Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Is Labour becoming the 'Nasty party'?

I was speaking to a guy from Sweden a couple of weeks ago, who was part of a group visiting to examine tourism in the north of Scotland. He was accompanying a politician from Gothenburg who happened to be a former member of the Committee of the Regions. Guessing my politics, he suggested that it might be useful for me to know that this politician was a Liberal and that as such, the closest party to his views here would be the Lib Dems.

I set out to explain that because of differing views on the constitution, this wouldn't necessarily mean that the only place his views could be found would be in the Lib Dems here. He laughed and said he already knew this – and so flowed an interesting conversation on conflict management in small state politics and the relative tourist propositions of Scotland and Sweden.

It's the conflict management bit that's set me thinking, though. We're all aware of Labour's sodid smear-blogging attempts to target top Conservatives and their families. However, looking to Scotland, we also, sadly, have our own little outlets of unpleasantness. None have yet attempted anything like appears to have been envisaged for Red Rag, but if you glance at them even occasionally, you can probably guess from their overall tone at what I'm about to start driving at.

Confession time - we all have unworthy thoughts on occasion, even if self-censorship usually keeps the less salubrious of them away from the public gaze. That's neither good nor bad – it's just the way it is. In smaller political units, like Scotland or Sweden, there's usually a tendency towards accommodation or greater passive acceptance of others' views, simply because prolonged and protracted personalised political conflict alongside a determination to always see the worst in your opponents can be so draining otherwise.

Is this a noble thing to do? Does not trenchant 'honesty' and forthrightness give you an air of passionate authenticity and therefore, the mark of the 'straight talker' who simply 'tells it as it is'? If there's attacks to be made, is it not better simply to have these things out in the open?

Part of me says yes, in that it gives neutrals the chance to come to their own conclusions, and therefore the same opportunity as me to feel or express distaste – the 'give them enough rope' argument. However, another part of me wishes it were otherwise.

I don't claim the SNP has always been innocent in any of this – the bitterness of being on the way down as others enjoy the sunlit uplands of public approval has been common to all parties at some point. However, I also believe that recent years have seen the SNP adopt a tone of optimism and consensus-seeking not always reciprocated by others, especially Labour.

As I said, if that leads people to judge them more harshly, to their detriment and the SNP's benefit then from a purely partisan point of view, I should probably be quite content. However, I can't help but feel that the vitriol and increasingly desperate personalised attacks simply leaves us and our collective discourse all the poorer.

1 comment:

Richard Havers said...

No, Labour has been for years. We're just finding out about it more easily.