The Ship of Theseus

imagesBy Mike Cullen

With the Labour party ruling out a “coalition” with the SNP, but not a “loose arrangement”, which makes it more likely we will see a supply and demand agreement after the next election, one thing occurs to me – those of us who desire independence as the ultimate goal should bear in mind the Ship of Theseus.

The Ship of Theseus is a paradoxical object – imagine a ship that, over time, has all its parts replaced – planks, sails, ballast etc. Once everything has been replaced, the question arises – is it still the same ship?

Many snoots have been cocked recently over the SNP’s virulent rise in membership, what is it now, five times where it began? And many of these new members are folk who once supported other parties, in particular, the Scottish Labour party. Now, those that remain in that Labour party, despite how thickly they might appear to apply the clown make-up, are not stupid. They can see that the old ship is fast disappearing below the surface, with only its once proud fo’c’s’le sticking out of the sea, where Mr Murphy and Mr Miliband teeter on a giant ball like a couple of starving seals, waving desperately for help. Will they do the gallant thing and go down with the party? It seems unlikely, given they have the survival propensity of the common cold virus, so what else can they do in such a situation? Jump to the nearest ship, perhaps?

And so we have this doublespeak from the Labour party, on the one hand trying to appeal to the Tory heartlands by ruling out a coalition, while on the other, a tentative toe of conciliation, this oily olive branch of potential discussions, barely concealing the real intentions of these “adults acting responsibly”. They know that many of their former crew are on this other ship, and that the ultimate outcome of that must be the Ship of Theseus.

Imagine that over a parliament or two, this new ship called “Supply and Demand” thunders into Westminster, bringing a cargo of democracy, social responsibility, fairness, all of the things that once adorned the shoulders of the Labour party. Imagine, just for one second, that this turns out to be successful. That we witness a sea change in British politics as a result, and we watch Westminster undergo a transformation into a modern democratic mother ship of which we can all be proud. And meantime, this Ship of Theseus, undergoes its own transformation, as it must, into a new SNP that is closer to the old Scottish Labour Party than the current party of independence.
The temptation to remain with that system, especially for those whose roots lie with the old Labour party, will be immense, like the song of the siren, calling us to shipwreck and our ultimate demise.

Comments (37)

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  1. CJK says:

    And so we go from Peter Arnotts ‘reasonable and conciliatory’ to the point of submissive in the last posting to this ‘considered position’ of fantasy paranoia! We’re certainly exercising people imaginations and common sense tonight.

    The SNP’s will be there in resonable enough numbers to give Ed a leg up but will only get limited return which will be better than nothing and enough to further galvanise the Holyrood elections next year when the other independence parties will also feature and hold the SNP’s feet to the fire over independence.

    Independence is prerequisite to any long term success as home rule will always be a compromise designed to protect Westminster.

    1. Peter Arnott says:

      We’re nothing if not eclectic here on Bella Caledonia!

    2. mikcee says:

      Are you saying you think that the massive increase in SNP membership, (and we have to conclude from mainly former Labour supporters), will not, over time, potentially change the very nature of the party?

      1. CJK says:

        Of course it will over time but Not significantly before there is another independence vote.

  2. Frederick Robinson says:

    Naval metaphors aside, the SNP membership is 93,000 and, like UKIP, with theoretically only one goal. The Labour Party has a membership of 194,000. And I suspect, considerably more non-membership support.

    1. ferncake says:

      That will be one more goal than Labour then…….

    2. douglas clark says:

      The Labour Party has a membership of 194,000.

      Could you tell our happy readers how many they have in Scotland?

      Enquiring readers would really like to know, for they never tell us .It is, apparently, a secret or a riddle wrapped in an enigma.

      9000 or less, including ‘social’ members?

      Please tell.

    3. tartanfever says:


      ‘ And I suspect, considerably more non-membership support.’ – Ah so thats why currently Scottish Labour are doing so well in the polls.

      (The SNP) ‘with theoretically only one goal’. – If the only goal is independence, why have they succeeded in the last two Scottish elections, the last one bringing the first majority to the PR system of Holyrood ?

      Unfortunately, like most of your posts, theory plays no part in reality and it is the very real SNP policies which have seen them elected. Independence may be on the back burner, but in terms of elections, the SNP are actually getting stronger and receiving more votes.

      Labour, on the other hand, are not.

    4. Hugo says:

      Good luck with that wan……

  3. Morag says:

    But what colour are its sails?

    1. mikcee says:

      A different colour from before, perhaps…

  4. Robert Graham says:

    Independence is the long game the Referendum in my opinion came 5-10 years too early having pledged a vote in the first term Alex was duty bound to hold one it almost worked but not one and i mean not one person could have imagined the full force and scope this British establishment could and did unleash to preserve itself next time we win sometimes slowly slowly works and the SNP will and must evolve to accommodate all members if the end result is to be achieved bring people with us don’t batter them over the head for we have good strong arguments that will in the long run sink in just a thought ,

  5. Calm down calm down ! First and foremost Happy ST Patrick’s Day and blessing to you all !

    We know or snp members are different from anyone at west monster as the have a real backed agenda from the people who voted them in no matter what happens a have faith in these SMPs doing the correct thing to get the best deal for the people of all the countries involved in the parliament compared to the Eton mob am for sending them down to balance equality on all fronts it will be good politically all round no matter what happens or who’s in bed with who the more we send the bigger the voice and more change they will make remember keep the faith !

  6. Big Jock says:

    There is a certain logic. If the SNP make Westminster work too well. People will forget why they came to the table in the first place.

    However there is a big caveat with that theory. The SNP are not going to give support without concessions for Scotland. The more concessions Scotland gets. The less and less power Westminster can yield over Scotland. There will come a time when Westminster becomes a remote government with control over defence and foreign affairs.

    Scotland may become a defecto independent unit. Then the question will be. Should the final ties be cut. It may not need a referendum just a natural end of something that’s time has gone.

    1. Hugo says:

      And the more tax revenue that is lost from Scotland due to the imaginary “power transfer” will mean that Westmonster will regard Scotland as a drain on resources. Providing the perfect excuse to make Scotland pay the price for daring to cut free from the establishment.

  7. Darien says:

    Westminster is too far gone. More like the Titanic than this Greek drivel. Returning a majority of SNP Scots MP’s will be de facto independence, which will soon be followed by the real McCoy. The cultural gap between our nations is too vast now anyway.

    1. Economaster says:

      Greek Drivel. You’re a real charmer!

  8. Voline says:

    It’s “Confidence and supply”.

    1. mikcee says:

      Thanks Voline.

  9. leavergirl says:

    Lotsa stuff about the upcoming elections, but is anyone actually looking at the polls’ mechanics and whether the process of ballot counting can be trusted?

    1. Cath Short says:

      Good point

    2. Hugo says:

      I have already urged everyone to check and make sure that they are properly registered. Ask Alex Neil if it’s worthwhile checking.I personally don’t trust anyone anymore (in relation to honesty and integrity) when it comes to political decisions. Look at how we were treated last September.

  10. douglas clark says:

    I joined the SNP from a Liberal background. I still believe in the idea that courts can arbitrate between right or wrong as reasonaby legitimate expectations of modern democracy.

    Your ideas are at odds with that.


  11. Johnny come lately says:

    Remember the words of Tom nairn “The British political system is a system which cannot reform itself, but at the same time cannot dissolve itself. Therefore the only conclusion can be political collapse”.
    The signs of political disintigration are everywhere to see. Just because it’s happening in slow motion does not mean it is not happening!
    The SNP would be well advised to steer well clear of the main Westminster parties and try to get out of it what they can at arms length.

  12. seanmcgee says:

    It would be such a help and a time saver if folk wrote simply and clearly; the first principle of journalism is “kill the children” i.e. take out all the fancy stuff that you are in love with and be clear.

    Secondly, Frederick, I have grave doubts at to whether the Labour Party has much of a membership at all and am certain that it’s not the figure cited here.

    Thirdly, as the man said, a week in politics is a long time – reading chicken entrails right now is just air.

    1. mikcee says:

      I did try to make it as concise as possible. What is it exactly you’re confused about?

  13. tuathair says:

    Many levels of speculation involved in this short look into the future! The more optimistic view is that the Labour Party is not intrinsically unionist, not in the way the Tories are. Having disowned all their referendum rhetoric (for example, the need for border guards) and without dozens of dozens of MPs dependent for a fat living on Westminster, SLAB could endorse independence. That might be how we approach the next referendum with an established Indy consensus. The 45% result was not the worst available to us: 51% last September would have been a disaster. Nobody has ever said gaining independence was meant to be quick, or easy.

  14. tuathair says:

    There are many levels of speculation here! The more optimistic view is that the Labour Party is not intrinsically unionist, at least not in the way the Tories are. Without several dozen MPs fully corrupted by Westminster and dependent on the current regime for a living, SLAB may be able to leave behind the referendum rhetoric (for example, border guards) and endorse independence. We will then approach the next referendum with an Indy consensus. 45% was not the worst possible result for us: 51% would have been a disaster. Nobody I know has ever said getting independence was going to be easy, or quick. The first thing is to get some different MPs.

  15. Crabbit says:

    I’ve often thought that the Conservatives in Scotland would do better (though they still poll a respectable 15% or so despite the attachment) if they became a sister party to the Conservatives in England. A bit like CSU/CDU in Germany.

    I hadn’t anticipated that it might be social democrats who would move that way. If the SNP can secure the former Labour vote, then it *might* become an SNP/Labour relationship, but that’s probably a couple of electoral cycles away.

    Though with normal electoral calculus, you would then expect the centre right-wing element of the SNP membership/voter base to flake away.

    1. mikcee says:

      I know, it’s a double pun. Probably a pun too far!

  16. david agnew says:

    The problem with using that particular thought experiment here, is that although the ship changes over time & the question of it being the “same” ship is valid, the ship does not stop being what it is…a ship. Same with the other versions of this question – “My fathers axe” or “triggers street sweeping brush”.

    The object stays the same, the idea of possession or ownership remains. It may have changed but it still serves the same purpose.

    The question being asked is about the change of purpose. The Ship of Theseus doesn’t apply here.

    Scottish labour is not your fathers labour party or indeed your grand parents party. The same is true of the conservatives and the lib dems. They believe themselves to relevant and true to their core beliefs. The SNP has also changed, but its core belief “Independence” remains the same as always. It’s how you go about it that has changed as events change.

    Scottish labour was dragged along by UK labour as it sought to triangulate a right wing vote in England. It was always going to end up in a place where it would find itself talking like the party it had always opposed.
    That pitched Scottish labour in the same tent. the tactic was sound – it got labour elected. But it was built on the premise that there was no alternative to labour. This simply isn’t the case anymore.

    You could always argue that the union was always going to end up in this place. Trying to appeal to one half, then another. There was always going to be a time when you simply couldn’t do it anymore. Maybe Scottish labour should have broken away, just like the remnants of the Conservatives broke away in the late 19th century to become Scottish Unionists. They didn’t and maybe at the time it seemed like a foolish question. Why bother if there was no real credible threat to labour at that time. The Scottish tories having found themselves at that place, chose to sit on the wrong side of the fence – and there they remain. The SNP had suffered badly for taking the tories side, but vowed never to make that mistake again. Labours mistake was think nothing could change after this, and that was the height of arrogance.

    History is a messy place, political history more so. The SNP becoming like labour would require them to abandon their core principle. They would only do this if they had already obtained it or the UK actually embraced federalism and proportional representation, with a fully elected upper house to boot. Which is the most likely?

    the answer is – I don’t know but I know that no one else knows for sure. The future is not ours to see as the song goes. So lets stick with the present problems we are actually facing.

    1. mikcee says:

      Well, of course the ship remains a ship. As a political party remains a political party. But its philosophy might well change, indeed, will likely change as a result of the new membership.

  17. Scott Borthwick says:

    Mr Murphy and Mr Miliband aren’t on the fo’c’s’le. Surely they are on the poop deck?

  18. Economaster says:

    When it comes to full independence me thinks it’s more xeno’s paradox. As you narrow the distance it appears to get closer, yet logically two points will never meet.

    Or how about a bit of Hume; as far as Britain or Scotland is concerned there is no such entity just the properties that constitute it. When one state subsides and is replaced with another state then so does the object subside and is replaced with a new object. Britain is not the Britain of yesterday. Scotland is not the Scotland of yesterday. All is up for grabs. Only the semblance of continuity remains.

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