Neil Mackay: Independence is the right route , but we’re being led there by a rotten party

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HERE’S Scotland’s political dilemma in a nutshell: the majority of the population favour independence; however, the vehicle to get independence – the SNP – is rotting from the inside out.

Regular readers know I favour independence, not for any petty nationalist reasons, but because I see Westminster as a failed exercise in democracy. Scotland can do better.

The trap for many voters is that the SNP has cornered the market on independence. Labour could open its mind to a broader constitutional policy (and perhaps might if Monica Lennon takes over), the Greens could break through as a rival independence party (and perhaps will if they can shake off the unfair student politics tag), but neither of those events has happened yet. That means most of us, who wish to see Scotland independent, are left with the SNP.

So, pro-independence voters, if they aren’t slavishly SNP, must play a game of cognitive dissonance and pretend the party is actually fit for purpose.

The irony, of course, is that the SNP wants us to frame the forthcoming Holyrood election as a vote on independence. That suits the party well, I’m sure – because if the election focused on the issues which mattered, namely the SNP’s ability to govern, the party would be out on its ear.

Clearly, the “Union question” has now penetrated minds south of the Border. You know issues in Scotland matter when London broadsheets, years late to the game, lift their lazy eyes northward and notice that all’s not well in Albion. Was there anyone in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales who didn’t roll their eyes in bored disbelief at the Sunday Times’s “Disunited Kingdom” front page? Really? What will they be telling us next: that there’s a global pandemic?

Polls are indicating that the majority of the population favour independence,

But clearly, what that front page represents is a growing awareness – finally – among England’s electorate that the Union is dying. As this cultural and political shift happens – provoking, as it will, an inevitable backlash – it would help if the party which speaks most loudly on independence didn’t stink regardless of what direction the wind blows.

Perhaps, the greater irony is that one of the SNP’s biggest failures has been the way it’s conducted the conversation around independence. It’s not just that the party has been engaged in civil war over the surest route to independence, it’s that too many of its so-called “leading lights” have been seen to devote their time almost exclusively to the constitution. Seldom a day goes past without the SNP’s rank and file anti-Sturgeon faction lining up to joust with leadership loyalists on social media. Sturgeon’s too slow, they scream, too centrist, too “legal”. The wilder ones even claim Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t want independence. What a way to win over No voters.

SNP becoming a national embarrassment

When SNP MPs, MSPs and councillors take part in their petty little Twitter wars over “Plan B”, I cannot be alone, as a Yes voter, in feeling that their time could be much better spent. Perhaps, they believe the electorate find this wearisome Punch and Judy show entertaining? Perhaps, they think we’re happy our taxes subsidise this behaviour? Perhaps, they realise grabbing the spotlight at all costs is good for the bank balance?

The SNP’s internal feuding over independence has been interminable. Thankfully, the leadership has now announced what appears to be a relatively intelligent roadmap towards a second referendum, designed to get around any Westminster intransigence. The formula seems elegantly simple – and legal. If the SNP wins a majority, it will request a Section 30 order from Westminster for a referendum; if that’s refused, the matter can go to court.

Obviously, this route won’t please the anti-Sturgeon brigade, as agreeing to it would require stepping out of that spotlight. While ordinary voters who support independence will be glad that at last a sensible route to another referendum has been developed, it won’t have gone unnoticed that the plan was presented to around 1,000 SNP members at the party’s national assembly over the weekend. It seems politically quite illiterate – mid-global pandemic as we are – for a party to appear to put the constitution, and electoral fortunes, ahead of people and country.

Evidently, most of the anti-Sturgeon contingent are motivated by their adherence to Alex Salmond. Which brings us to the greatest festering sore in the flank of the party. Whatever way you look at the Salmond-Sturgeon schism, the party comes off as rotten. It’s a ghastly mess and both sides appear as appalling as each other. If ever there was a case of “a plague on both your houses”, this is it.

But the Salmond saga is merely the rot that smells strongest. There’s plenty of other stink that the smell of the Salmond affair obliterates. The Crown Office is no longer fit for purpose. Scotland is a graveyard of drug users. You’d need as many fingers as the multi-armed Hindu goddess Kali to count the failures and disgraces of the SNP.

The most dreadful of all these scandals goes straight to the heart of the bogus claim that the SNP has somehow dealt well with pandemic: deaths in care homes. A special prosecution unit set up to probe Covid-linked deaths is investigating cases at 474 care homes in Scotland.

Independence: You really don’ t have to be nationalist to back it

Any investigations should go straight to the heart of government, and include the First Minister and her Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman. The Government oversaw a policy which allowed elderly coronavirus patients to be discharged into care homes without testing negative. If there’s crimes to be answered for, make sure the right people are brought to book.

On and on it goes. A party which proposes to lead the nation to independence repeatedly shows itself incapable of governing – and clearly the closer a second referendum comes the more these failings will be used as a weapon to undermine independence. That’s the price of the SNP endlessly, mendaciously, conflating itself, not just with independence, but with Scotland as a nation.

Yet here we are, with a majority of the population wishing to form a new and better country, but with only the SNP to turn to – surely proof that fate has a grim sense of humour when it comes to Scotland.

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