Ever since the front page of The Telegraph – which claimed that the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon would prefer a Tory government – surfaced last night, there have been rumours, counter-rumours, conspiracy theories and various shades of denial.
Now I can believe a great deal when it comes to the disreputable nature of the Telegraph. I am no fan of that paper – quite the contrary. But here’s some things I don’t believe:
- I don’t believe that skilled, career diplomats and civil servants (fluent English speakers all, including on the French side) – some of the most (small c) conservative and cautious people around would have inserted something so clearly important into a record of a meeting unless they were confident it had been said.
- I don’t believe that The Telegraph (or any national newspaper) would print a story based on a government document unless they were confident about the source – this will have been checked out, including by lawyers.
- I don’t believe that The Telegraph would have fabricated such a document either – not least because do so (especially during an election campaign) would be the kind of behaviour that could finish off a newspaper.
- And crucially, I don’t believe that The Telegraph would put something on their front page that helps make Labour’s argument in Scotland (potentially helping Labour hold seats against the SNP) unless they were 100% sure. The Telegraph have shown on a near daily basis over the past five years that they want Cameron to stay and Miliband to be ground into the dust – but sometimes a paper comes across a story that is too good to overlook. Their aim, after all, is to sell newspapers.
Based on what we know so far, I do believe that someone whose job it is to have precise knowledge on matters of state believed that Sturgeon told the French that she’d prefer a Tory government – and that view was then passed to the Telegraph. That doesn’t mean that Sturgeon absolutely said she’d prefer a Tory government, but it means I don’t rule this out simply because she denied it. (And if a simple denial is enough to make you believe something isn’t true, I envy you the lack of cynicism that politics has drilled into me). Some of the other denials have been of the very-carefully-worded variety. And as for the FCO saying that they are “not aware of such a document”, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. As Newnight’s Christopher Cook notes, the Scotland Office are saying they don’t comment on leaks – which is often a fair indication of a leak having taken place.
No doubt this will continue to be kicked around over the remainder of the Easter weekend (keep an eye on the Sunday papers) and perhaps the remainder of the election campaign too. Scottish politics has become a place where two diverging sides pick their own version of the truth and force everything through that frame like water flowing into a narrow funnel.
And yet there’s something that Nicola Sturgeon cannot really deny. A Tory Prime Minister walking into Downing Street after the election would serve one of their key purposes – indeed, their sole aim and goal – bringing independence closer.
If you are a died in the wool nationalist, then there is nothing that’s more important to you than securing independence. Scottish sepratists have but one goal – because they honestly believe that everything will be better for the Scottish people once the country breaks off from the rest of the UK. Independence is the answer to every question asked. No argument made to the contrary – fact, opinion or analysis – can dissuade the ardent nationalist that the economy, the health service and everything else north of Berwick would be fundamentally better if the sepratist case is victorious.
Independence is both the political cause that animates nationalists, and the solution to all of the ills they see around them. I believe politics is more complicated than that. I want to bring about a more equal and compassionate society and I don’t believe there’s a one size fits all panacea to deliver that. Splitting off Glasgow and Edinburgh, which have more in common with Leeds and Newcastle than the Shetland islands, from the rest of the UK seems a muddle-headed approach to me.
But not to the committed Nationalist.
Lets get realpolitik here – because if we know anything about the SNP it’s that they’re as hard-headed as they come.
A few years of a Tory government would no doubt be dreadful for Scotland, as it would be for the huge swathes of “these islands” that are also reflexively anti-Tory. But if you’re a Nationalist, the pay off is increasing Scottish discontent with the British state, a (wrong) view that the rest of the UK is Tory and a probable second independence referendum. If you (falsely) believe that being part of Britain holds Scotland back, then surely you’d accept 2/3 years of Tory hardship for another shot at an independent Scotland, which you (wrongly) believe would end such social and economic ills? Perversely – the ardent nationalist wants a Tory government in Westminster, as the ends justify the means of eventual independence.
What the SNP can’t credibly deny is that a Tory government makes independence more likely, and that’s what really matters to them…