by Tom Harris
When I launched LabourHame in June last year, I thought it would be fun to initiate a semi-regular column entitled “Questions To Which The Answer Is Er…'”
The point was simply to expose some of the more glaring inconsistencies in nationalists’ arguments and to poke a bit of fun at them in the process.
So, for example, we asked “Why are the SNP so reluctant to re-regulate the bus industry?” “Does the largest party in a hung parliament always have a right to form a government?” And “Would the euro be good for Scotland?”
Each of these questions is aimed at a particular Achilles heel in the nationalists’ armoury: their receipt of a million pounds from Stagecoach owner Sir Brian Souter; the SNP’s insistence that in 2007 Alex Salmond had the exclusive moral right to lead a government but in 2010 David Cameron didn’t; the party’s long-established (and continuing) support for ditching sterling in favour of the euro.
What was remarkable was the response from nationalist readers of, and contributors to, LabourHame. Was there even a hint of defensiveness or disagreement about their party’s inconsistencies, as there is in every other party? Not a bit of it.
When, before entering government, Salmond said he would regulate the buses, he was right. When he subsequently failed to do so, he was right.
When the first minister, before the euro crisis, advocated Scottish membership of the euro, he was right. When, post-euro crisis, he continued to advocate Scottish membership of the euro (but just refuses to tell anyone about his view), he was right.
When nationalist activists thought that the then prime minister Gordon Brown was trying to prevent Salmond becoming first minister by cobbling together a Labour-LibDem majority at Holyrood, they were appalled. When Gordon Brown resigned to allow the leader of the biggest party in the Commons to become Prime Minister, they were appalled.
That’s when I realised the fundamental flaw in the title of the series: you see, nationalists by definition are not unsure about anything. They never answer “Er…” to any question because there is not the tiniest scintilla of doubt about anything they believe. Even when they’re forced to confront fundamental contradictions in their own arguments, they have only two responses: (a) we’re still right, and (b) by even raising such contradictions you’re talking Scotland down.
And then I had my final epiphany (an appropriate expression, given the nature of the revelation): nationalism isn’t a political philosophy – it’s a faith.
Salmond’s disciples believe everything he says as an article of faith. Their unquestioning devotion to him smacks more of religious zealotry than of political agreement. Alex’s followers believe absolutely, without any requirement for nonsense like facts or evidence, that a separate Scotland will be the wealthiest, happiest nation on the face of the planet. To question these statements would smack of heresy.
In every other party there is a healthy level of scepticism about the leader. I’ve been a Labour Party member under the leadership of Kinnock, Smith, Blair, Brown and Miliband. Never at any point – even during the period when Blair bestrode the political landscape as an unchallenged colossus – was Labour a slavering, über-loyal party, eager to reply “Yes, Tony” to every prime ministerial utterance. The same is true of every other mainstream, non-dysfunctional party.
And quite right too.
But not the nationalists. And despite the unity of purpose and the discipline such an approach brings, it is, or can be, a weakness. Blind faith cannot withstand any level of consistent analysis or robust challenge for long. Its inconsistencies and contradictions can be exposed, and there is plenty of time between now and autumn 2014 to do so.
Tom Harris is Labour MP for Glasgow south