Holding our own feet to the fire

“If the structure does not permit dialogue the structure must be changed” ― Paulo Freire

My decision not to vote SNP this year was based, primarily, on seeing another side to the First Minister.  A First Minister who trades on a personable, ‘world leader next door image’.

A big part of her appeal is that we all feel a sense of connection to her.  The SNP election campaign is built around the image she and her consultants have cultivated in the public mind.  Which means that people like me are likely to take it quite personally if she goes back on some of the promises that she made to get elected.

I was angry as I watched her trying to argue that not reforming Council Tax was just as good as reforming it.  She was treating her own previous arguments with contempt.

It would have been nice if she had just conceded that she lacked the political courage to do it.  I would have understood and admired her honesty.

It wasn’t so much the policy shift as much as it was the cynicism contained in her various responses to difficult questions.  Cynicism she would not have so quickly overlooked had it come from someone else.  After all, she is always baying for the political blood of her rivals for even a hint of a lapse in political integrity.  Yet there she was body-swerving the fact she had just performed two major U-turns on reforming regressive systems of taxation all the while assuming I’d give her the unquestioning benefit of the doubt.

So I thought: fuck it.  I’m raging and I’m going to let everybody know exactly how I feel.  That’s typically how an artistic person should respond to such events.  I took a few days to think about my approach and I made my incision in the debate.

Did I know the headline would annoy people?  Yes.  Did I know Stephen Daisley publishing it would lead to an angry backlash?  Yes.  But, I also knew that if the piece could get enough people talking then the message would eventually get right where it needed to go: to the very top.

These are the calculations you have to make if you want to have an impact beyond your resident echo chamber.  I know the SNP are sensitive to public opinion so I gave the public something to opine about.  Isn’t this my function?

Getting up the SNP’s nose

That said, my decision to try and noise up Scotland’s ruling party was not as futile as some have suggested.  My decision was based on a calculation that the SNP majority is guaranteed and that nothing I say or do could ever change that.  My approach was rooted in a desire to catalyse a discussion about the nature of the SNP’s pragmatism and what kind of potential independent Scotland this may be cultivating.

If you are an indy-at-all-costs type of person I can understand why that would upset you.  But I’m not.  And there’s a growing body of opinion within the Yes movement that agrees with my assessment.

I realise this is uncomfortable and difficult.  I also realise some people may feel I am sticking the knife in.

Obviously, if the situation were more electorally precarious for the SNP then of course I would have held fire.  But since the General Election in 2015 I have been openly calling for sections of the movement, not least the left, to hold even just a few toes on one of the SNP’s feet to a small radiator or even a disposable lighter.

The Scottish parliament election offers a window of opportunity for those who voted Yes but who are not supporters of the SNP.  A window through which we can lob some legitimate half-bricks of criticism at a bullet proof political party now in power for nearly a decade.

These periods in electoral cycles provide people like me with a chance to send some ripples upward as politicians are a lot more sensitive to what we think when they seek re-election.  My attempt to get child poverty back on the agenda is nothing new.  This is the issue I care most passionately about.  As well as this, I do not share the view that independence alone is enough to tackle it.  I believe we have to know the will to tackle it exists before we become independent.

Red flag and RISE

Backing away from tax reforms that would lift children out of poverty is a red flag.

But even if every insult I got (and gave) in the days that followed was true it does not alter the validity of my position:  democracy dominated by one party is bad for democracy and bad for that party.

My decision to vote RISE is not about overthrowing capitalism.  I am not that daft or naïve.  I’m not as hard-left as many would have you believe.  My decision is about recognising that a diversity of opinion in any parliament is healthy for democracy.  You get a lot more mileage out of a majority administration when it’s being scrutinised by rogue elements.

I don’t want Cat Boyd running the country.  Cat Boyd doesn’t even want that.  Voting for RISE isn’t about entertaining ideological delusions; it’s about altering the political composition of a parliament which is growing increasingly stale.

The SNP was once that rogue element.  And they got my vote.  I’ll still be voting to send them to Westminster, where they are more at ease in their default positon of agitating consensus.  I believe radical contingents can push mainstream politicians further.  It’s why I voted SSP and then SNP.  It’s why I have been paying a subscription to the Greens whilst publically aligning with RISE.  A radical contingent is what forced Labour to create the parliament.  The very parliament the SNP now use as a stronghold to frustrate the British establishment.

But up here the SNP is now Establishment.

My understanding of democracy is that diversity of opinion leads to better policy.

So while I understand people’s anger, especially if they have no context for me or insight into my motives or my history as an artist and activist, I must stand by my position.  Of course there was an opportunistic aspect to what I did.  I don’t have a team of PR consultants or managers to spit-ball ideas.  All I have is my own experience and my own understanding of the dynamic at play.  My objective was to get the public (and therefore the politicians) talking about poverty beyond terms of platitude.

I believe we can force a course correction in SNP policy if they detect enough of an electoral contraction on the regional vote.  This coupled with a fractional cultural push back against their BothvotesSNP hashtag should be enough to encourage reflection.  Throw in a clear articulation of the frustration at recent, less than progressive, policy noises and you’ll get chins wagging in SNP offices.

Beyond pragmatism

I am choosing to affect change outwith the usual electoral terms of engagement.  I’m not satisfied that voting is enough.  This is what democracy is about and there’s no better time than an election to make your feelings known.  It’s the only time politicians actively listen.

I was not, in my recent piece on STV, trying to blame poverty on the SNP.  I was expressing what had drawn me to the SNP.  They were meant to be an alternative to pragmatism.  They had tapped into all of my grievances with the system.  A system defined by political pragmatism.  They made me believe they were different.

So watching Sturgeon fob off hard questions about Council Tax was genuinely difficult.  It made me very angry.  She was saying one thing and doing another while half the country turned a blind eye.

She had finally become the pragmatist she spent her life fighting against.

She is now the jewel in the crown of Scotland’s pragmatic political class.  The irony being:  we turned to her party to help us escape the clutches of a pragmatic political class.

Pragmatism is the thing we need to be on guard for here.  Not just the panto-villain Tories.

My reading of the situation is that pragmatism is the red flag and that deference to a political class is what brings about the kind of disharmony we see in the UK.  The disharmony that underscores our desire to become independent.  Pragmatism is the religion of preservers of the status-quo.  All I’m saying is: don’t be fooled by the architects of change rhetoric.  SNP can still be a path to indy whilst simultaneously being held to account for its shortcomings.  Anyone who says otherwise is paranoid or foolish.  Look folks, sometimes we just have to throw rocks at the throne.

Democracy mon amour

It’s an act of love for democracy and an act of love for the SNP.  If that brings me into alignment with unionists in the media then big deal.  You’ll find an even stranger variety of bedfellows within the Yes movement – which is kinda my point.

The SNP’s real legacy to us will be the re-engagement of the Scottish people in a conversation about the kind of country we want to live in.  Their biggest contribution has been to disrupt the usual flow of information and power, giving us a chance to move into a more advantageous position as a citizenry.  This is what they will be most fondly remembered for, not least by me.

But getting overly sentimental or self-defeatingly loyal to a political party which seems to bear all the same traits as those very parties we proclaim to despise is, in my assessment, begging for trouble.

The SNP is the most efficient and powerful political machine in Scottish history.  In public relations terms they make New Labour look like a paddle-steamer.

My recent noises are about encouraging people to remain vigilant of the tricks politicians will play to consolidate power.  None more so than politicians who think they have the political cover to get away with it.

Turning a blind eye to pragmatism will undo any gains we have made as a critically engaged citizenry.

Until one day we wake up in an independent Scotland that was only possible because big business, rural conservatives and the Murdoch press endorsed it.

Imagine trying to have a conversation about tax reform in a country like that?

Image: SNP via Flick’r


  1. Joe mullan says

    Pragmatism is the vehicle that takes you from where you are to where you want to go without breaking the country into little political Wendy houses full of self righteous individuals who think that a largely politicaly sedentary population will somehow see the wisdom of fighting poverty and a fair tax system by creating division….look out your window mate
    …it’s baby steps…fight your principled battles certainly…but in government every time you change anything there are losers and given the choice I would rather have people who this fact weighs heavily on…

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