Having read the articles in The National today from Kenny MacAskill and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh I am now firmly convinced that there has been a change of tack by the Alba Party. A change which looks very encouraging. With the election out of the way, the party seems to be putting its dreadful campaign behind it but, crucially, not before having learned some important lessons. Alba’s electioneering hyper-hype did the party no good whatsoever – a derisory 1.7% and no seats – and seriously damaged the Yes movement by further polarising the divide between what we may call the SNP-loyalist and SNP-sceptical factions. That is to say, those who will tolerate no criticism of the SNP and those who will tolerate nothing other than criticism.
It is the most arid debate imaginable given that the reality remains the same regardless of which side ‘wins’. It doesn’t matter whether the SNP is the best or the worst party-political vehicle for Scotland’s cause, it is the one we have. The only one we have. And, despite a great deal of denial of time’s reality and effect, it is the only vehicle we are going to have before time and the efforts of the British political elite put the restoration of Scotland’s independence beyond the reach of any known democratic process.
Whether the Alba Party leadership and managers intended it or not, the hyper-hype generated by supporters fuelled by excitement and enthusiasm that wasn’t going to be reined in by mere political wisdom, sought to portray the party as an alternative to the SNP not just as a home for pro-independence voters, but as a source of effective political power. As I explained in a couple of articles (here and here) which were viciously attacked by Alba devotees but never refuted by any of them, there was no way that the party could have any political power at all. Not even if the wilder ambitions of those devotees had been realised. Not only were the spiralling claims of what the party could/would do dishonest, they massively aggravated the antagonism between the SNP-loyalist and SNP-sceptical factions leading to ramping entrenchment on both sides and the war of vacuous of whatabouteries that has so woefully impoverished discourse within the Yes movement. A paragraph in a recent Scot Goes Pop article by Alba ‘insider’, James Kelly hinted at a change of strategy by the party.
This is not, incidentally, a call for Nicola Sturgeon to stand down or to be replaced. Apart from anything else, my guess is that her successor would probably be equally cautious about strategy. But I do think we now need to be hardheaded about the fact that the SNP leadership have become the biggest obstacle to progress, and if it’s pointless to change that leadership, what we’ll need to do instead is change the leadership’s thinking. That will require the building up of tremendous external political pressure – both from direct electoral opponents like Alba, and also from non-party organisations like Now Scotland.
The emphasis is mine. As is the sentiment. This, in fact, is almost precisely what I was urging prior to the election. Following the chain of logic through the irrefutable facts that only the suitably mandated Scottish Government can take the action necessary to effect the restoration of Scotland’s independence and that this must be done within the term of the current parliament and that only the SNP can possibly be the party of government within that time period (and almost certainly for at least one further term) brings us inevitably to the solitary conclusion that if we want that action taken in time to save Scotland from the British nationalist onslaught then the single task on which the Yes movement must concentrate its united strength is forcing the SNP/Scottish Government to abandon the ‘Sturgeon Doctrine’ which as more and more pro-independence and pro-SNP commentators are recognising, has left Scotland’s Cause parked up a blind alley for seven years.
The election hyper-hype peddled by the Alba Party completely denied this logic. Whether officially sanctioned by the leadership or not, that campaign put Alba forward as a viable option for getting things done that the party could never be in a position to do. What we appear to be witnessing now is an attempt by leading figures within Alba to move the party’s public perception away from the notion of it being a party-political alternative to the SNP as described earlier to being part of a united effort to force the SNP/Scottish Government to change its approach to the constitutional issue. A move which I personally welcome wholeheartedly. But cautiously.
The beast of tribalism roused in large part by Alba Party’s creation of a second camp for independence supporters is not a creature that will be quieted easily. As can be seen by following any social media ‘discussion’ involving the SNP-loyalist and SNP-sceptical factions, Tribalism begets tribalism beget still more and worse tribalism. What you’ll observe is a tit-for-tat exchange in which pretty much all the participants are tits – in the vernacular sense of that term. Such tribalistic exchanges are self-sustaining and self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing. They take on an existence of their own and are all but totally impervious to any intervention by reason. Those attempting such interventions end up denounced and reviled by both tribes.
It will, I fear, take more than the urging of even such notable figures as Kenny MacAskill and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh to put the tribal beast back in its cage. But I can only applaud the effort. It demonstrates that there is hope for Alba. This change of emphasis suggests a degree of political realism as well as the political maturity we would expect from experienced politicians. Whether it holds promise for Scotland’s cause is another matter. That depends entirely on Alba’s support base. There will doubtless be those who cling to the supermajority myth and the fantasy of effective political power for their new party. They may well regard this change of strategy (if it really is that) as betrayal, while others may see it more as I do – the introduction of a bit of ‘common sense’. That would create an internal rift within Alba. The fission of factionalism proceeds.
Of course, Alba Party remains pointless as a political party. It doesn’t have to be a political party – with all the baggage that entails – in order to function as (part of) a pressure group seeking to kick the collective arse of the SNP leadership and Scottish Government. It is always difficult for membership-based organisations to form alliances with external campaign groups over which they have no control and little influence. Such groups can so easily become the loose cannons which a formal political organisation such as a party cannot tolerate. Not because they’re intolerant but because being formal they have rules which enable their combination and maintain its stability. It’s the rules which make it possible for political parties to speak with one voice. Close association with bodies not bound by those rules is dangerous. All of which might militate against the kind of unity required of the Yes movement.
Only time will tell. But we don’t have much time. I sincerely hope Alba members and supporters realise this and follow the lead offered by Kenny MacAskill and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh. The SNP-sceptical faction cannot expect a corresponding initiative from the SNP-loyalist faction because the latter lacks the appropriate leadership. Isn’t that the root of the problem? Alba supporters must make the first move. They must unilaterally disarm, discard abuse and whataboutery.
The success of Alba Party’s transformation from pointless political party to serious political force can be judged by the number of their supporters who respond to this initiative – and/or this article – with yet more repetition of the mindless mantra, “But what about the SNP!?”.
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