Most SNP members will, I think, know what George Kay means when he refers to a “darker group”. When the existence and activities of this “darker group” are taken together with what many people – myself included – consider to be the highly dubious nature of the allegations against Neale Hanvey this whole affair begins to look far from as clear-cut as Nicola Sturgeon suggests.
The Neale Hanvey affair raises a number of issues – all of them controversial. These include matters relating to the SNP’s internal disciplinary procedures; the activities of pressure groups within or close to the party; broader questions of loyalty and trust; and, of course, the issue of freedom of expression and the limits imposed on it.
All of these issues must be set aside for the time being. Important as they are, they must not be allowed to distract from the most immediate and pressing task – maximising both the number of pro-independence MPs and the SNP vote. This should be the only consideration for pro-democracy voters in the Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath constituency.
Being realistic, however, we have to accept that people can hardly help but be influenced to some extent by recent events. Nobody can tell them who to vote for. But any political party is entitled to expect that its members will support and campaign for the official candidate. They are certainly entitled to have rules against party members supporting and campaigning for candidates other than the official one. You’ll notice that Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t suggest SNP activists go to work for the Scottish Greens candidate. The rules apply to the party leader the same as to everyone else.
Asking SNP members to direct their efforts to helping official party candidates in neighbouring constituencies seems reasonable enough. Until we consider what these elections are really supposed to be about. The fundamental purpose is to elect the individual considered by the largest number of voters in a constituency to be the best person to represent the constituency’s inhabitants at Westminster. Elections have become all about parties and leaders. Which isn’t an entirely bad thing. Political parties are, after all, the means by which citizens exercise collective power in the sphere of public policy. And party leaders have a very important role to play, as Nicola Sturgeon is so amply demonstrating. But that fundamental purpose remains. We vote for candidates to represent our community as well as for parties to represent our ideology or political aims.
Campaigning for official candidates in neighbouring constituencies satisfies the latter, but not the former. It’s a question of how much weight we afford each of these purposes. Personally, I would not be uncomfortable with the idea of campaigning for candidates elsewhere. We do that in by-elections anyway. What would trouble me is not campaigning for a local representative. That seems like forsaking an important democratic responsibility.
Ultimately, we all vote according to the dictates of our conscience. We each must decide our own priorities. Voters in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath simply have more to consider than most of us. For some, it will be easy. The party has declared Neale Hanvey persona non grata. Nicola Sturgeon herself has pronounced him guilty of making anti-Semitic comments despite the fact that he denies holding such views and without any kind of hearing that I am aware of. For some party members, that will be enough.
But what if, having interrogated your conscience, you still believe Neale Hanvey is the best person to represent you and your community in the British parliament? What if you have serious doubts about his guilt? What if you have reason to suspect he has been maliciously targeted by some “darker group”? What if you believe in due process and the presumption of innocence? What if you have a well developed sense of fairness?
I don’t live in the Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath constituency. I don’t know Neale Hanvey. It’s not for me to judge whether he might be the best MP for that community. But, having pondered the other issues, I cannot in good conscience do other than agree with George Kay. There is something not right about this whole affair. And Neale Hanvey deserves the benefit of any doubt.
Furthermore, I am deeply concerned about the way accusations of various forms of bigotry are used by assorted cliques as bludgeons to silence those who challenge their political agenda. As offensive as anti-Semitism, racism, sexism etc. undoubtedly are, what amounts to heavy-handed political censorship, intimidation and repression cannot be any more acceptable. A stand must be taken against those who would maliciously exploit our revulsion at such bigotry to incite baseless hatred every bit as vile as that directed at various minorities by the abysmally ignorant.
I disagree with George Kay on one point. I definitely have a problem with the SNP taking the action it did. I consider that, having vetted and selected Neale Hanvey, the party owed him a measure of loyalty. Other than that, I have looked to my conscience and I too have come to the conclusion that, regardless of what the personal consequences might be and for whatever it may be worth, I am obliged to give my support to Neale Hanvey.
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