Nicolas Cage is a Hollywood star whose mediocrity as an actor is flattered by his filmography. Con Air is one of those films you can watch repeatedly and still enjoy and 8mm has to be one of the grittiest mainstream movies ever made. In the former, Cage is propped up by an ensemble cast that includes John Malkovich and Steve Buscemi while in the latter all eyes are on Joaquin Phoenix and the late James Gandolfini to the extent that you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Cage was even there.
I mention this by way of leading up to another Cage vehicle that came to mind yesterday as news emerged of the internal manoeuvrings within the SNP against Joanna Cherry. The 2009 movie Knowing is an unremarkable if mildly enjoyable thriller made famous by an astoundingly graphic and horrifyingly detailed plane crash sequence. I was reminded of that scene as I watched a gang of hijackers fly the SNP into the ground.
I refer specifically to the decision by the party’s National Executive Committee to change the candidate selection rules in a way that was bound to be perceived as a deliberate – and as it turns out effective – attempt to prevent Joanna Cherry MP from pursuing nomination as the SNP candidate for Edinburgh Central constituency, thus favouring Angus Robertson. A decision that makes sense only to those who are convinced the party exists solely to further their narrow political agenda. A political agenda which has more to do with ham-fisted, heavy-handed and horribly misguided social engineering than progressive social reform. The film that comes to mind when I consider the antics of the ‘woke’ clique is 1977’s The Island of Dr. Moreau based on HG Wells’ prescient tale of genetic manipulation and its catastrophic consequences.
Factionalism will bring down a political party as surely as metal fatigue will bring down an aircraft. Like metal fatigue, it can start with cracks so slight as to be invisible. It will initially be celebrated as ‘diversity’ – with no thought as to whether diversity is any less toxic to a political party than full-blown factionalism.
Factions breed factions. They breed in two ways. For every faction there is at least one counter-faction. And, of course, each faction is likely itself to succumb to factionalism as internal differences become disputes become divisions become disintegration.
Factions become more toxic as they breed. Each new faction contains a more potent distillation of whatever dogma is driving the process. Further factions arise as ‘moderates’ strive to counter the more extreme factions and become themselves more extreme in the process.
Labels proliferate. A whole new lexicon develops as every faction attempts to define itself with ever greater precision and others with ever more prejudice. The more rigidly the faction is defined the less likely it is that individuals will find an accommodation for their own worldview. So they create their own faction. The more pejorative the labels thrown at opponents the wider the gulf between them becomes. Differences that are definitively trivial become major points of contention. Major points of contention become the basis of further division. Factions breed factions.
No political party can survive this. Long before factions become so numerous and differentiated that the party appears to stand for everything and therefore nothing, the public will grow weary of it and look elsewhere for something less incomprehensibly complicated. Something more cohesive. Something with a core. Something like the SNP used to be.
There’a a chicken and egg dilemma here. Is it the pursuit by some inexplicably influential clique of its own agenda which has led to the constitutional issue being sidelined? Or is it that in kicking the constitutional issue so far down the road as to be out of sight Nicola Sturgeon has removed the core around which the party used to cohere? More likely, it is a combination of and interaction between these two processes which is splitting the party asunder?
Can the situation be remedied? Can the fission be halted? What is needed to prevent the SNP becoming fragmented and weak at the very time when we need it to be most effective as a political force?
Actually, it’s quite simple. All the party leader has to do is put the restoration of Scotland’s independence back at the centre of everything the SNP is and everything it does. Restore that common purpose and renewed unity at least becomes a possibility. But this refocusing on the constitutional issue will have to be convincing. It has to involve a solid commitment to a Manifesto for Independence in next year’s Holyrood elections made by a leader the membership trusts.
Whatever way you look at this, Nicola Sturgeon has some very hard questions to answer. In my head, I’m still seeing that plane crash scene from Knowing.
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