rise. At that point there will need to be more direct confrontation with the UK government.

      But the first step must be a proper campaign to build support.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Personally I have lost faith in Nicola. She has been First Minister for 6 years. In politics leaders often become extremely cautious and protective of their status after a while.

    I might be wrong but I expect she might have a few skeletons.


    1. You wish. You’ve been concern-trolling her here for long enough in a contemptibly scurrilous personal way. Your very own personal micro-tabloid full of unsubstantiated negative nods and winks without an iota of fact to back any of it up. Ultimately signalling a self-evident fear of her ability to win over the undecided than any genuine concern for independence.

      Whenever you appear, there’s always a very strong accompanying odour of fish. Rotting fish.


  8. Grizebard.

    Two words fuck off.

    If you can’t handle someone criticising Nicola Sturgeon, then don’t resort to the old concern troll get out. I will not seek your approval to criticise the leader of the SNP.

    Your are part of the problem. Someone who can’t see the flaws in the SNP leader. A sheep.

    Liked by 2 people

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