ONCE, when it operated as a mature political party, the SNP was known for its hospitality to strangers. At times, in the heady aftermath of the 2014 independence referendum, to attend one of their conferences was to encounter evangelical fervour. “Welcome! Come away in! Have you been baptised in the spirit? Come and meet the leader!” Every spoken sentence seemed to have an imaginary exclamation mark and there were smiley emojis rising up from the conference floor. Both left and right could leave their doctrinal differences at the front door and there was room for all traditions.

Now, as a consequence of easy power requiring little effort the party can pamper itself with the narcissistic and self-obsessed politics of sexual identity. When you’ve known for three years out from an election that victory is guaranteed perhaps a sense of complacency sets in and you can afford the luxury of self-indulgence. Organised groups for whom independence matters much less than bending legislation to suit the stage-managed conceit of gender grievance become attracted to a party that guarantees legislative and political power in perpetuity. When elections have been rendered meaningless owing to the hopelessness of all the other parties the Government can act like a medieval court: granting favours here; extending patronage there while carrying out the odd beheading and evisceration to maintain party discipline.

You can stuff committees with your placemen and impel the public sector agencies to operate as your personal private contractors. The court that Nicola Sturgeon has gathered around herself has now come to resemble the jungle kingdom of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, but less civilised.

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Saturday’s meeting of the SNP’s ruling National Executive Committee was largely consumed with its current obsession: framing a definition of what might constitute transphobia. Scotland as a nation tends to be quite relaxed about how people choose to identify themselves, caring only that they suffer no discrimination in their personal and professional lives as a consequence of their choice. For the SNP though, this isn’t enough and they are now seeking to formulate a discrimination of their own. Aided by some of what’s being proposed in its Hate Crime legislation this is so esoteric and unspecific that to voice your sincere conviction that sex is binary and transwomen aren’t women is to risk criminal proceedings.

They advance this sinister little caprice in the safe knowledge that a majority of the population will be largely ignorant of its darker aspects, on the basis that “they can’t possibly be proposing that”. Besides, there is a pandemic to be dealing with and the economic consequences arising from it.

Those advocating gender reform have successfully placed a lie at the heart of political discourse in Scotland: that to express even reasonable opposition to some of these proposals is proof of bigotry and hatred. They have achieved this by promoting the iniquities they call out in others: intimidation; alienation; victimisation and, increasingly, the threat of violence. 

Transphobia is real but the SNP leadership and its acolytes have undermined genuine attempts to curb it by attaching a series of bogus and inauthentic charges to it. When I explained to one elderly Catholic lady what was really happening here her disgust and fear were palpable. She’s lived for 81 years but for the first time ever – in 2021 – she must now deploy caution when expressing some of her deeply-held religious beliefs.

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Much of this has been allowed to proceed under the term "progressiveness" which, in the hands of the SNP and its media glove-puppets, has become something slippery and undefinable and thus a valid metaphor representing what the SNP has become. We don’t know what it stands for beyond a vague suite of virtues that demand no work or commitment. These possess nothing specific and little that will improve society, if by that we mean improving the lives of the many whose lives have been blighted by deprivation.

This is salon politics, driven by those who believe themselves to be above getting their hands dirty and fighting authentic and historic, societal injustice. It’s a double-espresso-and-oat-milk kind of politics: one that demands its acolytes wear nothing but a curled lip. And in the SNP you get a fiery cross to enforce it.

This fake progressiveness also provides a flag of convenience for mediocre SNP politicians – mainly in its dismal Westminster group – to mask their very obvious deficits in the thinking department. Having achieved little of any note during their five-year jollies in a jurisdiction they’re supposed to be committed to dismantling they cling to aspects of the gender debate as a means of conveying the idea that they actually stand for something.

Rather than working to dismantle the class-driven patterns of poverty that have existed in these communities for generations there’s an implied disdain for them that borders on revulsion. It’s a failure to understand that when your main challenge is simply to source food for the next day and to heat your home the compulsion to define transphobia is little more than a caprice, a fig-leaf designed to deflect from your serial and unmitigated failures over 14 years in achieving anything of sustainable benefit to disadvantaged communities.

These places have been hollowed out and disenfranchised by the neo-liberal, market-driven philosophy of survival-of-the-fittest. Now they find themselves marginalised too by this ethereal and gaseous political substance called progressiveness which substitutes orchestrated grievance for the need to fight real inequality.

It travels on the whispered poison of false accusation and summary cancellation. It’s what Nicola Sturgeon has turned the SNP into: not a vehicle for independence and delivering social justice but a means by which a chosen few can maintain power for as long as possible by dismantling personal freedoms in a piecemeal and covert manner. As such, the SNP and its current leadership have now emerged as the main threat to an independent Scotland. Perhaps though, this is exactly how they want it.

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