Like a Sturgeon | The decline of the SNP

This week Nicola Sturgeon resigned. Only a few weeks ago she was casting herself as the power broker holding the balance of power after next election.

Many people have told me they think the SNP will be weaker because Sturgeon has left.   Personally I think that Sturgeon is leaving because the SNP are in a very weak political position, and she wants to be remembered for their past success not their future failure.  The current police investigation into who has been funding Scottish Nationalism is unlikely to be kind to them.

The Scottish National Party are an odd mix of left wing and right wing ideas, and they have been allowed to let this contradiction go unexplored.   

One part of their programme is classic right wing nationalism. They aren’t “blood and soil” nationalists, but civic nationalists. Their vision of the nation is expressed as a set of values, derived from history, that are unrelated to where someone comes from.   In that respect their version of nationalism is close to the US version – if you believe in American values and the American way you can be an American no matter where you came from.

But the rest of their programme are progressive or socialist economic and social policies.    The civic values their civic nationalism promotes are left wing.

There is a terrible contradiction here.

One of the basic principles of socialism, in fact of all progressive movements, is that deep down we are all similar, and we shouldn’t treat people worse because of their race, gender, sexuality, or where they come from.   We all deserve the same chances in life

But one of the basic principles of nationalism, is that deep down we are different.   And that we should be separated out so that we only live with people similar to us, whether that difference is values and culture and history, or blood and soil and race.   

The SNP have been lucky that they have never had to face up to this contradiction. And this is where their current predicament comes from.

If Labour get in at the next election without a majority the SNP will offer them their support in return for a referendum.

Were I Labour leader I would turn down that offer and instead offer the SNP a simple choice – vote with Labour in pursuit of left wing economic and social policies or vote with the Conservatives to bring down a left wing Government and face the consequences at the ballot box.

This would force the SNP to confront their contradiction – are they a right wing nationalist party or a left wing progressive party?

Whichever they choose is a disaster for them.

And if Labour get in with a majority the SNP lose their main argument – that Scotland can only get a left wing Government through independence.

This is why Nicola Sturgeon was desperate to get a 2nd in/out referendum before the next UK General Election. When that plan failed she was left facing a much weaker political position than she has faced since the SNP lost the last referendum in 2014.

I am sure that there are lots of other reasons why she wants to go down, not least of which is weariness from multiple political battles. But she leaves at the top. Hard to see any direction for the SNP from here other than down.

Whether Labour can capitalise on that to win back some of their Scottish seats is a different question, but Anas Sarwar is a very different proposition to Richard Leonard, and will be a much tougher opponent .


I realise that some people may be unhappy with my description of US civic nationalism.

America as a nation may present itself as civic nationalist, but there are plenty in the MAGA/Trump/QAnon movement whose views on nationhood are tied to blood and soil nationalism.  

For those unfamiliar with the phrase “blood and soil nationalism”, it is the belief that the people who should live on the land are those whose bloodlines go back in time, their heritage and ancestry.    Only those with a long enough bloodline are worthy of living in the land.   This form of nationalism is closely linked to fascism and the far right.

It may seem weird to an outsider that the White Christian right should regard themselves has having a unique link through their ancestors to America when they conquered the country killing it’s inhabitants, and when much of America was built by Black slaves or other minorities.

Bust just because it is a weird idea doesn’t mean that it is not profoundly held. You can see current US politics as a battle between Civic Nationalists like the Democrats who believe in a set of liberal American values and on the other side Blood and Soil nationalists who want to return America to a society based on racial hierarchies, with the “real Americans” at the top. The battles over black history or which books are allowed in schools are a fight over whether it is OK to explore the weirdness and bigotry or right wing US nationalism

Personally I believe that if you scratch below the surface of civic nationalist movements you find find people who believe in blood and soil and race.    

The SNP had a good long ride, but their weird brand of nationalism is running out of time.


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