Last week there was a little stooshie over an interview in which Alex Salmond appeared to defend Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies. I’m not interested in discussing the merits or otherwise of Thatcher’s policies just now. What interests me about this story is that it is a perfect example of the danger the SNP is always in, having positioned themselves as primary political spokespeople for the nation of Scotland.
For a number of years in the past the SNP has used the slogan “Scotland’s Party”. You often hear them distinguish themselves from other parties by highlighting the fact that the other parties are “run from London” and so on and so forth. It is inherent in the nationalist ideology that there is a distinctively “Scottish” point of view. As the main nationalist party in Scotland, the SNP has to make sure it always represents this “Scottish” point of view.
Of course, it’s not unusual for a political party to claim to represent an entire group of people. For instance, the Labour Party would claim to represent working class people (or, in today’s language, “Hard Working British Families”). But it’s one thing to try to represent a particular sub-set of the population. It is quite another to try and represent an entire nation.
Of course, there is no “Scottish” point of view. However, the SNP often do a fairly good job of convincing people that there is. They will often tell you they are the only party standing up for Scotland’s interests, and I often think that some people south of the border really do believe that what the SNP says is an accurate reflection of Scottish opinion.
The danger for the SNP, though, is that they always have to make sure that they actually do provide an accurate reflection of Scottish opinion. This will often means that the SNP ends up doing what is popular rather than what is right (this probably explains why many of the SNP’s policies are so populist). A lot of the time, what is popular and what is right will be aligned. But what if they are not?
The thing about Alex Salmond’s interview was not that he said “I didn’t mind Thatcher’s policies so much.” The problem was that he said “Scotland didn’t mind Thatcher’s economic politics so much.”
The interview with Iain Dale in Total Politics sees Mr Salmond being his usual presumptuous self. He sees himself as speaking for Scotland. In fact, he is only qualified to speak for himself or, at the very most, for the SNP.
I suspect that if Alex Salmond simply said, “I didn’t mind Thatcher’s economic policies”, you wouldn’t have seen a fraction of the outrage. There might have been a few “Tartan Tory” jibes, but that would have been about it.
It was the fact that he was attempting to speak for Scotland — and he got it wrong. If you are going to be arrogant enough to speak for the whole country, you need to make sure your finger is right on the pulse. Make one little slip-up and you end up offending most of the country.