There’s a rather strange piece in The National today which quotes at length two anonymous sources supposedly representing opposing perspectives on the peremptory demotion of Joanna Cherry after she was summarily sacked from her front bench role by SNP Westminster group leader Ian Blackford. I say this piece is strange not because it consists almost entirely of what might easily be dismissed as gossip, but because the gossip it reports seems so superficial. It presents the issue as if Ms Cherry’s treatment at the hands of the party were the main, if not the whole issue. Whereas even those of us who could never be described as ‘insiders’ know full well that the anger at her sacking is simply the eruption of a volcano that has been rumbling ominously for months – perhaps years.
One paragraph is given over to consideration of the deeper issues which have been the cause of this rumbling.
However she had been odds with the SNP leadership for some time, holding different views on the strategy to gain independence, on the Alex Salmond saga and on the debate around transgender rights and the reform of the Gender Recognition Act (designed to make it easier for transgender people to change their legally recognised gender).
The SNP has become a simmering broth of discontent, dissatisfaction, dissent, disappointment, disaffection, dismay and distrust that the party leadership has disregarded, dismissed or dealt with as indiscipline or disloyalty. That broth was going to come to the boil at some point. The sacking of Joanna Cherry looks like being that point. The paragraph above seems almost to trivialise these issues by rolling them all up in a simple spat between Joanna Cherry and Nicola Sturgeon. It’s much, much more than that.
Let me be clear about something before I continue. I am not a disinterested observer. I am not impartial. I have taken positions on all of these issues and I stand by those positions. Nonetheless, I attempt to analyse situations and developments as dispassionately as I am able. But I will not pretend an absence of bias. I would only look ridiculous if I tried. Look at BBC Scotland!
It’s not just a matter of “holding different views on the strategy to gain independence”. Joanna Cherry and I hold different views on that. What separates both of us from the leadership (and I apologise unreservedly if I misrepresent Joanna here) is that we have been concerned with finding a strategy that might actually work while the party leadership has been focused only on defending a strategy (if that’s not overburdening the word) which had been decided and which as far as they were concerned wasn’t even up for discussion. Although there was always the promise and occasionally the pretence of debate, the former were empty and the latter a mockery of democratic process.
Where Joanna Cherry and I differ is that while I am in a position to go further and condemn the Section 30 process for compromising the principle of popular sovereignty as well as being a process which could not possibly lead to the free and fair exercise of our right of self-determination, Joanna Cherry has stopped well short of that. Which is not to imply that she would go further if she could. I am not privy to whatever she might be holding back, if anything.
My point here is that this is more than just a dispute about strategy. It is a fundamental disagreement about something which is the very essence of Scotland’s claim. If the independence campaign could be distilled down to one thing that thing would be the principle that the people of Scotland are sovereign. If that principle is compromised then Scotland becomes a different nation. The very nature of the country is altered. There can be no ambivalence about something which underpins our distinctive political culture. I do not consent to my sovereignty being traded for worthless assurances from the British government that they will cooperate fully and honestly in a process to which threatens their ‘precious’ Union. A further request for a Section 30 order diminishes Scotland in ways that I find totally unacceptable.
The underlying issue here is not just different views on the strategy to gain independence. It is different views of what Scotland is and should be.
Neither are the divisions relating to the “Alex Salmond saga” a mere difference of opinion. If what is superficially a question of strategy in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence actually turns out to be about a matter of profound constitutional principle beyond even the question of the Union, then scratch the surface of the “Alex Salmond saga” and you find perturbing issues of basic justice and ethics.
There is just too much going on in the “Alex Salmond saga” for me to give an account of it here. Those who have defied the shrill, spittle-flecked effort to dissuade us from seeking out information to follow developments as reported by the likes of Stu Campbell (Wings Over Scotland) and Craig Murray will be aware of how the “saga” has descended into farce as crucial evidence is disappeared for the purposes of finding truth while remaining in plain view to any who care to defy the shrill, spittle-flecked effort to dissuade us from seeking out information. The people trying to perpetrate a blatant cover-up are behaving as if the curtain hasn’t been stripped away letting us all see them busily throwing spanners into the workings of justice.
The SNP has been left looking like the child protesting their innocence in the Great Cookie Jar Robbery while not merely having telltale traces of chocolate on their face but two fistfuls of looted confectionery. It’s embarrassing! And the people who own the party associated with this travesty are understably displeased. If they are not, this can only be because they remain ignorant of the facts.
Then there’s the “debate around transgender rights and the reform of the Gender Recognition Act”. This too is more than it may appear. And more than the policy debate suggested by the paragraph quoted. There is a policy issue here. But as anyone who has come anywhere near the ‘debate’ on this issue will be aware, it is as far beyond fractious as I am beyond being a woman just because a sign a form declaring myself female. There is a huge issue of women’s rights and everything relating thereto. If I don’t deal with that in any depth it’s not because I don’t consider it to be of huge importance not only to women but to everyone who values a fair and decent society. It’s only because others are making the case for those rights better than I ever could. And because it would take a lot of words to adequately set out my views on the matter. I am not glossing over anything. I just want to air another aspect of the ‘Gender Wars’ which is also worthy of consideration.
The “debate around transgender rights and the reform of the Gender Recognition Act” descended into the hyper-bilious ‘Gender Wars’ a while back. But at some point it also became a battle for ownership of the party. I don’t mean ownership in the property-holding sense – although that is involved. I mean ownership in the sense of belonging. The ideal – and what pertained in relation to the SNP until relatively recently – is that the members should feel that the party belongs to them and that they belong to the party. That the party is the right place for them to be as well as that they have a right to be there.
This doesn’t imply agreement with everything the party does, but satisfaction with the way decisions are reached. People reject, rather than merely dissent from, democratic decisions for one of two reasons. Either they just don’t believe in democracy, or they don’t believe what they have is democracy. Democracy functions well only to the extent that people have faith in it. A democratic system is healthy only to the extent that the losers in any choice or decision are content that they have been treated fairly.
The SNP is broken. It has succumbed to the cancer of factionalism. It is in the nature of factionalism that the growth of factional tumors is at least matched by a loss of healthy tissue. Thus facilitating further and more rapid expansion of the malignancy. The SNP is so badly broken that voices which take their cue from the party leadership are insisting that the healthy tissue is the problem – which they are doing all they can to excise.
A particular clique has come to have an inordinate amount of influence and power in the SNP. How this came about is not easy to explain. But certainly worthy of further investigation and analysis. The immediate concern, however, is how to prevent this clique imposing its mad, anti-science ideology on the whole party. And that means taking a closer look at the people whose job it is to prevent such cliques gaining influence beyond anything that can be justified.
I see this as a failure of management. Organisation tend towards disorder all the time. It’s management’s job to prevent that disorder. The management of the SNP has failed in this regard. Having failed to prevent the clique of crazies becoming too powerful the management feels threatened by it and so starts pandering to it. Thus allowing the clique even more power. And so it goes. There is a tipping point at which all collapses and descends into chaos. The SNP is on the cusp of that tipping point now.
This clique of crazies has absolutely no qualms about being the parasite which kills its host. It is mindless in pursuit of its ideological agenda. Only a strong leader can stop this happening once the cancer has taken hold in the way it now has. But a strong leader would never have allowed this to happen in the first place. In pandering to the clique of crazies the leaders and managers of the SNP have not only become relatively weak, they have become corrupted.
Some have tried to pass off Joanna Cherry’s sacking as no more than part of the normal process of moving personnel like chess pieces on a board. But as I have tried to convey, and as Ms Cherry herself maintains, there’s more to this than certain interested parties would have us believe. The SNP is in jeopardy. And this matters. It matters not just to the members who make up the remaining healthy tissue, many of whom are desperately trying to turn things around.
It matters to the people of Scotland because for all their recent problems the SNP remains the only viable party of government in Scotland. If you doubt me, try to imagine Douglas Ros as First Minister. The fact is that there is no other party standing ready to take over the reins of government. This is a far from ideal situation. But it is the reality with which we have to deal. And this being so, logic dictates that our best efforts should go into fixing what is broken.
It matters to Scotland’s cause because the SNP has a crucial role to play in the restoration of Scotland’s independence. At present, it is not fit for that purpose. There is no alternative party and no possibility of putting one in place soon enough to save Scotland from the British Nationalist scourge about to come.
We have to fix the SNP. We all have to fix the SNP. It won’t be easy. As Denise Findlay describes, the power centre of the party has developed a protective carapace over itself and the cancerous clique it is in thrall to. That carapace must be broken. If you want to understand why Joanna Cherry was humiliated by the SNP leadership then it’s necessary to be aware of all the underlying issues and realise that she is representative of the SNP members who want their party back. People who want the party restored to what it was. To stand for what it once did.
I will be condemned for writing this by those who suppose the reality of the situation can be concealed forever from the public. People who look no further ahead than the next election. People who, failing abysmally to comprehend what is happening, imagine it can all be sorted out later if we just keep schtum about it now. People without the sense to realise that what is afflicting the SNP is fatal if untreated.
Who will treat the affliction? Who will stop the rot?