Monday, 11 January 2016

SNPBad And The Golden Rule Of Opposition

You may have noticed that the build up to the fifth Holyrood Elections has seriously started early with the First Minister making a speech last week and some policy kite-flying from Scottish Labour.  Despite the issues in the NHS and the recent controversy surrounding the Forth Road Bridge, it is Scottish Labour in the worse shape and the twitter handle #SNPbad is at the very heart of their problems.

If you’re not versed on social media, essentially the handle #SNPbad has been used by supporters of the SNP to essentially paint Scottish Labour as a party opposing anything and everything the SNP do and a party that would spin difficulties as huge disasters for Scotland.  Except that this has grown arms and legs and is now used on social media to stifle criticism of the SNP government.

This is the view of several members of the Mac-commentariat, both Scot Arthur on Labour Hame and the Common Space’s Angela Haggerty, in last week’s Sunday Herald. Both have penned pieces critical – to varying degrees – of its use on social media.  Indeed Haggarty’s own criticism of the Bath based one’s own one eyed support of the SNP government - “it doesn’t seem to occur to some of the noisiest tweeters that an alternative media source like Wings which, while often offering worthwhile analysis (sic), rarely tackles the party of government on anything…  a worrying culture of  intolerance within the independence movement for self reflection has emerged” – is something that has been there within certain pro-Independence supporters from the off.

It could be argued that had there been a debate over the SNP prospectus for independence that a more robust vision would have emerged.  One that wouldn’t have fallen apart as spectacularly as ‘Sterlingzone’ did during the first Salmond/Darling debate.  Instead, any criticism of the SNP prospectus was noisily dismissed as being pro-union propaganda.  Policy positions were suddenly not policy but what would happen in the event of us becoming independent.  Try telling that to pro-Indy supporters (like the Scottish Greens) who were not totally enamoured by the Salmond plan.

The parliamentary SNP might not be an unthinking cult but a lot of their supporters do have a tendency for the kneejerk.  For a party 8 years in government, where the strains and stresses of government are starting to show and with no legacy policy to point at, there is a danger that the SNP could fall into their own hype.  In this sense Haggerty’s piece is completely on the money.  Yet, for all that there is a grain of truth in it all.  For all of Scottish Labour’s hysterical shrieking about how badly the SNP government are doing, they’ve forgotten the key rule about opposition. 

There comes a point where you have to stop being an opposition and you have to start looking like a viable alternative government.

A bigger issue in our democracy is that Scottish Labour just simply do not look like the next Scottish Government, let alone an opposition.  Sure there is now a drip feed of policies coming from Kezia Dugdale, but they don’t feel like the break from the past that Labour need.  They still smell like Progress Group castoffs and the reminants of McConnell's "Do less better", when Scottish Labour need to revisit Donald Dewars speeches – “Scottish solutions to Scottish problems” and all that.  Like changing the 50% tax rate pledge to start at £100,000 (because we don’t have enough people earning £150,000 to make it work – hence Osborne’s fiddling the figures at UK level when he scrapped it).

The #SNPbad phenomenon really hits home though in those criticisms of the SNP government when the Labour response does feel like shrieking criticism for the sake of criticism, a scattergun riposte rather than the necessary clear and concise response.  Instead Scottish Labour should be more restrained, conciliatory and offer their own alternatives and views on the best way forward. It is here that the Scott Arthur piece falls down in not recognising that Scottish Labour, in a sense, invite the accusations with their own responses. Though in truth, that article falls down totally at the point where Gordon ‘Light touch regulation’ Brown is described as a Labour hero and when, without any irony, the SNP are described as pursuing an “ideology-free populist agenda”.  That’s the SNP that have, since 2004, followed the New Labour electioneering playbook to the letter and created a more popular version of New Labour in Scotland than New Labour could.  MacNewLabour if you will. 

If #SNPbad is the current Frankenstein’s monster of post referendum Scotland, then it’s really up to Scottish Labour to set up to the plate and debunk the thoroughly negative image of their party this propagates, rather than the SNP.  While the SNP have issues of their own, this is a useful and electorally profitable stick to beat Labour with so you can’t see them stopping using the meme.  #SNPbad highlights issues surrounding Scottish Labour so therefore they should take ownership of the problem and proactively attempt to solve it. Who knows, taking the initiative for once might be cathartic for them.

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