A couple of weeks ago I had a cordial chat over coffee with someone who was elected as an SNP MP.
They started by flattering me: I was clearly a bright and decent guy and during the referendum I had been the only proper challenge on the numbers.
I smiled and thanked them.
They suggested we probably agree about more than we disagree about when it comes to the challenges and opportunities that Scottish businesses face.
I sipped my latte.
They wanted to talk about how Scotland moves forward post-indyref, to seek common ground because we all just want what's best for Scotland.
I put down my cup.
I suggested that it might be difficult to find common ground. I offered that I can contemplate that independence might be the right answer for Scotland, but I'd need to know that they could contemplate that it might not.
I promise this is an accurate description of the exchange that followed:
Oh I'm not an absolutist about these things, I just want what's best for Scotland.
But don't you believe that whatever the circumstances, whatever the economic downsides, however much pain it might cause, independence has to be the right answer?
Oh yes, absolutely.
Absolutely. Isn't that just fabulous?
Of course we carried on with our chat, but in truth there was really nowhere we could go from there.
This is the problem: for many SNP supporters it's a self-evident truth that independence for Scotland is the right answer. If there's a choice to be made between "what's best for Scotland" and independence, independence wins every time. Absolutely.
Of course they avoid admitting this (even to themselves) through the simple expedient of never even contemplating the possibility that "what's best for Scotland" and "independence" might be mutually incompatible.
This absolutist position was famously codified in the SNP's constitution;
In what might have been a below-the-radar clause 2(a) moment, I notice that when the SNP website was recently relaunched their constitution appears to have been changed. Quite remarkably it now takes the form of a first-person statement from Nicola Sturgeon. It seems Nicola now is the SNP. Here's what she says:
My vision is of a successful Scotland which governs itself, taking its place on the world stage alongside other independent nations. The SNP remains committed to Scottish independence as we believe that it is the only way to create a socially just, progressive and successful country.It's a subtle change of emphasis but the absolute dogmatic insistence that independence "is the only way" remains - and therein lies the rub for any hope of reasoned political debate.
Without getting into some Nietzschean argument about the existence of shared moral absolutes, it's probably fair to say that most people want the same things (like justice, fairness, equality and prosperity) but disagree about the best way to get there. The problem is you can't have a debate about the best way to get there with someone who's already bought a non-refundable ticket.
Many SNP supporters protest that they're not nationalists whilst simultaneously branding those who disagree with them as unionists. To contemplate that others may be more open-minded - that others may have reasoned their way to a conclusion, may be willing to consider a variety of possible answers - would require them to admit to themselves that their minds are closed. The easier way out is to assume that those who disagree with them must be the mirror-image of themselves: if you don't think Scottish independence is the right answer it must be because you're a dogmatic unionist.
At a personal level I experience this when I'm branded as "a unionist blogger". I'm not a unionist blogger because I'm not dogmatically opposed to independence, I don't start from that position and work my way back. That means my approach is in stark contrast to those nationalist bloggers and campaigners who use the term unionist to try and create a perception of equivalence. What I think they're really saying is: look, you know we'd make up any old shit to sell the cause of independence, so you can safely assume they're doing the same and ignore anything they say.
It's revealing that the only caveat Nicola Sturgeon has placed on another referendum taking place is popular support. Nothing to do with - for example - the economic conditions or the practical financial implications of independence. To introduce those concepts would be to admit that there may be logically sound economic reasons for staying in the UK, reasons that best serve the interests of the Scottish people - she's constitutionally prohibited from admitting that possibility. That, I'm sorry to say, makes the SNP a difficult party to trust.
So if I sometimes slip into the trap of "SNP bad", that's why. I want to be able to look at specific initiatives taken by the SNP and assess them on their own merits. Of course there are good people within the SNP and some of their policies will be sensible, will succeed in delivering good outcomes. I don't want to find myself wishing the SNP screw up policing, health or education because in doing so they damage peoples' lives.
But I can't constructively engage with a party that I can't trust, a party that is absolutely committed to independence at any price.