Saturday, 12 April 2014

What's it all about, Alex?

So Alex Salmond says that a vote for Independence is "not about the SNP". Well, yes and no. The problem with the independence referendum is that although the question to be put to voters in Scotland in September is simple, the motives underlying the question are many, complex and contradictory.

PA picture from the BBC website
This blog will return another day to the question of what "independence" means, but today I want to focus on the motives of those who are primarily responsible for the referendum and who are campaigning for the Yes vote.

The majority of rank and file SNP members, I am sure, sincerely believe that Scotland will flourish when its ties to the Union are severed and they belong to the party because they sincerely believe that it not only offers the best chance of achieving that goal and it offers the best policies for governing Scotland in either a devolved or independent Parliament. The same beliefs, I am equally sure, motivate members of the smaller parties, most notably the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party, who are campaigning for independence.

But, as in any political party, the motives of the SNP leadership only partly overlap with those of the rank and file. Political leaders, of whatever hue, are primarily motivated by ambition. They want political office. They want the power that comes with that office. They may not all wish to be prime minister, first minister, president or monarch; they may only want to be a local councillor or member of parliament, but they all want to be in a position where their actions can and do change the lives of those they represent.

All politicians claim to serve their constituencies and say that their ambition comes second to the needs of the people they represent, but that does not mean that statement is true. Almost every human being has a benign view of themselves that deviates to a greater or lesser extent from the truth and politicians are no exception.

The best leaders are those rare politicians in whom there is a perfect balance between personal ambition and public service. Clement Atlee is the first to spring to mind - the Labour Prime Minister who gave us our modern welfare state. Winston Churchill - the Conservative Prime Minister who saved us from defeat in the Second World War - runs a close second; his political strengths were greater than Atlee's, but so too were   his weaknesses. Among modern or more recent politicians, none comes to mind. I surprise myself by almost adding Margaret Thatcher to that list, but her utter sincerity in transforming modern Britain was undone by her utter incomprehension of the impact of her actions on people's lives. On today's front benches at Westminster, no-one springs to mind. As for Holyrood, as yet I see none that qualify.

Which brings me back to Alex Salmond. I do not know how much time he spends in self-analysis. I suspect not much. When he does ask himself his motives, I am sure that he considers himself sincere as he works for the cause, the great cause, the independence of Scotland. But how often, at the end of the day, after a glass or three of whisky, does he look deeper into his own soul? And when he does, what does he see there?

Of course I don't know Alex Salmond's mind, but looking behind the mask of a cheerful neighbour who wants you to join him for a drink, what comes across over the last thirty years in Holyrood and Westminster is a seasoned, selfish, ambitious political operator who wants and enjoys power. He and his appropriately named deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, want nothing more than to be big fish in whatever pond they swim. The smaller the pond, the bigger the fish they can be. The United Kingdom is too big for them; Scotland is just the right size for them to control.

Does Alex Salmond believe in Scottish independence? Of course he does. Does Alex Salmond believe that he should be leader of an independent Scottish state? Of course he does. Does Alex Salmond want to go down in history as the man who led Scotland to independence? Of course he does, but deep down in Alex Salmond's soul, I suspect that independence is less a goal than a means to an end.

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