A canny friend of mine recently asked me a question which has got me thinking. "Why is it," he wondered, "that Scotland has so many newspaper columnists who are not left wing, but who incessantly slag off the SNP for not really being left wing?"
He's right. The logic is mad. Such a critique would make perfect sense from the hard left. The Scottish National Party are social democrats. They maintain that a compromise with market forces is possible, but contend that political power should be leveraged to intervene and mitigate the perverse consequences of those markets. For the impatient democratic socialist, this will seem like a milquetoast regimen. Feeble, deluded about the evils of capitalism, delusional about the ability of the state to effectively intervene within a capitalist economic model, marginalising and misdirecting the political agency of confrontational class politics. These are old ideological battles. Agree or disagree with the arguments - the SNP is clearly open to such a left-facing critique.
But to hear it articulated again and again from centrists, the soft centre-left, the right and the centre-right, seems barking. "Why won't you embrace a policy platform which is further away from my own political preferences, so I can disapprove of you and condemn you properly as an odious Corbynite sect?" "Why don't you adopt policy solutions of which I and 'middle Scotland' would disapprove?"
This strange tendency was perfectly embodied by Brian Monteith's column in the Scotsman yesterday. Monteith, a former Tory MSP, is not left wing. He presumably supports Osborne's spending cuts. Presumably, he welcomes the idea of a smaller state, cutting public services, and all the cognate consequences of these policy choices. While the question of resources is - to a limited extent - separable from the performance of our public services, it is pretty rich to hear a Tory sympathiser bitch about the logical consequences of cross-departmental spending cuts. Doing more with less is the public policy wisdom of the numpty. You almost always tend to do less with less. Quod erat demonstrandum.
The Herald's David Torrance - whose critical sensibilities and muleish, contrary attitude I broadly approve of - has a fine line in these kind of articles. Although often dismissed as a Tory - David understands himself as a creature of the centre left. Let's take him at his word. But even embracing his own self-diagnosis -- why does it seem to niggle him so much to find the SNP more closely aligned with his own declared preferences, than the far-left perspective which would make many of his criticisms intelligible? I'm bemused.
A personal example illustrates the strangeness of right-wingers' and centrists' bashing of the SNP from the left. As regular readers of the blog will know, I am significantly more preoccupied by questions of individual freedom and a liberal politics than most Scottish Nationalists, and certainly than the Scottish government. I don't agree with the SNP's more authoritarian justice policies. I find the party's commitment to fundamental rights to be a bit shakier than it ought to be -- though I have been hearted by recent rhetoric in defence of the Human Rights Act. But it would be perverse to slag off these promising developments which draw the party hierarchy closer to my own convictions, by sneering that the SNP's occasional flashes of illiberal communitarianism are half-baked and less than thoroughgoing. "Call that tyranny? This is tyranny." Though this is precisely the logic of the party's critics on the centre-right and left.
Is it simply rankling at perceived hypocrisy? "You talk a good game, but, my Nationalist friend, you are a toom tabard." Perhaps. But the breadth and depth of this critique seems to me to go further than simply reflecting an intolerance for sleekit political rhetoric which successfully gestures left and governs centre-left. This theme seems to have become a niggling preoccupation, returned to again and again, in column after column. I didn't have a decent or convincing answer for my friend. It perplexes.