Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Happy Birthday To Us

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the Scottish National Party. It might surprise some to learn that the party has been around for so long given that most history books don't have much to say about the SNP until the late 1960's. However, as Scotland's current party of government, there can be no doubt that it's come an awful long way since 1934 – and what a journey its been.

From the early days of the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association and the eventual merger of the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party (an offshoot of the Unionist Party), the SNP faced an uphill battle against the prevailing politics of union and empire. However, Dr MacIntyre's short-lived 1945 triumph in Motherwell proved a harbinger of what was to come. The societal changes of the 1960's and parallel organisational advances brought talent to the party, resulting in the steady growth which led to Winnie Ewing's breakthrough at Hamilton in 1967 and what has since been a period of continual parliamentary representation for the party.

Oil fueled the party's fortunes in the 1970's, just as the SNP's success drove Labour and the Conservatives to seriously contemplate home rule. However, the weakness of the Labour Party at Westminster and inability to control its backbenchers saw devolution fall and with it, the Labour government. The SNP fell back dramatically at the resulting election and entered the 1980's a divided and marginalised force.

The party managed to hold itself together, though, and the social democratic strand of thought began to take precedence over centrist tactics. As discontent grew over the lack of a mandate for the Conservatives to govern Scotland, the party began to pick up support once more. Following a triumph at Govan in1988, the SNP saw its vote rise by 50% at the subsequent election, allowing it to enter the 1990's as the main challengers to Labour.

With the Westminster pendulum swinging back to Labour in 1997, the new government legislated swiftly for devolution. While Labour and the Lib Dems formed the first post-devolution administration, the SNP established itself firmly as the main opposition and by extension, the government in waiting. Credibility was built up and although the party fell back in 2003, the organisational reforms made in the interim allowed the party to gain in strength and to capitalise on the unpopularity of the Labour/Lib Dem administration in the 2007 election.

For a party funded solely by its members and lacking the support of any newspaper, taking power, however narrowly, was an astonishing achievement. There's never been any shortage of loud voices over the past eight decades, in Westminster and elsewhere, prepared to use the full authority of their standing to talk the party down and predict its demise. Yet despite all this, it is in government and on the verge of presenting a referendum bill for independence that the SNP celebrates this most auspicious of anniversaries.

Those loud voices have accused the SNP and its followers of many vices down the years. It might have been tempting for some in the party to go down the route of Anglophobia but it didn't, instead proposing an inclusive citizenship policy and an impeccable model of inclusion and civic nationalism. It might have tempted some to go down the road of violence as in Ireland, yet here the party stands, on the verge of achieving what it set out to, without so much as a punch having been thrown. The national movement has always been wider than the SNP, of course, but the party still deserves enormous credit for shaping a civic rather than ethnic goal for independence as part of what has been unquestionably the best behaved nationalist movement in the world.

From a position of imagined moral and intellectual superiority, there are some who will still try to argue that nationalism (by which they invariably mean Scottish rather than their own brand of British nationalism), has inherent deficiencies, or somehow goes against modernity. These assertions are as threadbare as they would be in reverse. Exactly as Scottish nationalism was once caricatured, public expressions of Britishness now more than ever seem to be defined by vacuous platitudes, perceived external threat and misty-eyed romanticism.

There's nothing at all inevitable about independence, yet the ground has shifted irreversibly. Scotland is now closer than it has ever been to re-establishing independence, and with a peaceful majority which will accept the outcome either way. That's not a situation which has arisen by accident – rather, it's the result of decades of patient argument made by Scottish Nationalists of all backgrounds and abilities, imbued with the simple belief that the best people to govern Scotland are those who've opted to make their lives here. The Scottish narrative of a small, prosperous, socially-just, peaceful, culturally rich nation which is respectful of difference, democracy and international law, and which has resolved its political status peacefully, could provide no more compelling example to the rest of the world, and is one which many other stateless nations in less benign circumstances would be wise to follow.

The SNP has given voice to many visionaries and pragmatists down the years to allow Scotland to progress to become the modern, inclusive nation she is today. As Scotland mourns one of her finest scholars and the SNP her most steadfast supporters, here's to those whose efforts have gone before, who despite their patient labours, are no longer around to see the fruits of their work in delivering a Scotland which has become increasingly at ease with itself. Truly, we stand on the shoulders of giants.

1 comment:

Adam Higgitt said...

An understandably one-sided but nonetheless enjoyable account. Thanks.