Naw ye urnae

by | 9 May 2023

The SNP is trapped in a bullshit culture where it thinks it can bluff its way out of every problem. It can't; the party must give people a reason to reconsider their doubts.

There’s a voice I keep hearing in my head just now, almost involuntarily. It’s the wee guy from Chewin’ The Fat who would contradict powerful people who were saying things that obviously weren’t true (or, indeed, just to annoy people). He’d say ‘naw it isnae’ and ‘naw ye urnae’. And you knew he was right.

It is the voice that keeps popping into my head every time I hear an SNP politician strategising or reassuring us in public that all is either is fine or is going to be. “If you lend us your vote, we’re undo Brexit’. Naw ye willnae. “Starmer will give us a referendum in return for votes”. Naw he’ll naw. “We are making good progress in government and can win a majority in 2026.” Jist naw, and probably naw.

Let me remind you that I don’t criticise the SNP for fun but because at the moment I still need the party to deliver on its end of the deal – be an effective, mass political party which supports independence. As I’ve pointed out, you can enhance that role with other options but at the moment we can’t replace it. So the SNP needs to succeed.

But it will not succeed if it is not taking its current position seriously enough, and it is not. What I’m encouraging you to do is to look for signs that the party leadership is getting a grip on things and taking steps to deal with them – and to do what you can to increase pressure on the party if you do not see it.

I don’t see those signs. I can see the signs that denial is turning into panic, but the response to this panic is not encouraging. Denial is becoming an increasingly hard position to maintain. You can have a go at the methodology of the most recent Redfield and Wilson opinion poll all you want, but what you can’t dismiss is that it is producing a trend series using the same methodology. And that trend is very worrying.

The MPs in particular have realised that they are at great risk and that is where a lot of the noise is coming from, but the noises are largely contradicting each other – this isn’t a relaunch or a strategy, this is a scramble. If Pete Wishart is saying it must be a plebiscite election, Alyn Smith saying its about stopping Brexit, Mairi Black saying its about coalition deals for Section 30 Orders and Stephen Flynn saying its about cost of living, we’re not dealing with a unified message.

Nope, what we’re seeing is an emergency strategy meeting in which senior figures are brainstorming ways to save the SNP – but on Twitter where everyone can see. This is not how to do it.

The SNP is flailing around trying to come up with a reason for people to vote for it next year and its politicians are more or less literally repeating things Nicola Sturgeon said once, but this time in a context which makes the statements look silly

The other thing which seems quite clear to me is that Humza Yousaf isn’t far enough up the food chain that anyone seems to have checked any of this with him. Best I can tell he’s just going along with what anyone else has said, combined with the rather remarkable addition that he thinks government has been going quite well since he took over.

There isn’t going to be a votes-for-referendum deal with Labour because the path to Labour needing such a deal is very narrow indeed and even if it got there, it will govern like Salmond did in 2007 and Sturgeon in 2016 – as a minority banking on playing a game of chicken with the other parties. What Labour definitely won’t do is start a new Brexit war so we can rule that out.

A de facto referendum isn’t realistic because a child can see that you don’t call for such a thing when your vote is slipping rapidly unless you really are just trying to save your jobs. It is beyond cynical. And seriously, you think no-one else in UK politics has thought of mentioning the cost of living crisis in the election campaign?

The SNP is flailing around trying to come up with a reason for people to vote for it next year and its politicians are more or less literally repeating things Nicola Sturgeon said once, but this time in a context which makes the statements look silly.

Just so I’m clear, the SNP really could get past this and give people a reason to vote for it next year. But it requires something to happen other than talking. It is absolutely like any other product – washing powder say. You can relaunch any time and run a new add campaign any time, but you need to put at least a little effort into your product to give it a new hook. You think when you see an advert that says ‘now with added…’, it has been added to make the product better?

If the SNP wants to get out of this it needs to be saying ‘vote SNP, now with added competence’ or ‘SNP – the biggest software update ever has fixed the bugs’ or ‘SNP – no longer just for Section 30 Orders’ – or something. Damaged brands need to change. It really is that simple.

(Please don’t waste time saying the brand isn’t damaged because, again, you do not need to believe that Redfield and Wilson poll is all pin-point accurate to see the mountain of underlying concerns voters have about the SNP now.)

This is of course ‘introductory marketing theory’ stuff. I mean I personally thought ‘New’ Labour took it all a bit literally when it added ‘New’, but it recognised what it had to do. You don’t need a degree to understand this, you just need to have been to a supermarket once.

So why doesn’t the SNP get it? The answer is two-fold. First, as I’ve tried to point out, the quality of personnel in the SNP has been deteriorating and deteriorating. And second, whatever team is there has virtually no experience of any political or governmental culture other than Sturgoenism, particularly Yousaf himself.

But Sturgeon ran things in a very, very non-standard manner, not relying on serious advice, centralising all decision-making, making announcements before working out what they meant, promoting people based on their compliance (which is to say weakness).

Something bad happens (the flash of lightning) and then you count in elephants until the SNP leadership shows any sign it understands what just happened (the distant rumble of thunder)

In fact the culture of Sturgeon’s SNP is very close to that of a Silicon Valley start-up like Theranos. Sturgeon’s SNP operated purely on the basis of what is known as ‘manifesting‘ (or colloquially ‘fake it ’til you make it’). It is a result of Sturgeon’s almost total orientation around Twitter and what goes on there.

Thus for Theranos the key was simply to exude total confidence while persuading your investors that you are building a revolutionary new blood testing technology and only worry about whether you really could build such a device later.

With Sturgeon she would just announce a National Energy Company or new advanced ferries or a de facto referendum or ‘being a world leader in 5G’ or whatever she wanted to build whichever image she was manufacturing at any given minute.

Whether she could really deliver these things would have required proper proof of concept work to have been undertaken prior to announcement, and in none of the cases above was that done. It is exactly like making sure your blood testing machine did what you said it would do would have required work first, talk later. But if there is one thing the internet seems to have taught us it is that hard work is for suckers in a world where chancers rule.

It seems to me that the SNP has absorbed Sturgeonism so much that it can see no alternative other than replicating this broken approach. Inside the SNP’s parliamentary wings there are far too few people who have ever really observed a political culture where you do anything other than just bullshit your way through everything you do.

When I think about all the governments I’ve seen (one way or another I’ve worked with all UK and Scottish governments since John Major and have seen the insides of a number of administrations elsewhere in the world), the current SNP is miles out on its own. In any other party of the SNP’s scale that I can think of the basic infrastructure to try and solve your problems would be there.

You would have a strategy group of some description to which you could throw the question of the SNP’s current problems and you’d have a reasonable expectation that it would come back with something in the ball park of workable. And until you did, you’d have your politicians whipped to shut up until they find out what the line is.

The SNP is more like a thunder and lighting storm. Something bad happens (the flash of lightning) and then you count in elephants until the SNP leadership shows any sign it understands what just happened (the distant rumble of thunder). This tells you how far away from being on top of things the SNP is.

And, as my count reaches seventeen thousand four hundred and twenty six elephants while the First Minister is telling us everything is perched right on the verge of overwhelming success, it is there again, that voice. Naw it isnae.

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