Alba Party supporters are an excitable lot. Not that there’s anything wrong with a bit of enthusiasm. I look back with nostalgic fondness on the days when I could be energised by a political party and thrilled by anything that might be interpreted as a bit of electoral success. The only emotions associated with politics now are disappointment, frustration and anger. I don’t doubt I have grown more cynical. Age and experience will tend to do that to a person. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t good cause for scepticism. The last few years has taught me not to invest much trust in any politician or party. I have learned that it is not only political opponents and competing ideologies which must be constantly surveilled. I have discovered that it is wise to scrutinise those who purport to be friends and allies with the same rigour as is applied to the rest.
I try not to grudge Alba Party supporters the excitement they feel. But I do resent their tendency to castigate as trolls, Tories and traitors anyone who doesn’t share that feeling. The adrenaline jolt of political battle is harmless so long as it doesn’t come at significant cost to rationality. For all too many Alba Party supporters that cost has evidently been very significant indeed. Which is surprising. Given that Alba’s support comes almost exclusively from those who were previously associated with the SNP one would have thought that recent experience would have made them considerably more reluctant to bank their hope and trust with any political party or figure. But that seems not to be the case. It is striking how ready and eager people have been not merely to transfer their loyalties but to reset their scepticism to zero in the process.
We see evidence of this daily. An election campaign offers increased opportunities for excitement. There’s more going on so there’s more things to get worked up about. Polls, for example. The numbers turn in your favour and there’s cause for celebration. The numbers turn against you and you’re motivated to make a spirited defence of your
tribe party. Either way, there’s that hormonal reward I now only vaguely recall enjoying. It is only to be expected that the recipient of this reward will react negatively to anyone perceived to be trying to dilute the dose. Nobody likes Mr Buzzkill. But we are dealing with serious issues here. There has to be a place in our political discourse for cold, hard realism. Those who petition for our votes will always appeal to emotion. It’s a basic campaigning technique. In some cases the appeal can be to the basest of human urges. Mostly, however, that is avoided in favour of things like pride, aspiration and social conscience. Where it all goes wrong is when this appeal to emotion displaces reason.
This was illustrated most starkly by the Leave campaign in the 2016 EU referendum. To the dispassionate observer – and there were a few – the entire exercise had the appearance of madness. The Leave vote was being carried on a tide of emotion that mere reason was inadequate to stem. Huge numbers of people – mainly in England – were entranced by the promise of a new golden age (just like the old golden age) to the extent that they completely omitted to ask about how they were supposed to get there. A smaller wave was motivated by less salubrious emotions. But the dearth of reason was the same. They declined to inquire too deeply about where the xenophobic isolationist road led and what toll would have to be paid.
In the same way – if not to the same degree – Alba Party supporters are failing to adequately examine the prospectus before investing their trust. The brochure is thick and glossy with vivid colours and striking images and not too much text. It’s novel. It’s exciting. It’s a shame to spoil things by asking questions. Who can be bothered reading the small print? The destination looks wonderful. Let’s not discuss the details of the journey. Let’s keep or ‘eyes on the prize’. Never mind the path before us and whatever obstacles might be encountered along the way. Let’s not stop to wonder if the route is passable. Let’s not even ask if there is a route. Let’s just revel in the glorious prospect with no thought as to the process by which it might be realised.
Scotland’s cause is often described as a journey. If you’re planning a journey you obviously need to know where it is that you want to go. You need a destination. You also need a starting point. Neither is any use without the other. You need to know where you are before you can plan the trip to another place. You need to know that starting point exactly. The destination does not require the same precision. In terms of our analogy, once you arrive at the city many options open up. Within the city there can be countless ways of getting from one place to another. Not so with the road to the city. There may be very few roads leading to the city. So it is essential to know just where you are in relation to one of those routes. Getting to the city-bound road may be the most problematic part of the journey. You have to get it right. To get it right you have to be aware of your precise location before you set out.
This is where the political arm (should we now say ‘arms’?) of the independence movement get it badly wrong. They harbour and encourage delusional notions of where Scotland stands in relation to independence and, more importantly, the route we must travel to reach that destination. That route is the process by which independence is restored. We have to know where we are politically in relation to the starting point of that process. We don’t need endless detail of the routes that might be taken on arrival at our destination. We absolutely must be aware of where we’re starting from.
I am often accused of ‘picking on’ Alba. An accusation frequently accompanied by suggestions that I don’t subject the SNP to the same kind of criticism. The latter is utter pish, of course. I have been criticising the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue for years. And that’s the point. Alba is new. There’s a lot more scope for scrutiny simply because there has been none. I’ve said all that need be said about Nicola Sturgeon’s failure to lead Scotland’s cause. Those presenting themselves as an alternative should expect to be interrogated in the same manner since they claim to serve the same cause. They purport to take us on the same journey. So it’s perfectly legitimate to ask about the proposed route. And whether they are any better aware of where we are starting from than the SNP. Both parties fail in this regard.
Those who bother to check the facts before they claim I give the SNP a free pass will be aware that, among other things, I have stridently condemned the notion – notably promulgated by that bladder Alyn Smith – that ‘we have never been closer to independence’. Such idiocy angers me. All idiocy is irksome unless the irk is modulated by comic value. Idiocy intended to mislead the public on a matter of profound import rightly makes me very angry. Telling folk we’re on the outskirts of the city when we’re not yet even on the road there is an unconscionable deception. All political parties talk themselves up. That is to be expected. But there’s a point at which exaggeration becomes dishonesty. Alyn Smith passed that point with his ‘never closer’ drivel.
But is Alba any better? That’s the question that should be asked. Being not-the-SNP cannot be sufficient reason to give Alba Party preference. If they’re no better than the dishonest inanity represented by Alyn Smith then surely we’re entitled to know this before we vote. They are asking us to trust them just as the SNP did. Why would we not want to ascertain whether they are any more deserving?
I’ve looked previously at the claims made by Alba Party supporters about what can be done with a supermajority. Nobody from the party or its support has sought to offer a counter-argument. Although many have been incensed that the argument was made in the first place. Alba continues to sell itself on the basis of the myth surrounding a supermajority which while not officially promoted, isn’t disowned either. The party continues to rely on the emotional appeal of a supermajority to engage voters. That’s too close to being dishonest for my liking. Maybe I set the bar too high. I am disinclined to lower it. I didn’t do so for the SNP. I see no reason to do so for Alba Party.
This week those excitable Alba Party supporters were given a fresh thrill with the publication of a Scot Goes Pop/Panelbase poll that translates to seat projections which are ripe for some premature triumphalism. This is how James Kelly (Scot Goes Pop) presents those seat projections.
Seats projection (with changes from 2016 election): SNP 61 (-2), Conservatives 24 (-7), Labour 20 (-4), Greens 11 (+5), Alba 8 (+8), Liberal Democrats 5 (-)
Pro-independence parties: 80 seats (62.0%)
Anti-independence parties: 49 seats (38.0%)
PRO-INDEPENDENCE MAJORITY OF 31 SEATS
You can almost smell the sharp tang of ammonia as urine dribbles down the thighs of the more ardent Alba Party supporters. Even the ones with dry underwear are too overcome by the prospect as presented to wonder how realistic that prospect is. The numbers look great. No need to ask what they imply. Further analysis might remove some of the gleam.
I just don’t get that overwrought anymore. I used to get a kick out of polls indicating electoral success for the SNP or increased support for independence. But I’ve never taken polls too seriously. I certainly don’t get so excited by them that my critical faculties shut down. When these numbers were first laid before me in an image posted on Facebook those critical faculties were instantly engaged. I trust readers will indulge me if I insert my response to that post here. In part that’s because I don’t want to be accused of saying something different here. Mostly, however, it’s to save me a bit of time. I’ve things to do and for the first time in what feels like years if not decades I’m going to the pub this afternoon for a beer ‘n’ blether session with an old pal. That is something I can still get a bit excited about.
Here in the real world that’s no change. The numbers as far as the Scottish Parliament is concerned are Scottish Government (SNP) 61 Opposition 69 (Tories official opposition).
The SNP will make an arrangement with the Greens. Labour and LibDems will join the Tories to form an effective British party opposition bloc of 49.
Alba will be nowhere. For the most part they’ll be forced to vote with the SNP/Greens or get slated for siding with the Tories (British bloc). Even if they do side with the British bloc and risk electoral obliteration there’s still not the numbers to outvote the SNP alone, far less the SNP/Greens.
There will be no defections from the SNP to Alba. The numbers are too tight. Only if the SNP had a large (for Holyrood) overall majority might one or two SNP MSPs be tempted to ‘betray the party’.
There is no permutation of these numbers which affords Alba any leverage. The only ones wooing them will be the British parties. The media will ignore Alba MSPs unless they’re doing or saying something that can be spun against the Scottish Government or the independence cause. Or if they do something embarrassing.
Sorry to burst your bubble, dreamers. But fantasy politics will not restore Scotland’s independence.
The marginally less woolly-minded among the dreamers might think to ask why Alex Salmond would get involved in a project that was all but certainly doomed. I wondered about that myself. It occurs to me that the man has nothing to lose. He was out anyway. Rather than the malicious trial being the full stop on his political career, getting involved with Alba lets him depart on a relative high. He goes down fighting. His last political act was fighting for Scotland’s independence. Write your own Wikipedia entry.
And he had a lot to gain. If he gets back into Holyrood he gets to extend his career and choose a different high to end on. It really wasn’t a hard choice for him.
So why didn’t he join one of the other snake-oils parties, I hear our uncommonly perspicacious Alba devotee enquire. The answer is that those parties were already established. They already had a presence. They already had ‘leaders’. Alba was ripe for being turned into the Alex Salmond party. Although is had existed since the beginning of the year, it had done so pretty much without anybody noticing. It was the ideal vehicle for Salmond.
Whatever happens, it’ll be spun as a triumph by Salmond/Alba. It’ll take a while for folk to realise that the party is a sideshow in the Scottish Parliament and achieving nothing for the independence movement.
Eventually, some psephologist will crunch the numbers and produce one of those ‘what-if’ things that Alba is so fond of. They’ll ‘prove’ what would have happened if Alba had not been there. That could be a very embarrassing moment for Alba if the calculations show there would have been a better result for the SNP.
It’ll all be interesting to watch. But depressing too, as it means the independence issue being parked for the next five years.
And I’ll get to say, “TELT YE!”.
What this tells me is that Alba Party is just as deluded about where they are starting from as the SNP. And just as clueless about a practical route to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. Gaining eight seats first time out and within weeks of being launched would be a stunning achievement. But the sparkle of this feat should not blind us to the reality of what it implies for Scotland’s cause. What it means is not very much. Not much at all.