It’s not difficult to understand why Chris McEleny has left the SNP. It is plain to see that the SNP has actually left him. But I am none the wiser about why he joined Alba. I still don’t know what he thinks Alba might achieve for Scotland’s cause. I empathise with Chris’s frustration with the SNP. Arguably, he has done more than most to try and change the party’s approach to the constitutional issue. He has been foiled at every turn. I still feel the anger rising when I recall him being booed at Conference in 2019. Looking back, I can see that as the moment when I knew the party had changed. And not for the better.
On reflection, it’s not Chris McEleny and those like him who should have to explain why they’ve left the SNP. The reasons are all too painfully obvious. What needs to be explained is why I stay. There have been countless moments in the 18 months since that disgraceful episode at Conference. (Is it only 18 months!? It feels like so much longer.) On every occasion I have pulled back from the fateful decision to leave the party I first joined when I was twelve. That was 58 years ago and in nearly six decades there have been numerous times when I felt cause to be proud of the SNP. I was never ashamed of the party. I was always happy to declare my support.
I never had a moment’s doubt about the reasons I regarded the SNP as MY party. It was always first and foremost the party of independence. The restoration of Scotland’s independence was then, is now and for whatever time is left to me shall remain the beautiful dream and the rational objective. Foe me, it is not about any vision of an independent Scotland. For sure, I enjoy moments of idle revelries in which I imagine what might be achieve with the yoke of the Union removed. But removing that yoke is enough in itself.
For me, restoring Scotland’s independence is about righting an ancient wrong. It is about rectifying a grotesque constitutional anomaly. When I speak of restorting Scotland’s independence I’m talking about restoring not only our ability to choose the government which best serves the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people. I’m also talking about restoring our self-respect. I’m talking about restoring the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. I’m also talking about restoring our pride – in the sense of ending the shame of having allowed our sovereignty to be denied for so long.
I want Scotland’s independence restored as a matter of justice. I need no party’s vision of Scotland as an independent nation again to know that restoring our nation’s independence is the right thing to do. It is doing the right thing.
The SNP offered the means to do the right thing. It was always the case that Scotland’s independence movement would need effective political power in order that independence might be restored. It was never going to be enough that we gathered people to the cause. The people have strength in numbers. But they don’t have power. That strength has to be transformed into political power in order to do the work of restoring independence. To be effective, a political party was always going to be essential. The SNP was that party.
It still is. Which explains why I’m still a member. I’ve stuck with the SNP solely because it remains the only party which can provided the effective political power which Scotland’s cause absolutely requires. There is no viable alternative. And no time to create one.
Chris McEleney and others have found it easier to quit the SNP because they genuinely believe that they have found an alternative. I don’t think it presumptuous to assume this much about their motivations. Although it would surely be impertinent to assume any more than that. Their commitment to Scotland’s cause has neither altered nor faltered. They remain, each for his or her own reasons, committed to the restoration of Scotland’s independence.
Some will accuse them of betraying the SNP. Even if that accusation is justifiable, betraying a political party is a small thing. We owe no great allegiance to what is after all merely a tool. None may justifiably accuse Chris McEleny of betraying Scotland’s cause. Even as one who has remained ‘loyal’ to the SNP, I would never suggest such a thing. I recognise that Chris has set aside the SNP in order to pick up what he genuinely supposes to be a better tool for the same job of restoring Scotland’s independence. I can easily understand why someone would do that. What I cannot understand is why anybody supposes Alba to be a better tool.
I have been trying very hard to understand. I have been trying very hard to get somebody to explain to me exactly how Alba might serve as an alternative to the SNP. Or even how it might augment the SNP. I’m no further forward with that effort. So when I saw the headline promising that Chris McEleny was going to explain not only why he’d left the SNP but why he’d joined the Alba party, I thought I’d struck gold.
In the event, I have been left with another disappointment to put on the pile. It’s not difficult to understand why Chris McEleny has left the SNP. I still don’t see how Alba is a better option. Perhaps for some it’s enough that it’s not the SNP. That’s not enough for me.