The Scottish National Party is a party in uncharted waters. Having championed the Scottish cause, their fearless politics will soon be forcefully felt around Westminster. Dominating the televised debates and punctuating political analysts’ columns, the SNP’s predicted role as ‘kingmaker’, with Nicola Sturgeon embodying the power of this role, continues to be the fact to which most election speculation returns.
However, while much of the party’s success is its own doing, few can deny the influence of exterior factors: namely, of a brand of hateful, divisive politics. No longer residing in the shadowy depths of extremism, the SNP may be considered a benefactor of the emergence of virulently self-interested politics into mainstream debate.
It takes but a glimpse at social media, or at the front pages of Britain’s right-leaning newspapers, to see in stark clarity the vicious nature of political debate. In recent weeks, Sturgeon has been subjected to an onslaught of vicious, wildly irrelevant abuse. Ranging from The Sun’s portrayal of Sturgeon in the guise of a tartan-clad Miley Cyrus upon her infamous ‘wrecking ball’, to Piers Morgan’s unforgivably condescending column in The Mail which branded the SNP leader as “William Wallace – just without the beard”, adversity is an issue with which the SNP have become well-accustomed.
Further, it appears that the decidedly hateful taste souring political debate is not confined to the right-wing press. Mainstream political figures have continued to trivialise the SNP’s cause, and to mock Sturgeon in the most shamefully misogynistic of terms. John Major, former Conservative Prime Minister, was recently reported to have stated that he “warned against Scottish devolution […] I always knew nothing good would come of it”. Demeaning and grounded in a profoundly anti-democratic view of the United Kingdom, Major’s comments, though not representative, are far from unique.
The political classes, particularly those of a rightist persuasion, seem to have forgotten the grandest campaign error during the lead-up to the Referendum. The so-called ‘scaremongering’ of the Unionist campaign, its interminable negativity, was cited by many as the reason which pushed them into ‘Yes’ territory. Though they may have had a lucky escape in September, polls suggest that the very same figures may pay the price in May for continued assault upon the SNP and Scottish politics in general.
However, scepticism remains paramount. In the face of adversity, it is common to glorify they whom we deem the victim. It is amidst this climate of hate that the popularity of Sturgeon has equally soared, with echoes of the swathes of popular support for Nick Clegg in 2010. Indeed, Sturgeon is a powerfully impressive figure; her authenticity and passionate defence of the working people of Scotland is legitimate.
Yet the SNP cannot be considered an all-encompassing ray of light. As some have noted, the SNP’s economic policy remains essentially Conservative in nature. In the White Paper prior to the referendum, the party proposed to reduce current levels of corporation tax to 3%, ostensibly to stimulate new investment. Moreover, the IFS recently revealed that, according to SNP proposals, spending cuts to all departments would amount to 9.2%, compared to 12% under the Conservatives, and a remarkable 4.6% under Labour. Impressive as the party’s rise and leader may be, it is fundamentally important to remain critical of the rhetoric and political trends.
The SNP are a party who continue to cause shockwaves because of their direct politics. If the polls are correct, and the SNP do become the key player in post-election negotiations, then the political establishment will only have itself, and its shamefully hateful campaign, to blame.
Image: Ninian Reid