The single-issue SNP

I went to see Ben MacPherson, my SNP MSP, and a very dispiriting experience it was. Here is my follow-up letter to him, updated since it was sent and slightly altered. There has been no reply.

Dear Ben,

Thank you for seeing me yesterday afternoon. I’m sorry I was a wee bit late and breathless; I thought I knew where I was going, but it turned out I didn’t. I was in good time at the wrong place.

I have no intention of getting into a wrangle with you, I won’t send any more emails on this, and I don’t mind if you don’t reply. But I must make some points that arise out of our conversation. You declined to answer my points by email, and you refused to let me record the conversation.

I can quite see how it is that when you have neutered, normalised and embraced the profound dishonesty that says the SNP has respected the outcome of the 2014 IndyRef – to respect it was a formal undertaking – then the rest follows easily.

Referring to the oft-repeated “this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity” to vote to separate from the UK, it was chilling to hear you say that a colourful campaign slogan shouldn’t be taken too seriously or out of context. WORDS HAVE MEANINGS, Ben. When they are said they remain said. To change their meaning or to deny they were said is the beginnings of tyranny, the creation of “alternative facts”. You have an easy way of brushing this aside. It is a direct equivalent of Leave bus in the EuroRef claiming that the £350m that goes to Europe per week could be diverted to the NHS. You seem not to appreciate how dangerous that is.

After your defeat Nicola Sturgeon repeated the newly invented “material change of circumstances” mantra, twice a day, for weeks, and even she must have been surprised by the lack of challenge and the easy ride she had. Then she talked about the “inevitability” of a second IndyRef. Then you put the prospect into your 2016 election manifesto. Now a second IndyRef is being attached directly to the General Election in June. You have changed the narrative about a second IndyRef. You have not changed any of the principles and facts of the 2014 Ref. The answer was NO. You have not respected the outcome, and nothing you say changes that.

As I said to you, I have a problem with a referendum as a form of government before I have a problem with breaking up the UK. Perhaps because we didn’t have much time (half-way through the janny chapped on the door and gave us 15 minutes, max), or perhaps because you were obfuscating, we did not adequately discuss how a referendum fits into a representative democracy. All you said is that a referendum is the voice of the people. That is deeply irresponsible. You are elected to lead and take responsibility, not to egg people on. What body of political theory are you referring to?

You never explained how it is remotely sensible to reduce a profoundly complex matter to a binary and if, you get the answer you want, irreversible choice ahead of addressing and engaging with the complexities. The secessionist party in a referendum can peddle dreams, but is in no position to make promises that will certainly be delivered after the gritty reality of negotiating the terms of the secession. You know that. You have no idea what lies the other side of an “Independence Day”; to suggest otherwise is simply dishonest.

You described several SNP policies with which it is easy for me to agree: for example, the importance of public ownership of key infrastructure. But your problem is that if I was talking to another SNP MSP in another part of Scotland, the conversation would be on the importance of private enterprise and ownership. I described various aspects of Scottish life that are in crisis, and I said you are not sensitised to them because you have eyes only for your single goal.

I said that trade unionism was formed to protect people from the worst effects of capitalism (you said you like trade unionism). I went on to say that as capitalism has morphed into corporatism, so unionism must keep up and form international unions. I said that the British Isles are a small compact archipelago within which there should be no international borders. I will find fault with any union: the UK, the EU, any union. That’s easy. Your answer is to leave. My answer is to fix the fault. Of course we’ll never get it right, that’s politics. But you just walk away. Your ambition is limited to Scotland. Identity politics never ends well.

The 2014 IndyRef clearly instructed you to stay engaged in the UK and fix the problems. You could make a start by using your over-representation at Westminster to help abolish the first-past-the-post electoral system. It has ill served the UK for a century, and my own party failed to take the best opportunity to abolish it twenty years ago. If it was wrong then, it’s wrong now. We easily agreed that this is a priority. Fix it, if you are a progressive party. Fix it. Or at least show me you are trying to.

You said you want Scotland to do well. So do I. I decline your invitation to think about and get to know your party better. My principles for government (collective action, solidarity, etc), which I outlined, know no boundaries. You signally failed to give any principles for government which apply across different levels of government. You are indeed a single-issue party, and you ask for more respect than is due.

I have no idea if you are going to take this seriously. I am very concerned. It’s not that I disagree with you on policy, I can live with that. The intellectual integrity and moral purpose of the party you represent is not adequate for good government.

Yours sincerely

Tim Bell