The other day on Twitter I was involved in an exchange a ‘highly committed’ (euphemism!) proponent of the alternative pro-independence list parties that are currently sprouting like the magic mushrooms their proponents must be guzzling. I put a question to this individual. Supposing one or two of these AltIndy (gotta call them something!) candidates managed to get themselves elected, I asked. What would they actually do for the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. Three or four times I asked. I still await an answer.
This is not surprising. Because by thinking it through it becomes obvious that these AltIndy MSPs could actually do absolutely nothing for Scotland’s cause. They would serve no purpose whatever. It’s a bit of a stretch to imagine any of them getting elected. But even if they manage this miraculous feat, they will be totally pointless.
There has been no shortage of criticism of the AltIndy parties. I’ve done a fair bit myself. Here and here, for example. Some commentators have demolished the arithmetic by which the AltIndy party enthusiasts insist it’s a win-win situation. They can do miraculous things without any possibility of unfortunate consequences should the miracle go the way of all other miracles. The stuff they’re selling is powerful enough to clean the rugby club toilets while being safe enough for babies to drink.
Other critics have addressed various aspects of the AltIndy parties’ cunning plans. The danger of splitting the pro-independence vote, for example. Or the risk involved in an election message which, whatever it is meant to say, will be heard as saying that it’s OK not to vote SNP. There is no way to ensure this ‘mishearing’ of the message is confined to the regional ballot. It will inevitable spill over onto the constituency ballot. And the consequences of that could be catastrophic. Then there’s the massive logistical problem of persuading voters to all vote for the same AltIndy party. The share of the vote far all combined is unlikely to be more than 5%-7%. If that is shared among all the AltIndy parties it could be enough to cost the SNP vital seats. Perhaps even to cost us the pro-independence majority.
But these are the other criticisms. They have all been gone over numerous times by myself and others. To the best of my knowledge, no AltIndy party enthusiast has yet responded meaningfully to any of these criticisms. Just as with mine. As far as I am aware I am the only person to have inquired what an elected AltIndy party MSP would do in relation to the independence cause. What would they do to advance that cause? What could they do?
To answer this question, I consider possible – credible – post-election parliamentary arithmetic scenarios and asked what our AltIndy MSP would do in each case. Not what they would do generally. But what they would do for Scotland’s cause. But first I considered what I would call the dream scenario. That’s dream as in ideal and not dream as in fantasy. I don’t do fantasy politics.
It goes without saying that the SNP has to win. But they have to win big! Bear in mind that the SNP is held to a different standard from the British parties. The British parties can be declared victors even having lost seats and vote share and votes. The SNP can increase all three and still be declared losers because they didn’t win by some ludicrous margin. We know that the British parties and their media accomplices will play this silly game regardless. What we have to do is ensure the greatest possible disconnect between what they claim and the reality that is clearly evident to even the most apathetic and disengaged citizen.
The ideal, therefore, would be an SNP win with a working majority of at least two or three and over half of the vote on each of the two ballots. The Brits will still claim they’ve lost. Or that they haven’t won by a sufficient margin for it to alter the situation. But if the bigger all the numbers are for the SNP the more foolish they’ll look.
There’s something else required to make our dream scenario complete. But I’ll come back to that.
Do not suppose we might substitute ‘pro-independence parties’ for ‘SNP’ in any of the foregoing. This is still British politics. Small parties don’t count. Especially when counting them gives a total that is embarrassing or inconvenient for the British establishment. Small pro-independence parties will be disregarded completely other than when they are opposing the SNP on something. Or even just mildly critical. Don’t complain to me. That’s just the way the Brits play the game. And, for now, it’s their game. So it’s their rules.
We have our ideal – our dream scenario. What other possibilities are there? There is the nightmare scenario, of course. The bad dream is when the SNP don’t get a working majority and have to rely on support from the Scottish Greens, or whatever. In terms of administration, that is acceptable. It’s worked before so there’s no reason to suppose it might not again. In relation to the fight for independence, however, it’s no good at all. The ‘verdict’ will be that the SNP/independence campaign has ‘stalled’. People are losing interest. There’s no evidence that demand for a new referendum is increasing. And, of course, the SNP has no mandate. We are familiar with the litany.
The bad dream becomes a nightmare when there is no pro-independence majority and the SNP has suffered some kind of setback. This is all hypothetical so we don’t need to concern ourselves with what exactly the setback might be. We’re looking only at the outcome. And the parliamentary arithmetic in this scenario could quite conceivably leave it open for the British parties to cobble together an alliance that they could convince the Presiding Officer is capable of forming a government. It wouldn’t have to last. It would only have to happen.
But let’s not worry too much about that. As things stand, there is even less chance of Douglas Ross becoming First Minister than there is of AltIndy candidates going to Holyrood. But it is worth noting that Douglas Ross’s best chance lies with those AltIndy parties.
Let’s now consider a couple of scenarios in which the parliamentary arithmetic includes an AltIndy MSP. You can imagine two of them if you wish. Or even three. It makes no difference. First, let’s suppose the SNP has a working majority – either on its own or with the Scottish Greens. And our imaginary AltIndy party MSP is there too. In this scenario, the SNP has included only a mention of a new referendum in its manifesto and Nicola Sturgeon has made it clear she is determined to use the Section 30 process despite the fact that by this time pretty much everybody has realised that it can’t possibly work.
Here’s the question! What does that AltIndy party MSP do in these circumstances? How might they influence Nicola Sturgeon to adopt a different strategy. How might they do anything that will help the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence? There is nothing they can do! They can make speeches and lightly pester Nicola Sturgeon at FMQs. But that’s it!
What about a scenario just as above in which the SNP has a clear majority but in this case let’s add in the element which completes our dream scenario – a Manifesto for Independence! So we have an SNP administration with a parliamentary majority, a mandate form the people and a commitment to act on the constitutional issue. What does our AltIndy MSP have to contribute now? Still nothing! He or she is totally redundant. The AltIndy party fanatics keep going on about how more pro-independence MSPs must be better. They’ve never thought to question this notion. Because the inescapable reality is that there is nothing that can be done with a majority of twenty that can’t be done with a majority of two.
Another big selling point for the AltIndy snake-oil is the highly dubious claim that they can get rid of Unionist MSPs. And that this must be a good thing. In the first place, there is no reason to suppose that they will unseat any Unionists. And even if they succeeded to any meaningful degree this would only allow the British to cast aspersions on the legitimacy of the Scottish Parliament. Basically, they would accuse the SNP and the Yes movement of cheating. Which is nonsense, of course. But how are the public to know it’s nonsense when 99% of the media is telling them differently?
The conclusion, after asking the relevant questions, is that there is no credible scenario in which AltIndy MSPs can contribute anything to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. If there is no SNP administration – the AltIndy MSP can do nothing! If there is an SNP administration but no commitment to act on the constitutional issue – the AltIndy MSP can do nothing! If there’s an SNP administration with a firm commitment to act on the constitutional issue – the AltIndy MSP can add nothing useful to that!
I dislike talk of ‘wasted votes’. I don’t accept that any participation in the democratic process is wasted effort. It certainly should not be portrayed as such. But if there is such a thing as a wasted vote then it must be a vote for a party which not only has no chance of success but no purpose or function supposing it did succeed.