Sketch: The SNP launches its 2017 manifesto
It’s been a god-awful campaign and it’s time we all accepted it
The back of the SNP manifesto carried a photo of a small boy, lying on the grass, howling in anguish at a plastic triceratops as it prepared to jab him in the eye. It was a confusing thing to put on the back of a prospectus for government, but, somehow, the child’s expression seemed to sum up most people’s experience of the election so far.
It’s been a god-awful campaign and it’s time we all accepted it. In fact, by the time Theresa May arrived on TV and started talking about Jeremy Corbyn finding himself “alone and naked” in Brexit negotiations, it was hard to escape the feeling the election had reached its natural conclusion.
The Tory campaign has involved a lot of shouting, certainly, but with most recent speeches simply amounting to incoherent attacks on the Labour leader’s personality, it’s been hard to identify any specific concerns. It’s been like watching a dog having a dream – you can tell something important is happening, but it’s very difficult to understand what exactly they’re getting so worked up about.
In fact, none of it has really made any sense at all. But someone had to find some answers, and the SNP manifesto launch seemed like the ideal place to start.
The launch took place in Perth on a grey misty day, with a line of party members stretching from the venue – Perth Concert Hall – around the corner and down the road.
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser lurked nearby, hovering outside the M&S on the other side of the street. Had he come for the SNP launch? Or just for a Tory lunch? No, apparently the Tories had organised some sort of anti-independence demo outside. Grinning in a slightly sinister manner, Fraser watched the queue growing outside the hall.
Inside, the words ‘Stronger for Scotland’ were emblazoned across the stage. But a stronger what for Scotland? A stronger SNP? A stronger Scotland for Scotland? It wasn’t clear. Most of the SNP’s trailed stuff had focused on providing a “strong voice for Scotland”, which certainly sounded better than ‘Heckling for Scotland’ – though the latter might make for a reasonably successful Saturday night game show. The SNP: providing a megaphone for Scotland’s ramblings.
On stage, MPs and MSPs gathered, chatting among themselves. The intro was left to Pete Wishart, who told the audience that the area was one of the Tory target seats – cue hissing – before warning: “Perth and north Perthshire is a line in the sand that they will not cross.”
Wishart is the local MP and so it made sense for him to do the intro – though what a lot of people don’t know is that he actually gives this speech to everyone who arrives in Perth. He waits at train stations and bus stops to catch new arrivals and lecture them on the nuances of First Past the Post, while Murdo Fraser protests nearby.
Angus Robertson came next. The SNP, he promised, would oppose the Tories, while standing up for Scots. Unless those Scots are Tories, obviously, in which case it won’t.
Finally, though, it was the moment everyone had been waiting for, with Nicola Sturgeon arriving on stage. So what strong action was she going to talk strongly about? The plan, Sturgeon said, was to invest an additional £118bn over the next parliament to help “grow the economy, safeguard public services and protect household incomes”.
She said: “A vote for the SNP will strengthen Scotland’s hand against Tory cuts. It will strengthen Scotland’s hand against an extreme Brexit.”
The audience looked up in surprise. Up till now, everything had focused on strong standing and strong voices. Having strong hands was a new policy.
Of course, some will probably question the point of the plan, given that no matter how strongly the SNP stands, it will not do so outside Scotland, and so obviously cannot enact its manifesto in the Commons.
But that’s unfair. People can go on flight simulators without wanting to fly a plane, football fans can shout advice at the TV without ever planning to get any exercise, and the SNP can produce a UK general election manifesto without ever intending to win one.
Still, Sturgeon had steadfastly refused to mention independence. It was pathetic. It looked like she was running scared. Standing outside in the rain, Murdo Fraser must have felt very pleased with himself.
But then suddenly, she changed tack. Brexit, the FM warned, puts Scotland’s economy at risk. “There is just too much at stake for Brexit simply to be imposed on Scotland, no matter how damaging it turns out to be. Our future must be decided by us, not for us.”
There would be a referendum at some point after all. Why won’t the SNP stop talking about independence? You could almost hear Fraser – who had spent hours waiting outside the SNP launch – demanding that Sturgeon got on with the day job.
Of course, whether the manifesto will be enough to keep the seats won in 2015 remains to be seen. The campaign is almost over, but there will be more to come – if your stomach is strong enough to stand it.
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Regardless of whether you think the SNP acted childishly in walking out of the House of Commons in protest, the symbolism was obvious