The mendacity of hope
Back in 2014 in a campaign video for the independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon asked us to imagine a baby – Kirsty – and to think about what kind of country we wanted her to grow up in.
It was a brilliant, evocative message, a hopeful one, with a positive vision that things could only get better, that our children could live their best lives. And who wouldn’t want that?
And while independence, by a small margin, did not then become the vehicle to deliver that change, in 2016, and as the newly elected first minister, Sturgeon used a newspaper column to pledge: “Let’s all resolve that, when this parliament dissolves five years from now, we’ll be able to say we’ve done everything we can to give all of Scotland’s young people the best possible future.”
Well, we are now five years on, with independence no closer and Baby Kirsty now seven. The SNP heads into an election that it will win, still stuck on repeat, pledging to make Scotland the best country for any child to grow up in.
The SNP has been in power for 14 years and despite cleverly positioning itself as the party of opposition, lest you blame it for any of the country’s ills, it is set to return to power on the back of yet more promises for that same change.
So, when is it coming?
Scotland has the poorest life expectancy across the UK. Child poverty is at record levels. Food banks are in demand. Kids go hungry. People die on our streets. Drug deaths are our eternal shame. Education has gone backwards. Young people sit on ever increasing mental health waiting lists. Suicide rates rocket. Businesses feel ignored.
And, in a country led by a woman who says she has equality at her core, women leave their shoes, paired and tied up with ribbons in feminist colours, outside the parliament and pointing the other way, as a tangible imprint of women feeling left behind.
How deeply depressing that for some women, this government, led by a woman who proclaims her feminist credentials at every turn, should have let them down.
And when it comes to the heavy lifting, it has been left to the grassroots efforts of campaigners and opposition parties to make lives better for women, to ensure that they are not medically butchered by plastic mesh, to campaign for free sanitary products, to call for women’s rights to be protected, to ask for their biological sex to be recognised.
And even when it comes to being shielded from the hate that they experience every day, women see legal progress on that, put out for consultation with a promise of ‘wait and see’.
All of this is an indictment of a party that has been in power for 14 years, yet not shifted the dial sufficiently enough on inequity such that even during a pandemic, things could have been different.
Yet here we are, with the SNP still winning votes on the back of a promise to build a fairer, more equal, Scotland. If it’s window dressing you are after, then artifice has won over substance.
Every opinion poll has the SNP winning this next election. The only question now, is by how much.
Yet contrast that 2014 video message of hope, that forward-looking vision for a more positive future, with the dystopian styled, party-political broadcast issued by the SNP last week and the difference is clear. Fourteen years in government, and the SNP can’t offer a positive narrative for its record, it can only blame Westminster for everything that is still wrong.
Invoking George Orwell may be a tired old meme, but the fact is that the SNP’s latest campaign broadcast is straight from central casting for 1984, even featuring a myriad of television screens all showing flickering images of Nicola Sturgeon’s face with text running below, saying, ‘there is only one way’. Big Brother is truly watching. And the SNP isn’t even pretending any more.
And with its domestic record nothing to shout about, the party has simply resorted to blame. Austerity, inequality? It’s all Westminster’s fault.
But if the Scottish Parliament does not have the powers to find Scottish solutions to Scottish problems, then what is its point? What is the point of a party of independence being in power for so long but not delivering on independence? What is the point of having a woman in power but who lets women down?
What is the point in an election that will merely deliver more of the same? And what is the point in promising a better future for children when those already growing up under the SNP’s watch have been let down?
Come on. Nicola Sturgeon has said she hopes that this election will breathe fresh air onto the toxicity of our politics, but those winds of change need to sweep over her and her party too. It needs a clear out. Some fresh thinking. Some challenge, and some ambition to make the change it has promised over and over again.
There is something very sour about the SNP right now – a party that doesn’t take well to criticism; that sneers at opposition; that hectors journalists, and silences its detractors.
Too often, political commentators are assumed to be people who care too much about party politics. We are accused of having an agenda, of being too close to power, of having nefarious causes that we are trying to promote. That in fact we are political stooges. But none of that is remotely true.
In the main, we are here to see change, to hold truth to power, and superficially, as the Twitter generation may say, we are also here for the ‘LOLs’. And in an all too predictable election, the emergence of Alba, led by Alex Salmond, has at least brought some interest to the mundanity of it all.
And in an election where the party of government is, seemingly, allowing a party of independence to get under its skin more so than the unionist parties, it is also a reminder of Sturgeon’s fallibility, and that despite her popularity, she has not been able to build on support for what should be her raison d’être – independence.
And if deriding recent former party colleagues as an ‘embarrassment’ that you are glad to have got rid of is your best retort, then the poor pronunciation of Alba is not the only thing that has got lost in translation.