Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Salmond- lost his edge or, yet again, ahead of the game?

From the Caledonian Mercury:
Alex Salmond is still the biggest beast in the Scottish political jungle. He is a politician of rare skill, a quick and occasionally devastating debater and a strong leader.

All those traits remain but a convergence of other factors have prompted murmurings to grow louder in the background, from inside and outside the SNP. In short, people are starting to ask the question: has Alex Salmond lost his edge?
I would amend that first sentence by inserting a "by far" in front of that "still"; in terms of strategy he continues to run rings round what could be very loosely described as the "competition" (the three pro-Union parties) and has managed to keep a minority administration pottering steadily along, without much of a hiccough, for three years now. Ok, the list of actual concrete achievements is on the short side, but it certainly stands comparison with what has been "accomplished" by the majority Labour/Plaid Cymru coalition in Wales and the "No Party Left Behind" joke of a Stormont Executive.
So, what's his (apparent) problem?

Despite Labour's overwhelming victory in Scotland in May (always on the cards in a wider two-horse UK race), his biggest problem, I suspect, is managing the expectations of the "Separation or Bust" fundamentalists who seem to form a large minority of the SNP activist base. He expounded on the unpalatable truth last week:
"The centre of gravity in Scottish politics is clearly currently not independence"
A truth which is pretty much self-evident but not because the SNP doesn't have the majority at Holyrood to push through a referendum. Salmond has read the public, not only the political, mood and he knows that even if such a referendum were to come into play, there would be a large majority voting for Scotland to remain a part of the UK. If the public mood were different would he, despite the political opposition, hesitate for a moment to continue with his referendum campaign? Of course not.

So, where does that leave the SNP?

In the same position as the Catalonian and, to a lesser extent, the Québécois nationalist parties- a majority for separation from the larger nation simply doesn't exist and is unlikely to do so for the foreseeable future. But, even as an integrationist UK Unionist, I have got to admit, as is the case in Catalonia and Quebec, a degree of "otherness" does exist amongst a section of the electorate and that is a feature which, for the obvious reasons, the pro-Union parties in Scotland seem very reluctant to exploit. I believe Salmond has read the tea-leaves and already prepared the ground by the development of a pro-Scotland (as opposed to a purely anti-UK) philosophy- a philosophy which seems comfortable enough with Scotland continuing with, for example, the monarchy. I think the future of the SNP lies in developing that sense of "otherness" whilst co-existing with the greater whole; reaping the advantages of remaining a part of the United Kingdom whilst attempting to stand aloof from the cultural, social and even financial responsibilities of remaining part of that Union.

Salmond is consistently ahead of the pro-Union parties; he is now also apparently ahead of many in his own party. That party, if it wishes to remain relevant, should be seriously thinking about what he's now telling them.


Taffytron said...

I think a lot of you ulster unionists have a slightly warped sense of the way that many Welsh and Scots actually think on a day to day basis. I should know, I taught lots of young proddies when I was based at a Welsh university. They quickly had their fantasies about 'we're all british' demolished double quick time- and this was in Cardiff, not known as a hot bed of radical Welsh nationalism. Most of us do not think in terms of unionism in the way you do, indeed this was alien language in Wales until introduced by them cretins from True Wales. To say that Labour and the Lib Dems are unionists in the sense you are is disingenuous when both advocate greater devolution and federalism. This may not 'end the UK' per se but it will be a very different place from the ridiculous Westminster centric fantasy you advocate. Surveys consistently suggest that while Welsh people don't want separation (including myself), we want to do more things our way. Your Norn Ireland form of unionism is incompatible with Wales and Scotland. My preferred option for Ulster would be independence or conversion into a dominion or overseas territory. The last option would remove your representatives from Westminster but preserve the 'british' connection. Ulster MPs are a pointless distraction in Westminster anyway as they tend to not bother showing up or spout hate filled nonsense.

O'Neill said...

You've ignored completely the topic of the post and managed simultaneously to introduce a of gratuitous sectarian decsription into a piece praising (albeit indirectly) Salmond...congratulations!

several quick points:

1. You seem to be under the impression that NI Unionism thinks and acts a single homogemeous unit. Read this and other NI pro-Union blogs and you'll soon be disabused of that notion.

2. Labour and the Lib Dems are pro-Union parties but nowhere have I stated that they are unionist in "the sense" I am (whatever that "sense" may be). One of the glories of the UK is its diversity and I'm quite prepared to also permit that diversity within pro-Unionist thinking ;)

3."This may not 'end the UK' per se but it will be a very different place from the ridiculous Westminster centric fantasy you advocate. Your Norn Ireland form of unionism is incompatible with Wales and Scotland."

You are aware that NI has its own Assembly and that the DUP, for example, takes already a very much "federalist" approach to its dealing with London? I may not approve of the fact, but within political Unionism, my opinion would be very much a minority one. Again, you are attempting to shove us all into one easily labelled box.

4."My preferred option for Ulster would be independence or conversion into a dominion or overseas territory."

Entitled to your opinion of course, but I hope you still believe it is the electorate of NI who should have the final say on their constitutional future?

Now, back to my you agree wiht me that Salmond is presently playing a blinder?!

kensei said...

Had the "arc of prosperity" held (interesting that Iceland of all places, is getting a better time fo it than most while the UK faltered, it may have translated into uncertainty over Scotland's riole in the UK. But as it is people are uncertain and do not need more uncertainty. As Salmond has said that referendum is a once in a generation ask, it's madness to run it now. You strike at the most opportune moment. That'd be when a recovery was well undeway everywhere - probably towards the end of the next Parliament.

It should also be noted that large swings have occurred within referendum campaigns elsewhere. Quebec was very very close to change at one point.

O'Neill said...

"As Salmond has said that referendum is a once in a generation ask, it's madness to run it now."

The point though is that he has got it, read the public mood, whilst a lot of his party's activist base seem to believe they should plough on regardless, hence the cracks apparently starting to appear in the unity of the SNP.

Very few leading politicians possess the ability and the desire to understand what the electorate as a whole (and not their party) is telling them; salmond does, the question is whether the rest of the party are happy to live with what the electorate are saying.