Scotland on Sunday yesterday …
Well, Scotland on Sunday - and The Scotsman - are yesterday – they have little to do with political realities in Scotland today. The Herald, to their credit (I hope it reflects in their circulation soon) is awakening to Scotland as it really is, as Glasgow starts to emerge from its long, dark Labour night.
In an edition that reeked of superficial negativism and hostility to the SNP, the party of government, chosen so overwhelmingly by the Scottish electorate last May, SoS homed in on The Mitchell/Bennie/Johns report - who are the SNP members?
This report deserves much more serious examination than Scotland on Sunday’s and Kenny Farquarson’s tabloid analysis gave to it.
The Mitchell report is a four-year old snapshot of a party - the Scottish National Party - in a nation, Scotland, that is changing very rapidly indeed, a party that is the major change agent in that revolutionary historical process, a process which in its turn is a part of great social and economic upheaval in the United Kingdom, in Europe and across the globe. We are living in interesting times, times that the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday either fail to, or choose not to understand.
THE REPORT BACKGROUND
A report like this is valuable in the way looking at the stars is valuable - the delayed light we see tells us a lot about what happened in the past, but not about the present. When the survey was taken, there were 13,203 stars in the SNP sky – now there are over 20,000.
The SNP was into the second half of its first year in minority government, and the unelected Gordon Brown was just beginning to exacerbate the disaster of the Blair years and the process of bankrupting Britain. Megrahi was two years away from release, Wendy Alexander had been leading Labour in Holyrood for three months, George W. Bush was President of the United States, the Iraq War was only just over half way through it murderous progress, and a lot of men, women and children were still alive whose whose subsequent brutal deaths are now a shameful testament to the British Government and NATO’s supine deference to the Blair/Bush axis.
So whatever the SNP was, thought and said in the late 2007/early 2008 period, they have moved with these radically changing times. But it is still relevant to look back – and learn …
The report writers set themselves three objectives –
To offer a socio-demographic view of SNP members, to explore attitudes and identities, and to look at how these attitudes translated themselves into activity. They expected activists to be more radical, and to be more inflexible in their position on independence.
I, knowing sweet ****-*** about May’s Law of Curvilinear disparity (1972), interpret that as meaning that those who work hard in a party committed to the independence of their nation will want to radically change things, and not be easily shifted away from that. It’s how ye tell ‘em …
For the detail, read the full report – The Mitchell/Bennie/Johns report - who are the SNP members? It is well worth the effort for anyone who wants to understand how the SNP were four years ago. How that 13,000 members has changed in four years, and what the demographics and views of the new 7,000 are will have to wait for a new report.
But here are my perceptions of the Mitchell Report, as a kind of mouthwash to clear the bad taste left by Scotland on Sunday.
As the report acknowledges, devolution changed the SNP’s status as a party with little presence in the Westminster Government and negligible influence on government, with an organisation largely of unpaid volunteers into Scotland’s second party, and the party organisation was transformed almost overnight into one of elected members supported by salaried professionals. The skill sets and experience changed, but there was a time lag of almost five years – till 2004 – before the constitution changed. There has now been a power shift from activists to MSPs, the leaderships, salaried party officials and, perhaps most significantly to the wider membership.
I would also observe that in the period since the report surveys were taken, there has been an explosion in the use of alternative media, and the lessons of their use in the Obama campaign for the presidency of the US were not lost on SNP strategists, although to some degree the bloggers, twitterati, YouTubers and facebookers drove the agenda and the party followed.
I would argue that the experience of minority government and the skill sets forged in that challenging four year period – which was only 6-9 months old during the survey – not only changed the parliamentary party and its full-time professionals, but also the membership, old and new.
(If that experience could drive an old man like me, already in his seventies, looking forward to a quiet life of playing music and writing a bit of fiction, a lifetime Labour supporter, into the arms of the SNP and into a kind of unpaid activism and commitment, sustained through two heart attacks, a quad bypass and a cardiac arrest, then I take leave to think that it must have changed the mindset, the values and the priorities of those who had given their lives to the party in ways that the Mitchell Report could not of necessity reflect.)
All of these factors led to the most radical sea change ever experienced in Scottish politics since the 1945 Labour landslide, and the most significant event in UK politics for a generation – the May 2011 SNP landslide victory.
How have the demographics changed since 2007/2008?
What are the demographics of the 50% increase in the membership?
How have the attitudes of the 13,000 members changed and what are the attitudes of the 7000+ new members?
These are the exciting questions, and the party that has become the most professional political machine in Britain since the Mitchell survey, the envy of many European parties, possessed of opinion poll and confidence ratings that most UK and European leaders would die for, is addressing them daily in pursuit of its goal – the independence of the nation of Scotland.
The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday could have been a dynamic part of these great events, could have addressed these questions, in the great traditions of journalism and a free press. Instead, they are locked in a dying past, and Scotland is moving past them with pitying glances.