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Something rotten

Nicola Sturgeon speaking at her party's 2019 conference. Photo: PA

Something rotten

Remember when the SNP would gleefully advertise its swollen membership numbers, when a constantly updating tally would metaphorically click away every time the party got an opportunity to state it?

Those days seem long gone.

I know a number of people who have left the SNP in recent days, and while I have never been an advocate for joining clubs, their exit should prompt reflection by the party that promised it would do politics differently.

These aren’t the young people who have very publicly left amid a barely scratched surface of accusations of transphobia. 

They haven’t been afforded the privilege of a video appeal from the First Minister for them to return to the fold. 

These are longstanding supporters, scunnered by recent events: women concerned their views are being disregarded in a skewed debate about trans rights, independence greybeards weary of the wait, the staunchly myopic Salmond supporters convinced by a conspiracy, big business donors frustrated by neglect and ordinary members just feeling more than a little uneasy.

But they are also 20-something Scots who have all the idealism of their age and who have taken a punch to the gut by the harsh realities of Brexit and COVID. They are, to state the obvious, the future, and they saw it in independence but have then borne witness to the degeneration of their party played out in real time. 

And while that dream of independence looks ever more real, with polls pointing doggedly towards success at the ballot box in May and then onwards to ‘freedom’, they find themselves politically at sea, questioning their faith in a party that promised to do things differently.

One that would be kinder, more equitable, uncorrupted by power.

But with growing calls for public inquiries into, among others, the Rangers debacle, the care homes scandal, drug deaths and the Salmond complaints process, with internal battles hitting the headlines, flawed policy proposals hitting the buffers and so-called political allies all but hitting each other, this feels more like a failing party leading a fag-end government limping along to its final demise than the one that in actuality is riding so high and on the road to victory.

It’s a strange moment. But has the SNP just been in power too long or have too many stresses coalesced at the same time in a murmuration of events that the leadership has been incapable of corralling or taking back under its control?

For with every day comes another twist and turn in the SNP psycho drama: internal battles about the route to independence, what is meant by GRA reform, the whiff of corruption and the murky suspicions that hang over a parliamentary inquiry that the party leadership has somehow managed to engineer as a rerun of the Salmond trial instead of being about them. 
There’s a growing unease about how this nation is being run.

I feel it, even if the polls don’t yet show it. And while some, including longstanding members of the government, will ignore what is right in front of them for the sake of another go at seeking independence, I couldn’t agree more with the Tory MSP Adam Tomkins, who says Scotland has “an accountability crisis”. 

Speaking during a parliamentary debate about the scandalous ‘malicious prosecution’ by the Crown of two innocent administrators of Rangers FC, which will cost the country many tens of millions of pounds in compensation, Tomkins spoke of a wider malaise. 

“We have a parliament that is so broken that it doesn’t even know when it is being misled anymore,” he said.

“We have a committee investigating how the government investigated complaints of sexual misconduct which can neither publish nor even hear evidence that gets to the core of its remit.

“We have a government that uniquely in Europe sought to use the COVID pandemic to insulate itself from freedom of information laws. In addition, wherever we look, we have taxpayers’ money wasted: wasted on coaching civil servants to dissemble to Parliament, wasted on lawyers’ fees, wasted on Derek Mackay’s salary and wasted, of course, on compensating two innocent men who were hounded by the state in the most egregious abuse of power.”

He’s angry. And rightly so.

But in addition, this is a country being led by a party quibbling over whether a man arrested and charged for allegedly sending threats, including one of rape, to an SNP MP is or was a member of the SNP, and if the latter, when he left.

This seems more important to the SNP than the fact that one of their own MPs has been so abused.

It’s a strange moment. But has the SNP just been in power too long or have too many stresses coalesced at the same time in a murmuration of events that the leadership has been incapable of corralling or taking back under its control?

This is a country where a record number of addicted souls lose their lives to drugs for the lack of well-resourced solutions and where the leader of the party that has been in power for 14 years can absolve herself from blame by saying the crisis is “indefensible”. ‘Mea culpa. Move along now.’

A Scotland where queues of homeless people stand in the snow in Glasgow waiting for a mug of hot soup and home-grown MSPs can look on, wring their hands and decry the heartless brutes at Westminster.

Where Scottish PEN, the respected champion of freedom of expression and great writing, warns that online bullying and threats have created such a “culture of fear” in Scotland that writers are now “wary of saying anything vaguely controversial”. 

This, in the country of the Enlightenment.

And that’s before we talk of COVID.

They say that a fish rots from the head down. And something is beginning to reek. The question will be whether by 6 May the electorate is simply prepared to just hold its nose.

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