(I understand I said this would be up on Friday, but forgive me – things have been a little busier than I had planned).

The last in my series of posts on the state of the Scottish parties at Holyrood looks at the juggernaut that is the SNP.  I don’t know that there is any more to add to the post-May media avalanche of “how the hell did they do that?” which hasn’t already been said.  The party single-handedly re-wrote Scottish political history in one night, winning seats in places where they had never… (yes, okay – there’s a danger of falling into hyperbole here).  There really has been enough written about that night, suffice to note here that it was historic, likely unmatched and probably the most impressive electoral performance in Scottish history.  I’m not going to dispute that.

But since then – what have the party done?

On that note, I tend to the view opined by my more enlightened blogging colleague, the right noble Lallands Peat Worrier Esq, when he says:

‘After May’s triumph, we’ve had incompetence, bungling, a bitter, melancholic atmosphere apt to convince no one of the virtues of independence. […] Lurching from their inflammatory, contemptible denunciation of Cadder and Fraser to the vulnerable reactiveness and vaguery which has informed the Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill, for me, post-election, the SNP have presided over a political period which has been by turns despairing, girning, partisan, vacuous and dreary.  What a squandering of possibilities; what a waste; what folly.’

And this, can I point out (since I’ll likely get it in the neck for being negative about the SNP) is from a blogger who considers themselves “a Nationalist” and who campaigned “for a Nationalist government”… and who now finds himself “astonishingly depressed.”

Look – it’s not like things aren’t all rosy in the SNP’s garden.  They’ve got a majority in the Scottish Parliament – something considered previously impossible by most political commentators (and which, subsequently, led previous enthusiasts of the system to call for a change).  They have five years to run the Scottish Government in a manner which they see fit.  And, crucially for the party, they will get the opportunity to have their referendum on Scottish independence.  You can’t fault the party on these things.

And yet, and yet.  As the noble Peat Worrier points out, with the possibilities open to them, May’s victory seems like an age ago.  The party has failed to take advantage of the situation – of the opportunities open to it.

I’ll focus on two examples – the second attempt at Anti-Sectarianism legislation, the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Behaviour (Scotland) Bill, and the return of Minimum-Pricing to Holyrood.

On the first, no one – well, no with any sense – would deny that sectarianism is a scourge of Scottish society, and dealing with it in a comprehensive and extensive manner is long overdue.  But when this legislation originated, it did so from a position of bluster, of “here’s a problem, we’ve got to be seen to be doing something about it, so we’ll do something about it” without any thought of how to do so, and most especially, how it would or could be policed.  Consider, for example, Roseanna Cunningham’s comments that “aggressively crossing yourself” or “singing the national anthem” could be construed as offensive, but without definition of what sectarianism is or in what circumstances these actions are acceptable/ not acceptable, the law becomes an entirely subjective business.  And while that was during the discussions on the original bill, the updated version – after consultation, discussion, amendment – was improved only marginally from it’s “gesture politics” origins.  Don’t get me wrong – I applaud the sentiment.  I just think it has been approached with the less-than-usual level of professionalism that we have become accustomed to when viewing the SNP.

On the issue of Minimum Pricing, my concerns are more political I think.  The issue was defeated in the last parliamentary session because the opposition parties were united in their cynicism at the evidence in support of the motion.  But now the party has a majority, the temptation is to use that majority to bulldoze the proposal through (well, hardly bulldoze, since they have a democratic mandate – but you see the point).  Here was an opportunity to build on some of the personal relationships made during the last parliamentary term when cross-party consensus was required.  The SNP could have said “look, we know you disagree with us on this – but we think it’ll help Scotland.  Let’s try to work together, see if we can present a united front to tackle this issue”.  Whether it would have done any good (especially with regards to working with Labour) is debatable, though Tom Harris has suggested he would have been open to a bill with a sunset clause to see how it worked in practise – 1.41 into this video.  And though the party as a whole hasn’t been keen to work with the Scottish Government, individual MSPs (like Malcolm Chisholm) have been involved with Scottish Government initiatives.  This, I’d argue, would have been a stronger strategy on Minimum Pricing (and on other, not-necessarily-popular initiatives where a broad base across parties could help sell the issue to the Scottish public.

The more cynical side (what, me? Never!) of me would suggest that this would also be quite wise in building towards the independence referendum.  If the public see a party which is consensual, willing to take on board opposition views, open to new ideas, then they might be more inclined to support the party’s constitutional preference.  Of course this might be the strategy for later in the parliamentary session, when the SNP are building towards the vote.  In the meantime, the idea might be to get the controversial legislation (the sectarianism stuff, minimum pricing and equal marriage) out of the way long before the referendum, so they can spend the years closer to the vote building a consensus in parliament on other issue, making themselves look a reasoned and measured government – a government that people couldn’t possibly vote against in a referendum…

Well, perhaps that is the case.  But for the moment, the SNP’s 7 months as a majority government have left a rather hollow feeling.  As a political student and commentator – and also as someone who lives and works in Scotland – I can only hope that there is a measured improvement in the next four years.

Addendum: The good RevStu has gotten all melancholic over my views, reckoning saying things like this will tear the delicate wee flower that is the nationalist movement in Scotland apart!  Michty me.  Constructive criticism?  Apparently not.  I guess “Unpopular Thoughts” was an appropriate title!

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