Carolyn Leckie informs us that she finds it tiresome to be told that, regardless of their standing in the Yes movement, non-members of the SNP do not enjoy the same status within the party as those who actually pay their dues as members. It irks her, apparently, that SNP activists have the gall to insist that she has less right to influence party policy than those who devote their time and resources to working through the SNP’s democratic internal procedures.
Imagine my dismay.
I don’t suppose Ms Leckie is much interested in the actual views of an actual SNP member; preferring her own grotesque caricature of blind party loyalty, bigoted intolerance and political sectarianism. But what I find tiresome are the entirely redundant reminders that the SNP is not the independence movement. What irks me is the notion that it’s frightfully clever and a sign of great political sophistication to contradict a claim that nobody has ever made.
What irritates me is high-minded lecturing about the vital importance of “broad alliances” when I am aware that it was the SNP which, prior to the first independence referendum, set up Yes Scotland precisely to facilitate such alliances. I surely won’t be the only SNP member to find this supercilious scolding all the more annoying when I recall so vividly the hours spent on streets and doorsteps and on campaign buses and in meeting halls the length and breadth of the country in the company of similarly motivated people from across every divide in Scottish society bar the one that separates those who aspire to a better, fairer, more prosperous nation from those devoted to the preservation of an anachronistic and dysfunctional political union at whatever cost to Scotland.
I wonder at the lack of self-awareness which allows Carolyn Leckie to recognise that the Scottish Government is being pounded daily by the media while rebuking those who seek to defend against this propaganda onslaught for supposedly succumbing to the temptation to denounce anyone who criticises the Scottish Government or deviates from SNP policy. To point out the folly of those within the Yes camp who thoughtlessly parrot the British Nationalist narrative of the mainstream media is in no way equivalent to branding them “some kind of traitor to the Yes movement”; and to suggest that it is seems no more than an attempt to silence those who condemn pointless sniping at the SNP administration.
Nobody is suggesting, or ever has suggested, that the SNP administration should be immune from criticism. But those who have sense enough to recognise how essential the SNP is to the independence project should also be sensible enough to avoid the temptation to denounce the Scottish Government or the party on the basis of smears, distortions and downright lies promulgated by media they know to be massively prejudiced. And those who dont have the wits to avoid this temptation fully deserve whatever condemnation comes their way.
Which brings me to another thing that I find tiresome. Namely, those whose eagerness to flaunt their non-SNP credentials overwhelms their intellectual appreciation of realpolitik. I am irked by someone who can acknowledge that the SNP is by far the “largest chunk [of the independence movement] , in terms of both activists and voters” but then insist that it is the SNP which must accommodate the minority who have “no strong affinity with the party”.
To put it bluntly, what is being suggested is that the leadership of the SNP should disregard the membership and the policies and positions developed by the party as whole to do the bidding of that part of the Yes movement which chooses not to participate in the process of developing those policies and positions.
Stripped of all the fine rhetoric about broad alliances this can be seen for the totally unrealistic nonsense that it is.
Carolyn Leckie is so intent on delivering her three lessons that need to be taken on board by both the SNP leadership and the party’s activist base that she remains woefully oblivious to even the possibility that it might be she and others who opt for waggy-fingered lecturing over open-minded listening who have lessons to learn.
Let’s not get side-tracked by puzzling over an appropriate way of responding to the haughty presumption that bids such people think they have the right and the authority to dictate to the SNP leadership and party activists. Let us, instead, remain focused on a rational consideration of the lessons that might usefully be taken on board by those who prefer to pontificate from the giddy heights of the moral and intellectual superiority they supposedly gain by standing proudly aloof from the hot, sweaty, noisy engine-room of democratic politics.
The SNP is the de facto political arm of Scotland’s independence movement. The Yes movement needs to learn, not just to acknowledge this incontrovertible fact, but to embrace it. The Yes movement needs to learn to celebrate the fact that the independence project at last has access to effective political power. Most crucially, the Yes movement needs to learn how this effective political power can be used most effectively. And, just as importantly, how the SNP cannot be used.
The SNP cannot possibly be a vehicle for every pressure group, political faction and policy agenda in Scotland. It can only ever be a vehicle for the policies and positions determined and/or approved by the membership. These constraints cannot simply be ignored. The party cannot realistically be expected to bend to the whim of any or every part of a Yes movement which is so extraordinarily diverse.
The SNP not only isn’t the independence movement, it cannot possibly be the independence movement. It is, by any reasoned analysis, impossible for the SNP to be the independence movement. Which only makes the incessant reminders that it isn’t the independence movement all the more irritatingly, irksomely, tiresomely superfluous.
Next lesson! The SNP is absolutely essential to the independence movement. It is the de facto political arm of the independence movement. It has taken decades to grow that political arm. The independence movement will not quickly grow another political arm should this one be lost or crippled. So the Yes movement needs to learn to look after it. It doesn’t matter a **** whether or not you like the SNP, it’s all you’ve got. Its all you’re going to get in anything remotely close to the time-frame within which we must act if Scotland is to be saved from the ravages of a rampant One Nation British Nationalist ideology.
The Yes movement needs to learn, if not to love the SNP, then at least to accept the vital role that the party plays in achieving the aims of the Yes movement. (I might add that political progressives also need to learn that, whatever their opinion of the SNP, it represents their best and almost certainly their only hope of maintaining a political environment in which progressive politics can at least survive.)
Let’s now put these two lessons together and see where that takes us. We know two things. We know that the SNP is absolutely vital to the independence project in that effective political power is required and only the SNP is in a position to provide that effective political power. We know that the SNP cannot be the independence movement in that it cannot accommodate within itself all the diversity of the independence movement. What conclusion do we arrive at when we put these two pieces of knowledge together?
The obvious conclusion is that it must be the wider independence movement which accommodates the SNP. There is no other way that it can work. The error made by Carolyn Leckie and all too many others is to start from the conclusion that the SNP must do all the work needed to facilitate those “broad alliances” and work backwards from that shaping their arguments to serve this preconception.
The Yes movement must learn that, to succeed, there is no alternative but to accept the SNP as it is. Because, even if the party was as susceptible to external pressure as some want it to be, not even internal influence is going to change the SNP into something that accords with every facet of the Yes movement. I repeat! The SNP cannot possibly be the independence movement. It can only be a tool of the Yes movement. And the Yes movement better learn how to use that tool both thoroughly and quickly.
The analogy (recently adapted slightly) which seems to find most favour with those who have appreciated the realpolitik goes like this –
- The SNP is the lever by which Scotland will be extricated from the Union.
- The Scottish Government, and particularly the First Minister, represents the fulcrum on which that lever moves.
- The Scottish Parliament is the solid ground on which the fulcrum rests.
- The Yes movement is the force which must be applied to the lever in order to make it work.
Remove, disable or weaken any part of this arrangement, and the entire effort fails. Perhaps the best lesson a non-SNP member can learn is some basic Newtonian physics.
NOTE: It was necessary to edit this blog as, when I started writing it, the article appeared under a different by-line.
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