When Mhairi Black describes the Scotland Office as “little more than a Tory propaganda unit” she reveals a significant part of the misguided thinking which has made the SNP so woefully ineffectual as the political arm of Scotland’s independence movement. It is clear from this and other statement made by Mhairi Black and many of her colleagues that they the constitution issue – if at all – only through an ideological fog of partisan anti-Tory sentiment. The reality is that the Scotland Office – or the ‘UK Government in Scotland’ – is an unelected and unaccountable shadow administration-in-waiting. What Mhairi Black refers to as a “tory propaganda unit” is actually a British Nationalist propaganda unit.
This British Nationalist propaganda unit is not there to help spin Tory policy, although it may do so incidentally. Why would the British government need to ‘spin’ policies it has the power to impose regardless of what the people of Scotland want? It’s main purpose is to help prepare the ground for a transfer of power away from the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government to the UK Government in Scotland. It is tasked with undermining the Scottish Government and delegitimising the Scottish Parliament as part of the process of rolling back the devolution settlement and, ultimately, recreating the UK as a single unified state, indivisible and indissoluble.
It is not difficult to understand Mhairi Black’s detestation of the Tories. It is a sentiment I share. But I do not let my abhorrence of the Tories distract me from the fact that the enemy is the British state. The enemy is the structures of power, privilege and patronage which persist and wield power regardless of which of the British parties is in office. The two-party-and-a-bit system of British politics helps keep those structures of power, privilege and patronage intact and functioning to the benefit of a few and at whatever cost to the many by serving as a distraction. Mhairi Black appears to be distracted.
The whole SNP leadership and senior management as well as most of the party’s elected representatives in Holyrood and in Westminster have allowed themselves to be distracted from their primary role as the political arm of the independence movement by this anti-Tory agenda and other agendas only tangentially related – at best – to the constitutional issue. Four years of obsessing about Brexit stands as a perfect example. And if further evidence of this loss of focus is required then we need look no further than the parties internal policy disputes.
Some will point to the fact that Mhairi Black followed her pitifully shallow and totally misguided assessment of the Scotland Office and its propaganda operation with a statement about independence. Look at that statement.
“It is clearer than ever, that the only way to protect Scotland’s interests and our place in Europe is to become an independent country. People in Scotland deserve the right to choose our own future instead of having it dictated to us.”
Doesn’t it look familiar? It should. Because it is almost word-for-word what we hear from all those in the higher echelons of the SNP as dressing on some attack on the Tories – or on those within the SNP and the Yes movement who decline to support whatever agenda is uppermost in the minds of those reciting that passage above as if it is something learned by rote and drained of meaning by repetition. All the sincerity is in the anti-Tory sentiment, not the anti-Union sentiment. All the emotion is used up on denouncing and decrying anyone who presumes to prioritise the constitutional issue over the fight against the Tories or some reform hobby-horse. There is little or no passion left for Scotland’s cause.
We must reignite that passion. We must refocus the SNP on the constitutional issue. We must demand that they set aside the various distracting agendas and concentrate on the primary objective as set out in the party’s constitution.
Some say that we should give up on the SNP. They insist that there is absolutely no possibility of persuading the party leadership to put independence back at the top of the agenda where it belongs. They suggest various cunning plans for proceeding without the SNP. But what none of these ‘alternatives’ takes due account of is the inescapable fact that whether we like it or not the SNP is and will for the foreseeable future remain the de facto political arm of the independence movement. Scotland’s cause cannot possibly succeed without the active participation of the Scottish Government and only the SNP can possibly form that government. Follow the logic!
Any ‘alternative’ to the SNP must inevitably lead back to the SNP. There is no ‘alternative’ which does not in the end require the effective political power that only the SNP can provide. The choice is not between getting the SNP back on track or something else because whatever the something else is it will still eventually require that we get the SNP back on track.
My argument is that the Yes movement should not allow itself to be distracted in the way that the SNP has. We should not waste time and resources pursuing cunning plans which can only bring us back to the same problem of getting the SNP leadership re-focused on the constitutional issue. If we are going to be obliged to do this anyway down the line, why not do it now?
The British will not be wasting any time. Their plans to subsume Scotland into the latest iteration of the Greater England project proceed apace. It is frankly astonishing that the SNP can be so evidently blind to what is happening right under their noses. They need to be reminded. They need us to remind them.