With the announcement that Joanna Cherry MP has quit the SNP’s National Executive Committee (NEC) coming hard on the heels of Douglas Chapman MP resigning as National Treasurer Nicola Sturgeon may consider that any “problems” caused by last November’s elections to the party’s (nominal) ruling body have now been well and truly solved. In fact, we have to wonder if the election of a raft of candidates favouring sweeping internal reforms that would have curbed the power of the leadership was ever really a problem. Six months on and counting the reforms that have actually been implemented presents no challenge to even the most numerically challenged among us. Nicola Sturgeon has shown no sign of being even mildly perturbed by what should have been a significant development. Her grip on power within the SNP is as absolute as it has been almost since she took over from Alex Salmond.
Speaking of whom, it may be worth noting that Sturgeon seemed more upset by the return to frontline politics of her one-time mentor and former friend. She was uncharacteristically visibly annoyed by the Alba Party. Compared to her outward reaction to the challenge represented by the membership’s mini-revolution in the NEC election, Sturgeon was incandescent with rage when Alba was launched. That contrast poses a bit of a conundrum. When considering how she had dealt with the NEC ‘problem’ I had come to the conclusion that her main weapon against the revolution was disregard. We are told that ignoring a ‘problem’ won’t make it go away. Sturgeon ignored the revolution. It went away. So why didn’t she just ignore Salmond and Alba.
It’s a bit of an apples and bricks question really. The two situations are alike only in the most general terms. Both were challenges to Sturgeon’s status. This makes both significant. The difference between them, however, lies in the matter of control. The NEC ‘problem’ being internal it could be managed. The people involved were all known factors. And the leadership along with senior management had developed very effective contraptions for dealing with dissident voices. Mainly by blanking those voices completely. The internal complaints procedures had been repurposed as part of the apparatus of control. Mostly, complaints and requests for information were simply ignored until the complainer just gave up. Unless the complaint was against someone seen as a nuisance. Then the disciplinary procedures operated with ruthless efficiency to remove the problem. A similar strategy was deployed against the reformers elected to the NEC.
There is a common thread running through all the departures from the NEC of those elected on a reformist platform – whether that be by resignation or defection. In pretty much every case there has been at least some reference to lack of cooperation, persistent obstruction and denial of information. The reformers were effectively cut off from whatever power they might have had by an impermeable wall erected between them and the machinery of management. The reformers were unable to do anything because they were denied access to the levers of power – despite their election being a de facto instruction from the membership that such access be facilitated. Often, it seems, the reformers found themselves unable even to discover where the levers were, far less get their hands on them.
The internal problem was never a problem because the leadership-management cabal had the means to prevent it becoming a problem. They had control. They had no such control over Alba. That potential problem had to be dealt with differently. As it turned out, the Alba Party was so inept that it was relatively easily dealt with. But where the internal problem was smothered under a blanket of snub and dismissal, dealing with Alba required a more openly aggressive effort. The strategy there was to steer the narrative towards the tribalism to which Alba was naturally inclined and portray the upstarts as a threat to Scotland’s cause. The strategy was remarkably successful. For which the SNP leadership really should be grateful to Alba’s managers who so obligingly cooperated. Problem solved!
Likewise the ‘problem’ of dissidents infiltrating the NEC. In barely half a year and in blithe defiance of the expressed will of conference, the leadership-management cabal has undone almost all the personnel changes brought about by the NEC elections. (Chris Hanlon should check for severed horse-heads before getting into bed.) People who were decisively voted in are gone. People who were emphatically voted out have returned. The big fish have feasted upon the little fish; and nary a ripple on the surface of the pond.
At which many will protest that Joanna Cherry can hardly be described as a little fish. With all due respect to Douglas Chapman, his resignation is significant mainly to party insiders and political anoraks. He is not someone who looms large in the public conscious. Certainly not in the way that Ms Cherry does. All of which is, I suspect, just fine by Mr Chapman. He does things his way. And if this means his departure from the NEC made only a moderate splash, Joanna Cherry’s resignation should permit us the gratification of using the tsunami metaphor appropriately for once. But will it? If history is our guide then far from being swept away by a huge wave of protest at the leadership-management cabal’s Machiavellian machinations, Nicola Sturgeon won’t even get her designer shoes wet.
To the party loyalists, Douglas Chapman and Joanna Cherry and Caroline McAllister and Lynne Anderson and Frank Ross and Allison Graham and Cynthia Guthrie are the problem. There is no other problem. The loyalists have absolutely no interest in the reasons for the resignation or defection. These people are betraying the party and Nicola Sturgeon. Nothing else matters. Who the hell are they to presume to criticise the leadership? Setting aside the fact that they were elected by conference for that very purpose, how very dare they try to cause problems for ‘Oor Nicola’?
While the loyalists reserve all their outrage for the ‘trouble-makers’, those who are offended by the casual dismantling of the party’s internal democracy are rendered ineffectual by petty factionalism. Neither reformist members nor those in the wider Yes movement hoping to restore the SNP to its role as the party of independence are capable of the kind of unity required. Even a calloused old cynic like myself may hope that Joanna Cherry’s resignation might be a tipping point. But that is a hope born more of desperation than rationality.
As far as Nicola Sturgeon is concerned, Joanna Cherry’s resignation is just another problem solved.
If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s independence movement.