Goldilocks, the SNP and the limits of radicalism

Recent discussion and particularly blogs by Loki and Wee Radicals, and the attendant online furore, prompted me to reflect on the basic proposition of those who are at least skeptical, and at worst hostile, to the #BothVotesSNP concept. Are those of us campaigning for independence sacrificing the prospect of incremental change now on the altar of possibly ephemeral radical change post independence?

Wee Radical asked the question: Can something be done now? Yes, of course it can. The problem for those pushing this line is identifying what it is that should be done. Only an extremist would say that nothing will change if independence never happens. Given the current direction of travel in Scotland the SNP will doubtless continue in broad terms with their current pragmatic approach. Naturally that won’t be radical enough for many of us; we wish they were more radical not just on helping the poor and vulnerable in general terms but on areas as diverse as the environment, land ownership, education, health, pensions, taxation. Everyone has their own priorities and would doubtless order areas of policy differently.

The current approach will, in true Goldilocks fashion, seem far too radical for some Scots and just right to many others. Such people aren’t monsters. It doesn’t mean they are uncaring or unaware of the downsides of failing to tackle poverty or of stinting on help for the vulnerable at a societal level. Constructing a consensus about what we can do now is a big ask. Formulating a common approach, let alone detailed polices, aimed at alleviating deep, underlying, decades long social problems would be hard enough at the best of times. In the deeply tribalised, politically bruised post indyref political landscape of Scotland such a meeting of minds may be altogether too much to expect.

I have my differences with Loki, but I do agree with him on one thing: fundamental change is only really possible with independence. Naturally I don’t expect unionists to agree with that sentiment. I can no more prove it is a true statement, than they can disprove it. There is an argument to be made that we should prioritize using the powers the Scottish Government already has to improve the situation of the disadvantaged over the drive for independence, even if that means the improvements will not be as fast or as large as many pro-independence campaigners and progressives would like. Scottish Labour party supporters and other unionists frequently make this argument, or indeed insist that independence would make progress impossible or even result in such economic chaos that the situation would get worse.

The reason they make this argument is of course partly from political conviction; they do truly believe we are “Better Together”, and that the best way to tackle such deep-seated social problems is within the union and that progress is reliant on the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom. Another motivation for the argument however is that by appealing to Scots not to abandon the union (“the poor in Dover matter as much as the poor in Dundee” etc.) they will entrench the status quo. Forcing the Scottish Government to use the powers available to it offers a much better prospect of killing independence stone dead than the establishment of the Scottish parliament in the heady days of New Labour’s pomp. The constraints of the current flawed devolutionary system don’t allow for radical change; only an administration responsible for both raising and spending the maximum possible percentage of Scottish revenues is ever going to risk anything other than pragmatic change.

If you think radical change is going to happen within the current political landscape, then fill your boots. I think you’re dead wrong, but I’m prepared to be convinced, so show me how that works.

If you think you can convince the unionists who unleashed Project Fear and ensured the devolution of the bare minimum of new powers to sit down with you, break bread and come up with workable “outside the box” solutions to our problems, then by all means, “go do”!

If you think tinkering around the edges with the thin gruel of Smith Commission powers is the best we can do to make our country a radically better place to raise kids, best forget about independence as a realistic prospect. Settle. Be satisfied. Believe the siren voices whispering in your ear. We really are too wee, too poor, too stupid after all.

If you think it’s too risky, that slow steady change is better than a leap in the dark, that it’s better to do the little we can now even if it means abandoning the future prize, then go for the quick fix.

Just pray that a few decades from now you don’t wake up in a cold sweat in your privatised hospital, looking into the eyes of your downtrodden family burdened with the costs of your care, their student debts, their zero hours contract jobs and their British passports, wishing that you hadn’t listened to defeatists telling you that tinkering with the powers we have would result in a better outcome than straining every sinew to achieve independence sooner rather than later.


(The blogs referred to above can be found here: