AN insidious programme of social gerrymandering has made Holyrood a monument to middle-class mediocrity. At next year’s Scottish elections you might think you’re voting to elect an inclusive parliament that mirrors the nation’s cultural landscape, but you’d be kidding yourself. Holyrood is where radical solutions and fertile imaginations wither and then die. It’s why those from authentic, working-class backgrounds would have a better chance of getting into the Royal Company of Archers.
“We don’t want too many of the hoi-polloi sticking their noses in and interrupting the flannel. Next thing you know they’ll be agitating for radical solutions to unemployment and health inequality in their wretched communities. And we can’t be having that while we’re trying to push through Named Persons and Offensive Behaviour legislation or our Gender theories and our new Hate Bill. The poor dears just wouldn’t be able to understand what we’re trying to do.” Such entitled arrogance was typified this week by the hysterical and childish Twitter response of Humza Yousaf, alumnus of Hutchesons’ Grammar in Glasgow, to reasonable criticism of his sinister and incoherent Hate Crime bill.
Research conducted by The Herald in 2016 showed that MSPs were five times more likely than the average Scot to be privately educated. Among the rest, the triumph of party hacks and the professional middle-classes is dismally apparent.
Nowhere is the dread hand of middle-class complacency more apparent than in the Scottish Government. The SNP cabinet reads like the staff register for Classic FM. Each one has a degree and several have multiple parchments, including one who seems to have been competing with Jim Murphy for the title of Scotland’s student prince.
Earlier this year, the academics Michael Keating and Paul Cairney in an article first published by the Centre for Constitutional Change maintained that the hegemony of the political elites at Westminster has been replicated at Holyrood. It built on general themes the pair had previously explored in a paper published in 2006. Keating and Cairney concluded that among MSPs “a common middle-class background” predominated. “Many such occupations – such as in law or education – were once described as ‘politics facilitating’ because they offered the skills or connections conducive to seeking election.”
Their observations reflected research conducted by University College London in 2018 that examined the policy preferences of working-class and career politicians within the Labour Party both before and during Tony Blair’s tenure as leader. It showed that working-class MPs were much more in favour of traditional welfare policies than their careerist colleagues. This had contributed greatly during the Blair era towards more centrist polices around reforming welfare and a much diminished representation of working-class voters’ interests. “Put bluntly,” said the report’s author, “careerist MPs are much more likely to blow with the political winds.”
The SNP, it seems, is modelling itself on Mr Blair’s New Labour principles. In a remarkable and detailed essay written by George Kerevan earlier this month, the former SNP politician excoriated the party for its cultivation of Big Business and a ruthless party machine driving a byzantine bureaucracy than can only be traversed by favoured acolytes and savants who’ve been given the secret passwords.
It’s not now enough to have supported the SNP and fought for independence all of your adult life to be deemed fit for a party nomination. You are also expected to defer to the esoteric cult of political fetishists gaining influence in the party.
Stepping into this circle is Chris McEleny, who announced on Thursday that he is seeking to become the SNP’s candidate in Inverclyde at next year’s Scottish Parliament elections. I wish him well but I don’t envy him. If he emerges unscathed and successful from the party’s vetting procedures the task of facing down the unionist parties will be a breeze in comparison.
Mr McEleny is an authentic, working-class tradesman from Greenock who has led the SNP group on Inverclyde Council with some distinction. The SNP high command though, have made it clear they don’t want people like him anywhere near their salons and boutiques. Recently he was attacked – in adolescent manner – by Alyn Smith in an article that recalled Denis Healey’s famous observation about Geoffrey Howe and dead sheep. Later he attracted the petulant wrath of Pete Wishart for insisting that the SNP be a little more, you know … pro-active in the independence department. Smith and Wishart are tame party courtiers: desperate to please the leadership; less so in constructing a route towards independence.
McEleny’s experience at the hands of party managers is broadly similar to that of Chris Stephens, another authentic, working-class activist who did more than anyone to persuade some of Scotland’s trade unions to transfer their allegiances to the SNP from Labour. Yet only after more than a decade of rejection did the SNP deign to let him compete at the 2015 election.
Mr McEleny has been subjected to a campaign of intimidation and harassment carrying the stamp of the party hierarchy and carried out by an insidious pack of jackals on social media. Everything from his Catholic faith; his criticism of GRA reforms; his admiration for Joanna Cherry and his inconveniently persistent calls for an independence Plan B has been subject to abuse from the SNP’s secret police.
In recent months his has been a lone voice pleading for an emergency economic aid package for Inverclyde, home to Scotland’s poorest neighbourhood. Coronavirus death and infection rates in Inverclyde are three times higher than the national average and Mr McEleny has been this community’s most eloquent advocate.
Not possessing a degree and being a manual worker he would be an exotic creature inside the Holyrood party. And possessing such views as he does also makes him the wrong type of nationalist for the SNP in the same way that Joanna Cherry is the wrong sort of feminist.
If the SNP persists with its aggressive obsession with rewriting the rules on human biology and their latest attempts to criminalise the Scottish population they will make themselves unelectable, no matter what the rosy opinion polls currently suggest. They are fast becoming the biggest threat to the prospect of an independent Scotland. The party needs more people of Chris McEleny’s stamp to steer it away from these self-indulgent caprices.
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