Chris McEleny and Angus MacNeil are to be congratulated on the persistence which has brought them success. We might all have some thoughts on why such determination was necessary. We might wonder why the party managers and leadership were so reluctant to discuss the process by which Scotland’s cause might be taken forward. There will surely be questions to be asked about the way the hierarchy went about blocking debate of a matter which we could be forgiven for assuming was foremost among the party’s priorities. But all of that is for later. The immediate task is to ensure that out of the debate facilitated by the tenaciousness of those two gentlemen emerges a process that will see Scotland’s independence restored. Because Plan B is not that.
To say that is not in any way to denigrate or diminish what Chris and Angus have done. They have broken down a very substantial barrier and allowed what we must hope will be a full and open debate on a matter which it is of the utmost importance to our nation. If I seem a little sceptical as I say that then it is only because I’m doing a good job of concealing how sceptical I really am. Given what happened at last year’s conference when Chris McEleny tried to enable a debate on the party’s approach to the constitutional issue and the resolve that party managers have shown in seeking to prevent that debate, I am inclined to be suspicious. I can’t help but wonder about the motives for allowing the Plan B resolution.
OK! It could be that the previous reluctance to allow this debate was down to a certain excess of zeal on the part of certain officials. It may be that they were a bit over-protective of the party line. It could be that, chastened by criticism of their behaviour, these individuals have relented in a bid to put matters right. That is possible. Isn’t it?
Another possibility, however, is that those most responsible for shaping the party’s approach to the constitutional issue – which has seen Scotland’s cause stalled and becalmed for six years – are no less reluctant to have the matter discussed at conference now than they were before. It is possible that they see a debate on Plan B as a safe way of allowing the dissenting section of the membership to let off some steam without too great a risk of any major upset. Ever since I first got wind of this Plan B I have been concerned that allowing it to be debated could be seized on by party managers as a way of preventing the debate going into areas that would be profoundly uncomfortable for the party leadership.
We might think of it as an exercise in back-burning. Sacrificing a little to protect a lot. Take the discomfort of a debate on Plan B to avoid the pain of a debate which put Plan A under the microscope. It is very evident that the party leadership does not like Plan B. But it seems they might be prepared to thole it rather than face the prospect of being forced into an embarrassing climb-down on the current approach to the constitutional issue. Which is, in essence, not to approach the constitutional issue at all.
Plan B is not an alternative to Plan A. It is a follow-up to Plan A. It really should be called Plan A+. Plan B only seems radical because Plan A is so conservative. It is nowhere near radical enough. No plan which includes or involves the Section 30 process can possibly be described as radical. To qualify as radical a plan must renounce and reject the Section 30 process.
The Plan B resolution is useful only insofar as it may, despite the best obstructive efforts of party managers, be used as a device to open up the debate to a genuinely fresh approach to the constitutional issue. An approach that is radical in the sense of being disruptive. If ever there was a status quo that needed to be disrupted it is the place where the fight to restore Scotland’s independence is now and has been for six grinding years.
The aim now must be to devise amendments to the Plan B resolution which transform it into the radical resolution that is actually required. A resolution which may launch an exercise to completely reframe the entire constitutional issue; radically reform the SNP’s approach to that central issue in Scotland’s politics, and totally reshape the independence campaign.
Plan B has started the engine. Now we must select a gear and get Scotland’s cause rolling again.