A tale of two cults

On 8 March I published an article titled Don’t be a cult. It was a response to George Kerevan’s column in The National (George Kerevan: Yes movement must take stock or risk throwing away independence) in which he offered a list of  “serious policy issues” which must be addressed “if the indy movement is to recover ground” in the wake of the Scottish Government’s horribly bungled pursuit of Alex Salmond. First on that list was a warning that a cult of personality had grown around Nicola Sturgeon. Having now joined Alex Salmond in Alba Party Mr Kerevan may want to revisit his warning against adulation of an individual which precludes rational assessment of that individual’s character and performance.

Meanwhile, it might be useful to revisit my own comments in response to George Kerevan’s observation that Nicola Sturgeon now appeared to be at the centre of a cult of personality. I apologise for the lengthy quote. But I think it helps make a point.

There can hardly be any doubt that something akin to a cult of personality exists around Nicola Sturgeon. But I dispute that it is a product of the “Sturgeon-Salmond battle”. I would say rather that the extreme polarisation which characterises this whole affair is a product of the reverence afforded to both these towering figures in Scottish politics by certain of their supporters. At the very least the problem was exacerbated – particularly in the case of Sturgeon – by a regard which brooked no criticism whatever of the personality at the centre of the cult. Less impassioned commentators watched in growing horror as what should have been a teacupful of trouble develop into a full-scale tropical storm as defence became preemptive attack and preemptive attack became first strike and retaliation became indistinguishable from provocation. This could not have happened unless there was a pre-existing cult of personality such as might preclude rational assessment of the situation.

George commits the fallacy of false equivalence when he insists that the two sides are equally to blame. This takes no account of the fact that one of the personalities involved is the First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party while the other holds no public office whatever and is not – as far as I am aware – a member of any political party. It hardly matters if there is a cult of personality around Alex Salmond. Neither party nor nation depends on his decisions. It is not, in that sense, important whether he is right or wrong. It matters a very great deal whether Nicola Sturgeon is right or wrong. Therefore, it matters whether people think she’s making the correct choices.

Arguably the most deleterious effect of descent into a cult of personality (or personalities) is that the rightness or wrongness of the decisions ceases to be the issue. Reasoned and reasonable debate about the choices being made becomes impossible when the only thing that matters is the identity of the individual making those choices. Again, this is of little consequence in the case of ‘ordinary citizen’ Salmond. It is of critical importance in the case of the now and future First Minister and leader of the SNP. The ‘dispute’ long since ceased to be about whether Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue stands a chance of success or whether her policy agenda is even sane. The dispute is now entirely about whether the approach to the constitutional issue and the policy agenda are uncritically accepted or not. This is not healthy.

Things have moved on somewhat since I wrote that. The comments regarding the effects and dangers of a personality cult still stand. They are generally relevant. But if it hardly mattered a month ago if there was a cult of personality around Alex Salmond this is not quite so true now that he is back in frontline politics leading a party which is standing candidates in the Scottish Parliament election. It now matters considerably more that people should look at Salmond and his Alba Party with eyes undimmed by hero-worship.

I fear that is not happening. As people flock to Alba Party almost entirely on the basis of the party being led by Salmond, there is little sign that any questions are being asked about what the party stands for or where its leader intends to take it or what it proposes to do supposing any Alba Party candidates win seats in the Scottish Parliament. Spectacular claims are being made for the party by its supporters. The least of these is that it will break the logjam which has kept the independence cause at a standstill for an unconscionably long time. At the other end of the scale Alba Party/Alex Salmond will rout the Unionists and ensure that Scotland’s independence is restored in short order. But none of those flocking to Alex Salmond’s banner seem to be asking how he will live up to expectations which fly a great deal higher than that banner does.

I have questions. I always have questions. I listen to what politicians say. I look closely at what politicians propose and promise. I try to ask the awkward questions. The questions those politicians would rather weren’t asked. I’ve made myself very unpopular with the Sturgeon cult by asking questions about her approach to the constitutional issue. It seems I’m now becoming just as unpopular with the Salmond cult. And for the very same reasons.

If you doubt the reality of the Salmond cult I suggest you glance through a few articles such as this one on Iain Lawson’s site. Iain is someone whose opinion I respect. Which makes it all the more distressing that he looks to have abandoned the critical faculties which made his views interesting and illuminating. I challenge anybody to find anything analytical or informative in such articles. They elevate Alex Salmond on the basis of admiration verging on adoration alone. They neither tell us anything about his approach to the constitutional issue nor any detail of what his party stands for. Worst of all, they make no attempt to examine with due rigour the claims that are being made for the effect and effectiveness of Alex Salmond or Alba Party.

In yesterday’s article I sought to examine with due rigour comments made by Alex Salmond at a media briefing which offer an insight to his thinking on the constitutional issue and how the process of restoring Scotland’s independence should be pursued. I found this glimpse of his approach to the constitutional issue both disappointing and distressing. If Salmond’s remarks are true reflection of his views and the approach to the constitution issue that will inform Alba Party policy then the much-trumpeted alternative to the SNP is no alternative at all. There is little or nothing to distinguish Salmond’s position from Sturgeon’s. Both give the same regard to the alien concept of parliamentary sovereignty which underpins the Union and makes Scotland subordinate to England-as-Britain in this supposed partnership of equals. Both accept the supremacy of Westminster and the necessity of involving the British state in the process of exercising Scotland’s right of self-determination. Both exhibit the same readiness to compromise the sovereignty of Scotland’s people for the dubious reward of even more dubious assurances of cooperation from the British political elite.

You would think this worthy of consideration by those pledging fealty to Alex Salmond. Even if my analysis of Salmond’s comments is wide of the mark you’d suppose his supporters would want to rebut that analysis. You’d imagine they’d be at pains to point out any significant differences between Salmond’s approach to the constitutional issue and the one we’ve grown all too familiar with from Nicola Sturgeon. But you’d be wrong. There has been none of that. For the most part, those who venerate Salmond decline to even acknowledge his remarks or what those remarks imply.

There is no evident difference between the two personality cults. in both cases the rightness or wrongness of the positions ceases to be the issue. Rigorous scrutiny of the choices being made is eschewed when the only thing that matters is the identity of the individual making those choices. No questions are asked. No clarifications are sought. One cult says leave it to Nicola while the other says leave it to Alex. Both respond to critical examination of their idols with condescension or vitriol or both. Each camp has its own brigade of censorious wheeshters This is not healthy.

One personality cult is bad enough. Two is infinitely worse. Add British Nationalists’ cult-like devotion to the Union into the mix and you have a recipe for for very distasteful politics. A tragedy is unfolding before our eyes. Alex Salmond’s admirers seem as oblivious to the tragedy as do Nicola Sturgeon’s.


33 thoughts on “A tale of two cults

  1. I intend to vote SNP1 Alba2 this time. I am doing so because one of the Alba candidates in my area is the person I would have liked as the SNP candidate for my area but who was not included for adoption largely, I suspect, because she had the temerity to ask questions.
    If we ever get independence I look forward to the time when I can vote for the candidate I think most likely to do the job rather than having to vote as I do at present for the party!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. A very good article Peter, and folk that want Scotland to be independent should take your message seriously.
    We should only be focused on what unites us in that cause, and try to keep personalities out of it.
    Westminster fears a united Scotland, and will do all it can to encourage infighting amongst us.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks for this, Peter! I want, however, to raise a couple of matters. Firstly, you mentioned on March 8 about a, “Sturgeon-Salmond battle”. Now I may have missed stuff, but while I’m aware of Sturgeon smearing Salmond, I’m not aware of him engaging in a battle with her. In his evidence to the Fabioni Inquiry he does not seem to have criticised Sturgeon, and he has recently said that she should be First Minister. So I think the battle may have been manufactured by the Unionist media to harm the independence movement.

    Secondly, you write, “As people flock to Alba Party almost entirely on the basis of the party being led by Salmond, there is little sign that any questions are being asked about what the party stands for or where its leader intends to take it or what it proposes to do supposing any Alba Party candidates win seats in the Scottish Parliament.” I think that while there may be a cult of Salmond, people are leaving the SNP and joining Alba, not just because they see Salmond as a saviour, but because they are deeply troubled with the overturning of internal party democracy, the stacking of the NEC with Wokerati, the Hate Speech Law, proposed Gender Self-Identity Law, and the lack of the protection of sex in that bill, by which women feel threatened.

    You are, of course, right about the lack of an alternative to Sturgeon’s subjecting the sovereignty of the people of Scotland to the suzerainty of the English Government and Parliament of the UK. That’s very disappointing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The words “Sturgeon-Salmond battle” appear in quotes for a reason. Think about it.

      SNPBad doesn’t mean AlbaGood. You help make my point. People aren’t flocking to Alba because the party can do more for Scotland’s cause. They’re flocking to Alba solely because it allows them to abandon the SNP and keep their independista credentials intact. They’re not asking any questions about Alba’s approach to the constitutional issue. They’re not examining the party at all. And it turns out that Salmond’s approach to the constitutional issue is little different from Sturgeon’s. Out of the frying-pan into a shinier frying-pan.

      All the stuff about various policy issues only serves to divide the independence movement even more than it is now. I’m left wondering what good came come of any of it.

      Like

  4. Entirely on the basis because he is salmond….no thats not why folk are flocking to snp. Women like me are no longer represented by snp, we weren’t born with testiclws..and what’s the sturgeonator done with all mandate…nada….thats why I’ve gone to Alba

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well perhaps your opening line put many of us off. As a woman I’m feeling very attacked by the snp and unsafe, so I don’t appreciate it being made out to be because we are all salmond idolators. Thats the furthest from the truth

        Liked by 2 people

      2. You’re still missing the point. I understand perfectly why people – and especially women – should feel they want to get away from the SNP. What I’m trying to discover is why those who are focused on the constitutional issue think Alba will serve them better. I’ve been trying to discover this for a while. It’s not the SNP isn’t a satisfactory response.

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  5. ALBA, Alex Salmond’s new party, will today hold its first policy conference. Afterwards people will see if it is a feasible alternative to the SNP and presumably what its Independence strategy is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alex Salmond is the leader of the party. He has stated his views on “independence strategy”. If Alba Party’s decided strategy differs in any significant respect from the line taken by the party’s leader, which one gives way? If it’s Alex Salmond, how can we have confidence in his commitment to a strategy he does not favour?

      These are the questions that should be asked BEFORE rushing to join Alba. I see no evidence that anyone is doing so.

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  6. “But none of those flocking to Alex Salmond’s banner seem to be asking how he will live up to expectations which fly a great deal higher than that banner does.

    I have questions. I always have questions. I listen to what politicians say. I look closely at what politicians propose and promise. I try to ask the awkward questions. The questions those politicians would rather weren’t asked. I’ve made myself very unpopular with the Sturgeon cult by asking questions about her approach to the constitutional issue. It seems I’m now becoming just as unpopular with the Salmond cult. And for the very same reasons.”

    Have you ever considered writing for the Telegraph?
    You are an instinctively attuned with a “No voter” .

    Even though that’s a joke, you must realize why 2 million Scots felt so much unease in 2014 that they chose to postpone their nations independence.

    Like

    1. “Have you ever considered writing for the Telegraph?
      You are an instinctively attuned with a “No voter” .”

      -I don’t see that at all. Peter rightly wants answers to genuine questions, whereas No voters in my experience tend to present cherished obstacles rather than questions.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “But none of those flocking to Alex Salmond’s banner seem to be asking how he will live up to expectations which fly a great deal higher than that banner does.”

        Because that’s what “NO” voters felt like in 2014. And its how you feel about the Circus now.

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  7. Peter, this is one of those times that our opinions align completely. The blind allegiance to a party just because a certain person leads it, or is part of it, is bad regardless of the party or the person. Good people do bad things, bad people do good things – assess the act, not the actor.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. While I agree with the overall premise of your argument it is perfectly reasonable to vote SNP1 Alba 2 from a personal perspective. I hold both Nicola and Salmond in no personal high regard for all the reasons stated, however in my constituency Keith Brown should get his first past the post seat (I am happy to campaign for him) or something has gone very wrong indeed but my list vote for Alba is very much a personal endorsement of the very capable Eva Comrie. She is very much a better bet than the party drone chosen by the high command of the SNP for the list seat. On the same number of votes cast also much more likely to get in.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I don’t give a monkeys about Alba’s policies. Alex Salmond could be the political martyr the independence movement needs. He’ll be relatively moderate in his talk, I think, during the election campaign then if he and some others in Alba are elected he will have carte blanche to say and do whatever he wants. Hopefully he’ll give britnat Westminster and the britnat media both barrels and damn the torpedoes. If he doesn’t, hell, it was still worth the risk in voting for Alba in the List vote.

    Meanwhile Nicola Sturgeon announces her desire to be FM for another full five years. That’ll be independence postponed for another half decade. To hell with that too.

    SNP/Alba in the NE region for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Still not telling me what Alba will do to bring independence any closer. But neither is anybody else. Like the other ‘list parties’ Alba is looking to exploit frustration with and anger at the SNP. Which is fine. It’s just politics. The question is whether they are anything more than a way for people to make a protest vote against Sturgeon et al. That’s the question nobody will even attempt to address. What would a handful of Alba MSPs do for Scotland’s cause that they can only do as MSPs?

      You’re quite wrong about them having “carte blanche” to say whatever they want. As MSPs they will be subject to a code of conduct. While in the chamber they will be additionally constrained by standing orders. And then there’s the party whips ensuring that everybody keeps to the party line. If they wanted the freedom to speak as they please then they wouldn’t be standing for election.

      You say it’s worth the risk. But you don’t seem to know what the stakes are. Or the odds. The bookies must love you.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. ‘One personality cult is bad enough. Two is infinitely worse. Add British Nationalists’ cult-like devotion to the Union into the mix and you have a recipe for for very distasteful politics. A tragedy is unfolding before our eyes. Alex Salmond’s admirers seem as oblivious to the tragedy as do Nicola Sturgeon’s.’

    Spot-on.

    We need leaders in the habit of saying things like ‘We’re, not ‘I’m’, getting on with the job of leading the country out of a pandemic.’

    Liked by 3 people

  11. But you have no alternative yourself!

    Even if Alba and the SNP had identical aims and strategies, would it not be better to have more not less pro-Indy list MSPs? And as a consequence LESS unionist MSPs?

    As it is it promises some alternatives and much needed debate within the Indy camp, as we’re already seeing.

    So what’s not to like?

    Since Alba is only standing on the list, their votes will always carry their full value, whereas in all but one or two regions, an SNP vote will be divided, have just a fraction of the value of an Alba vote?

    Just think about it for five minutes, I know it takes a moment to get yer heid aroond it …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If it is better to have “more not less pro-Indy list MSPs” then tell me what makes it better. As I am weary pointing out there is nothing relevant to Scotland’s cause that can be done with a ‘supermajority’ that can’t be done with a simple majority. So what exactly is it that a handful of Alba MSPs are for? What’s their purpose?

      Getting rid of British party list MSPs sounds great. But since those MSPs can do nothing so long as they’re in the minority, nothing is gained by making them a ‘superminority’.

      I’ll gloss over you embarrassing yourself with that inane “think about it for five minutes” shite. Grow the fuck up!

      Like

      1. Your last remark was quite unnecessary, please be civil and don’t feed the Indy Split merchants. Grow up indeed.

        (FWIW I was simply pointing out that many voters are still thinking FPTP, hardly surprising given how embedded that sysem is in the UK, and haven’t see how to use d’Hondt to their advantage. This is not an insult, simply a fact that has to be acknowledge).

        Firstly if the BritNat list MSPs are impotent, as you claim, then there is nothing to either gain or loose as far as votes go whether they are replaced or not.

        But, they do add variety to the Indy side and emphasise that Indy is not “all about the SNP”. They’ve had it all their own way for far too long it would seem, and that way corruption lies.

        Finally, not being bogged down in the Day Job of running the country, they will be free to concentrate on advancing independence by whatever means present themselves.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. I was talking about list party snake-oil peddlers portraying the regional ballot as a FPTP contest for purposes of deception. You completely miss the point.

        BritNat MSPs don’t take votes from the SNP. That difference is glaringly obvious. But you missed it completely.

        You acknowledge that the supposed alternative pro-independence parties split the pro-independence vote. Splitting the vote is rarely a good idea. It is NEVER a good idea when dealing with the British state. Your rationalisations for splitting the vote are silly – adding variety is just another way of saying split the vote. And idiotic – it’s not all about the SNP is stating the obvious. Your rationalisation for splitting the vote is to demonstrate something that everybody knows already. Like|I said, self-evidently idiotic. Why are you not embarrassed to come out with such pish?

        But the ancient “not all about the SNP” idiocy is even more idiotic than that. As anybody with the vaguest clue as to how politics works will be fully aware, it may not be all about the SNP but is most certainly all about the Scottish Government. I think even you should be able to work it out from there.

        Inevitably, you end by descending into fantasy politics. You claim Alba will advance independence. But you fail to explain how. Which is the fucking question you’re supposed to be answering.

        Like

      3. So how could increasing the number of pro-Indy MSPs NOT advance the cause?

        (And your continued use of insults etc. only implies that you’re ‘rattled’ as they say. I rest my case and invite others to reply …)

        Like

      4. You’re the one making the claim. It’s up to you to back up that claim. Explain HOW it advances the cause. Describe what it DOES.

        Like

  12. ALBA stands for independence – country before party. That’s all I need to know. And however you look at it it has given YESSERS hope and woken up the slumbering corrupt SNP. That is good enough for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. The pro-independence party that stands to gain form this; the Greens. They have a reasonably consistent idea of what they want Scotland to become post independence (should that happen) while maintaining a (more or less) coherent set of governing values and aren’t less relevant or corrupted should it not.

    They haven’t happened upon a strongly social engaging, media comfortable leadership… yet, but they have the policies that are well aligned to what most rational thinking people recognise as being the crucial on-going themes and challenges we are facing and will have to act upon (sooner or later). Right now, the Greens are peripheral, perhaps laughably do I admit, but the issues they address are not. They will not disappear .

    Also the Greens possess a retain a strong sense of the good of social collectiveness that pragmatic (and inherent?) Scottish socialism was founded upon… they are a very shrewd PR campaign and a couple of relaxed, social communicators away from holding the balance of power in Holyrood… this is ground the SNP stole from Scottish Labour (or rather the latter let slip through their fingers a decade or so ago).

    A hard-right, personality driven Alba will drive many of these (hard won) social democrats away from the SNP collective ‘family.’ The ‘list’ winners from all of this will be the Greens…

    Like

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