I abandoned this article because I grew weary of addressing points that I’ve addressed on innumerable previous occasions. I only post it now because it has been mentioned in a Twitter exchange.
I use a handy browser extension that allows me to highlight passages as I read articles online. Typically, I’ll pick out interesting content in yellow. For particularly notable points where the writer presents some new perspective or expresses an idea in a manner that prompts an inadvertent nod of agreement or open-mouthed smile of realisation, I use green. Red is reserved for the stuff that really grates. The stuff that makes you grimace, scoff, swear, splutter or stare in slack-jawed wonder at the sheer idiocy of it. By the time I’d finished reading Gerry Hassan’s latest droning diatribe the page was a sea of red.
It is entirely fitting that such a piece should appear on Bella Caledonia – which has long been a haven for those ‘righteous radicals’ who would rather see the independence movement fail than have it succeed on anything other than terms which they can’t even agree upon among themselves. People whose support for independence is, at best, equivocal and conditional. People who see ‘indy’ as little more than a marketing device for whatever narrow agenda they’re espousing this week. People deliciously dismissed by Roddy Macdonald as the “Holy Wolfies of the Byres Road Cappuccino Commie set”.
I rarely pay any heed to Gerry Hassan’s writing these days, for much the same reason as I tend to ignore David Torrance. It’s simply that neither has anything interesting to say. Both speak to us from somewhere outside the Scotland that we know and remote from the politics with which we are engaged. They talk about the stuff of our everyday lives and commonplace activities as part of the Yes movement in a manner which suggests they’ve learned about it only from reading accounts written by others who know only what they glean accounts written by the Hassans and the Torrances.
Just as the mainstream British media has its cosy consensus of mutually affirmed assumptions, preconceptions and prejudices, so the likes of Bella Caledonia and Common Weal have a shared narrative which, especially when referring to the SNP, seems to derive from remarkably similar biases.
This narrative tends to be presented in the style which oozes pompous superiority. You can’t get past the title of Hassan’s piece without stepping in some of that superciliousness. “Time to Wake Up and Ask Some Difficult Questions about the SNP and Independence!” he declaims. As if the rest of us have all been in some sort of dumb stupor and he alone has been applying the weight of his formidable intellect to the “Difficult Questions”. Not, you may note, Difficult Questions about the British parties and the Union. Certainly not Difficult Questions about the Holy Wolfies and their Cappuccino Communist agendas. The biases that Hassan shares with British Nationalist writers such as Torrance are those revealed in the fact that Difficult Questions are only ever to be asked about the SNP and Independence.
We can get a sense of those biases by taking a look at some of the bits that have been given the red highlighter treatment.
Scottish politics is, we are informed, in a “becalmed period of inertia and inactivity” while “everyone is waiting to see how Brexit pans out”. It is, we are assured, “a politics of passivity, and even of acceptance”. Or, at least, this is how the SNP and the Scottish Government see things. Quite how Hassan arrives at this conclusion is not explained. And it needs some explanation, given that it is so much at odds with the reality of a Scottish Government taking forward a programme which is bolder than anything seen in the UK since the distant days when Labour was a socialist part with genuine reformist zeal at its heart. Not to mention an SNP which has at last decided the time is right to be more assertive and forthright.
Of course, that programme for government will never be bold enough for the Holy Wolfies. The SNP administration could nationalise all public transport, take all land into public ownership and introduce a universal basic income, and those Byres Road Commies would still be huffing into their cappuccinos about how timid the SNP is. Because, for them, its not about what is achieved, but the fact that achieving it requires the effective political power which is anathema to them. It’s not even a partisan resentment of the SNP, although there is certainly a great deal of that. The righteous radicals will always be instinctively opposed to any party that is in power. It is the power itself that they abhor. The ‘hard left’ will always remain on the fringes of politics and never achieve anything because they fear and detest the power that is needed to actually bring about meaningful reform.
To those who glory in ‘honourable’ failure, success will always appear as betrayal. The greater the success, the greater the betrayal. The railing of righteous radicals against the SNP can be taken as a measure of the party’s success.
But it’s not just the SNP. Apparently, the independence movement is beset by “a problematic mix of complacency, and even self-deception”. Really? I wonder how many Yes meetings Gerry Hassan has attended of late. It shouldn’t be difficult for him to find an event that slots into his busy schedule. As those who are actually involved in the Yes movement will be well aware, there are Yes events taking place all over Scotland practically every night of the week. When you have fifty or sixty people braving the worst that Scotland’s winters have to offer in order to meet with fellow Yes activists, that does not betoken anything akin to “complacency”. And if Gerry Hassan deigned to listen in on the proceedings at these events what he would hear might make him marginally less contemptuous of the grass-roots Yes movement.
It’s all the fault of the SNP, of course. According to Gerry Hassan, “the SNP leadership has failed to grasp the political momentum post-2014”. Not only that, but “Nicola Sturgeon has not made one strategic gambit since the indyref”. I don’t mind admitting that the shallowness of this analysis aggravates me greatly. What the hell is it that Mr Hassan would have had Nicola Sturgeon do? We’re never told. What grand political gesture might have satisfied his craving for drama? We are given no clues.
Adopting a less blinkered perspective, what we see is the SNP – as a party and an administration – working with the “political momentum” while, crucially, keeping open as many options as possible. A strategy which I suspect most of us would regard as eminently sensible considering the fluidity of circumstances and the power differential which makes the UK Government the main driver of developments. What’s the point in going against the flow if the current is taking you where you want to go anyway? Due to those biases mentioned earlier, Hassan is blind to the “strategic gambit”, made by Nicola Sturgeon, of not interrupting while the enemy is engaged in helpful blundering.
Here’s a thought that surely has never occurred to Gerry Hassan. Nicola Sturgeon may just be cleverer than him. The fact that he imagines she was “out-manoeuvred by Theresa May” when the latter called a snap UK general election in 2017 certainly suggests he is not as clever as he thinks he is. The reality obscured by the assumptions, preconceptions and prejudices that he brings to his ‘analysis’ is that, by any rational measure, the SNP came out of that election in exactly the same position as it went in. Which, under the circumstances, was something of a triumph, rather than the ‘defeat’ of the narrative shared by Messrs. Hassan and Torrance.
I’d be happy to explain the foregoing at length to those in whom it has provoked the anticipated knee-jerk reaction, but there’s a lot more red highlighting to get through.
For example, there is the notion that the “advent of the Corbyn Labour Party” marks some sort of significant development in Scottish politics. It’s almost as if Gerry Hassan supposes the “Corbyn Labour Party” to be something new and different. Not all of us are so easily taken in. Lacking the Labour-tinted spectacles, all I see is a Jeremy Corbyn who, doubtless at the instigation of party spin-quacks, has done everything short of donning a red dress and tartan shoes in a farcical effort to mimic Sturgeon and steal a ride on the SNP’s success.
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