The deal to save BiFab is, of course, wonderful news for the communities that would have been severely affected by closure. It is also a bright day for Scottish politics. There is no doubt at all that this deal would not have happened without the intervention by the Scottish Government. And every reason to suppose that it would not have been achieved, or even attempted, by the British parties. The Tories would have shrugged off the suffering of people and families, insisting that their lives were a necessary sacrifice on the altar of ‘market forces’.
British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) would have been paralysed with indecision and riven by internal squabbling. One faction would want to throw taxpayers’ money at the problem. Another faction would quietly relish the closures and ensuing devastation of communities as a useful example of capitalist failure. They’d have held lots of meetings and marches and rallies at which career politicians would jostle for media attention. Once the media lost interest, so would BLiS. The yards would have closed. livelihoods would have been lost. BBC Scotland would find a way to blame the SNP.
So, what is it that allows the SNP to succeed in these situations where the British parties have a record of inaction or failure? I would suggest that it largely comes down to a question of attitude. Where Tories would look at the BiFab situation and see it in terms of economics and BLiS would see it only as a political difficulty (or opportunity), the SNP tends to see a problem affecting people that needs a practical solution.
Where Tories ask how the situation can be rationalised and BLiS ask how the situation can be exploited, the SNP ask only how it can be sorted.
In an article for the January issue of iScot Magazine I wrote,
“What is significant is that the SNP administration seems to have been intent on finding the measures which might be effective regardless of dogma or popularity. No ‘focus groups’. Just expert panels. And no ‘Big Fix!” hype. No suggestion of simple solutions. No suggestions of solutions at all. Just the idea of progressive change – over time-scales that pay scant regard to the kind of electoral imperatives that drive other parties.”
I get annoyed at people who make facile generalisations about politicians and political parties being ‘all the same’. Clearly, they aren’t. Quite evidently, there is something different about the way successive SNP administrations go about the job of running Scotland’s affairs. Something that allows them to achieve things that British parties couldn’t.
In that iScot Magazine article I put this difference down to Scotland’s electoral system and the way it has facilitated the emergence of a distinctive political culture. I argue that the SNP is different because it was better placed to adapt to, and take advantage of, the new political climate in a way that the ‘old’ parties aren’t.
“The SNP has enjoyed electoral success – winning every election for ten years – because, as a party new to government, it is open to a new political culture in a way that the British parties cannot be – due to historical factors and the intrinsic nature of the British political system within which they are embedded.”
The SNP is attuned to Scotland’s political culture in a way the the British parties are not. The party is embedded in that political culture in a way the British parties can’t be. We see the evidence of this, not only in major achievements such as saving BiFab, but also in relatively small things that nonetheless represent a more progressive politics than we’d previously been accustomed to. Baby boxes are one example. And the changes to the tax system which, while small in terms of their impact on people’s pockets, are highly significant in that they are a break with the old ways.
Not that Scotland’s politics has totally rid itself of the old ways. Difference is relative. As much as we see the difference between the SNP and the British parties in the actions of the former, that difference is also evident in the way the latter behave.
Look at the reactions from the British parties to the news announcement of the deal to rescue BiFab that was so skillfully brokered by the SNP administration. Neither Willie Rennie nor Jackie Baillie so much as acknowledge the efforts of the Scottish Government.
But that kind of bitter, partisan pettiness is the old politics. Now is a time to celebrate Scotland’s new politics. Just don’t expect that any of the British politicians squatting in Scotland’s Parliament will join in the celebration.
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