Where is the leadership?

Kenny MacAskill is right! He is saying what people such as myself have been saying for several years. He is expressing the thoughts and feelings of increasing numbers of Yes activists. In an article written for Wings Over Scotland and reported in The National today, Kenny MacAskill lends focus to the anger and frustration provoked by the SNP’s lackadaisical and lacklustre approach to the constitutional issue. More significantly, he gives purpose to what was in danger of becoming rudderless rage. Rage as likely to backfire on the SNP and those who afford the party uncritical support as to find a mark among the British Nationalist ideologues threatening Scotland’s democracy.

Scotland’s cause desperately needs leadership. That has been apparent for several years. Initially, my hope and expectation was that this leadership would come from the SNP. That would have been convenient. There are distinct advantages in the campaign for a cause being led by those who will ultimately be responsible for giving political effect to the campaign’s victory. And those who will inevitably be blamed for any failure regardless of whether they provide leadership or not. Having the campaign fronted by some individual or group without effective power mean that, in the end. whatever support has been gained must be transferred to those who do.

My preference would have been that Nicola Sturgeon combine her role as Scotland’s political leader and her role as de facto figurehead of the independence movement with a role as the ‘face’ of the campaign – with the SNP managing that campaign. This has not happened. Nor is it going to. Nicola Sturgeon has shied away from the role I envisaged her taking. And, as Kenny MacAskill notes, the party has done nothing since 2014 either to secure a new referendum or to prepare for the campaign. There has been no leadership.

In part, at least, this may be explained by the fact that while the Yes movement requires leadership, the SNP demands control. There is undoubtedly a point at which both could meet. But there has been no movement towards that point. The point has been identified. It just hasn’t been accepted by Yes activists generally or the SNP hierarchy at all. All of which is a bit like saying that there is no leadership because there hasn’t been the leadership necessary to permit leadership to emerge. Such conundrums can arise when one is dealing with such slippery concepts.

The point is the Union. More precisely, the point is to end the Union. That is the point on which there can be no disagreement among those who aspire to the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. Ending the Union is our common cause. That is the point around which the entire independence movement – including its political arm – can coalesce to form a campaign organisation regardless of policy agenda’s and partisan interests and personal animosities. Ending the Union is the one thing all Yes activists can talk about without disagreement. It is the only point on which the entire independence movement can speak with one voice. It is the torch which must be grasped and held aloft by any person or group which would provide the leadership the movement so desperately needs.

Like many of us, Kenny MacAskill seems to have given up hope of Nicola Sturgeon seizing this torch. If it was going to happen, it would have happened by now. Or we would at least be seeing some indications that it might happen. If she had any thought of adopting a Manifesto for Independence in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections then we would have known about it by this time. Speculation would be rife. Instead, it is confined to a handful of commentators such as myself. The general expectation is that Nicola Sturgeon intends sticking as closely as she can to the same path as led to the 2014 referendum. She could confound those expectations. I could grow new teeth.

But the SNP is still crucial to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. Without an SNP administration endowed with a powerful popular mandate it matters little how much public support there is or how well we campaign, nothing can actually happen. It may, therefore, be more accurate to say that the Yes movement needs not so much to lead as to push. The SNP remains the lever by which we will prise Scotland from the Union. And there are compelling reasons why we must ensure that SNP administration other than its role in providing effective political power. The party is, if you will forgive the mixed metaphor, the head of the spear while Yes activists form the shaft. There is, quite literally, no point in the shaft leading the spearhead.

But Kenny MacAskill is certainly right when he says,

The groups are and will remain autonomous, but a central team is important. Moreover, the leadership of a mass movement should come from within, not be appointed from on high.

Leadership must emerge from the Yes movement. Leadership cannot come from the Scottish Independence Convention/Voices for Scotland as suggested by The National because it is so widely regarded as a creature of the SNP. One of the many organisations and ‘initiatives’ launched by the party to appear to be doing something while actually doing nothing more than putting buffers between itself and the Yes movement. The SNP must, however, facilitate this emergent leadership. If the Yes movement is to speak with one voice then it needs both a message and an audience. The first audience has to be the SNP. The first message has to be that the party must adopt a Manifesto for Independence.

Only then can the whole independence movement come together in a campaign. Only then can the campaign message be #DissolveTheUnion. Only then will we find a willing audience in the people of Scotland.

11 thoughts on “Where is the leadership?

  1. Interesting opinion. A more simplistic characterisation of the contrast between leadership and command and control comes from the circumstances in which either management style affords most efficacy. These are emergency times. Since 2014 Scotland has been in an emergency situation. Just because it is a prolonged timeframe, this does not diminish the emergency. Covid is merely a distraction or complexity to Scotlands emergency. Command and control is required to deal with our uk exit.


    1. The vital distinction is between a movement and a campaign. A movement needs leadership. A campaign needs, to use your expression, “command and control”. I would prefer to avoid such militaristic terminology and simply say ‘management’. There is, I think, insufficient awareness of this distinction. And where the distinction is recognised it is too commonly supposed that the two things are mutually exclusive. In fact, the key to a successful campaign – and thus victory for the movement – is to connect the two. As Alexis de Tocqueville said, “In democratic countries knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others.”.



      1. If the SNP want to relinquish leadership then they should have the balls to say so. Let the movement galvanise around a new freshly motivated YES2 group. We can raise the standard and get this issue over the line. The NS / Murrel led SNP are faltering just when all the pieces of the jig-saw are coming together. Their failure to act and hide behind covid is cowardly. The SNP have received independence supporters vote for many mandates. We have delivered for them and they have failed us in return. SNP members need to wake up and force change.


        1. And how is this unidentified “YES2 group” going to obtain a democratic mandate then introduce legislation in the Scottish Parliament? And do so next year?

          It isn’t! It’s not going to happen. Other than by virtue of some supernatural intervention, it can’t happen. So this mysterious “YES2 group” would have to find or form a political party which could win an election, form a government and introduce the necessary legislation. This party would have to be found or formed ind the next few days or maybe a couple of weeks in order to be ready to stand candidates in the 2021 elections. This is problematic enough. But this brand new, untested party would then have to win a substantial number of seats in the election. Such a thing is pretty much unheard of in real-world politics. Forming a new party is, therefore, not an option.

          That leaves finding a party as the only route. Our “YES2 group” would have to cast around looking for an existing party which both stands a chance of winning the election and thus being in a position to actually do something. It would also have to be a party that might be persuaded to introduce the legislation necessary to start the process of restoring Scotland’s independence. That limits the choices even more. It limits the choices to ONE! The SNP!

          At which point you might start to wonder why you went through that laborious process just to end up back where you started. You might even realise that the solution you seek is much simpler. Or if not simple then certainly possible without need of magical powers. Instead of putting all that effort into the inevitably futile pursuit of a silly fantasy, why not apply the same or less effort to persuading the SNP to adopt a Manifesto for Independence?

          Blah! Blah! Blah! Thus goes the all but constant retort. Something about stuff that happened in the past. Stuff that isn’t relevant now. Stuff that even if true doesn’t alter the realities of the situation in any what whatever. Let’s waste lots of time banging on about unused mandates and whining about policy issues and wailing about the impossibility of persuading the party with independence at the top of its constitution to pursue independence and how it would be much easier to invent a whole new kind of politics based on denial of reality and elevation of the supernatural over science.

          I despair!


  2. ‘why not apply the same or less effort to persuading the SNP to adopt a Manifesto for Independence?’

    You keep saying this Peter – but what are the practical steps to successfully achieve it. I only see ‘apply more hope’, and hope has not worked so far. The only way that the ‘Yes movement’ will ever be able to influence the SNP as a political party is if the SNP leadership sense the possibility of an ‘Independence centred’ party political threat developing from it. The SNP’s current electoral power is derived from it’s USP as ‘the party of independence’ – it guards this jealously – as well it might. At the moment it feels ZERO pressure to act on it’s Unique Selling Point because undeniably ‘where else could Yessers go?’

    But, there does not actually have to be a new party formed that can win elections and form a government etc. etc. Just actual, practical and credible movement within Yes showing that frustration in the ‘Yes vote’ may be beginning to provoke it into organising itself in party political, electoral ways, rather than the non SNP USP threatening community activism that the movement has limited itself to up until now.

    That change alone should be enough to get the attention of the powers that be in the SNP leadership. It would need to be credible though, and that is why I think a Yes party would need to win a few seats at Holyrood before the current SNP leadership would take any notice or feel any pressure.

    As you say though – there IS no such movement toward forming a YES party by the ‘Yes movement’ so this is all just theory. But it is practical theory. What is the practical theory behind your call ‘to persuade’ the current SNP leadership to change their long term strategy of inertia and instead adopt something akin to your manifesto for Independence?


    1. What are the practical steps to successfully achieve anything else?

      Other than that, I have only one word for you. A word – a concept – that I hope you’ll think about now as you clearly have not considered it at all before now.



      1. Of course I have considered it Peter. You and I reckon time in a different way from political parties. All that the SNP leadership are interested in at the moment is successfully getting through the next British election cycle once again as the ONLY credible ‘party of independence’. If they achieve that, then the next time they need to consider such pressures to act from the ‘Yes Movement’ is another electoral cycle away. In the meantime they can carry on exactly as they are, with NO actual political pressure to persuade them otherwise. If a day in politics is a long time – what is 5 more years (perhaps a political career)?

        If you do not manage to persuade them before that election – you certainly won’t get anywhere with them after it, when they have another handsome mandate under their belt to do exactly what they feel is best. That is how they see the ‘mandates’ already given. They do not feel obliged to use those explicit mandates (mandates that yessers see as promises) because the SNP leadership see them rather as mandates for them to decide on using (or not).

        Only the kind of embryonic Yes party I have described – with even a few list seats under it’s belt, would have the ability to loudly pressure the SNP government during the next Holyrood Parliament.

        You are right though – time is well and truly running out for both your and my preferences/opportunities. 😦


        1. My first instinct was just to ignore your comment. For a start, in spite of your protestations to the contrary, it is evident that you had not considered the matter of time at all. Secondly, because you still don’t. But the truly offensive bit is when you put your idiotic fantasies on a par with my perfectly realistic proposals. Proposals which DO take time into account.

          Let’s deal with a bit of political reality, even if it makes your silly head hurt. Right now, the SNP is in a position why could fairly be described as unassailable. Yes! I know things can change. But the fact that they can change doesn’t mean that they must. There has to be a reason for supposing that they will. At the moment, no such reason exists. So, if we’re sensible and not inclined to fantasies, we proceed on the basis of what we know to be true rather than the potentially infinite list of things that might be true. A list made actually infinite when you set aside the laws of nature. As appears to be your preference.

          The SNP is, as I say, in an electorally unassailable position. The party may think about time in a different way from others, but I doubt it. I’m pretty sure they use the same clocks and calendars as the rest of us. Excepting yourself, of course. They know that the election is a little over six months away. You can check that if you don’t believe me. Six months! That is the time-scale on which any proposal must operate. It must fit into that time frame if it is not to be considered nonsense.

          Just to complicate things and further compound your headache, there is more than one time-scale. What time-scale is relevant depends on context and perspective. Six months is the most generous time-scale. Probably too generous. Because, you see, other things are going on. The actual election date – or even some weeks before that – is too late for a change of election strategy. That becomes pretty much set in stone the moment the manifesto is published. So, in reality, we are talking about a time-scale of maybe five months. Again, being quite generous.

          But try thinking some more. Try to ignore the pain in your head and think. Have you heard of London? Have you heard of Westminster? Have you heard of the UK Government? Apparently not, as you take no account whatever of the impact of it’s actions and decisions. Which is odd given the power over Scotland afforded them by the Union. I am not about to list all the things that the British regime is doing which impinge on the time-scale I’m striving to convey to you. But you may be dimly aware of Brexit. It’s been in all the papers. Brexit ‘happens’ – or passes a critical point – at the end of December. This year! December 2020! Barely three months away, if we subtract a few days for the Christmas holidays. Already the time-scale we started with has been halved! And we’re not done yet!

          Given that Brexit and other things being done by the British are going to have an impact on Scotland that we can safely assume will be deleterious, the preference would surely be to act BEFORE they happen in the hope of preventing or mitigating that deleterious impact. Waiting until AFTER they’ve happened so that you can put on a display of outraged indignation is probably not a good way to go. Although this does not seem to have occurred to Nicola Sturgeon and her inner circle who have made a strategy out of waiting until it’s too late. But I digress. And you are already more than confused enough.

          The point I’m making is that the need to act BEFORE the bad things happen contract the time-scale for action even further. Depending on what issue the action is intended to address, the time-scale may be very constrained indeed. For example, if one wanted to take any action with the aim of effecting an intervention in the Brexit process, this action would have to be taken no later than the end of this month (September 2020). This is because (a) it can take time for any action to ‘filter through’ to the place where it must have its effect; and (b) the whole Brexit thing I mentioned earlier (remember?) actually comes to an end in October. This is to allow time for the final ‘deal’ between the EU and the UK to be examined and ratified by the member states. That’s if there’s a deal. Which looks increasingly unlikely. Because – and I hate to be the one to break this to you – there are other things being done by the British which affect Scotland’s predicament. The predicament which, you may recall, we are supposed to be trying to address.

          For example, there is the Cummings/Johnson regime’s Internal Market Bill. This threatens to both scupper the chances of a trade deal of any kind with the EU and tighten the choke-chain of devolution. And, incidentally, reignite the ‘Troubles’ in occupied Ireland. ALL of which affects Scotland and seriously impinges on the time-scale for any proposal intended to rescue Scotland from its rapidly worsening predicament.

          That’s given you a rough idea of where we are. Whatever it is we intend to do, we have to think in terms of weeks rather than months. I shall just mention in passing that it could have been very different. Nothing that is happening now wasn’t foreseen or foreseeable. What is happening is almost precisely what was predicted either in the wake of the EU referendum in 2016 or when the referendum was declared or even – at least in some of its aspects – as far back as the campaign for the 2014 independence referendum when myself and many others were warning about the possible consequences of a No vote. We had time to prepare. We had time to act. That time has been squandered.

          Assuming we agree that action intended to prevent something happening has to be taken BEFORE that thing has happened – or BEFORE it is too late to prevent it happening – the stupendous idiocy of you putting your ‘proposal’ on a par with the Manifesto for Independence (MfI) idea should be glaringly obvious. So I better explain. The MfI action can be taken NOW and have immediate effect. What you propose won’t have an effect until AFTER the election. If it has any effect at all.

          Yes! Yes! I know you insist that the mere existence of this alternative independence party will force the SNP’s hand. But a moment’s thought here uncovers yet more idiocy. Because that alternative Yes party DOESN’T exist – other than in your fevered imagination. And it takes TIME to bring such a party into existence. Try to remember that we only have weeks. Maybe as few as three of them. Because what you are talking about is, in effect, forcing the SNP to adopt MfI. And that would have to be done BEFORE the election; BEFORE Brexit; BEFORE the end of EU/UK negotiations; and BEFORE the passage of legislation which further cripples the Scottish Parliament. Which, allowing a safety margin, gives you until the end of this month to establish your new party.

          That would be challenging enough. But it gets worse. Because the point of setting up this new party is supposedly to put pressure on the SNP by posing an electoral threat. Remembering that the SNP is in an unassailable electoral position relative to already established parties and that no authoritative commentator is taking any of those parties to be a serious threat, how might it be possible to create that threat from scratch in a fortnight? How credible is such a proposal?

          Here’s more idiocy! Even if your plan succeeds, it fails. Discounting the fantasy of your new party troubling the SNP in any way within the time-scale, you intend that it do so AFTER the election. But only if it wins a seat or two. Which is massively unlikely. But suppose it does. What are those MSPs going to do to put pressure on the SNP? Short of slipping into a Semtex semmit before entering the chamber there is precisely NOTHING they could do to put pressure on a party which all the polls suggest will have a working majority. Those MSP’s, like those from any of the proposed list parties, would be powerless and pointless.

          And so to the final (we hope!) idiocy of your ‘proposal’. Distilled down to its essence, what you are saying is that we should act as you propose so as the force the SNP’s hand because it is impossible to force the SNP’s hand. This silliness reminds me of the time when Nicola Sturgeon was saying she was going to “demand” a Section 30 order and that Boris Johnson couldn’t refuse. She didn’t. He did. The “demand” became a request and the refusal was even more curt and contemptuous than anticipated. But here’s the thing! At the time, I pointed out that the whole idea of “demanding” permission to hold a referendum was ridiculous because if you have the power to “demand” permission you have the power to hold the referendum anyway. Or, to put it another way, permission that cannot be refused is effectively granted and there is simply no need to either “demand” or request it.

          Similarly, if you suppose that the Yes movement has the power to put pressure on the SNP by the circuitous route that you advocate, how can you sensibly discount the possibility of applying that pressure more directly? Or, to put it another way, why would you advocate a course of action which almost certainly cannot be implement; probably won’t work; and definitely won’t work in time? Or, to return to my main point, how can you be oblivious to the idiocy of comparing that fantastical proposal to one which uses tried and tested political methods to achieve precisely the effect you’re supposedly aiming for and can be implemented immediately?

          This exchange is ended.


      2. ‘This exchange is ended.’ Oh Peter…

        Condescension is not an argument so half of what you have written can be discounted on those terms alone.

        On the points you do make about time and acting within the time limits that you specify as essential (and which I, and many, many others have agreed with you on for the best part of six years) – the lengthy explanations you have given to underline the urgency and the impossible timescales of only weeks now left to achieve them, to me (and many other non SNP realists), means that party leadership opportunity you talk of to actually adopt the Indy strategies you are proposing is unfortunately long gone already.

        I am not bound by loyalty to the SNP as a long term member so perhaps I no longer see the current SNP and its leadership in the way that you still do. I am already living through the life changing consequences of some of the things you list above as still to come and solvable if only action is taken within the next few weeks. I have news for you Peter – it’s already too late for most folk affected by inaction on BREXIT… we left with the UK last year!
        What you see as defeatist fantasy and ‘acting too late’, is actually just practical regrouping, taking account of current, real, circumstances and a complete unwillingness to give up – no matter how bad things get.

        Anyway – maybe we can talk in three or four weeks time, when I fully expect you to start coming up with your next set of deadlines that the SNP MUST meet before it’s all too late.

        Things are very likely going to get much worse for Scotland as Westminster and their ‘Cumming plans’ really start to take effect (many of which you very eloquently outline above). But, that righteous ire of yours is something that you should be directing solely at the SNP leadership and membership, who HAVE the powers and been given the mandates (and the time) to address all those dangers you seem, in frustration, to lay at the door of the non party political ‘Yes Movement’ – many of who have been making the same arguments and ringing the same warning bells for years but been completely ignored (just as you too have been).

        Eventually, a practical person disconnects with a process’ that gets them no where, and begins working on alternative ways to achieve their goals – even if that entails fresh thinking and starts.

        I won’t comment anymore on your blog (perhaps I shouldn’t have in the first place) but I will continue reading Peter.


  3. If the leader isn’t leading, then you must remove the leader.

    The idea that we can’t succeed without Nicola , or that getting rid of her would cause a drop in support ,may in part be true. However if she has no intention of moving to independence, then what purpose does she serve the movement.

    It’s all very well the SNP being at 57% in the polls, or the yes vote being 55%. But what use is something when it’s only ever hypothetical. If we never get to independence because of our leaders inability or intransigence, then she is a failure and we are fools for allowing her a free ticket.

    To carry on as we are, will not deliver independence. Quite the opposite actually.

    Liked by 2 people

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