I have always had some regard for Julie Hepburn. It says something significant about the talent pool within the SNP that someone of her undoubted talent and ability can find herself sitting on the bench, so to speak. More than most, Ms Hepburn seems to personify the principled pragmatism that is, to my mind, the key to the party’s appeal to the electorate and hence its electoral success. With all due respect to Keith Brown I confess to having been more than a little disappointed that she did not become the Depute Leader – a role I thought her particularly suited to.
It comes as no surprise to me, therefore, that it falls to Julie Hepburn to remind the SNP leadership what the party’s priorities must in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections. It is heartening that she has added her voice to those seeking to impress upon Nicola Sturgeon and others the need to put the constitutional issue front and centre of the SNP’s election campaign. Hers is an influential voice and a much-needed counter-weight to the counsel of querulous hyper-caution that might otherwise prevail.
I could wish she might have considered the words “manifesto for independence” worthy of title case (Manifesto for Independence). And I’d have preferred that she argue more forcefully for the separation of the constitutional issue from the policy agenda. But we take what we can get.
Julie does come tantalisingly close to saying that the constitutional issue should be reframed as a campaign against the Union.
Throughout our campaign, we need to demonstrate each point where the constitutional ceiling limits our ability to make life better for Scots.Julie Hepburn: The SNP only exists for independence – it must be the focus
The phrase “constitutional ceiling” may not do full justice to the anti-democratic constraints that the Union imposes on Scotland. But it is powerfully evocative, nonetheless. Crucially, Julie Hepburn commends “a completely different approach to our manifesto and campaign”. Significantly, she seems prepared to think outside the little box of British devolution that has limited the SNP’s horizons for far too long.
Let’s not expend energy arguing over the finer points of policies that the future governments of an independent Scotland may or may not decide to pursue, and focus our arguments on the wider principles of self-government and the potential that gives us to transform our country.
She clearly gets it! Julie Hepburn gets that one of the major problems with the 2014 referendum campaign was lack of focus. Far too much of the Yes campaign’s energy was expended on pointless and totally inappropriate policy debate – both internally and in public. We allowed ourselves to be drawn into fighting a referendum campaign as if it were an election. We talked too much of policy and too little of principle.
The solution is, on the face of it, very simple. Produce two manifestos – one dealing with the SNP’s programme for government, and one focused tightly on the constitutional issue. It is, in essence, what I have been urging for some considerable time. Where Julie and I may part company is on the precise content of the Manifesto for Independence. But that’s OK. One of the great advantages of ‘ring-fencing’ the constitutional issue is that this allows the SNP to engage more closely with the wider independence movement absent any fear of interference in or undue influence over policy matter from outwith the party. The leadership gets the control it wants on the policy front. The Yes movement gets the engagement it wants on the constitution.
I am confident that this two-pronged approach will result in a Manifesto for Independence which the SNP can live with and which both satisfies the more radical elements within the Yes movement and inspires the voters with a call to action.
There are two further things that Julie Hepburn recognises even as far too many others do not. The first is the urgency of Scotland’s predicament.
And let’s abandon the tradition of publishing a manifesto in the final weeks before poll and publish our manifesto for independence as soon as possible, when campaigning resumes.
I see no reason why the Manifesto for Independence cannot be published before the end of September. The principles involved are well understood. The objective may simply be stated as ending the Union. The options for achieving this are very limited and entirely knowable. So there seems no good reason for delay. And ample justification for haste. The publication of a Manifesto for Independence is a game-changer in many different ways. It sets the agenda for the election, denying the British the chance to do so. And it alters that landscape of the Brexit process quite drastically. It’s hard to say exactly what effect it would have. It could conceivably force an extension beyond the election. Even the remotest possibility of honouring the democratic will of Scotland’s people should surely be seized with alacrity.
Finally, Julie Hepburn sees the constitutional issue as it really is,
Let’s campaign on the defining issue facing our country: should we stick with the status quo and remain in the clutches of Westminster failure, or do we choose a better future and put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands?
It’s a straightforward choice between Scotland and the British state. If only the issue had been put to the people of Scotland in such stark terms six years ago, perhaps we wouldn’t now have such need of Julie Hepburn’s sage advice to the SNP leadership.
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