Well i started this blog after the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, but i haven’t been posting much recently. I’m quite busy in real life, and so many other more well known bloggers, and genuine journalists, have been very active, it’s difficult to think of something unique to say. Also, so much appears to be happening in politics at the moment, it’s hard to comment on something without it becoming irrelevant within hours, sometimes.

That said, it’s now just over three weeks till the 2015 UK general election, as i write this, and i felt the need to write about something i see time and again in the papers, broadcast media, and crucially, amongst the various politically active users of Facebook and Twitter. I say “crucially” because these people are the voters. They support a party, usually, and stick up for that party, but they are not in the pay of these parties, they support them, presumably, out of a sense of ideological alignment, because of the changes they themselves as individuals want to see across the UK.

What’s Wrong With Labour Supporters

Labour Party supporters

Labour Party supporters

And what i have noticed specifically about supporters of Labour, and UKIP, is an amazing degree of tribalism. Before i carry on, please understand if you are a supporter of one of those parties, i’m not trying to criticise you personally, and i also intend to make a few comments about the SNP supporters and the Yes movement too, which might not be the most comfortable for supporters.

When i say tribalism, what i mean is a dogged support of one party or organisation as an overriding priority, more important in people’s minds than a real discussion of facts, policies, or strengths and weaknesses. Try asking a Labour supporter a question on Facebook which they perceive as challenging and within minutes there will be dozens of posts containing patronising, and essentially meaningless, memes (“funny” pictures), and a load of dismissive insults, about how you’re puerile, ignorant, lying (how can you lie by asking a question?), or just general criticisms aimed at SNP supporters or Yes voters generally, like saying we all throw eggs or break windows, or that we just want handouts from the UK.

An anti-Yes tweet

An anti-Yes tweet, one of many

This last one is particularly confusing, incidentally. They appear not to understand that a party or movement which wants to make Scotland’s economy totally autonomous from the UK must therefore be refusing any handouts or subsidies. The Labour party itself seems determined to claim that Scotland benefits from all sorts of subsidies from the UK, so why their supporters accuse the SNP of wanting to freeload, when actually the SNP wants to remove Scotland from the UK economy is just one of the many confusing dissonant opinions many Labour supporters appear to hold.

So it’s my opinion that probably some of these people just get a kick out of winding people up and wasting their time, after all if you can get an SNP supporter angry and make them type a load of replies on Facebook, that’s one less SNP campaigner out on the streets knocking on doors, yes? I’m sure, though, that plenty of these people genuinely believe what they’re saying. They believe the SNP wants to “break up Britain” (is that even physically possible?) but they also believe the SNP wants subsidies for everything from the UK. They argue that Scotland should support the UK (ie Labour) and not the SNP because we benefit from all kinds of economic input from the UK economy, they believe Scotland’s free prescriptions and education etc come from subsidies from England, and yet they also believe that all that should be taken away from Scotland if Labour comes to power in the name of fairness (never mind the fact that all this is actually paid for by Scotland’s existing budget, which is simply managed better by the SNP than the UK budget is managed by whoever’s in power at Westminster).

The list goes on. Basically Labour supporters, those that are still left, can’t really argue on a level field regarding policies, so they make personal attacks and attempt to connect logically contrary ideas as though they support each other. Remember Labour have lost many supporters recently, and i believe that those people are largely the ones who are able to assimilate new information and change their own minds because of it. Labour’s support base (something around 24% in Scotland) is therefore made up now almost exclusively of those who simply refuse to see the nose in front of their face because they’re so scared of admitting they’re wrong (which of course means they’re too scared to admit they’re scared too!)

And those people aren’t going to change any time soon. That’s important for the rest of us to realise.

YouGov graph of voting intentions in Scotland in 2015

YouGov graph of voting intentions in Scotland in 2015

What’s Wrong With Yes Voters

Now on to the SNP supporters and the Yes voters. I’ve seen far too many people accusing No voters of being traitors, and just basically rolling up their sleeves and wading into the tribalistic Labour vs SNP slagging match on the same level as the Labour supporters. Aren’t we better than that? Unlike the Labour voters, aren’t we the ones with the facts on our side? Why call someone a “quisling” or a “traitor” and post a derogatory picture of Jim Murphy or Danny Alexander when you can genuinely refute their argument using facts?

Yes and No voters with backbench MP Jim Murphy

Yes and No voters with backbench MP Jim Murphy

We all have access to google, and the evidence is all there for anyone who wants to show that Scotland is already more self sufficient than the rest of the UK, or that NHS Scotland, while struggling, still manages to perform better on balance than the NHS in other parts of the UK, or any number of other issues.

It might take a bit more brain power but isn’t that what we SNP/Yes supporters have got on our side? Unlike the significant number of Labour supporters who are voting for a generalised ideology, or because of what Labour may have stood for in the past, SNP supporters have almost exclusively come from other political positions, actively rethought those positions, and made a conscious decision to support the SNP ( or the Scottish Green Party or the Scottish Socialists, or be in favour of an independent Scotland). By definition taking a more radical position than the norm means you’ve consciously thought about your position more, so keep thinking, and use that ability to make your case.

And if 55% voted No to independence in 2014, and only 20% or so intend to vote for Labour in 2015, that’s a big difference. I would contend that plenty of those who voted No might vote Yes next time, not just because of changes in the way we are governed from now till whenever the next referendum is held, but because their existing concerns were not addressed in time for the last referendum.

Don’t get me wrong, most arguments for independence were made adequately somewhere or other, but many voters did not have access to those resources. It’s up to the Yes movement to make that case, to find these people, ask them what they would want to know to support an independent Scotland, and then discuss those issues with them. Posting funny pictures of Jim Murphy and David Cameron won’t achieve that goal.

Trident renewal, one of the alleged issues that influenced the 2014 referendum, and will influence the 2015 election

Trident renewal, one of the issues that is said to have influenced the 2014 referendum, and will, we are told,  influence the 2015 election

You can see some of my own rudimentary analysis of what happened in the referendum on this very site, but i’m not a statistician, and i’m not unbiased. Very little actual research has actually been done into who voted No in 2014 and why, though many assertions and assumptions have been made, i think these are potentially harmful to the future Yes movement, since if we assume, for instance, that the elderly or middle classes all voted No, and that they did so out of fear of change, then we run the massive risk of misidentifying the true demographics and reasons (not all elderly or middle class people voted No by any means, and what were the specific reasons that some of the people in those demographics voted Yes in that case?). These sorts of assumptions represent a form of tribalism within the Yes movement itself, i believe, and we can’t afford that going forward. If there is another Scottish independence referendum, and remember the UK government still has to allow that or a referendum would be null and void, like the Catalan one in 2014, then it must be decisively Yes or that’s the cause of Scottish independence finished for our lifetimes, i firmly believe, unless we go down a similar route to Eire’s declaration of independence in 1916 (which might be our only option in the end, but i’d prefer to avoid that).

What’s Wrong With SNP Supporters

Some SNP supporters in Glasgow

Some SNP supporters

SNP tribalism is also a thing, though a much lesser one than Labour tribalism, it can still be harmful. First of all the SNP’s record at Holyrood is largely irrelevant for a UK general election, though that’s often all their opponents can genuinely try to criticise. Why? Because no government’s perfect, for example the SNP administration hasn’t yet reformed local democracy as organisations from COSLA to Common Weal have suggested, and the figures for jobs, Health, Education and so on can be looked at from a glass half empty perspective as well as a glass half full one. It is true that without full fiscal autonomy for Scotland Westminster can still be legitimately be blamed for problems in devolved areas, but whenever the SNP Scottish government raises this they are ridiculed roundly for trying to shirk responsibility, and regardless of the truth or otherwise of this, most people believe what they see in the headlines, to an extent. It’s easy to forget that most people are not in our little political campaign bubble and while they may vaguely know that the BBC and Daily Record aren’t really to be trusted, they still get most of their political news from those sources, and others like them, and form their opinion on that basis.

In Conclusion

The election is nearly upon us. The reason SNP supporters old and new are largely planning to vote for the SNP this time is because the SNP will stick up for Scotland’s interests (ie further devolution), because in the event of a minority government of any colour at Westminster, a strong contingent of SNP MPs who stand for genuine social values can only influence policy for the good across the whole UK, and in some cases, because while the SNP has parked Scottish independence for now, a strong SNP will ultimately lead, some of us hope, to a democratically achieved independent Scotland.

And just because Labour, or other, party supporters lose the plot and come at you with disjointed arguments, and personal attacks, partial analyses and incorrect “facts” that is no reason, and no justification, to stoop to their level. The old proverb “Each one teach one” applies here. If the mainstream media won’t inform the public, as it is supposed to, then the public must inform each other, and not get tangled up in tribalistic shouting matches. If you are speaking to someone who refuses to listen, please, take a deep breath, and move on to someone who will exchange ideas with you in a free and fair fashion.

Good luck!

One thought on “Tribalism

  1. Alyson Thomson on 14th April 2015 at 3:02 pm said:

    I’m coming up 65 years old, am middle class and voted Yes both in 1979 and 2014. I’ve recently joined the SNP, unlike all the Labour supporters who rushed to join after the referendum. After my extreme disappointment of 2014, if the SNP don’t get more than 55 seats in WM, I really don’t know what I will do.

Post navigation