What’s so special about Alex Salmond? What makes him different from Nicola Sturgeon? What distinguishes his approach to the constitutional issue from hers? To what extent does Salmond actually speak for the party he leads? As significant numbers of independence supporters consider pinning their hopes on the Alba Party, they really should be asking questions such as these. I see little indication that they’re asking any pertinent questions at all. Which is sorely disappointing given a certain conceit of ourselves as a nation of politically aware voters.
Some of the remarks reportedly made by Alex Salmond during a press briefing yesterday provoked spasms of twitching in my political antennae. That he is being very cagey about his party’s stance regarding the EU is hardly surprising. Alba would not be the first party to find itself riven by rapidly polarising disagreements on that topic. Kenny MacAskill got his contribution to this debate in early with his ‘suggestion’ that Alba backs EFTA over EU membership. Which in many cases is a politician’s way of saying they hate the EU with Faragian fervour but would rather not come right out and say so lest they be compared with Nigel Farage. Which is almost as much a kiss of death as having Nigel Farage make the comparison himself. Ouch!
Salmond’s fudging of his answers to questions about Alba Party’s policy on the EU was only sensible. He was only asked the question so it could be reported that he fudged his answers. So, job done! I wonder, however, if he may come to wish he’d been just as circumspect when talking about his approach to the constitutional issue. I suspect more than a few of his colleagues in the party will be as uncomfortable with his statements on this matter as if he had declared their party determined that independent Scotland should seek full membership of the EU at the earliest possible date and on any terms. I reckon the more thoughtful individuals among those flocked to join the new party might now be wondering about that move. Although, if they’d been at all thoughtful they would surely have asked the questions first.
This from a report on the press briefing in The National.
The leader of the Alba Party said if there is an independence supermajority in Holyrood after the May election, the parliament should instruct the Scottish Government to start negotiations with Westminster.
During those talks, the UK Government may require a referendum or consultation to ensure independence was the will of the Scottish people.
Alex Salmond is a very experienced parliamentarian. I’d tend to take his word for it if he says there’s a procedure by which the Scottish Parliament can “instruct” the Scottish Government to do something which we must assume the Scottish Government doesn’t want to do otherwise they would do it without the need for the Scottish Parliament to “instruct” them. I’d believe him. But I’d want to verify. It sounds unlikely. Bear in mind that the “supermajority’ [apparently this is a word now] that Salmond refers to will mostly be made up of SNP MSPs. Even in the best-case scenario – from Alba Party’s perspective – this supermajority would be more than two-thirds SNP. They are unlikely to vote to tell their own party to do something the leadership doesn’t want to do. That would not be a good career move.
In the circumstances necessary for Alex Salmond’s idea to even qualify as an idea the SNP must have a working majority and/or support from the Scottish Greens. So why would we suppose that any move to have the Scottish Parliament “instruct” the SNP administration to open negotiations with the UK Government wouldn’t be voted down?
Alex Salmond has a credible claim to be regarded one of the most adept political strategists of our time. We’d expect better from him If I’d just joined his party I’d certainly expect better. If I was an Alba Party candidate in the coming election I’d be worried about how I was going to sell this idea to voters who are even half as astute as we like to think Scottish voters are. But if I’m a bit concerned about a ‘plan’ which requires conditions in which it almost certainly couldn’t succeed, I am deeply worried by the second part of the above quote. The thought of the UK Government dictating the terms on which we exercise our right of self-determination naturally jars with me. As it should with anyone who considers Scotland a nation.
It’s our right of self-determination. Why the hell would we be letting what is effectively a foreign government tell us if, when and how we exercise that right? The fact that a nation or people have the right of self-determination necessarily implies that they also have full independent control of the process by which they exercise that right. The two things are inseparable. Yet here we have the man who many regard as the rightful and true leader of Scotland’s independence movement insisting that we submit to the will of the British political elite even as we seek to restore our nation’s independence. To say that this is disappointing would be an understatement of the order of saying the sun is hot. Or the universe is big. Or Nigel Farage is the last person you’d ever want declaring you’re kindred spirits.
It makes no sense. It doesn’t just offend my nationalist sensibilities. It offends reason. What Salmond says implies that the primacy of the Scottish Parliament has been asserted. Otherwise how could the Scottish Government negotiate with the UK Government with a view to ending the Union? But if the Scottish Parliament speaks for the sovereign people of Scotland with the authority bestowed on it alone by the people of Scotland, how can it simultaneously be subordinate to the British parliament? How could the UK Government “require” the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament to do anything? It makes no sense.
Nor does it make sense in terms of strategy. Supposing the UK Government could “require a referendum or consultation” why would we wait for them to do so? Why would we not preempt their demand? Why would Alex Salmond not wish to demonstrate that he is at least as eager as the British establishment to “ensure independence was the will of the Scottish people”? Salmond doesn’t just appear willing to submit to the asserted superiority of the British state, he seems eager to affirm Scotland’s subordinate status. Where is the spirit of independence in this?