Tuesday 28 December 2021

An SNP carol


Salmond was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

But as Nicola Sturgeon woke up and saw the ghost of Alex Salmond, she wondered how it could be. The last she had heard he was still alive.  

But it wasn’t so much a vision of a future when Salmond was no more as a vision of a present that might have been.

Salmond was president. He had won the independence referendum in 2014. Now in an alternative Christmas of 2021 all of Scotland had the chance to view “Scotland’s Future” as its present.

The women who had accused Salmond of sexual assault and attempted rape never accused him of anything after the SNP’s triumph of September 2014. Nicola Sturgeon’s response to the MeToo movement was not to start an investigation into past misdeeds by former First Ministers but rather to continue to ignore whatever she saw and heard.

She like everyone else in the SNP had heard rumours of unwanted attention in the back of cars and the tendency to arrive unexpectedly in a lady’s bedroom as indeed this ghost, if it was a ghost, was demonstrating. But the cause had been more important. Winning the referendum and independence was worth whatever Salmond’s moral failings so long as he was useful. When he ceased to be useful, he could be discarded into jail if only the jury had followed the plan.

She saw the alternative Scotland she had helped create. Negotiations with the former UK had dragged on longer than expected and had been much tougher. The former UK set out to punish Scotland for leaving and the EU keen to discourage separation agreed with this tactic. Scotland ended up neither in the UK nor the EU.

The promised riches that independence would bring did not materialise. Scotland had to pay tariffs to trade with both the EU and the former UK and found that former UK consumers were less than keen to buy Scottish goods and services. Taxes in Scotland rose and public spending fell.

When the Covid pandemic struck in 2020 Scotland was unofficially using the pound which meant that it didn’t have a central bank that could print money, nor could it borrow from the markets at a reasonable rate. Instead, it had to borrow from the IMF just like Montenegro which likewise was using someone else’s currency (in this case the Euro) unofficially.

There was no furlough in Scotland during the pandemic and no support for businesses. We had to work even if it meant catching Covid and so rates of infection and death were higher in Scotland. This meant that the former UK closed the border with Scotland and English people in Hazmat suits patrolled it. This had the unfortunate consequence of making it difficult for produce to arrive in Scottish supermarkets as we continued to rely on English ports, English roads and English lorry drivers to take it here. Still, we made do with root vegetables which now at least had exclusively Scottish names.

The next night the ghost of SNP past arrived and Sturgeon saw Dreghorn in the 1970s. She was watching Scotland play the Netherlands in 1978. There was good humour and we laughed at ourselves as we went out of the World Cup. But there was pride too at going out so bravely. There was no talk of Scottish independence. Even the Sturgeon family kept their views a bit under wraps as they would be gently mocked by the neighbours who had come round to watch the match. Everyone except the Sturgeon’s felt both Scottish and British. They had pride in the team and their Scottishness, but it didn’t mean they thought themselves so very different from anyone else in Britain. Scotland was not divided politically and we hardly thought of constitutional change at all.

When the ghost of SNP present appeared, he showed Sturgeon the Scotland she had helped create. He showed her a room in a Glasgow tenement where a young woman was shooting up heroin as her baby cried itself to sleep hungry and in dirty nappies. She was taken across the sea to islands which had lost their ferry lifeline so that now a journey that had once been routine was a matter of careful planning. She was taken to a school where the standard of education was far lower than she had enjoyed in Dreghorn. She saw a little girl who might have been her and might too have had the opportunity to study to become a lawyer, but already the little girl was beginning to lose interest. The ghost of SNP present pointed out what Sturgeon had neglected during the years of being in charge of Scotland.  

When the ghost of SNP yet to come appeared Sturgeon saw a grave with her name on it. She did not know how far in the future she was seeing, but it seemed rather neglected. She saw how disliked she was by those who had opposed Scottish independence. Even her former supporters had tired of her continual pretending that next year there would be a referendum.

She is granted the ability to look back on her whole life and to see what she has achieved. She sees a Scotland that is worse than when she became First Minister, perhaps worse than when she was born.

Desperate now Sturgeon asks the ghost of SNP yet to come

“Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”

She is assured that the future is not yet determined and that she can change.

Nicola Sturgeon wakes up and looks at the pile of novels that has been carefully designed to appeal to focus groups. She sees it as a metaphor for everything else that is fake in her life. She sees the carefully constructed image. The hidden inner circle of the SNP playing with independence supporters as if they were puppets. She admits that however much she would like Scottish independence, we cannot afford it right now and that it would harm the standard of living of ordinary Scots to attempt it anytime soon after the pandemic.

Sturgeon tells the Scottish Parliament that the SNP while seeing independence as a long-term goal, will focus instead on the Scottish economy, reducing the deficit and healing the division both within Scotland and the UK generally so that we all work together to make a better future for everyone.

Freed from anxiety about imminent secession the Scottish economy improves to the extent that we actually could afford independence, but by that point we accept that being Scottish has been the same as being British for many centuries and see no need for separation to express our Scottishness.