Angus Robertson is starting to irritate me. He really needs to learn that not every response to a political development is a sign of panic. In fact, it can be a serious mistake to assume that your opponent is panicking when they may well be doing no more than responding to developments – either in accordance with some form of contingency planning or calmly and methodically guided by knowledge and experience. It is unwise to ever assume that your opponent is less powerful and determined than they might be. And that may be particularly true when that opponent is the British establishment.
This is not to say that Michael Gove, or any of Boris Johnson’s clique, might be particularly politically astute. There is little evidence that the current British political elite is a marvellously efficient machine in which every cog is a political operator of some genius. Rather the contrary. But there is one bit of evidence that we would be foolish to ignore. They tend to win! Somehow, this clown troupe has managed to achieve almost everything it set out to achieve. And where it has failed – even in the most appalling and abysmal way – it has survived. A casual observer unaware of the detail and background might easily mistake the Boris Johnson regime for the smartest political operators since Machiavelli. Or, at least, since Alex Salmond.
My preference would be to play safe and assume that everything the British do is, if not planned, then at minimum carefully considered. I would not dismiss anything they do as mere panicked flailing. I would be looking for the purpose behind their every move. I would always assume that they know what they’re doing. Because even if Michael Gove does give the impression of a creature desperately trying to maintain human form, he (it?) is merely the amorphous face of a ruling elite which has centuries of accumulated knowledge and experience. He and Boris and all the rest are just the public tip of a massive iceberg. Even the most incompetent and idiotic general will win battles if he has an overwhelming force behind him. Angus Robertson would do well to bear this in mind.
But hang on a minute! Isn’t Angus Robertson himself reputed to be something of a smart political operator? Doesn’t the SNP have a record that suggests it too is something of a well-oiled political machine with decades of accumulated knowledge and experience which because of the circumstances in which it was gained, may be broadly equivalent to the British ruling elite’s centuries? Shouldn’t we assume that, however irritating, Angus Robertson knows whereof he speaks? Shouldn’t we assume that he is perfectly well aware of the need to avoid too lightly dismissing the actions of the British state? Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves, therefore, what might be the purpose behind his eagerness to portray the actions of the British state as a panicked response to the SNP’s success?
It was no surprise to find Angus Robertson trotting out this rote refrain of an affrighted Tory government on the verge of chaotic retreat. We might have passed it by with a yawn. But when John Swinney joins in that refrain – or adds verse to chorus – our attention is rightly seized. Because Mr Swinney is without doubt a very smart political cookie indeed. It pays to attend to what he says. It pays even better to find the meaning and purpose behind what he says. With your indulgence, I think it helpful to quote him in full.
This move and this talk is essentially an indication of an acceptance of the reality that we’re now facing. That support for Scottish independence is demonstrating itself at a strong, consistent Yes position and majority support for Yes which is now emerging in a number of polls.
So I think what we’re now seeing is the UK Government accepting there will have to be a referendum on independence, and that’s a welcome position for them to take and it’s a democratic position for them to take.”
We had a referendum in 2014 in which people took the view that this was a well-organised referendum, with the correct franchise in which the people who are eligible to vote here in Scotland were able to do so.
And I think that served us well, there was international commendation for the strength and the quality of the process we put in place in 2014. And I don’t think we should deviate from that because of the inconvenience for the UK Government of the fact that Yes support is now demonstrating such a strong position within Scotland.
Who is John Swinney talking to here? What is the underlying message and who is the message most meant for? Obviously, he is always talking to the people of Scotland. He is the Deputy First Minister. He is also a very senior figure in the SNP. So it is safe to assume he is talking to the party membership. But is he addressing a particular section of the electorate? Is his message intended for some group or groups within the party?
When I attend closely to what John Swinney says what I hear is him selling the SNP’s current approach to the constitutional issue. And selling it hard. I hear a message intended to convince his audience that this approach is working. That it is succeeding. He is giving affirmation to those who have faith in this approach. He is giving reassurance to those whose faith may be wavering. He is issuing a reprimand to those who voice concerns about the commitment to the Section 30 process and the whole mindset behind the SNP’s approach to the matter of restoring Scotland’s independence.
Do you hear what I hear? Notwithstanding John Swinney’s calm, authoritative manner, do you detect perhaps just a faint note of panic in the urgency with which he is trying to convince us that the SNP is winning a battle which, despite all the rhetoric about imminent victory, is very, very far from won?
While John Swinney talks about supposed indicators of panic among the Brits and the likelihood of them conceding defeat, the subtext speaks of a concern that it may be the position taken by the SNP which is under pressure. Which is interesting. And not at all irritating.
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