I have been mulling over that draft of the SNP manifesto for the Scottish Parliament election in May that was published on Wings Over Scotland yesterday (4 March). My immediate response was to reject it out of hand on the grounds of the inexplicable persistence with Section 30. But my habit and practice of holding off comment until I’ve had time to think has proved its worth. There are a few things that can be said about the document.
The first thing to say is that it is in desperate need of a very critical editor. Not just because of the random capitalisation noted by Stu Campbell but because it is wordy and clumsy and overlong. It gives the impression of having been padded. If there are points being made then they are submerged in the swamp of text that serves no purpose. What we see is an attempt to produce a substantial document which has prioritised substantiality over substance. I know this because I initially made the same mistake. As I sat down to produce a draft Manifesto for Independence I had in mind a lengthy document with a preamble and lots of explanatory material. I was wrong!
As part of my process for preparing a document such as the Manifesto for Independence I first put my subject matter into bullet points. This is helpful as it keeps the writer focused. It’s all too easy to drift from the topic especially when there are a multitude of related issues. It wasn’t until I shared these bullet points and invited comments that I realised they were sufficient. That this really was a case of less being more.
I had been proposing to formulate a draft that was complete and polished ready for adoption in its entirety. But looking at the bullet points it occurred to me that it would be better to leave as much scope as possible for those adopting the Manifesto for Independence to adapt it to their own needs. So long as the five bullet points were covered, the actual wording didn’t matter too much. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the more detail that is provided the more opportunities there are for people to find something they object to. And the more targets for opponents to take pot-shots at. The White Paper published by the Scottish Government during the 2014 referendum campaign nicely illustrates the point.
Lesson learned, I continued to work on the essentials – later adding just enough flesh to the bare-bones bullet-points to make them a little less cryptic to those unfamiliar with constitutional politics. The current version is reproduced below. This is subject to change. But any further alterations and amendments should be minor.
- Repudiate the Section 30 process as an illegitimate constraint on Scotland’s right of self-determination
- Assert the primacy of the Scottish Parliament on the basis of its democratic legitimacy and the sovereignty of Scotland’s people
- Recall Scotland’s Members of Parliament from Westminster to sit on a National Convention with Members of the Scottish Parliament and such representatives of civic society as are deemed appropriate by the Scottish Parliament for the purpose of overseeing the drafting of a Constitution for Scotland
- Propose dissolution of the Union with England subject to approval by the Scottish Parliament and ratification by the people of Scotland in a referendum
- Hold referendum on the question of the Union under the auspices of the Scottish Parliament and subject to oversight and management by the National Convention and such bodies as may be appointed by the Scottish Parliament
Others, it seems, have yet to learn this lesson. Hence, documents such as the SNP’s draft manifesto.
And, of course, the five items on the Manifesto for Independence checklist are not ticked off by the SNP’s draft. They’re either absent or inadequately expressed or totally contradicted – as with the continuing commitment to the Section 30 process. The whole thing is, much like the pathetic ’11-point plan’ it is supposed to put into promissory form, just a bit of a wishy-washy mess. The language simply isn’t firm enough. And there’s too much of it.
It may be best to think of the SNP’s draft manifesto not in terms of how far it is from what is required by how far it has moved towards that ideal. The only significant thing in the otherwise piffling ’11-point plan’ was the mention – although little more than that – of pressing ahead with a referendum regardless of any objection or refusal of consent or denial of cooperation on the part of a British government which was always going to object, would only give consent to gain control and was never going to cooperate with a process that put the Union in very serious jeopardy. This was progress. A fraction of a baby step, to be sure. But the longest journey begins with a step of any size. Most importantly, it was a step in the right direction.
With the draft manifesto the SNP has graduated to a full baby step. Maybe even two. It’s a baby step or two in a situation where great strides are called for. But it is something where previously we had nothing. It proves that the party can be nudged in the right direction if the nudging takes the form of a hefty enough kick to the relevant arses. It demonstrates that, contrary to what many have insisted, the party can be changed. It can be shifted in the direction of being the party of independence again. It is possible to reclaim the SNP as the political arm of the Yes movement. If the Yes movement seizes the opportunity. If the Yes movement takes advantage of the momentum, tiny as that may be. If the Yes movement applies the push that adds to that momentum. The SNP’s draft manifesto is a clear sign that it can be done. So let’s do it!
Which brings us to what must be the most pleasing aspect of the document. It represents a stinging slap in the face for Wheeshtmaster General Paul “Small Auburn Canine” Kavanagh and his #WheeshtForIndy minions. For who can possibly suppose that even this small shift in the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue would have happened if the Wheeshtmaster General had succeeded in stilling the clamour demanding it. If the #WheeshtForIndoy mob had managed to silence the voices calling for a bolder and more assertive approach then we surely wouldn’t be seeing even the hesitant and rather genteel revisionism represented by first the ’11-point plan’ with only one point and now the draft manifesto.
The Wheeshtmaster General and his hissing, tutting, shushing army were wrong. Massively and dangerously wrong. Which isn’t to say they’ll now admit their mistake and stop attacking anybody who has the audacity to suggest that party might have gone adrift or that the leader may be less than absolutely perfect in every way. But it should give heart to those who have been trying to ensure that the SNP is fit for its purpose as both the party of government and the party of independence. It should encourage us all to go for the final push which will see the SNP adopt a real #ManifestoForIndependence ahead of the May election.
I see Mike Russell is denying authorship of the draft manifesto. This does not surprise me. I never believed it was his work, even if I found the document fairly credible as something that might have emanated from the NEC. As Mike Russell has disowned it, we must assume that those baby steps towards a Manifesto for Independence have not been taken after all. Which, while profoundly disappointing, simply means that we must redouble our efforts to get the SNP back on track.
As an aside, I had been considering contacting Stu Campbell about a thought that sprang to my mind a while back. It occurred to me that certain persons being fanatical about destroying or at least discrediting Wings Over Scotland, there was surely a possibility that they would feed him some false information. In the end, I didn’t email him. Partly because I’ve no reason to think he would even read an email from me. Partly because I realise it all sounds a bit conspiracy theory-ish. Mostly because he claims his sources are trusted and I reckon he would know.
It’s something to keep in mind.
Peter A Bell
The Wheeshtmaster General may think he and his censorious posse are due an apology. Fuck that. Fuck him. Fuck them.
Peter A Bell