I found Nicola Sturgeons’ speech to the SNP entertaining, revealing, informative, frustrating, cringeworthy and depressing.
I suspect that the way people react to this speech are similar to the way the react to Nicola – they either love or hate her. To her fans this was a brilliant speech showing the fantastic vision and leadership that she provides. To her detractors this was more of the same old, same old. People love or hate her. I would like to try a more dispassionate analysis – because I think to reduce this to the level of personality or party is to miss the point.
If you don’t want to watch the whole speech (I found parts of it jarring and a bit cringeworthy – other parts were clear and even inspiring) then you can read it here in about half the time! What is fascinating is how little it differs from last years speech – and the year before that! In fact it was so similar that I was going through last years for 5 minutes before I realised I had the wrong one! The whole thing is of course beautifully stage managed. Like a TV show being recorded, there were even helpful screen signs telling people when to applaud! No spontaneity here. No protests here. No dissenters allowed. Shiny Happy People everywhere.
There are some good things in this speech and the First Minister always delivers this kind of speech well. But it was a little bit ‘motherhood and apple pie’, telling the conference what it wants to hear. However, there was more to it than that.
The Hope –
There was lots in the speech to inspire and provide hope. Especially if you are a nationalist. SNP conferences are always slick and professional – just like the Brexit party (although I appreciate they won’t like the comparison!). But Sturgeon’s speeches usually have some substance. Although when you stop to think about them much of that is only conference deep.
And so we will act – we will help young people with the deposits they need.I am announcing today a new £150 million scheme.If buyers can find just 5% of the value of their new house from their own funds, we will do the rest.Starting later this year and running until the end of this parliament, we will offer first-time buyers loans of up to £25,000 to fund or top up their deposit.
At first I thought this sounded great and then someone pointed out the obvious. This is proposed to be a ‘universal benefit’ like many of the benefits that the Scottish Government put forward – which means that the Scottish taxpayer will be paying for the person who wants to buy a £1,000,000 home as well as for the £100,000 home. It’s all very well to hand out universal benefits- but someone has to pay – and that someone is often the poor. Why should our taxes pay for middle-class subsidies? This is Robin Hood in reverse.
But if the UK can’t be persuaded to change course, Scotland must – we must have the choice of a better future. Scotland must have the choice of an independent future. Next month, we will introduce legislation for a referendum. And we plan to pass it by the end of this year.
Again this is tremendously hopeful – if you support Scottish Independence. But it is completely meaningless. It was throwing a bone to the nationalist masses. Let me translate – “Look at me – I”m going to legislate for a referendum – knowing that I won’t get one because a Section 30 order will not be granted and then I can cry – Westminster betrayal/intransigence again!” Nicola dangled a carrot, offered jam tomorrow but had no meat for today.
The History –
This is the birthplace of the enlightenment. It was in this city, in our small country on the edge of Europe, that an intellectual flowering transformed the way humanity thinks about the world….The contribution Scotland has made to the modern world is unparalleled.
It is our history – of independence, of union, of social advancement, of industrial and high-tech revolutions.
Scotland does have a tremendous history but Nicola paints a partial and therefore flawed historical picture. Scotland’s history also includes cruelty, slavery and bloodshed.
What is also interesting is who and what she misses out. There was no mention whatsoever of the role that Christianity played in the history of Scotland. I don’t think she did this because of any anti-Christian malevolence I just think that she does not know. It’s ignorance rather than hatred. But this is the problem for me with our First Minister – outside West of Scotland politics I’m not sure that she has anything other than a shallow understanding of what the rest of Scotland is like. How is it possible for someone to speak about the history of this nation, a land where the people were once known as ‘the people of The Book”, the land of Knox, Rutherford and Chalmers – and yet not mention Christianity?!
The Hubris –
Few countries are better placed than Scotland to help lead the world into a new age.
A recent editorial in an Irish newspaper put it rather well. Scotland, it said, ‘is a beacon of sense in a sea of madness’. How true that is.
We will tell people about Scotland’s strengths.The extraordinary success of our food and drink industry. Our renewable energy, our advanced manufacturing, technology, life sciences, creative industries, tourism. Above all, we will show that Scotland has a talented and educated people. As an independent nation we will face challenges, as all independent countries do. We must be responsible with our finances. But few countries on earth can match our resources and our potential.
This pride, hubris and arrogance has never served Scotland well. What scares me most is that Sturgeon and her followers actually believe it. They do think that Scotland is a world leading ‘progressive’ country and that the First Minister is considered a world leader by the rest of the world. The trouble is that the SNP in its more cultlike authoritarian form tends to conflate ‘Scotland’ with the SNP. I’m tired of hearing Iain Blackford go on and on about ‘the people of Scotland say..” when he means ‘the SNP says’. If you want to hear the scary side of nationalism this is the phrase that triggered me….
Conference, the SNP is not an ordinary political party.We do not represent just one section of society or one group of people. We are the national party. Our aim is to represent everyone who lives here.
We are THE national party. No one else. We speak for Scotland. No one else. Our values are Scotland’s values…and frankly if you are not on board then you are not ‘Scotland’. The one million Scots who voted to leave the EU are not ‘Scotland’. The hundreds of thousands who vote Conservative are not Scotland. Notice how whenever Sturgeon uses the word ‘Tory’ its as though she is spitting it out. In this new cult the Tories are the demons.
I don’t believe that the SNP does seek to represent ‘everyone who lives here’. I live here. I’m opposed to abortion, SSM and think men cannot become women. I think that the EU is an undemocratic and authoritarian body that we would be better out of. In what way does the SNP represent me? They can’t. So the corollary of what Sturgeon is saying is simply this – we are The National Party who represent everyone who lives in Scotland – if you don’t agree with us, then you don’t belong here – get with the picture or get out (or at least be quiet and accept your status as second class citizens).
The Humiliation –
After pride comes a fall – as any Scotland football fan will know. “We’re on the march with Ally’s army….and we’ll really shake them up, when we win the world cup, cos Scotland are the greatest football team”. We are going to beat Brazil but then we draw with Iran. The SNP make considerable claims but the bubble will burst. The fall is coming…
The Hypocrisy –
Take three areas that the First Minister mentioned in her speech.
Our nation values education – that’s why I will always make this commitment to Scottish students. As long as the SNP is in government, there will be no tuition fees. Education will always be based on your ability to learn, not your ability to pay.
To show the strength of our commitment to those who choose to make our country their home, we have extended free university tuition for EU citizens studying here in Scotland.
This sounds good but is an illusion. There is little doubt that Scotland which once had a proud history as an educated, literate nation (thanks largely to the Christian school system founded by Knox) is now slipping backwards. We have many pupils who can tell you that you can choose your own gender but they struggle to spell ‘gender’! The claim about free tuition fees is true – except of course they are not free (someone has to pay) and it has not helped the poor get into Universities or colleges. The SNP have hammered the college sector. It is a sad inditement of modern Scottish society, that someone with my background (a farm workers son) would find it harder to get a decent University education today than I did in 1979.
Extending free university tuition to those from overseas again sounds magnanimous until you look at the details. It is discriminatory in three ways
It discriminates on racial grounds – It only applies to the EU and even then not to the English, Welsh or Northern Irish. Scotland welcomes you if you are European – but not so much if you are African, Asian, American, Australian or Arab – or English!
It discriminates against the poor – It is only middle-class students who can afford to pay the travel and maintenance costs. We will take the middle class of Eastern and Western Europe, but not the poor. It also discriminates against the poor in Scotland because as our Universities are run more on the corporate model, seeking customers wherever they can get them – they become less community focused and although they pay lip service to having students from poorer backgrounds, that is just crumbs from the master’s table.
It discriminates against Scots. There is a cap on Scottish students. When the SNP took power 70% of medical students were Scots. Now its 50%. The SNP are boasting that they are taking Scottish taxpayers money to subsidise middle-class EU students, whilst limiting the number of Scots who can go to University because we don’t have enough money!
The EU is far from perfect, but membership is not just about economic and social benefits – substantial though those are. It is also about the values we cherish – freedom, democracy, the rule of law, equality, respect for human dignity and human rights.
This is where the fantasy politics really kick in. The notion that it is the EU which is the source of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, equality and human rights is absurd and without any evidence whatsoever. But such is the hysteria surrounding the EU that there are those within the SNP, including the First Minister, for whom it has become more important than Scottish Independence. I have watched in disbelief as the SNP have morphed into the EUNP.
Nowhere is this fantasy shown more than in this assertion:
Conference, for independent countries of our size, the EU does not curtail sovereignty – it enhances and amplifies it.
This only works if you remove all meaning from the word sovereignty. What is sovereignty in terms of the state? “a state with a defined territory that administers its own government and is not subject to or dependent on another power.” The EU does not enhance and amplify that – it curtails and limits. Scotland in the EU would be subject to EU law, EU agricultural policy and the CFP. Our economy, taxation and legal systems would largely be subject to the EU. The EU is supranational body which requires its member states to give up their national sovereignty. The First Minister either does not know this, or she does know it and was lying to us. Ignorance or deceit in such an important matter is not helpful.
So today, as First Minister of Scotland, I am declaring that there is a climate emergency. And Scotland will live up to our responsibility to tackle it. We are already a world leader and our new legislation commits us to being carbon neutral by 2050. It contains some of the toughest targets in the world.
This was greeted with a cheer. But it reminded me more of King Canute rather than some profound and deep policy statement. The FM declaring there is a climate emergency does not mean that there is a climate emergency. Nor does such a declaration actually achieve anything – other than a retweet from Greta Thunberg. I have watched as the Scottish government has funded and enabled a massive shift of wealth from the poor to the rich in the name of climate change. Landowners have benefited from massive subsidies for their wind turbines, whilst the poor have had increased energy bills. Climate change needs to be dealt with but not by this kind of ill thought out and hypocritical policy. Why hypocritical? The SNP (‘It’s Scotland’s Oil’) built a large part of its economic case on oil. It still does. But if you believe with Greta that the world is going to end in 12 years there is a) not much point in having a plan for 2050 and b) you need to do a whole lot more. Declaring a climate emergency which you think is caused by the extraction of fossil fuels, whilst at the same time licensing more extraction of fossil fuels, IS hypocrisy.
I am acutely aware of the responsibility of all politicians, especially leaders, to bring people together not drive them apart.
Says the politician who has just spent 40 minutes attacking, Tories, Westminster, Brexiteers etc! It’s no use talking about bringing people together when you are deriding and mocking those who do not share your views.
Conference, we will also reach beyond parliament and political tribes. We are establishing a non-party Citizens’ Assembly, so that people from across Scotland can guide the conversation.
This is actually scary. Again it sounds great. Who is going to be against a ‘Citizens Assembly” to ‘guide the conversation’. The devil is always in the detail. Who will select this citizens assembly? On what criteria? What role will they have? My view is that it will be the same people (I describe them as ‘civic Scotland) getting people who think like themselves to tell the political classes what they want to hear. This citizens assembly will be selected ‘randomly’ after a suitable filter has been applied to make sure the ‘wrong sorts’ do not get on to it. It will be adviced by those who the government thinks are suitable advisors….and it will come up with what the government wants it to.
A Citizens Assembly will be appointed not elected. It will not be representative except in the way that the political classes consider representative. It is at best a meaningless talking shop – at worst a way for an authoritarian government to bypass the ballot box. Citizens assemblies were all the rage in revolutionary France, Stalinist Russia and Maoist China….
Something on which we can agree….Sturgeon says she wants…
A society founded on compassion, on kindness and love.
Amen. An admirable sentiment. But if it is to be more than sentiment we need to know both what these words mean and how we remove the impediments to them. I have an idea…..
I look forward to returning from Australia to my new role as National Advisor on Compassion, Kindness and Love to the Scottish Citizens Assembly!
Footnote: I appreciate people passing this on – but please don’t refer to me as a Tory! It is possible to critique the SNP without being a Tory. My own personal politics are nationalist in that I believe individual sovereign nations are the best way to govern; left wing in terms of economics ,socially conservative and a democrat…Go figure!