Source Direct: He’s Behind You!

It’s long past panto season, but Scottish politics didn’t get that memo. With each day the inquiry into the Government mishandling of the Salmond affair gets more slapstick, more ribald and more grotesque.

“HE’S BEHIND YOU!” “Oh no he isn’t!” It’s long past panto season, but Scottish politics didn’t get that memo. With each day the inquiry into the Government mishandling of the Salmond affair gets more slapstick, more ribald and more grotesque.

Yesterday, after a long battle to get Salmond’s submission (already publicly available) into Parliament, the Crown Office successfully had it hauled back for redactions. The grounds mixed apparent concern for complainers with deletions seemingly serving no purpose except to inflame conspiracy buffs, as with the removal of paragraphs indicting Nicola Sturgeon on the ministerial code.

The upshot is, Salmond won’t be appearing today. Instead, he is taking time to review his post-redaction legal position. He has, however, offered to appear on Friday – when the Parliament is closed. (“Oh no it isn’t!”)

Both sides of this faction fight have become dependent on the Myth of Salmond, the pantomime villain, for many, or, for a far smaller group, the King over the Water. All of which is either cynical or foolhardy. “The criminal charges against Salmond may have been dismissed but the damage done to his reputation is irreparable,” notes James Mitchell, Professor of Public Policy at Edinburgh University. “His political career is over. But Salmond has been Sturgeon’s useful bogeyman in internal SNP politics just as Boris Johnston is her bogeyman in electoral politics.”

Just recently, the SNP leadership suffered damaging internal defeats over policy and independence strategy. This included the ousting of leadership darling Alyn Smith. Much of that underlying opposition, it should be observed, was leftist disenchantment at a staid, post-neoliberal economic policy, or just exasperation at being misled over a “completely inevitable” independence referendum that is perpetually six months away.

In that context, panto villains are useful. Even vital. “Critics of the SNP leader and journalists offering more nuanced and informed commentary on the party’s trials and tribulations are crudely dismissed as ‘close to Salmond’,” observes Mitchell.

Still, two caveats are in order. Firstly, Salmond remains a savvy political operator, and he is dangerous to Sturgeon insofar as he has nothing to lose. By extension, he could endanger the SNP’s chances at the election, and thus, say critics, the overall cause of independence. Secondly, there are budding elements of social conservatism in opposition to Sturgeon. This is (often hysterically) exaggerated for the purposes of propaganda. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Yet, on both points, Sturgeon and Murrell must share substantial blame. Having run a centralised operation, built around a cult of personality, the SNP now has no clean successor to Sturgeon. The result is, take down Sturgeon, and the whole operation collapses. That brittle structure is a product of extraordinary managerialism. “The iron law of oligarchy”, say cynics.

Toxic strains of social conservatism, meanwhile, thrive in precisely the atmosphere they have generated. Their model of party growth, financing and electoralism depended on “stop/go” momentum: all-out mobilisation; all-out demobilisation. Build it up; flatten it down. March them up to the top of the hill; march them down again. It’s time for a referendum – “Oh no it isn’t!” Did anybody seriously believe that this manipulation would end well? It’s a recipe for poisonous politics.

Equally, opponents have limited options. All morality aside, Salmond is not a viable figurehead for the independence movement. The SNP’s bureaucratic centralism means nobody in their budding MSP cohort has a hope of capturing the membership’s discontents. And progress on independence depends on Sturgeon (or someone) securing an SNP majority, even if few of us trust that she has a workable plan for progressing beyond May. It’s difficult to see a happy outcome.

Perhaps the biggest casualty will be the myth of Scottish democracy. And that’s also bad news for independence – or, at least, for the idea of independence developed by Sturgeon and Salmond, who share essentially the same political outlook. Maybe there’s a bigger rebuilding job here. And maybe all these warring pantomime archetypes need to exit the stage.