Life in the SNP’s party state

Life in the SNP’s party state

by Jill Stephenson
article from Tuesday 10, December, 2019

BACK IN SPRING 2015, an SNP conference changed the party’s standing orders to tighten its discipline over SNP elected members with a new rule stating that ‘No member shall, within or outwith the parliament, publicly criticise a group decision, policy or another member of the group’. In addition, it stated that SNP MPs ‘must adhere to all decisions taken democratically by the group’. Any member dissenting from a group decision would have to submit to an interview with the chief whip. The Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour, Kezia Dugdale, called this ‘Stalinist’.

At the time, I thought that was a bit OTT; after all, all parties have whips and expect their MPs to abide by collective party decisions. Now, I can see the point of it. It isn’t only Ms Sturgeon’s frequent soft-focus photographs with small children that are reminiscent of twentieth century dictators’ public images. Several other issues suggest that what we are experiencing in Scotland is the Party State, where party and state are being merged, as used to happen in some twentieth century regimes

Consider the ‘Named Person’ scheme, for every child up to age 18 to have a person assigned to scrutinise their appearance, demeanour, progress, and so on, and keep records about them. In its judgment on the scope of the Named Person project, the Supreme Court of the UK actually used the word ‘totalitarian’. The Named Person could have discussions with a child about any subject and retain knowledge of a child’s problems, experiences and aspirations without being required to share these with a parent. This has raised the bizarre possibility of a teenage couple each having a Named Person and any child of theirs also having one. Would they all have the same Named Person? Those aged 16 are entitled to vote now in Scotland, but also need a Named Person because they are not considered sufficiently mature to live independently. This is an example of the Law of Unintended Consequences at work.

Now we can see that the portrayal of reality in Scotland is becoming Nationalist Realism, rather like the Socialist Realism of Stalinism, where what you see in state propaganda is not what you see in real life but what real life will be like once the state has achieved its goals. John Swinney, the Scottish education minister, responded to the publication recently of the three-yearly Pisa rankings thus:

Pisa doesn’t cover everything but today corroborates what we see elsewhere — improving schools and a closing of the attainment gap. That is down to great teaching, well-supported pupils and the investment we have made. Much still to do, but well done everyone on a good result.

Contrast this paean of praise with the reality that Scots performed distinctly better in 2000, the year of the first PISA assessments, than they do now. In all three subjects assessed, the decline in Scottish pupils’ performance has been pretty constant. The major decline in reading and maths has been from 2003 and in science from 2012. A marginal improvement in reading in 2018, compared with the 2015 results, does not detract from the fact that Scotland’s score in reading was 526 in 2000 and is now 504. Worse, for the SNP government, Scottish pupils are performing noticeably worse than their English counterparts in all three subjects. That should be infuriating for SNP leaders who like to claim that Scotland ‘outperforms’ the rest of the UK much of the time, especially in the NHS. But perhaps we should draw a veil over an area where children have been fatally poisoned in hospital and a major hospital cannot open (but costs the taxpayers millions) because of a contaminated water supply.

The SNP, then, claims that all is well under its control, and would be even better after Scotland left the UK. And ‘control’ is the word. The eroding of council authority through starving councils of funds has constantly shifted the balance of control from the localities to the centre. Recently, the chair of the Scottish Police authority gave as one of her reasons for resigning the need for ‘a better separation between politics and policing’. The centralisation of Scotland’s eight police forces into Police Scotland – and the currently failed attempt to integrate the Scottish area of British Transport Police into Police Scotland – were naked attempts to concentrate control of the forces of law and order under the Scottish government. This is the kind of control sought by regimes with authoritarian tendencies.

One of the main conundrums in SNP Scotland is how the party’s rank and file persistently parrot propaganda (often using identical words and phrases) that is at odds with the Scottish government’s own positions. The classic case is the annual GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland) report, which has recently shown Scotland to (again) be deep in deficit. It is not only economics experts who regard the GERS as authoritative: around 2014, a host of senior SNP personages hailed the GERS as authoritative, including Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney, Angus Robertson, Stewart Hosie, Humza Yousaf. Indeed, Salmond called the GERS the ‘kitemark’ standard for government statistics.

The SNP faithful, however, are convinced that the GERS is a big confidence trick perpetrated by the UK government – even though they are compiled by Scottish government statisticians – because it now shows Scotland to be deep in deficit. The GERS is a particular bugbear of the nationalist community, and the SNP’s headquarters, whose chief, the mysterious Peter Murrell, Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, ensures that its operatives at central and local level propagate a constant stream of what one may politely call misinformation in order to disparage and discredit the GERS. Whereas the GERS showed Scotland’s finances in a relatively good light when oil revenues were high, this year the GERS shows that Scotland’s deficit is over £12 billion, or 7 per cent of its GDP. That is twice the upper limit for entry to the EU. The UK’s deficit is now down to 1 per cent.

Nicola Sturgeon absented herself from Edinburgh on the day of publication of GERS 2019 – to campaign in the Shetland by-election – leaving her Finance Minister, Derek Mackay, to introduce what are, after all, his own department’s figures. Neither Sturgeon nor Mackay can say in public that the GERS is not accurate or valid. But their activists, primed by SNP Central, had a field day, dismissing the GERS as part of a Westminster plot to make it look as if Scotland cannot afford to support itself (it can’t, at its current standard of living).

This reminded me of the USSR’s split-level foreign policy in the interwar years. In early Soviet Russia, virtually from the start in 1917, two different foreign policies were conducted. The infant regime was an outcast from international society, yet it needed trading partners and even allies. It had therefore to appear respectable and abstain from campaigning for international revolution. At the same time, Lenin established in March 1919 the Third (Communist) International, or Comintern, to bring together the new foreign communist parties in other countries under the authority of his own Bolshevik party in Russia, and to use any opportunity to foment revolution in foreign countries. Therefore, while the new Soviet state courted countries, including Germany – most notably at Genoa and Rapallo in April 1922, resulting in a formal treaty – the Comintern encouraged revolution in Germany in the crisis year of 1923.

In the following year, 1924, the Labour government of Ramsey MacDonald wished to normalise relations with the new Soviet regime, which led to his fall from office. In the ensuing election campaign, the Daily Mail published what purported to be a letter from Zinoviev, head of the Comintern, which allegedly uncovered a ‘Bolshevik plot’ to overthrow the British parliamentary system and instal Communist control of a MacDonald government. The letter was, of course, a fake, designed to create panic. But it demonstrates how the dual system in Soviet foreign policy was perceived in Britain.

This is what we see in Scotland, where party and state are being merged, as used to happen in some twentieth century regimes. The Scottish government cannot disavow the GERS publicly, but the SNP, whose leader is the First Minister, through its organisation, can. The Scottish government would not make detailed claims about how Scotland is ‘asset stripped’ by Westminster, although it does constantly claim that Scotland is denied rightful treatment and that Scotland would be better off outside the UK, when that is demonstrably not true. SNP members and even sometimes SNP MPs (like Angus MacNeil or former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier) do, however, make outrageous claims, without the slightest evidence. These include the completely false charge that Scots have paid for London infrastructure projects such as Crossrail and the new sewerage system. The latter is not even a government undertaking: it is paid for by Thames Water customers and private investors. Yet lies of this kind are spread systematically – which is why it is clear that SNP HQ is involved – by SNP activists.

The most curious aspect of the SNP regime is one that is redolent of the Stalinist system. Those who fell out of favour with Stalin were hounded, possibly executed, and air-brushed from public and historical view. A glance at the SNP’s history of itself reveals a very curious omission, exemplified in this extract:

The 2014 independence referendum was Scotland’s greatest ever democratic event. In the months building up to the vote, the Yes campaign – spearheaded by the SNP and its then depute leader Nicola Sturgeon – engaged with every community in Scotland.

As with the party’s earlier history, including its breakthrough election success in 2007, which is afforded some detail, there is no mention at all of the SNP’s leading figure at the time: Alex Salmond. As Stalin had photographs of the revolutionary Bolshevik leaders altered so that Trotsky was airbrushed out of them, so Alex Salmond has been airbrushed out of the SNP’s official history. There may be reasons for de-emphasising Salmond’s role in the SNP, but what the SNP has done is, as Khrushchev said of Stalin in 1956, to falsify history.

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