IN THE CENTRE of Tashkent in a great square stands a resplendent and recent stature of Emir Temur, Tamberlaine to you and I. It is one of three great statues round the country erected for a recent anniversary. For Tamburlaine is the symbol the Uzbek government wishes to promote as the great national hero of the country. And if one identifies President Islam Karimov a little with the great man then all well and good.
Yet, like many national symbols, all is not what it seems. Tamburlaine was in fact from a Turkish tribe. He aimed to restore a Mongol Empire. His dynasty, the Timurids, were in fact ousted by the very same Uzbeks who now proclaim him from the rooftops. Not only that but they attempted to extirpate his memory. So that he is now the symbol of that very nation is doubly ironic and one of the many oddities in which Central Asia abounds. As I flew back I complacently thought such bizarrerie could not happen here.
But at that of course is to underestimate the strange looking glass world of Scottish politics. I arrive back to find the headlines dominated by the SNPs agonies over NATO.
Here we have a party which for years (and to is credit whether or not you agree with it) has cleaved repeatedly to an anti nuclear and anti NATO position. It has been absolutely consistent. It is a policy that represents a clear and distinctive line. From what polls there have been Scotland is strongly anti nuclear. It was therefore a popular policy, a clear differentiation from the UK government, a statement that the days of pretending to be a big power were over. In other words if it aint broke don’t fix it.
Yet the leadership of the party chose to burn its credibility by driving through a policy anathema to most of its membership. Even although many members have given up going to SNP conference, sickened by the thought police, the vote was still remarkably close. So what is the end result? A disillusioned membership increasingly wondering what the point of independence is, two resignations of respected MSPs, dreadful press coverage amply salted by the astonishing admission, re legal advice on Europe, and the effective ditching of a vote-winning anti nuclear policy. In other words an entirely preventable car crash.
So how does a party renowned for its media savvy get here? What does it say?
Firstly, that the processes by which policy is made and thrashed out in the SNP have collapsed. Policy is made on the hoof, without discussion, and not ‘tested’. Gay marriage, Europe and now NATO, all indicate that basic democratic process are not followed and that a small group of people are simply allowed to come up with wizard wheezes. Indeed the opposition to these are now seen as confirmation as to why due process and testing should not be followed. In this case the policy change was simply press released by Angus Robertson.
Secondly, it indicates a leadership grouping increasingly out of touch. Anyone in the loop would have seen the sheer pointlessness of these fights.
Thirdly, it indicates an increasing paranoia and defensiveness about your activists. It is one of the most curious things about elected politicians that the longer they are in power the more they seem to despise those who put them there. From Thatcher to Blair the process is the same and we are now seeing it with the SNP. It is a process with one end.
Fourthly, once the process starts it is ongoing, the first few pebbles turn into an avalanche. A laager mentality which is self reinforcing develops and is confirmed with each further stage in the disintegration.
And fifthly, and most importantly, perhaps it reveals the absolute poverty of core belief at the heart of the SNP. Angus believed the policy wouldn’t play. He takes a central plank of the party he is a member of and casually discards it in a press release. This sort of fight is often played as a sign of strength, it is in fact a sign of deep insecurity and weakness. And it is something more than that. It is a sign of how unprepared the SNP are for independence, how little thinking has been done on even the most basic of issues.
The instinct is always to close down, to hide, to conceal, to tack rather than deal. And yet this is the biggest decision that this country faces where the party that is forcing that decision is absolutely terrified of open discussion of the consequences of that which it claims to want.
Note in no way am I judging the rights or wrongs of the policy or its change, all I am trying to do is tease out the psychology of what it says. And here is the greatest paradox. Overwhelmingly it says that the party that claims to want independence is psychologically already defeated on why. After these intellectual somersaults then the Uzbek hero who never was merely becomes a walk in the park.