Alyn Smith evidently supposes we have all the answers we need. Case closed! Nothing to see here! Move along! Nicola Sturgeon is squeaky clean and here we have the reports from two independent inquiries to prove it. Time to stop asking awkward questions. We’ve got answers. All the answers anybody could need.
Not quite, Alyn. You see, for me and I suspect many others the answers provided by these inquiries were never going to be enough. They were never going to be satisfactory. Even if they hadn’t been tainted by partisan bias and withheld evidence and dubious testimony, the answers would not have been sufficient for me. For the simple reason that neither of these inquiries was asking the questions that I want answered. And neither Alyn Smith nor anyone else who finds it convenient to cling to Nicola Sturgeons coattails is going to stop me continuing to ask the questions that remain unanswered.
Whatever the faithful may claim. we don’t have answers to some very big questions about Sturgeon’s conduct and competence as leader of the SNP and de facto head of Scotland’s independence movement. Even if we accept that the inquiries have answered all the questions there might be about her role in the deployment of smear, innuendo and false claims of criminality against Alex Salmond, they haven’t even touched on the dismantling of our party’s internal democracy; the apparent mismanagement of the party’s affairs or the conspicuous failure to lead the independence movement anywhere other than the blind alley of the Section 30 process and a seven year sojourn in an arid waste of broken promises, dishonoured commitments, feeble rationalisations, inexplicable choices and cowardly dithering.
All these questions remain. And some will continue to demand answers. Because for some, loyalty to party and leader has to be based on more than faith alone. Some of us need a rational reason to believe that Nicola Sturgeon is an efficient leader of the SNP and effective leader of the independence movement. For some of us it is not enough just to keep on winning elections. Essential as that is, it has to be for a purpose. And we have to ensure that the party is fit for that purpose. So we ask questions in the hope of ascertaining to our general satisfaction that the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership will be the party it needs to be and do what is required of it. We ask those questions in the hope of eliciting evidence or persuasive arguments from those who demand that we cast aside all doubt and unite behind Nicola Sturgeon.
Here’s the thing, Alyn. I’d be perfectly content to get behind Nicola Sturgeon if I had reason to believe she was leading us where I want to go. I have great uncertainty about where she is leading the country. I have grave misgivings about where she has led the party. And I have strong objections to being told my questions have been answered when none has even been acknowledged.
The term non sequitur can refer to either a conversational device or a logical fallacy. In either case it describes a disjuncture in the structure of a text or an argument. Literally, it means ‘it does not follow’. An example might be an answer which does not relate to the question being asked. This may be done for laughs. It can be amusing because of it’s foolishness. But the non sequitur can be used for rather more devious purposes. It is frequently used by politicians to avoid giving an answer which would be either dishonest or too honest. Watch the Sunday politics shows on TV and count on your finger the number of times the politician being interviewed actually gives a straight answer to the interviewer’s question. You won’t have to set down your mug of coffee.
The non sequitur is also a device used by propagandists in very much more sinister ways. Someone may point out that the country is broke and demand to know where the money has gone. The propagandist might respond by pointing out that all Jews are rich (appealing to a common stereotype that is itself a fallacy) and leave the concerned citizen to make the connection between her poverty and the wealth of Jews rather than with corrupt and incompetent politicians.
Alyn Smith stops short of insisting that bloggers such as myself be made to wear some some sort of identifying symbol pinned to our clothing. But he does seek to make us an out-group. We are the other. We are dissidents. We ask questions, therefore we are associated with – blamed for – the problems we ask questions about. It’s a form of non sequitur. Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly fails to deliver a promised referendum. We ask why. Or attempt to explain the failure to deliver. The response from the likes of Alyn Smith implies that it is this questioning after the fact that somehow caused the problem. The response breaks the logical connection between the failure to deliver and the individual, group or organisation charged with delivering and seeks to replace it with a connection between the failure and those who speak or write about it. Voila! The dissident bloggers are othered.
The question is whether Nicola Sturgeon is the leader Scotland’s cause needs at this time. A question which arises from more than just the harassment debacle. When we ask about Sturgeon’s fitness for the roles of leader of the SNP and face of the independence movement, to answer that she has handled the Covid situation quite well or that she is quite popular with the public or even that she has been quite a good First Minister, this is a non sequitur. As is telling us that two inquiries have sort of cleared her of a particular instance of ineptitude or wrongdoing. These are not answers. We haven’t got answers. We will keep on asking until we do get them.