Come ON guys. Get off that fence! You a Sturgeonista? More a Salmondite? Cheering for Joanna, strictly an Angus type? Up for a new Indy List Party? Horrified at the thought? Or maybe, like me, you’re a bit pissed off (it’s a technical term) at folk trying to shove you into neat little ideological boxes. Life, real life, is not a black and white business. Life, real life, is not about building barricades and lobbing grenades at “the enemy” on the other side. The enemy being anyone who has demonstrated the absolutely criminal behaviour of disagreeing with your view. Your view being the only possible sane one in town. Obviously.

The pro independence troops comprise hundreds of thousands of true believers, but within that overarching ambition lie very many different views as to how it might be most effectively realised. This is no more than healthy. I have no personal knowledge of the people who believe that ‘both votes SNP’ has not been a strategy which maximises pro Indy numbers at Holyrood. And no more idea than anyone else whether their new party will prove an attractive option to voters, or sink without much trace. I do believe that dismissing their efforts as “gaming the system” should not be the kneejerk response of any movement embracing diversity and democracy.

One of the reasons I would have made a useless politician – failing my O grade tact and diplomacy is another – is that I have a built in antipathy to being told what to think. Much the same reason as I gave up on religion, come to think of it. And of course political parties want their adherents to think the same thoughts. Makes the troops so much easier to keep in line. My own belief is that what attracts the support which wins elections is partly about not treating voters like automatons incapable of holding two thoughts in their mind simultaneously. It’s one of the reasons between the huge discrepancy in attitudes to the Scottish and Westminster Covid 19 briefings. When Nicola Sturgeon tells viewers and listeners that she’ll share what advice she’s getting and how that will inform subsequent judgements most folk respond well. When Matt Hancock stands up and tells a gobsmacked audience that from the very beginning his government threw “a protective cloak” around care homes, most folks can’t believe his pants failed to ignite.

Ah, care homes. When people die in them unexpectedly or unnecessarily, their relations don’t much care whether the premises are privately or publicly owned. Their grief is not partisan. Only a blind observer would suggest that as a society we have given proper consideration to how we protect and reward those who look after our most vulnerable. Yet when a BBC Scotland documentary flagged up some of these concerns, and others regarding an early outbreak of Covid 19 at an Edinburgh conference, twitter went into overdrive. It was apparently yet another example of the BBC’s long standing campaign to undermine the SNP and all its works. Alternatively, it was a documentary strand investigating the behaviour of its national government. There was no such outrage from the same quarters when Panorama eviscerated the Johnson government over its PPE failings two weeks before.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think that Disclosure programme got everything right. I don’t believe there was a cover up over the Nike conference, but I do think it was legitimate to pose questions over how our government responds to sudden crises. If we want to be a properly grown up, independent nation, then it’s right that our government is scrutinised by the media. Unfortunately a large section of the print media is rather less interested in objective scrutiny than in posing fatuous questions at daily briefings designed to elicit a cheap news line for their paper.  And unfortunately some of BBC Scotland’s news operation is too often caught buying into the London version of headline priorities. The Nine is more likely to plough its own furrow, but it labours in an impossible scheduling slot to gain a mass audience. Against that background we should not be surprised at STV news having gained its current audience share.

The everything black and white brigade are also much exercised by the run up to the next Scottish election, now less than a year hence. One school urges it is unthinkable to even mention the word independence whilst the nation faces such a grave health and economic crisis. The other suggests that with the double whammy of coronavirus and a no deal Brexit, it would be a dereliction of duty not to work out how best to protect Scotland from London’s serial follies.

And, actually, with the Holyrood cabinet fire fighting on so many fronts – and doubtless fighting personal exhaustion – it would be unrealistic to expect them to do politics as usual. But not unrealistic for those with more thinking and planning time available to be doing both these things at an accelerating pace. The political world still turns, however skewed the axis. It turns in London where the Tories are desperately looking for a way to put more cheerleaders in the Commons to bolster their glorious leader when he lies bleeding from more bullets fired by Sir Keir – not so much Corbyn on steroids, as a leader of the opposition finally doing what it says on his tin.

Not that Starmer’s growing fan club will gain his party too much traction hereabouts. Outside of the appetite for independence, one of the main reasons for the SNP’s continuing popularity in the polls is the paucity of a realistic alternative.

Few voters pause with their pencil poised in the booth thinking “mmm, Leonard or Sturgeon?” I’ve yet to meet the elector in mid Covid who muses “if only Miles Briggs was in charge of health policy rather than Jeane Freeman”. Where is the queue hoping that Willie Rennie will attend to matters Brexity and constitutional rather than Mike Russell? And don’t get me started on Carlaw, Jack and the raft of “Scottish” Tories who sold Scottish farmers down the river last week, voting for a bill designed to facilitate cheaper US imports and depress welfare standards.

That shameful vote is one where matters might properly be considered black and white. For the rest, if you’ll pardon a dodgy analogy, let’s hear it for fifty shades of grey.


First published in the National on 18.05.20