Jamie Glackin, who chaired last weekend’s Scottish Labour Conference, cautions against the canonisation of our political leaders, and says when we challenge our politicians we can make better politics.
Following the nationalist government’s car-crash over tax credits, and the First Minister’s angry, shouty response at FMQs yesterday, SNP loyalists have been in a tailspin. Some have adopted a predictably sanguine position whilst others have taken a more reasoned approach to their party’s performance.
By coincidence, as all this was going on, Nicola was awarded the accolade of ‘Greatest Living Scot’ according to YouGov, beating off competitors like Andy Murray and Billy Connolly. Notably she is also rather keen on reminding detractors that her poll numbers are utterly fabulous.
All of which reminded me of something that our esteemed editor, Duncan Hothersall, said in his recent article – ‘Ten Word Answers’. He argued that the SNP focuses on the populist message, but that in fact, politics was much more complex than that. I was also reminded of a similar extract from The West Wing, where Arnold Vinick states that the public are begging to be lied to if they think that the religious observance of their leaders is somehow important.
So a thought struck me. Surely the public are begging to be lied to if we canonise our leaders, especially whilst they are still alive?
Alex Salmond, a master of self-promotion, unveiled a tasteless memorial to himself at (his third choice of) university. Nicola, whilst lacking the more egregious character traits of her predecessor, appeared at the Hydro to a reception normally reserved for Lady Gaga. This response, I suppose, is not her fault. But the fact that behaviour like this is still encouraged among some quarters of the party faithful certainly is.
“Look at our polling,” when volleyed back in answer to any difficult question, is essentially her saying that it doesn’t matter what question the opposition asks; the swelled ranks of nationalist members and supporters will give political cover to any situation, no matter how potentially damaging to the government.
And there is the dichotomy that befalls the SNP. Do they continue, headlong, into an election avoiding the difficult questions from the opposition and journalists? Or do they make an attempt to explain their position in more than a soundbite? With a second independence referendum essentially kicked into the long grass, surely the responsibilities of government demand that the concerns of the public are put front and centre by the SNP, unencumbered by how policy stacks up in terms of support for separation?
Because, at some point, many of those people swept up in the post-referendum euphoria will begin to question what their leaders are saying. Tribally following a party line may be comforting for some and for now, but it will prove ultimately unsatisfying for many.
In Scottish Labour, we took some brave steps last weekend, encouraging real debate within our party and, critically, adopting the resolutions as policy positions, despite knowing that our leader did not agree with at least one of them. Yet in Tuesday’s Trident motion, Kezia voted in line with the new position. In the SNP at the moment, such democratic deliberation is simply unthinkable.
The fact is, the tough questioning of politicians should be welcomed by all of us as it ultimately improves what is put before the public. So the next time a previously sympathetic journalist, or an opponent, questions your party or its leaders, don’t jump down their throat – they are actually doing you a favour. Examination and reflection make better politics. When we take a more critical view of politics and our politicians, and not just the ones on the other side, we will all be better for it.