Friday 3 May 2024

Swinney the spear carrier


I thought of trying to get people to pronounce John Swinney’s surname to rhyme with Tiny, but it won’t catch on. Swinney in his long dull career is merely a party loyalist. I compared him to being savaged by a dead pig in a reference to Geoffrey Howe, but the point is that people still remember the Howe being compared to a dead sheep, while even those of us who follow Scottish politics closely will struggle to remember Swinney even while he is First Minister.

The greatest fault of British politics since the Second World War is that it manages decline. Apart from a brief decade when Margaret Thatcher changed direction, we merely increase our debts, lower our productivity, and see our living standards become more mediocre. Swinney will manage the decline of the SNP.

Swinney is like one of the old Bolsheviks. He was there in the decades before the SNP were popular. Being a Scottish nationalist is not something he put on when it became easier to ditch the Labour Party and join the SNP. I strongly suspect that Swinney was born with Scottish nationalism.

This type of SNP politician is quite rare nowadays, just as this type of SNP voter is rare. There were always people in the decades prior to SNP power who would have SNP stickers in their house windows and there were a tiny band of warriors like Sturgeon, Salmond and Swinney who fought for Scotland’s freedom because they had been brought up with a little too much “Scots wha hae”. But these were eccentrics in the Scotland of my youth.

But because he has been there from the start Swinney always cared more for the cause than he did for himself. He was willing to take over when for still unknown reasons Alex Salmond resigned as leader in 2000. Swinney did what he was told and resigned himself when his initial stint as SNP leader went badly. When Salmond was leader again and later First Minister Swinney was loyal to Salmond. When Sturgeon replaced Salmond in 2014 Swinney was loyal to Sturgeon. He quietly did whatever role was given to him and did his best to protect whichever leader he served.

If the SNP old guard can be compared to the old Bolsheviks Swinney served both Lenin and Stalin and somehow avoided being purged. He did so because he was no threat to either Salmond or Sturgeon.  But it is just this that makes Swinney a spear carrier at the back of the stage rather than a leader.

No one really knows why Sturgeon tried to purge Alex Salmond, but I think it is for the same reason that Robert the Bruce murdered John Comyn in 1306. Comyn was a rival. Comyn was a threat. Swinney was never a rival to either Salmond or to Sturgeon for which reason he could serve both. But the fact that he was never a rival means that he can never be a leader either. If neither Sturgeon nor Salmond rated Swinney as a potential leader, why should the rest of us?

While Swinney is part of the SNP old guard even merely as a spear carrier, almost everyone else and certainly everyone who came into politics from 2011 onwards is a fellow traveller. The SNP’s surge in support and surge in membership was the equivalent of those who joined Bolshevism after the revolution.

Neither Humza Yousaf nor any of the younger SNP politicians was born and brought up with Scottish nationalism. The vast majority of SNP voters since 2014 are former Labour Party voters. It makes their loyalty to the party and their dedication to the cause quite different to that of Swinney, Sturgeon or Salmond. It is merely contingent not absolute.

Much of the support for Scottish independence is merely left wing people who thought that the only way to achieve left wing goals is to break away from a UK that kept electing Tory governments. But it is much easier to elect a Labour government than to break up a three-hundred-year-old country and so this is what these people will now do. Labour is kryptonite to Swinney wearing his underwear over his leggings like a Scottish John Major.

Swinney will be more competent than Yousaf. There will be fewer gaffs. Swinney will speak adequately in interviews and in Holyrood, but he will inspire precisely no one. The politics of Nicola Sturgeon will continue as I strongly suspect she will continue driving from the rear.

The SNP desperately needs to change direction and to focus on making Scotland more prosperous. It needs to accept that the politics of both Salmond and Sturgeon ultimately failed and to rebuild and change everything. Otherwise, it is just managed decline. But it is unable to do so because those who came into the party after 2014 lack patience. They want independence now and for this reason they won’t get it at all.

Swinney’s purpose is damage limitation. He is an experienced politician who won’t make the mistakes Yousaf did. This might save a few seats at the General Election. More importantly his purpose is as Keeper of the SNP Secrets.

Swinney has proved over the decades that he keeps his mouth shut and it may be that there is a lot that he needs to keep his mouth shut about. Swinney was as close to the centre of Nicola Sturgeon’s government as it was possible to be without being part of the dual monarchy. He carried the spear in the background while they strutted and fretted their hour upon the stage and surely unless they were whispering, he heard much of the dialogue.

One day the SNP may find a leader who can once again threaten the UK like Salmond did in 2014 and Sturgeon did also, but it is not Swinney. For this Pro UK people should be profoundly grateful.

By the time Swinney departs the SNP may no longer have a majority in either Westminster or Holyrood and in that case, it will hardly matter who leads it.

How many times have I been told that independence was inevitable. The SNP has merely lighted fools the way to dusty death and none of them will see Scottish independence. Out, out, brief SNP.

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