Neil Mackay: I believe in independence – that’s why the state of the SNP breaks my heart

“WHY do you hate the SNP if you support independence?” It’s a question I’m asked with increasing frequency these days. So I better answer it.

Firstly, I don’t ‘hate’ the SNP. I don’t ‘hate’ anything, except Nazis, spiders, bananas and football, and even football I tolerate (just about). The plain truth is I’m just very disappointed with the SNP – which is saddening as I’ve many friends in that party. I know many of its politicians, and hold them in high regard as decent people with their hearts in the right place.

However, my relationship to independence and the SNP is now a little like my relationship to America and aviation: I love America; I just don’t like long haul flights. Of late, independence and the SNP is similar: I love the destination – independence; but I find myself more and more uncomfortable with the method of transportation – the SNP.

I’m by no means unique. Much to my chagrin, my political journey is relatively ordinary. I’m a natural Labour voter, but after Iraq, Labour and I were done. I was politically homeless. Back in the mid/late noughties, the SNP seemed a progressive berth for my vote.

The party opposed the Iraq War. It had policies I respected – free university tuition, free prescriptions, the baby box. There was lots to appeal to the average progressive liberal-leftie. I was also at ease with the notion of independence. So I began voting for the SNP.

Over recent years, however, I’ve felt that progressive version of the SNP start to wither away. Of late, as a voter of the left, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with the SNP’s direction. The ScotWind deal sold off the nation’s seabed. The party is doing far less than it could or should for the poorest in society. The SNP has become overbearing, even sneering. The party no longer works hard to deserve its place, it expects it – just as Labour once took Scotland for granted. Embracing the Tory ‘Freeport’ policy is just the latest rightward drift. There’s a cosy chumocracy now at work, and it feels like much that’s loathsome about Westminster is coming into being under the SNP in Scotland.

SNP supporters will self-evidently disagree. But that’s another problem I have with the SNP: it’s base. The SNP was guilty, prior to the referendum, of both turning a blind eye to, and casually amplifying, the worst of its support. Then, Frankenstein-style, the ‘cybernats’ turned on the leadership. Today, there remains a thin-skinned fragility to nationalism that’s both angry and pathetic at the same time, and a sense of exceptionalism which is hypocritical and desperate. Perhaps the Scottish cringe lies at the heart of the nationalist movement?

READ MORE: Where’s the SNP vision?

However, just because I’ve lost faith in the SNP, that’s no reason to turn my back on independence. Far from it. I’ve never been a nationalist, and was always uncomfortable with nationalists carrying the banner for independence. I don’t care about flags. The idea that Scotland is special is absurd – no country is special. Patriotism is a game for the devil.

For me, independence is a progressive, not a nationalist, project. I want to see Scotland independent as Westminster is, and always has been, hopelessly corrupt and irredeemable. My support for independence isn’t based on Tory rule or that Boris Johnson is a sleazy, useless clown. How could anyone break up a country simply because one individual or party was elected in a fair, democratic vote? If you believe Scotland can and should be independent, then it wouldn’t matter if Mother Theresa was in Number 10. It’s about the system, not the personalities.

If Westminster could be reformed, or showed even a glimmer of understanding it needs to be reformed, I’d be much more cool on independence. All that matters to me is the chance to create a fairer, more equal society, and independence presents itself as the best route to that better world.

I’m also sure that Scotland can make it as an independent nation – just like all those other small, industrious, successful independent nations, which do much better in terms of health and happiness than the busted flush that’s the United Kingdom.

However, it doesn’t matter a jot that I believe Scotland can make it as an independent country – it’s undecided voters who need convinced. And here again, the SNP is failing abysmally. No real work has been done refreshing the case for independence – especially since Brexit. SNP leaders appear happy to shout ‘indy is coming’ every few weeks to mollify their base, while embedding themselves as the new establishment.

The path to independence will be hard. The SNP needs to admit that, and should have been constantly grafting away on the grinding task of convincing undecideds independence can work. Pensions, borders, currency, our future relationship with Europe and the UK, the military and intelligence services, Nato and Trident: it all should have been thoroughly updated and confidently presented.

The case for independence should run on twin-tracks: a bold inspiring vision, and ruthless self-scrutinising honesty. To simply blare ‘Scotland can be great’ isn’t enough for many people – and their circumspection deserves respect.

If only independence wasn’t captive to just one party. Clearly, there’s Alba and the Greens – but one, Alba, is a fringe set of bespoke weirdos, and the other is too small to carry the demanding weight of the Yes movement, and risks being completely co-opted as the SNP’s patsies in government; a green shield for an increasingly neoliberal party.

I pine for the days when the Yes movement was an amalgam, back in 2014, of disparate groups across the political spectrum all with a vision – usually progressive – of where Scotland could go once we left the UK.

Many fellow Yes voters will say – with wearying regularity – ‘but once we’re independent we can vote out the SNP’. I cannot bear hearing this mantra a moment longer. Only a fool wouldn’t see that the party which leads the nation into independence will determine the future ‘shape’ of an independent Scotland.

The SNP must rediscover its soul. Independence depends on that. If the SNP is unfit to lead the Yes movement, independence as a project dies.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald

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