It occurs to me that there is a second species of awkwardness: where someone you disagree with informs you that he is on your side. Or, as the erstwhile Republican candidate in Delaware for the United States Senate Christine O'Donnell unsettlingly put it, "I'm you". Gulp. I wonder how often red and blue canvassers have heard permutations of racist opinion, to justify supporting a Labour or Tory candidate whose hobbies include explicit or veiled assaults on the numbers or imputed behaviour of "visible minorities". Are you thinking what we're thinking? While my first example focusses on specific debates on particular issues, this second category of angst is a little different, and rather more problematic. Anyone with a modicum of reflection, or who attends even a little to the activities of their party representatives, will find areas of disagreement, terminological objections, alternative priorities and different emphases. This is true within parties as well, as different elements consciously and unconsciously elbow and nudge each other on specific issues of policy and questions of broad emphasis. As a result, if you look to a party's avowed catalogue of beliefs before joining or supporting them, seeking an exact simulacrum of your own commitments, your search will prove fruitless and your ballot paper would be left unscratched. Unless, that is, slavish adherence is your only orthodoxy. Every political serf of that character can find a master to suit his needs.
Compromise is inherent in any involvement and identification with a political movement or party, particularly larger and broader political groupings. Whether you are a Labour member, a Liberal Democrat supporter - the flexibility of these identities are largely subjective. Take this commonplace example. Many folk are bemused at the loyalty of Scottish Labour voters - many of them bright, critical folk - who are Gordian-knotted to the party. A familiar explanation for this is tradition, and a reflexive use of the franchise to repeat the old, old rituals of voting Labour. On this explanation, Labour support is depicted as largely detatched from their actual policies and proposals. Doubtlessly, this is an important dimension to the tale, but is not an exhaustive explanation. I heard Bob Holman being interviewed by Richard Holloway on Radio Scotland last Sunday. He spoke of his long term and continuing political commitment to the Labour Party. I dare say he is very conscious that Labour's approach to public services are not consonant with his own views, yet he persists in supporting them. Another interesting example on that front is the blogger A Very Public Sociologist, who has engagingly discussed the conundrums of being a "socialist in the Labour Party", after leaving the Socialist Party and rejoining Labour. Over at Bright Green Scotland, Adam Ramsay has recently explained why he is not a member of the Labour Party, which touches on similar issues of (a) the muddled priorities of individual and party (b) the problems of political praxis and critically I think (c) the issue of the unrealised potential of pre-existing political movements.
My sense is that I'm socially far more liberal than many of my fellow Nationalists. I am also likely to take a more liberal view when it comes to criminal legislation. It is often suggested that nationalism is the sole SNP party unifier, however, as I've touched on before, many of the party's supporters (and some of its membership) are undecided on their answers to the ultimate constitutional question. Even where there is agreement on the raw bones of the party's ultimate goals, there are differences on what strategies should be employed to realise those aims. That leaves a complex image of a party of poised, compromised associations and tendencies. Like most parties.
That meandering disquisition was largely prompted by an electronic epistle that arrived in my inbox last night from a certain Brian Souter. I had been unaware that we were on intimate, corresponding terms, but the text informed me that he was once again to make a significant donation to the SNP, up to £500,000. Like a number of fellow nationalists, I have certain qualms about accepting such a large donation from Souter, but similarly struggle to see the benefit, to quote the man himself, of telling him that "We're no huvin' it". On the Souter question, a certain opinionated Corbie offers this view and rightly emphasises that many similar issues appear whenever any individual or corporation makes a vast donation to any political party. Jeff Breslin emphasises the impact which a chest full of spendable doubloons has on the electoral fortunes of political parties. In Souter's case, my unease is I think largely attributable to the second model of awkwardness I outlined at the beginning - the implicit, Christine O'Donnellesque implication that Souter looks at the SNP and says I'm You. I totally reject Souter's position on Section 2A (or Section 28, as it was more commonly known), as was. I support eliminating the gender qualifications attaching to both civil partnerships and marriage in Scotland. If I thought Souter was backing Nationalists because he entertained a reasonably held belief that the party represented a vehicle for the persecution of minority sexualities, I'd chop up my SNP membership card whippity quick and hie me to different climes. However, just as individuals cannot look to parties for an exhaustible mirror image of their own beliefs, we shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that the speculum can be reversed any more readily and that supporters, voters or even members should accept every policy held by the party. I dare say that some folk will not and have not voted for the SNP on the basis of Souter's significant donations, assuming that for his quid the SNP must give Souter some sort of heteronormative pro quo. That is their prerogative. For my part, I don't believe the motto by their friends shall ye know them is quite as straightforward as it appears and would suggest that it should be understood the wider context outlined above. I'd be fibbing, however, if I said Souter's lolly didn't prompt a pang or two.