When assessing any new project, initiative, document, organisation or event, one of the things I will often do is to start by asking what those responsible think it’s for. It helps to work out whether the basic motivation seems to make sense and then the extent to which the goal has been achieved.
(For example, bubblewrap might well seem like a genius invention but it does offer a different perspective when you discover it was designed as wallpaper…)
This means that returning to Scottish politics after a week off has left me with a lot of head-scratching; I am working my way through things that happened and I’m struggling to make much sense of it.
Let’s start with the most puzzling thing of all; what on earth did the Scottish Greens think they were doing with their ‘Independence Green Paper’? You can quite easily whizz through its poorly-designed pages, pour over all 2,551 words (including photo references and page numbers) and come out the other end without so much as a clue about what it is supposed to be for.
If its for Yes voters it is patronising. If it is for undecided voters it is vacuous. If it is to impress the chattering classes it is counterproductive. If it is to differentiate the party from the SNP, agreeing with them on everything is a strange way to go about it. If it is to inspire party members it is seriously misjudged. What is it for?
Seriously, this document reads like Patrick Harvie instructed his minions to write a paper about independence but not to waste the whole day on it. It makes no sense at all, strategically or tactically. It has done nothing more than uniting the political classes in derision.
But there is some contest for the least explicable intervention of the week, because fairly hot on the heels of the Green Paper came episode one of Scotland’s Voices, the new SNP ‘broadcasting platform’ (or ‘podcast’ to the rest of us).
What did the people who devised this think it was for? For those who haven’t sat through it, the thing lasts for 36 minutes, which is basically two episodes of the average American sitcom. There was clearly at least a bit of money spent on this (unless they’ve used a lot of stock animation and audio), but why did they spend the money this way?
This document reads like Patrick Harvie instructed his minions to write a paper about independence but not to waste the whole day on it
I instinctively don’t want to be too unkind here (there seem to be young creatives involved), but it is surprisingly amateurish. The scripting is dull and predictable (who knew Tories were ‘bad’?), the jokes (which are more like quips) don’t land, they even fail to pull off a basic Aside Glance. But it’s the content I find bamboozling.
It starts with footage of Tories, introduces the presenter (this format places a lot of emphasis on the charisma of the anchor and that just isn’t working yet), cuts to Roza Salih wandering around a park talking about baby boxes and free university tuition, cuts back to a 15-minute panel session with three people I don’t know being pitched questions like ‘is Brexit more likely to get people to vote Yes?’ and finishes with a brief monologue which may sort of work for a certain audience possibly.
But who is that audience? This episode is dull, unchallenging and has no real content. The SNP’s world is narrowing further and further into this pattern – Tories are bad, baby boxes are good, mandates are big and… the end. The main innovation is that I can’t remember there being a picture of Nicola Sturgeon. You’re sure as hell not going to make it five minutes into this if you’re undecided.
A third example of my head-scratching came when the Scottish Government was unable to tell the Herald by when the indy papers would all be published (shoddy project management but forgivable) or how many there would be (implying no project management at all and not really forgivable).
How do you spend ‘your whole political career’ trying to deliver independence but, with ‘less than a year to go to indyref 2’ and with much riding on the outcome of the publication of a series of independence papers, you haven’t worked out what they will cover yet? What did they think they were doing when they planned this? Was it intended that they’re make it up as they went along?
So lets pull this together in two conclusions. First, it must now be clear to all but the most myopic loyalist that those leading the ‘push for independence’ do not fully have a grip of what they’re doing.
There is an assumption around that the cause of independence is being led by ‘clever people’, but there is really scant evidence for this. There is no vision, no creativity, no coherent tactic or strategy, no useable information, no sense whatsoever of nation-building or case-development.
Ask yourself this – what would it look like if the cause of independence was being run by a substandard team without any real plan? Now answer me this – how do things currently look any different from that? Isn’t all of this kind of on par with the whole Better Together ‘eat your cereal’ thing?
The leadership of the Scottish Greens basically forced out anyone whose intellect challenged their own, and that provides a pretty low base. I assume that their Green Paper looks like a high school essay because that is kind of the level at which they are operating now.
Meanwhile the leadership of the SNP retrofits everything to a predefined lowest common denominator. They don’t work out how to sell something they need to sell, they just identify something that already sells and flog that instead. Saying ‘we’ll use Sterling because people are used to it’ is not the result of genius.
That’s the first and saddest conclusion I’ve drawn – this really is as good as they can do. The Greens really are that lacking in any discernable ability, the SNP really is that limited and that repetitive. They are all just…. not good at independence.
The only coherent conclusion is that the public isn’t the audience and that the entire Nat Cinematic Universe is a fantasy world created solely for the footsoldiers of the independence movement
The second relates to why they’re bothering with all of this. Here I think we need to conceive of this as the Nat Cinematic Universe, a sprawling franchise focussed on world-building and spectacle, heroes and villains, comedy side material (the Scottish Greens), all building up to an approaching climax to keep you coming back to the multiplexes.
The thing is, the public seems distinctly disinterested in this franchise. If it doesn’t make sense to try and persuade the 39 per cent of the population less likely to vote for independence if it involves a Scottish currency, how does it make sense to build your whole strategy on the 35 per cent which actually want a referendum next year? Surely you can’t fail to see the contradiction?
SNP activists are putting leaflets through doors which say that we are now well into the countdown to a 19 October referendum next year, but since no-one believes it, an explanation is required. When papers are published which the supposed target audience is never going to read (and which don’t answer their questions if they do) an explanation is required. Same for podcasts that only activists are going to watch.
The only coherent conclusion is that the public isn’t the audience and that the entire Nat Cinematic Universe is a fantasy world created solely for the footsoldiers of the independence movement and them alone. The only person who is meant to watch that video is an activist; the only person meant to read those papers is an activist; the only person who is meant to be fit to burst with excitement about a referendum is an activist.
Every bit as much as the Truss government existing only to please a small cadre of Tory Party members, this entire franchise exists only to persuade the rapidly shrinking ranks of SNP loyalists that Important Things are Happening.
That I also return to my computer to discover that the wonderful Mike Blackshaw (Edinburgh Yes Hub) has died makes this all the more bitter. People like Mike who dedicated so much of his life to the cause and who has done so much in the face of so much adversity with his health deserve more than a fantasy world built to keep them in line for a little bit longer.
Not good enough to make the case for independence but powerful enough to manufacture a fantasy world capable of tricking activists is a pretty brutal conclusion I’ll grant you. If there are other feasible ones that I’ve missed, fire them through to the usual address.