An editorial appeared in The Independent yesterday (Tuesday 5 May) under the title In defence of liberal democracy which nicely encapsulates the attitude of the British establishment to Scotland and our elected representatives, albeit in in terms somewhat less hysterical and vitriolic than we are accustomed to from the British media. I would like to respond.
It is a fragile kind of democracy that can be broken merely by its functioning. It is a fatally flawed democratic system that cannot cope with the people voting according to the dictates of their conscience. It is not democracy at all which, not only passively disregards large sections of the populace as a matter of casual indifference, but actively excludes them as a matter of policy.
The Independent is concerned with the ability of government to “reflect the temper of the people”. But only so long as that temper reflects the interests of established power. Should the temper of the people be such that they choose to challenge the old order and the old ways, those choices are deemed to be inherently illegitimate and invalid.
Why this urgency to cast the SNP in the role of an ill-intentioned alien force? Why the vilification and demonisation? It cannot be explained by the nature of the party. This is a left-of-centre social democratic party such as would be considered mainstream in most of Europe. In terms of membership, it is the third largest party in the UK. Its leaders are consistently voted the most trusted in the UK. It has been the party of government in Scotland for eight years and an effective democratic opposition since the Scottish Parliament was recalled.
Most importantly, the SNP is set to gain an unequivocal, even an overwhelming mandate from the people of Scotland. A mandate such as no other party in the UK can lay claim to. That must count for something.
It is not because the party espouses extreme policies. On social policy, the SNP is only thought outlandish by those who consider social conscience a sign of weakness and an unworthy substitute for heartless market forces. On economic policy, the SNP is only thought heretical by those who are unthinkingly wedded to the cult of austerity and rigid neo-liberal orthodoxies.
It cannot be because the SNP is a “nationalist” party. Nationalists of one hue or another have been at least tolerated within the British political system for as long as anybody can remember.
It cannot be because the SNP seeks ultimately to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. In the first place, the constitutional question was parked by last years referendum and is not an issue in this election. In this election, the SNP stands, not for independence from the UK, but for ensuring that Scotland has the place within the UK that we were assured was our right should we vote to remain.
And independence is, in any case, a perfectly valid choice if and when the people of Scotland should make it. Scotland’s democratic right of self-determination was recognised by the Edinburgh Agreement and is guaranteed by the Charter of the United Nations.
Fervent unionists talk of the union as if it was divinely ordained and imbued with an unchallengeable right to persist. In reality, it is just another political arrangement. Albeit an anachronistic, dysfunctional arrangement contrived in ancient times to serve the interests of the ruling elites whose descendants continue to be the principle beneficiaries.
It is an arrangement considered unsatisfactory by the vast majority of the people of Scotland, including many of those who were not prepared to take the logical step and end it in favour of building something better suited to our times and circumstances.
It is an arrangement that even unionists accept is unsatisfactory. Hence, the turd-polishing efforts of incessant constitutional tinkering.
The union has a right to exist only so long as the (nominally) equal partners in the arrangement maintain their consent. In a democracy, there must be a facility for that consent to be tested at whatever juncture this may be required by a sufficient body of opinion in any party to the arrangement.
The SNP’s aim of independence for Scotland is very far from being a rational excuse for compromising fundamental principles of democracy. And, as has already been noted, it is not an issue in this election anyway.
So, the question remains, why is the SNP being treated as it is by the British establishment? The answer can be summed up in one word – success! The reason the SNP is being reviled by the British establishment is that it has successfully mobilised popular opinion in Scotland. And, moreover, threatens to provoke similar mobilisation of popular opinion in the rest of the UK.
It is not actually the SNP that the Westminster elite fear and hate. It is the democratic force behind the SNP. The SNP is merely the agency through which the people of Scotland are acting. It is the voice of the people that established power fears and abhors.
It is not “liberal democracy” which is being defended here. What is actually being defended are the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. The SNP is not a threat to democracy. It is part of democracy. A vital component functioning precisely as it should. It’s success is a manifestation of democracy in action. And if that makes established power uncomfortable then THEY are the problem, not the SNP.