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Are the English media fawning over the SNP?

TIM.001.1GM.04aprAre they? Nicky Tyrone seems to think so. Well, to be absolutely accurate he’s talking about the left wing media here. Continuing our exacting theme, while his piece asks about “the left media’s worship of the SNP“, he qualifies this by noting “the slightly pro-SNP slant of the left of centre media“. Idolatry vs a qualified welcome. Hmmm. Furthermore, the bloody, quivering slab of evidence backing up his position is … a single article by Zoe Williams. Double hmmm.

I’m not about to offer a content analysis of our centre left press friends at The Graun, Indy, or Mirror. Let’s take the Labour-supporting tabloid. Here are a couple of pieces faithfully reproducing the Labour narrative about SNP votes and Tory backdoors. Meanwhile The Graun flags up Nicola Sturgeon’s anti-austerity credentials and publishes her offer to Ed Miliband to keep the Tories from darkening Number 10’s door ever again. The Indy offers matter of fact reporting on all these. So, in the grand scheme of things, centre left coverage is somewhat balanced – though in the real world far more pairs of eyes get to read what The Mirror says than The Graun.

Not that I’m going to apologise for the SNP. Like Nicky I am as opposed to the project of a separate Scotland as much as a resurgent British, or English nationalism. It is the most pernicious kind of us vs themism, a set of fictions disseminated consciously and unconsciously by the ideas factories of states, institutions, media, parties and movements, and good old commonsense. It’s a politics seeking salvation by separating one set of people out from another. In its rightist forms, best exemplified by UKIP, it’s blaming problems on the presence of Johnny Foreigner. In the SNP’s case, at least in its current social democratic incarnation, the neoliberal power centres in London and the English voters who return governments craven before those interests are stopping Scotland from building a fairer society. As someone who holds a candle for labour movements and the pursuit of common interests cutting across nationalities, left-tinged nationalism is problematic.

Being opposed does not, however, preclude understanding why it’s spring time for Scottish nationalism. As this piece for the BBC makes clear, many people are attracted to the SNP because it chimes with their priorities. In short, as Scottish Labour retreated from pretty basic Labourist politics so the support has followed the policies. It wasn’t long ago that a former Scottish leader was defining aspiration for Labour as “second home ownership, two cars in the driveway, a nice garden, two foreign holidays a year, and leisure systems in the home such as sound, cinema, and gym equipment.” Good grief. This is a crisis of Labour’s making, albeit not on the grounds of its own choosing.

If there are elements of the centre left media establishment down here receptive to the SNP’s anti-austerity message, that comes as no surprise after having market fundamentalism stuffed down everyone’s throats for the last 30 years. However, while the SNP’s nationalism puts their social democracy into question, so their social democracy raises a question mark of their nationalism too. This isn’t the same as Zoe’s argument, but perversely the strength of the SNP rests on appropriating a politics based on solidarity, not division. Nicola Sturgeon’s inbox proves it. Here’s the bind the SNP find themselves in. Successfully pursuing social democratic politics in a whole UK framework ultimately saps the basis of the SNP’s success. But doing anything else risks opening up the SNP’s fault lines that, at present, barely register as hairline cracks.

Labour however can turn the situation around and put the SNP and Scottish nationalism back in its box. But not before the election, and not before next year’s Holyrood elections either. We’re going to have to play the long, long game of not just competing with the SNP on policy and looking for opportunities to outflank them, but use our offices in government and local authorities to consistently work against the myriad insecurities that living in a capitalist society visits on us. If that means structural change, then it means structural change. Far better our party reconfigures British capital than have it, as it has been doing, configuring us.

At the risk of summoning the spirit of Max Weber, what left intellectuals, opinion formers, anyone with an audience ought to be doing is using their voices to press this process on. The SNP is an opportunity and a warning. Huge numbers of people are receptive to a different kind of politics, and if we don’t do it someone else will and our party, or worse, our movement could be left in the dust. Both one-sided critiques like Nicky’s or one-sided celebrations like Zoe’s fall somewhat short.

7 Comments

  1. David Pavett says:

    Yes, it is possible both to understand why the SNP is enjoying such a massive surge of support and also to be opposed to the break-up of Britain. I agree with Phil B-C about that.

    What is needed is a proper critique of the SNP’s claim to occupy the traditional social democratic ground vacated by Labour. Such a critique would find that in some areas the the claim has justification (e.g. in education) whereas in others it does not (e.g. in the the Donald Trump affair and in the aim of attracting foreign capital with lower business taxes). But all of these things are impossible for Labour to do without taking a hard critical look at itself. And that is something that I see no signs of whatsoever.

    To put nationalism back in the box Phil B-C argues Labour would need to use its

    … offices in government and local authorities to consistently work against the myriad insecurities that living in a capitalist society visits on us. If that means structural change, then it means structural change. Far better our party reconfigures British capital than have it, as it has been doing, configuring us.

    What are the signs that such a thing has even entered the minds of Labour leaders or into Labour policy discussion even as a possible very long-term goal? And given that only a 5% swing from the Independence Referendum is required to secure independence, what are the chances that Labour will transform itself into a party that aims to end the power of capitalism to “configure” the rest of us before the SNP runs off with its prize?

    I am all for the idea of outflanking the SNP on the left. I just can’t see any sign of it happening in the foreseeable future and, as was repeatedly argued in these columns, the election of Jim Murphy as leader was pretty much the kiss of death for any such project.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      I agree with David that outflanking of the SNP from the left isn’t really credible in this election (as I and others predicted it would be if Jim Murphy was elected leader). I’s not because Jim Murphy isn’t trying to sound sometimes as if he’s outflanking them from the left, just that his saying such things simply isn’t very credible. Just as it is even where he fails to outflank them, as with his new found opposition to student fees, which is rich coming from the former President of NUS Scotland who supported their introduction when Tony Blair gave the word. However, when it comes to the longer-term, let’s see what happens in this election first. Who knows what can happen afterwards? Enough said for now.

  2. James Martin says:

    It is worrying that Phil’s entire analysis apparently ignores the organised working class in the unions and workplaces, not least because one of the reasons the liberal media hacks can like the SNP is because they are perfectly safe when it comes to that area, unlike the previous Labour left shifts that have been interlinked (although often not enough) with real forces outside the Party.

    Yes, it will take time to outflank the SNP, and while Murphy and scum like McTernan are in charge of policy it will never happen, but the real outflanking will likely come from the unions who are by and large still very much part of a united British labour movement and who are (unlike idiots such as Tommy Sheridan) far less likely to fall for the SNP nationalist bullshit.

    1. Robert says:

      We will see bet state funding of parties will be on the agenda whom ever wins.

  3. swatantra says:

    Its only at Election times that minor Parties like the SNP, the Greens, and UKIP get a look in. And to be fair the Media do take a keen interest in them, and give them their due share of intrusion and inspection, and a good going over, to see if they can find anything embarrassing; the more skeletons they can find, the better; it sells more newspapers.
    The SNP are not really a National Party but a nationalist one; they don’t stand outside of Scotland. UKIP is a nationalist Party with 1 MEP in Scotland, but it

  4. swatantra says:

    Its only at Election times that minor Parties like the SNP, the Greens, and UKIP get a look in. And to be fair the Media do take a keen interest in them, and give them their due share of intrusion and inspection, and a good going over, to see if they can find anything embarrassing; the more skeletons they can find, the better; it sells more newspapers.
    The SNP are not really a National Party but a nationalist one; they don’t stand outside of Scotland. UKIP is a nationalist Party with 1 MEP in Scotland, but its remit and interest is really in England. The Greens are a National Party putting up more than 500 candidates, but with little chance of getting more than a handful of MPs elected.

    1. Robert says:

      Swat that was Hilarious.

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