What’s going on in the upper echelons of the SNP? What is the current thinking on Scotland’s predicament? Is there a plan, or even an intention, to address the constitutional issue? When is the First Minister going to act, and what is she going to do?
These are the questions preoccupying many, perhaps most, people in the Yes movement. We are all looking for clues. We scrutinise every statement made by Nicola Sturgeon and every article written by senior figures in the SNP seeking some indication of what the immediate future holds. As often as not this turns out to be a disappointing and even a depressing activity.
Pete Wishart’s latest musings and mutterings from Perthshire is a case in point. Anyone looking there for hints as to the SNP’s thinking would come away wondering if the party leadership is even aware of Scotland’s predicament. They might well suppose there is no constitutional issue at all for all the attention it gets. They would be in no doubt that, for Mr Wishart at least, the overriding concern is. not so much Scotland’s fate as the party’s – and his own – electoral fortunes.
Clues come early. The article is titled The total humiliation of Ruth Davidson. The very first sentence reads “the Scottish Tories are in trouble”. This sets the tone for the whole article. Now, I’m sure we all relish Ruth Davidson’s embarrassment. But the fact that Davidson’s abasement is now a commonplace of Scottish politics rather takes the edge off the schadenfreude. I’m equally sure that most people in Scotland are perfectly OK with the Scottish Tories being in trouble. But I suspect many will feel that, however delightful the turmoil it has provoked in the Scottish branch of the British Conservative & Unionist Party, the implications for Scotland of Boris Johnson’s elevation to the role of Prime Minister are of considerably greater importance.
There is passing mention of the fact that Johnson being PM means a majority of Scottish voters would vote for independence. But nothing at all about whether or when they might get the opportunity to vote for independence. It is clear that, for Pete Wishart, what matters is the fact that Johnson is an “electoral liability”
Of course, electoral success for the SNP is important. Indeed, it is crucial to Scotland’s cause. If only there were any indication that Pete Wishart sees Ruth Davidson’s woes in that context. But it seems that the constitutional context figures in his thinking hardly at all. The entire focus is on winning the next election.
Having read his article, I anticipate more than a few comments about Pete Wishart being overly concerned with keeping his seat. I would invite those contemplating such comments to grow up and have a wee think. Of course the man is concerned to keep his seat! Why wouldn’t he be? What is wrong with that? Pete Wishart is a career politician. It has been a very successful career. It stands to reason that he would not wish it to end in electoral defeat.
Winning Perth and North Perthshire for the SNP is Pete Wishart’s job. Of course it is important to him. He serves his constituents well. And, simply by holding that seat in the British parliament he makes a valuable contribution to the cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. Criticising him for wanting to win is just plain stupid.
What is troubling is the thought that this latest article from Pete Wishart might tell us something about the attitudes and priorities of the SNP leadership. It is one thing for individual elected members to give precedence to their electoral prospects. That, as has been noted, is their job. Getting elected is their immediate task. But the party as a whole has wider concerns and different priorities. We would hope that these concerns and priorities are shared by those who lead the party. Those who are also the nation’s political leaders.
I have frequently observed that the SNP is very good at winning elections. Perhaps not so good at single-issue political campaigns. It is only to be expected that they will play to their strengths. Which suggests that an electoral route to independence might well be their preference. That the ‘Plan B’ proposed by Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny is actually the ‘Plan A’. It may well be that the SNP is pinning the hopes of the Yes movement on an early UK general election and a big win. And it’s not only Pete Wishart giving this impression. Angus Robertson also seems to think the mandate for a referendum needs yet more confirmation.
If this is the way the SNP leadership is thinking then it would certainly explain the present inaction. As ever, it seems to be a case of waiting for the British government to do something. Waiting for events to play out. Waiting for ‘clarity’. Waiting for the ‘right time’. Waiting.
In electoral terms, this may be a valid strategy. If your opponents are in disarray and making themselves unelectable it makes sense to let them get on with it. When the votes are counted in Perth and North Perthshire it makes no difference whether Pete Wishart has won or the Tories have lost. Pete returns to Westminster either way. In the context of the independence campaign, however, waiting for our opponents to lose just won’t work. Because the things that are an electoral liability for the Scottish Tories and causing Ruth Davidson great embarrassment are developments which strengthen the British Nationalism which is the real threat to Scotland.
My fear is that the SNP leadership may have come to confuse and conflate electoral success for the party with success for the independence cause. But beating the Tories is not enough. The Tories are not the problem. The Union is the problem. Even the total collapse and disintegration of the British Conservative & Unionist Party does not spell victory for Scotland’s cause. It means only the advent of an even greater threat to Scotland’s democracy. Defeating the Tories will only leave us facing an even more determined and more ruthless manifestation of British Nationalism.
Personally, I’d rather not wait for that.
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