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Kevin McKenna: Are our Yes politicians scared of the word ‘independence’?

INDEPENDENCE is normal, and for some of those entrusted with carrying the fight at Westminster and Holyrood it appears to be more normal than for others.

When the Sunday National conducted a survey of how often the “I” word appeared on the tweets composed and sent by SNP MPs and MSPs, the results were revealing. For instance, no-one was really surprised to see Angus MacNeil top the list of those who seem to be most, you know … comfortable about using the actual word “independence”.

Curiously, tweets from SNP MPs and MSPs about independence more than halved after the Scottish Parliament election. The paper conducted its analysis from the start of the campaign trail on March 25 until six weeks after polling day, up to and including June 17. Some experts feel this could be a clear example of a condition known as “Not Scaring the Horses Syndrome”. It affects those who are easily influenced by what they read in the papers and see on the telly.

The National: Angus MacNeil is one of the longest serving SNP MPs

MacNeil (above) rarely misses an opportunity to remind both his own party and the Westminster government what the SNP are principally about. He knows the vast majority of people who voted for him want him to further the cause of Scottish independence to the utmost of their ability and until the cows come home.

Sadly, several of his Scottish NATIONALIST colleagues use “independence” sparingly, as though the very mention of the word might cause the ground to shake and open up and swallow them.

Now, you may hold the entirely legitimate view that being active on Twitter ought not to be a measure of your passion for whatever cause carries your favour. Indeed, many politicians, including several of the SNP stable, might be advised occasionally to step away from this feral social media platform.

Will we ever forget Stewart McDonald’s tweet conveying his disdain for “those Common Weal types”?

Yet, though Twitter might seem on some days to have been overrun by rockets and trumpets, it can be a force for good and decency. If deployed adroitly and with acumen, it provides professional politicians with an opportunity to express their humanity; their real selves if you like. It also gives voters an opportunity to engage with those whom we pay to represent us.

Incidentally, I’m glad to report that McDonald, who represents Glasgow South at Westminster, is among the most fervent users of “independence”. He can be a gnarly character who seems eager to twin the people’s republic of Castlemilk with the Ukraine and I’ve been somewhat disobliging of his more performative theatrics, but he’s generally a sincere and dapper chiel.

Pete Wishart (below) is also revealed to be one who seems to be au fait with the reason why we’re paying him £83k a year (plus expenses). Though I sometimes wonder if Wishart is only forced to use Twitter when trolling those among his party’s supporters urging him to adopt a more dynamic approach to bringing about independence. But we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The National: Pete Wishart Business Questions - 25/02/2016.

Curiously, it’s when you venture higher up the SNP’s line of command that you struggle to observe the word “independence” very often. It’s as though ministers – or those who know they’re on the purple route one to high favour in the SNP – have been told to, you know, go easy on the nationalism. Quite why this should be so is anyone’s guess.

I mean, I get that we’re in a pandemic and that the SNP Government needs to be seen to be getting on with the day job. And I know we all need to be reasonably confident about getting a result when the next referendum happens. But you’re deluding yourself if you think we need a steady run of straight 60%-plus numbers in the opinion polls before venturing to demand a second indyref. That just isn’t going to happen and there will always be a degree of doubt about the outcome.

CALL me naive and unworldly but I still cling to this simple expectation regarding those whom we send to Holyrood and Westminster to advance the cause of independence: that they miss no opportunity in telling the world why it needs to happen and why it should be considered normal.

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The simplest, most direct way of doing this, I feel, is to mention the actual word “independence” quite a lot. And to say it as though you mean it and even to look quite cheery and positive when you’re doing so.

At Westminster, I wonder if some among the SNP cohort have been affected by a form of Stockholm Syndrome? They go down there full of spunk and pep about taking the battle to the enemy and then gradually come to fall in love with the old palace and all of its esoteric contrivances.

Some, especially those who could never otherwise hope to enjoy the sort of life that an 80-odd-grand salary gets you, become dazzled in the headlights and the sight of so many grand-looking people whom they previously only see on the telly. And they get all tongue-tied and bashful when asked to tell everyone why they’ve come all the way down here.

Still others I feel, having fallen in love with the remuneration package and the status which being an MP or MSP confers, just want the gravy train to keep on chugging along and the pension pots to fatten.

These are all very human responses and I feel we should, of our charity, gently remind them all what’s expected of them. I’d start with regular MOT checks to ensure that they’re all tip-top and tickety about independence.

Once every quarter they should be required to check themselves in at a party drop-in centre and asked to undergo a fitness check and a series of exercises. There they might also be made to undergo close contact with regular SNP voters.

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“Why did you want to become an SNP politician?”

“What was it about Scottish independence which once floated your boat?”

“Repeat after me: ‘Independence is normal and nothing to be ashamed of’.”

I also feel that all of our SNP politicians at both Westminster and Holyrood be encouraged to mention “independence” quite a lot. Perhaps they could all be set monthly Twitter targets according to the percentage of time each spends on that forum. As points always win prizes, they could be rewarded for their efforts. Maybe a signed copy of the leader’s next “Forward to Independence” speech (I’m told all the others are prized items on eBay).

I’d actually start with Nicola Sturgeon. The leader of the Scottish National Party mentioned independence only four times. She’s a busy woman, though.



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