Sketch: The SNP will keep listening until it gets the answer it wants to hear

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 9 September 2016 in Comment

Sketch: Kezia Dugdale's Alternative Programme for Government and Nicola Sturgeon's Listening Exercise

There was a moment last week, sometime between Ed Balls strutting around like a drugged chimp tricked onto a TV dance show, UB40 attempting to steer the future of the Labour movement, and Ken Livingstone making another one of his famed observations on Nazi ideology, that the news Kezia Dugdale would outline an ‘Alternative Programme for Government’ seemed to make quite a lot of sense. In fact, it went brilliantly. She didn’t mention Hitler once.

Admittedly, the plan did bring back warm memories of Danny Alexander circa-2015, standing in one of George Osborne’s suits and proudly clutching a lunch box he had painted yellow, while pretending to launch his ‘alternative’ budget. Though to be fair to Dugdale, at least she’s aware she isn’t in power.

Explaining what she was up to, the Scottish Labour leader said that, unlike Ruth Davidson, “I don’t just have a plan to oppose the SNP Government, I have a plan of how to replace the SNP Government.”


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A critic might suggest that successfully opposing the SNP Government would be a good step towards replacing it, but at least she was opposing the Tories.

She said: “We were promised a bold and radical programme for government, but 119 days on, we are still waiting to see the government’s plans.”

That bit seemed slightly cheeky, given she arranged the speech four days before the SNP was due to announce its (real) Programme for Government, but it went down well with those present.

In truth, it was a pretty dry speech, with Dugdale listing 13 policies - including plans to pay every carer the living wage and introducing a Work and Trade Unions Bill - she would introduce if she was in government.

Yet, as ever, reaction was mixed at best, with SNP MP Pete Wishart accused Dugdale of presenting ‘SNP bad’ as her entire plan. This was a devastating critique. After all, ‘SNP bad’ is not an Alternative Programme for Government at all. It’s actually fewer words than Alternative Programme for Government, which means, as a speech, it would have more words in the title than in the body.

And tellingly, Dugdale didn’t deny this, though admittedly, she didn’t actually use the phrase “SNP bad” at any point.

But then what does that matter? After all, Wishart is an elected MP and it stands to reason he wouldn’t go round making wild accusations on the basis of no evidence at all. That would be ludicrous.

No, Dugdale must have said it, because Wishart said so. And the fact she didn’t say it just made the whole thing even more suspicious. Because why didn’t she say it? And when? In fact, closer inspection of the speech shows she didn’t say “SNP bad” constantly, which, in a way, is worse than just saying it openly once.

Indeed, Dugdale’s speech would be better summarised as ‘SNP not as left wing as we would like’, or ‘here are some things we would like the SNP to do’. Which is not as snappy as Wishart’s line, but holds the advantage of not being a complete fabrication.

And while the SNP’s supporters ridiculed the idea the party is obsessed with independence, Nicola Sturgeon began a second push for independence, with the First Minister announcing “Scotland’s biggest ever political listening exercise”. It certainly sounded very democratic.

The SNP loves listening, whether it is in a consultation or a referendum – though it did seem odd the party has only now, after being in government for nine years, announced it is going to start doing it.

Announcing plans to restart the same old debate with a re-run of 2014, Sturgeon said: “It will be a new debate. It will not be a re-run of 2014.”

She said: “The UK that Scotland voted to be a part of in 2014 has changed, and so too have the arguments for and against independence.”

Alongside normal rallies and stuff, the party said “each of the SNP’s 120,000 members will be challenged to engage with five people each month for the next three months”.

This seemed a good plan, even if it seemed slightly insulting to suggest someone would have to be “challenged” to engage with you. Surely it can’t be that bad. The SNP seemed to be confusing chatting to someone about politics with kids daring each other to go knock on the door of a haunted house.

Still, the party stressed it would only legislate for another referendum if it is in Scotland’s interests, though given the party believes being independent is in Scotland’s interests, it’s hard to know what to make of that.

She warned: “We must not assume people’s views – yes or no – are the same as they were two years ago.” This certainly makes sense, given that if she did there would be no point asking the question again. Or listening at all.

It is just over two years on from the last independence listening exercise, and so having found they did not like what the people of Scotland told them, the party has graciously decided to listen again. Who knows how many times the SNP will have to listen to the people of Scotland before they hear the correct answer.

Dugdale, meanwhile, will no doubt announce an ‘Alternative Listening Exercise’ any day.

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