Opinion: We shouldn’t demonise the Scots or the SNP

I’m increasingly concerned at the way in which the prospect of SNP MPs at Westminster is being treated in the English media.

My fear is that the SNP is being demonised in a way that undermines the future of the United Kingdom by bracketing the SNP and the Scots together and demonising both.

I’ve heard many stories from people in Scotland of the bitter taste left by the Thatcher years, when the Tories foisted the poll tax first on the Scots, smashed industry and caused mass unemployment. All this led to a Tory wipeout in 1997 and they still have only 1 MP in Scotland, although they do have a sizeable contingent at Holyrood due to PR.

Both the SNP and Plaid Cymru pushed an anti-austerity agenda in the television debates. This chimes in with resentment at austerity across the UK but doesn’t make economic sense: cutting too much chokes (as the Tories propose) off growth, but letting the deficit grow undermines financial stability in a way that is just as dangerous. They both have a purchase on Labour because they chime in with Labour’s left wing.

The sociology seems complex, both within and between the countries of the UK, but short circuiting with cheap shots such as adverts showing Ed Milliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket, can only fuel resentment.

In other contexts I have been thinking about core Liberal Democrat values and their place in the election campaign – and struggling as they don’t always reduce to the soundbites the media seem to favour – but we seem to be holding two things that the debate and the whole UK need:

1) We’re a federal party with a commitment to making decision as close as possible to the people they affect and an instinctive sense of the value of devolution within a united whole (whether that is the UK or the EU). That is the polar opposite of irresponsible antagonism: can we let it show?

2) Democracy within the party can confuse outsiders, but means we are well used to being with difference.  That seems a very rich starting point from which to hear and engage with the grievances which are fuelling support for the nationalist parties. Listening seems a good way to turn antagonism into the  dialogue from which something rich can emerge.

It feels as if we’re at a crossroads where Liberal Democrat values offer a real alternative to the antagonism that seems to be dominant.

* Mark Argent is Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Huntingdon.

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  • Eddie Sammon 1st May '15 - 3:14pm

    We shouldn’t demonise the SNP, but I still don’t like them. I’ve praised their solidarity, but I don’t like oil loving nationalists going around lecturing us about what it means to be “progressive”.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st May '15 - 3:17pm

    By the way, I like everyone individually (pretty much), I am just saying why I don’t like what the SNP is doing.

  • I am pleased to read this opinion. I really do not understand how we are where we are in Scotland. I hope it is not the consequence of tribalism that has harmed us.

    I felt that our strong support for the NO camp in the referendum was strategically and politically ill considered. Liberal Democrats are, as Mark points out, supporters of devolution, federalism and subsidiarity: devo max in short. I think that with goodwill, either a YES or a NO could have resulted in a similar outcome. We cannot rewrite the past so we need to build bridges and explore how we can work with SNP to secure a more devolved settlement for Scotland.

    If the outcome of the election means that the ruling party needs both our and SNP’s support, it will be vital to establish common ground. A minority government would be set on establishing themselves by exploiting divisions between opposition parties.

  • I agree. The big problem with the rhetoric, mostly from the Conservatives and Labour, at the moment is that it hardens the SNP vote and makes the break up of the union more likely. And yeah, Lib Dems do hold similar positions on a number of issues.

  • paul barker 1st May '15 - 3:56pm

    The problem with the SNP is not that they are Scots but that they deny that other Scots can disagree & still be authentically Scottish; that & their authoritarianism, paranoia, dishonesty (once in a generation = after 3 years) & bullying.

  • Mark,

    If you don’t want to demonise the SNP (and by implication Scotland if she chooses to support the SNP next week) then don’t misrepresent it.

    As Nicola Sturgeon made clear many times and again last night, the SNP policy is not to increase the deficit, but to cut it more slowly. A slightly slower path to eliminating the deficit completely will allow at least £140 billion extra to be invested in infrastructure and support for business, in protecting our public services, and in policies that will help to lift people out of poverty. These measures to promote growth are balanced with fair proposals to raise extra revenue which will allow spending to increase modestly while cutting the deficit year on year.

    These are responsible measures that compare sharply with irresponsibly using the deficit as an excuse for an ideological crusade to shrink the size of the state as has been pursued by some Liberal Democrats. The SNPs proposals are ones that many social liberals may (outside of electioneering) find some sympathy with. They are, after all, partly inspired by your own JM Keynes.

  • Tony Greaves 1st May '15 - 6:49pm

    How interesting that when so many English commentators write about the SNP they actually talk about themselves, like some of the comments here. The fact that the SNP are more or less right about the deficit is not the most relevant thing here. It is the politics of what is going on and the arrogance of the Westminster establishment (what the SNP call the elite).

    Here’s a scenario. May 2015 – SNP win 50+ seats in Scotland. SNP then snubbed by the Westminster based parties. “You are not legitimate, go back to Scotland”. May 2016 – SNP win increased majority in Holyrood elections including pledge to hold early 2nd referendum. May 2017 – Scotland votes Yes to independence. September 2018 – Scotland secedes.

    If anything like this happens, Cameron and Miliband and the rest will only have themselves to blame.


  • The SNP are so successful because 45% of the people in Scotland believe in a policy that, in a multi-party system, only the SNP support – or at least the SNP are the only mainstream party to support it.

    The Lib Dems should have been like that. They should have said that cannabis should be legal. They should have said your are allowed to offend people and that even if they don’t agree with what you say they’ll defend your right to say.

    Liberalism, like Scottish independence is one of those issues, that most people don’t agree with. And like Scottish independence it is also one of those issues that has the support of a huge minority.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st May '15 - 7:34pm

    In response to Tony Greaves’s comment: my jaw dropped when Miliband announced last night he would rather not be PM than do a deal with the SNP. Scotland shouldn’t receive special treatment, but it doesn’t mean some of their more reasonable demands can’t be looked at (such as less austerity).

    In a way I have more respect for Miliband afterwards for putting his career on the line, but I think it was the wrong move, so it just boosts the argument that he just isn’t competent enough.

  • Tony Greaves is spot on. Every attempt by the established political parties to demonise the SNP has only made them more popular.
    Yet on many issues they talk a lot of sense; opposing Trident, supporting electoral reform, action on climate change. They are far better than the Tories.

  • SNP are only doing as well as they are because of two people, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. Its been a very long time since Tories had much support in Scotland. Despite Scotland providing a Labour PM, Labour took Scotland for granted, did little about inequality or infrastructure in Scotland, and in Miliband, an ineffectual metropolitan who probably regards a trip to Islington as going up North, Labour selected the worst posssible leader to attract Scots. As for Nick, he’s aligned himself with the Tories so comprehensively that many cannot tell the difference. The only surprise is that Labour will still produce Welsh MPs after taking Wales for granted for so many decades.

  • For those of us in Scotland it is interesting to see the different approaches to the SNP and the SDLP, both left of centre parties committed to leaving the UK. Apparently the latter is absolutely fine to do business with and the former is not. Why? Is it just that the SNP are a real threat to the Westminster establishment? Or is it something else?

  • England based commentators will not understand the SNP by looking at their progress through English tinted lenses. Perhaps even faux colonial lenses …
    I think Miliband has demonstrated his unfitness for office simply in allowing the Tories and their press to bully him into diasavowing would-be partners in government, and even more so by letting Cameron off the hook as to who he might talk to! Incredible.
    And also very very inept – we have just had our leaders debate here in Wales and the leader of Plaid flayed the hapless
    local labour leader over their new preference for tory, rather than left wing, governments.
    Liberals should lighten up about the national parties, and begin to learn why they exist.

  • Peter Chegwyn 2nd May '15 - 12:12am

    Lots I could say about the SNP having spent the past four days campaigning for Charles Kennedy against a particularly unpleasant SNP candidate… but as the SNP are watching this forum and re-posting anything of use to them on their own blogs and Facebook pages I’ll keep most of my own comments private until after next Thursday.

    The one thing I will say is that Charles Kennedy is on superb form. I wish all those who have been criticial of Clegg & Co., as I have, could have heard Charles at public meetings and all-party hustings this week. Open, honest, persuasive and capable of delivering an inspiring vision in a way that others simply cannot. It’s a joy to listen to him!

    They still have public meetings in the NW Highlands and all-party hustings. Real engagement with real voters.

    Have a look at Charles’ Facebook here https://www.facebook.com/Charles.Kennedy.HLD?fref=ts

  • JohnMc,

    It doesn’t matter what the tint of the lense is, the Tory/SNP line on Labour and deals is a lie. The scots have been mugged by the SNP and now they are being helped by the Tories to mug the English.

    The SNP have shouted loud and clear that they will block the Tories from government. Therefore there are only two possibilities of government on current polling:

    1. There will be a coalition of some sort with the Tories to get a majority, or
    2. There will be a minority Labour government.

    A Labour minority will be able to get legislation through by being reassured that the SNP will back them on any issue that does not look like austerity and the Tories will back them on anything that does. Same for Trident.

    So in effect the SNP have said “On you go Ed, try and win England we’ll back you all the way if you win but we hope you lose”.

  • Because the SDLP (or even Sinn Fein) don’t have mobs howling “Quislings!” at anyone?

  • Richard Sangster 2nd May '15 - 4:18pm

    We are not a Uniobist Party in the way that the Conservative and Unionist Association is.

    Unlike UKIP, the SNP is an internationalist party.

  • SIMON BANKS 2nd May '15 - 4:28pm

    The SNP are essentially nationalist – that is, independence comes ahead of all else and once they’ve achieved freedom of Scotland from England, freedom of Scots within Scotland will be hard to come by. Not all nationalist parties (Plaid Cymru, say) are like this, but the SNP’s brand of nationalism would seem very familiar to a Balkan observer time-travelling from around 1910.

    However, Cameron, along with Clegg and Miliband, campaigned for a NO vote in the referendum and won. The implication of that campaigning and result is that the MPs Scots elect to Westminster have a right to influence the affairs of the UK as a whole – for example, if the election result is close, to help choose a government. In fact a Labour government dependent on SNP support would very likely either depend on Lib Dem support too or could turn to Lib Dems if the SNP was making unreasonable demands and challenge the SNP to bring the government down – which would harm the SNP.

  • John Roffey 2nd May '15 - 5:11pm

    SIMON BANKS 2nd May ’15 – 4:28pm

    “The SNP are essentially nationalist – that is, independence comes ahead of all else”

    Those who are presently supporting the SNP are not all in favour of independence – however, many recognise that the SNP will gain Scotland financial benefits. The Referendum was lost because large employers threatened to pull out of Scotland if they became independent. Since then the fall in the price of oil has blown a hole in their then proposed budget – so if the Referendum was held today – far less would be likely to vote ‘yes’ [and why should they be allowed another referendum – there hasn’t been one on our membership of the EU – and at times the desire of the electorate to leave has been far higher than the desire to leave the Union by the Scots]

  • To be honest I think the behaviour of the old parties and the English press has put the final nail in the coffin of the UK. The damage has been done and Scottish independence is now inevitable. What we have at the moment is a collective case of poor diddum’s refusing to go to arbitration, like a bitter soon to be ex husband who finds out his wife has been bored with the relationship for years. The behaviour of Cameron, Milliband and Clegg, well it’s kind of pathetic really.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th May '15 - 10:40pm

    The Tory line about the SNP and Labour makes no sense, because the only way the SNP could force Labour to do things would be if the SNP had Tory backing to force them. Otherwise, so what if Labour does not do what the SNP wants?

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