Kamikaze strategy

I did it again! I set out to write a comment on an article and got carried away. I was commenting on a piece on Wings Over Scotland in which Stu Campbell continues to vent his perfectly understandable frustrations with the SNP. What he says about how it looks as if the party is deliberately sabotaging its own election chances is something I hear a lot. It is an idea worthy of examination if for no other reason than that if it looks like a duck etcetera it may not be a tractor. A closer look is needed.

The theory that the SNP leadership – which is increasingly distinct from the SNP as a party – is deliberately sabotaging its ability to deliver a free and fair referendum and/or independence assumes a level of strategic thinking that is entirely absent. The reason it looks like connections are not being made between cause and effect is that connections between cause and effect are not being made.

It is not the behaviour itself that must be explained, but the explanation for the behaviour. When we see the SNP leadership behaving in ways that cannot do other than adversely affect its electoral fortunes and doing so immediately prior to an election of historic significance, this can only be explained by a near-total absence of strategic thinking. No dots were joined in the making of this plan.

It is this dearth of strategic thinking that must be explained. Especially given that we are talking about a political party which has enjoyed near-miraculous electoral success over a quite miraculously long period. How the fuck did they do that without some weapons-grade strategic thinking in their armory? And given that they must have had this weapons-grade strategic thinking, where the fuck has it gone?

One possibility is that they never actually had it. That they just got lucky. Very lucky. Improbably lucky. But not impossibly lucky. It is conceivable that fortune might have contrived to favour the SNP. It’s possible they just hit a winning streak. It could happen. Lots of seemingly disparate things could have come together to bring electoral success that was quite unplanned. Think of that 2011 election landslide that led to the 2014 referendum. An astounding victory. But not part of any plan. The SNP was not ready for a referendum. The party was bounced into it by events outwith its control. It was fortunate to have a leader at the time who was clever enough and politically agile enough to take advantage of the situation. Might that be considered an element of the party’s good fortune?

It seems likely to be a bit of both. There was a lot of luck involved. But ten years ago the SNP was a very healthy party. Very democratic. Good (not great) internal communication. Effective structures. Clever people united for a common purpose. People who talked to each other. Little in the way of factionalism. and a huge army of campaign foot-soldiers ready to do the slog work. In other words, the party was in an excellent position to take advantage of any good fortune that came its way.

In particular, the SNP was uniquely advantaged by devolution and proportional representation. Because it was not bound to an ideology it could respond quickly and cleverly to the signals sent out by the electorate. It could adapt to the will of the people. Or, at least, the SNP could do so better than other parties. And that was enough.

From all of this we get outcomes which look like the result of superb strategic planning even if in reality there was very little. Very little was good enough because luck was making up for any lack. Moderate competence was complemented by happy coincidence.

No longer! Both competence and good fortune have left the building. The mistakes that are being made are worse than the mistakes that used to be made and the luck that cushioned the party from the electoral consequences of bad decisions has departed. When I say luck I mean the factors that happened to be advantageous even though there was no intent. The SNP was not purposefully designed to take advantage of devolution. Things just came together. The factors that allowed the 2015 landslide were not contrived by the party. Member activists – supplemented by the Yes movement – worked for that victory, to be sure. But that effort was rewarded much more handsomely than even the huge amount of work warranted.

It all comes down to Nicola Sturgeon. Where Alex Salmond was flexible and agile enough to stay on his feet no matter how wild the ride, Sturgeon wants to maintain her chosen course no matter what. If the ride is wild and knocks her off her feet from time to time this doesn’t matter so long as she’s still standing when the music stops. And she is convinced she will be standing no matter what.

Strategic thinking doesn’t thrive in the conditions created by Sturgeon’s approach to leadership. Where Salmond’s style of leadership was often to say you go ahead and I’ll take my cue from that; Sturgeon says I’m going this way and you damned well better be right behind me. Salmond’s way can look like strategic planning if luck lends a hand. There are no circumstances in which Sturgeon’s brand of leadership can have any of the characteristics of strategic thinking.

There are still people at all levels in the SNP who are very capable of strategic thinking. But they cannot have effect. Either they are ‘dissuaded’ from contributing their ideas or their ideas are ignored. What was once connected is now compartmentalised. What was once flexible is now rigid. Where once there was circulation now there is stagnation.

What once looked like strategic planning for success now looks like the strategic planning of a kamikaze pilot.

12 thoughts on “Kamikaze strategy

  1. Kamikaze pilots had very clear strategic objectives, and the bravery to convert their strategy into actions at great risk, the ultimate selfless act. Only 3 ways, I’m sure there may be more, where kamikaze strategy is superior. You may be doing a disservice to the divine wind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The kamikaze strategy wasn’t great for aircraft maintenance. If aircraft maintenance is the task, a kamikaze strategy is exactly what you don’t need. The point, lest I’ve been too subtle for some, is that the ship is victory in the election. The SNP leadership isn’t supposed to sink it. But it LOOKS LIKE that’s what they’re trying to do.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. If the SNP are going to lose their majority its entirely down to the leadership of the SNP and it made perfect sense for the SNP to work with other party’s on the list to ensure that a Pro-Independence majority was guaranteed even if the SNP failed. This is another item you can add to the list of failings under Nicola Sturgeon leadership since she took over from Alex Salmond, she stated I’ll let the electorate judge me on my record and if she is judge and found to be wanting then she just caused us our best chance at Independence all because this single woman made Independence about her and her along. A lot of people have been arguing vote SNP 1&2 and guess what those that have decided to vote for ISP or AFI may have just saved Scotland from being tied to this union indefinitely.


      1. Lets see what happens in May and guess what you may wish you had. And its this attitude that has got us where we are to day and its rife in the SNP from top to bottom.


  3. Nailed it, Peter.

    I too have questions about the SNP’s ‘strategy’ and especially, ‘why now?’ but what I don’t immediately assume is that there is a cunning plan behind it all, whether one concocted by NS & her acolytes or by MI5 (etc.).

    Questions help you understand situations: premature answers don’t.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. “Where Alex Salmond was flexible and agile enough to stay on his feet no matter how wild the ride, Sturgeon wants to maintain her chosen course no matter what. If the ride is wild and knocks her off her feet from time to time this doesn’t matter so long as she’s still standing when the music stops.”

    Early aircraft designers tried to make their planes ever-stronger to ‘cut through’ the inclement conditions they faced – they would be stronger than the elements. Sadly, the planes became ever heavier as a result, slower and more difficult to fly.

    Accepting that the conditions could not be conquered, modern planes allow for flexibility to ‘ride’ the weather better. As a result, they’re lighter, faster and safer. As a result, more likely to get you somewhere.

    Flexibility is the key; there will always be external events that require adaptation

    Liked by 2 people

  5. As someone who used to lecture in strategic management, I also found Peter’s analysis insightful and helpful. His linkage to leadership style and the contrast between Alex and Nicola is also highly important. The present SNP hierarchy reminds me of many organisations that failed and the corporate graveyard is overflowing. The SNP seems long overdue a leadership change and with that a new strategy and structure of decision making and planning.

    What is also absolutely clear is that the SNP present ‘strategy’, as far as one exists, is no longer aligned to the ever changing environment in which it operates. This is known as ‘strategic drift’. Here the strategy is out of kilter with the demands of consumer or ‘the market’, i.e. the independence movement, as well as ‘shareholders’, i.e. party members. The ‘market’ (indy voters) and ‘shareholders’ are now in the process of shifting or partially shifting their demand, ‘investment’ and loyalty/goodwill to other ‘suppliers’ who can better meet their needs, AFI and ISP, reflecting a more focused strategy and planning, and more competent leadership.

    The ‘bottom line’ here is that the SNP need to jettison its top management, like yesterday, if it has any hope of turning the ship around. Like a complacent and deceitful Scottish Labour before them, and thousands of other poorly led organisations more generally, the SNP under its current inept leadership and absence of strategic thinking is most assuredly heading for the rocks.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Good points made.

    There has been a “hollowing out” : a party that was once full of passionate characters is now stocked with somewhat bland middle-managers supinely doing what they are told by head office, Many have been given positions of authority not because they are rated but because they are female or gay or asian etc. Fulfilling “Rainbow” quotas in a management program where party virtue signalling has become more important than capability.
    On this middle management element a commenter on “Wings”: “Paul Cockshott ” made a further point:

    “…The SNP MSPs are overwhelmingly drawn from this class…there are very few semi-skilled or skilled manual workers among them. We also know from demographic data that LGBT are more common in the PMC than in the general population. Among politicians being LGB gives a distinct advantage, in that you are less likely to be pre-occupied with looking after children leaving more time for a political career. If you have no children, if all your friends are from the same social class, and many of them are LGB then you can easily fall prey to the illusion that the particular concerns of your social class and social circle are shared by the population at large.”

    In Scottish Education its called the “Football Heedie” phenomenon, where PE teachers have similar advantage because there isn’t the same homework and lesson planning to do as other teachers. PE department members with more time to spend thus rise through management and from this position then prioritise their own interests.

    I have been as guilty of others in suspecting that the SNP’s apparent self-sabotage might have been deliberately to avoid a referendum but it may well be the truth of the matter is that the incompetence is real and it is so because Independence is just not their priority.

    Liked by 3 people

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