Marco Biagi is, I fear, being somewhat naive if he imagines a selection contest involving Angus Robertson and Joanna Cherry might be entirely divorced from the ‘party leader’ issue and the constitutional question. The former may be more spin than substance, there being no such vacancy at present. But when did lack of substance ever prevent a media myth gaining traction? The question of who will succeed Nicola Sturgeon has been released into the wild and the media pack has picked up the scent. Any chance of keeping it caged evaporated when the First Minister chose to address not only the issue of her tenure but also of her fitness for her high office – something that nobody was seriously questioning.
Given that the question is being asked – however pointlessly – and given that both contenders for the SNP candidacy in Edinburgh Central are seen as leader material – it would be remarkable if the leadership issue didn’t form part of the context of the selection process. And why should it not? It’s hardly likely that those involved in the selection process will confuse or conflate the two issues. The applicants are seeking to sell themselves to the selection committee. It’s hard to see how being leadership material could be irrelevant.
Neither Robertson nor Cherry gets a particular – some might say unfair – advantage out of this because both are regarded as potential leaders as and when the job becomes available. Each will have their supporters in that regard. But the local support will inevitably be divided anyway. To whatever extent being seen as a possible future party leader influences that support, it is only one factor among many. I think we can be certain that the question foremost in the minds of party members both within and without the constituency will be concerned with which of the two is best placed to win the seat for the SNP in 2021. Assuming, of course, that the Scottish Parliament has not been ‘suspended’ by that time.
Much the same as the foregoing can be said of the constitutional issue and the matter of the Scottish Government’s approach to that issue. Except that it is likely to loom much larger in the minds of SNP members than the non-issue of a leadership contest that isn’t even on the horizon. Joanna Cherry and Angus Robertson each have stated positions on the way the independence campaign should be progressed. It is, I think, safe to say that those positions are distinct. Without presuming to speak for either, I would say only that one is more committed to the ‘endlessly reasonable’ approach while the other is inclined to something more ‘robust’. One supposes there is a route to independence through the British political system. The other tends to suppose some form of intervention by the courts will be necessary. I shall say no more than that for fear of leaving myself open to charges of misrepresentation.
I don’t have a dog in this fight. (Or a hat in the race!) I might even be said to have a foot in both camps as I certainly favour a more ‘robust’ approach and I am persuaded that Scotland’s cause is best served by keeping the fight in the political arena rather than the courtroom. But I am fervently opposed to the Section 30 process and want an approach that is assertive rather than merely ‘robust’.
SNP members in the Edinburgh Central constituency will have their own views on the matter of how the independence campaign should be taken forward. That view is bound to influence their choice as to which potential candidate to support. Again I say, why should it not? Of course, the candidates will have to concern themselves with local issues. But neither they nor anybody else can deny that the constitutional issue exists and is increasingly important. There is no reason why the contenders’ thoughts and ideas on the subject shouldn’t be among the criteria by which they assess the people seeking to represent them in the Scottish Parliament, having taken the seat from the Tories.
As to the worries about ‘acrimony’ creeping into the campaign, that’s largely down to the two principal actors in this drama. But others, rather than getting caught up in a combative atmosphere, might want to reflect on how fortunate they are to have a choice between two people who aren’t clones churned out by a candidate factory to the strict specifications of the party leadership. Two people who differ in many significant ways but who are both equally capable of doing the job, and both equally committed to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence.
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