The Blog

Welcome to the SNP's Megachurch

The event at the Hydro confirmed that the SNP now 'functions religiously' for many of its members. It has ceased being a limited, political organisation and is now an all-encompassing 'movement' with faith at its core.
Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Recently I watched the live stream of the SNP event at the Glasgow Hydro Arena. I started watching the event assuming I would be witnessing a large and impressive political rally. What I saw was the birth of a new religion, Yesism.

I am not trying to say that the SNP should be a recognised 'religion' and have it's own tick box at the next census. Nor am I suggesting that the SNP are now indistinguishable from evangelical Christianity, the Kirk or the Church of England.

What I do mean, and the event at the Hydro confirmed this, is that the SNP now 'functions religiously' for many of its members. It has ceased being a limited, political organisation and is now an all-encompassing 'movement' with faith at its core.

Most political parties do share some characteristics with religious organisations - they have their own dogmas, creeds, schisms and acolytes. But the majority are limited in the degree of loyalty shown to them by their adherents. There are very few people whose entire universe of meaning, identity and plausibility structure is tied up in the Labour Party, the Conservatives or The Liberal Democrats.

It is impossible to compare what I saw at the Hydro arena with any sort of political rally seen recently in the United Kingdom. Rather, the image that sprang to mind is the evangelical megachurch. The similarities are striking: new members were approached directly and welcomed into the group and invited to raise their hands, there was constant affirmation of the shared beliefs of the group ('"Scotland will become an independent country."), there was music familiar to the groups follower's ('Caledonia' by Dougie Maclean - 'everyone sing along!' - and 'Son I Voted Yes' by Stanley Odd) inspiring sermons were given by various prominent party figures (Stewart Hosie, Alex Salmond...) and an offertory ('Please - donate to SNP now!')

The denouement of the event was the appearance of the charismatic leader. The new prophet of the nationalist movement, Nicola Sturgeon. I wonder how aware she is of the beast she has awoken - the task of retaining the new members' loyalties while still steering a politically viable ship will be a difficult one.

Indeed, if the SNP is now a religious organisation a schism can be expected. My money is on the more fanatical 'referendum result deniers', fed up with the slow progress to a new vote splintering off and forming a new group. Watch this space.

The SNP are no longer just another political party, for some of its members it has become their very raison d'etre. They display their loyalty by the clothes they wear, the songs they sing and the television they watch (or don't watch). It is a conversionist movement that boasts of ever growing membership (#youyesyet?) with it's own symbols (#the45) and saints (Alex Salmond, the leader who brought us so close...) and of course, devils ('the Westminster parties.')

After the failure of the referendum rapidly evolved an internally plausible counter narrative to explain away the disappointment: The Scottish people were betrayed by the elderly, conned by the rich and lied to by the establishment.

There are many possible futures for the UK's newest faith group. As many religions know well, initial failure can spawn extraordinary future success. It is precisely this sentiment that lies at the heart of Yesism. As Nicola Sturgeon said the only "master key which unlocks all of the doors to a better, fairer, greener and more prosperous independence".