I don’t know where people get the idea the SNP is intolerant of criticism. Scotland’s most open-minded party has released a new video that appears to be an attack on one of its critics dressed up as a party political broadcast. The video depicts a group of thirtysomethings gathered for a house party. They are Scottish but improbably so, smiling excessively and expressing enthusiasm for life. A couple of latecomers are warned that ‘Davey’ is in the kitchen ‘bangin’ on about politics again’ and soon we are introduced to a cartoonish party bore. Stuffy, bespectacled Davey is the wrong side of 40 but sports a hipster-trad three-piece and Brooklyn-worthy beard in the hope of passing himself off as a millennial.
He bears an uncanny resemblance to David Torrance, a columnist and historian who has become one of the SNP’s favourite hate figures. Davey sneers that the SNP has done nothing for Scotland whereupon his pals rhyme off a litany of Nationalist achievements. The Nats claim the striking similarity between the stuffy villain and the Glasgow Herald columnist is coincidental but it looks more like the kind of in-joke dreamt up by terribly clever people in a meeting room with space hoppers for chairs.
It wouldn’t be the first time the Nationalists had turned their guns on the author of unauthorised biographies of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. The former First Minister issued an open letter to Torrance, objecting to his book on the grounds that ‘he doesn't know me’, and the writer is a frequent target for abuse on social media.
Critics are calling the video ‘Trumpian’ but this misunderstands the evolution of global populism. The SNP was busily warring on a free press back when Donald Trump was still a reality TV star. We Scots like to remind the world that we invented much of it but our recent contributions have been less socially virtuous than the steam engine and the telephone. Years before the first reporter was kicked out of a Trump rally, the SNP’s referendum saw off-message journalists booed and heckled, banned from press conferences, and subjected to xenophobia.
Before cries of ‘Fake News’, there were shrieks of ‘BBC bias’. Before the alt-right, there were the cybernats. Before intimidation of CNN’s Jim Acosta, there were marches for Nick Robinson’s sacking. Where the SNP led, Trump merely followed and added some red baseball caps.
The focus on the Torrance caricature has allowed the video to escape analysis of its political assertions. The patriotic partygoers cheer the SNP for free personal care for the elderly and scrapping tuition fees, two policies actually introduced by the predecessor Labour/Lib Dem administration. They chirp that the Nationalists have banned fracking (they have merely extended their moratorium ‘indefinitely’, allowing future governments to lift it without legislation). They hail the Scottish government for protecting free bus passes for the elderly, the same Scottish government currently consulting on a hike in the age of eligibility.
Davey’s mates remind him of the advances in policing. The SNP-created Police Scotland has been condemned for routinely despatching armed officers to non-firearms incidents, notching up stop and search rates nine times that of the New York Police Department, and breaching the law to spy on journalists. The chief constable, assistant chief constable, and a senior firearms officer are among a series either suspended or placed on gardening leave pending various investigations.
As the stirring peroration continues, the Nationalists are hailed for ‘sorting the schools’ (teacher numbers down 4,000, attainment gap widened, Higher Maths pass mark lowered to 34%); building the Queensferry Crossing (partially closed for repairs three months later); and their management of the NHS (seven out of eight performance standards not being met, 2,800 nursing and midwifery posts vacant, ditto 400 consultant roles, one in four GP practices have a vacancy, and the national auditor says the Scottish health service ‘is beginning to struggle to maintain quality of care’).
The SNP set out to lampoon its detractors but made a film depicting its supporters as wildly uninformed and willing to believe anything the party tells them. That is perhaps the most realistic aspect of the video, though there is something eerily familiar when Nicola Sturgeon turns up at the end. Not because the First Minister is a massive party person — her idea of fun is a briefing paper and a Borgen box set — but because she delivers one of her oft-repeated lectures on how the SNP is protecting Scotland from wicked Westminster Tories. It’s pure Nicola — smug, superior, and more than a little irked that she’s having to explain all this to you ungrateful proles yet again. The video is a mistake but not because of Trumpism or factual errors; it is a slip of the mask that shows a First Minister under pressure, out of ideas, and not handling it well.