Apart from the general good fortune that Alex Salmond enjoys as a politician David Cameron’s blundering foray north yesterday demonstrates that he doesn’t understand what the SNP leader represents.
Alex Salmond has created a modern civic nationalism.
To understand this SNP thing one must understand the forces that created the modern SNP.
The ruling elite inside the old SNP of the Winnie Ewing era were lowland burghers. Sensible folks interested in efficient local government and low property rates. These “cooncilors” were of the solid middle class middle Scotland types who had their social standing in the separate state that had survived the 1707 Anschluss.
This is particularly true of the law. When attending SNP meetings across Scotland in the mid-1980s as a constituency organiser in Glasgow I was never far from an Advocate among those advocating for Scottish independence.
It is no coincidence that the SNP’s founding father John MacDonald MacCormick was an advocate.
He resigned from the party he created because he couldn’t get them to adopt a gradualist approach.
Those who believed in national freedom in one bound, “fundamentalists” were ascendant.
This social caste, twee kilt wearing types, were the backbone of the SNP through its early years and it was this SNP that became oil fired in the 1970s.
Their march through Labour heartlands in the two general elections in 1974 put Scotland on the British political map to the extent that Harold Wilson had to come up with devolution to deal with it.
The old SNP detested Devolution as a unionist ploy.
Salmond is, like the party’s founder, a gradualist who uses devolution to prise Scotland away from London’s orbit.
There is a distinct lack of any ethnicity to the contemporary SNP’s politics.
The almost total absence of cultural nationalism from the Salmond project is indeed striking.
A kilt wearing marching organisation called Siol nan Gaidheal made a brief appearance in the late 1970s on planet SNP. Some Labour detractors likened it to Ernst Röhm’s SA, but that was nonsense.
Siol re-emerged briefly under new management in the Thatcherite 80s.
What is worth mentioning about “the Siol” was their utter failure to inject a militant cultural nationalism into the SNP project.
If there was no Serbian edge to Scottish separatism then it can’t be underestimated the extent to which Thatcherism and, indeed, the lady herself put Caledonian alienation on steroids in the 1980s.
During that time Jim Sillars the ex-labour MP and Alex Salmond successfully fashioned a modern civic nationalism that was palatable to central belt Labour voters, especially Catholics of Irish descent.
The argument for independence from Salmond and the SNP remains one of improved services and a more equitable society.
There is no blood and soil, no faith or fatherland.
Even the attempts to make Scottish nationalism militant during the Thatcherite years, such as the setting up of the “Scottish resistance” (complete with logo of a mob with clenched fists) merely resulted in Jim Sillars, (SNP’s Executive Vice-Chairman for Policy and in charge of this “resistance campaign”) being fined for breaking a window in the Royal High School in Edinburgh.
This was to have been the venue for the Scottish Assembly had the 1979 Devolution referendum been successful for “Yes” side.
It was all very redolent of the Tooting Popular Front rather than a serious political party and utterly risible.
This brief flirtation with even the most gentle civic disobedience proved that “Scotland’s claim of right”, the desire for independence, was a low intensity wish.
However it has grown since devolution was granted, especially among the young.
What the modern SNP has fashioned is the polar opposite of the Irish Republican threat the UK faced in Ireland over the last century.
Thankfully there is no Scottish Kevin Barry or Tom Barry.
Ironically the current SNP leadership, including Salmond himself and Kenny MacAskill, were in the left wing 79 group who were expelled for alleged communications with Sinn féin.
The ancient regime in the SNP saw these young lefties as a threat to their position.
The SNP national council heard their case and they were allowed back into the party.
During his time as party leader Salmond has steered the SNP in the direction of gradualism and modernism.
The new technocratic, internet savvy, on-message Blairite SNP is Salmond’s creation.
However, it is not just down to Salmond’s wily pragmatism that the Westminster elite haven’t, so far, been able to best him. Rather it is because English politicians fundamentally misunderstand what Salmond represents is the main reason that they continue to call it wrong in Scotland.