Alex Salmond is correct, of course. Having, to date, done absolutely nothing to progress Scotland’s cause for the entirety of her incumbency as First Minister and SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon would be hard-pressed to have everything in place for a referendum in September(?) 2023. If the intention is to prepare an updated version of Scotland’s Future – the prospectus for the 2014 referendum – then work should probably have started at least a year ago. Ideally, a team would have been task with keeping the prospectus under continuous review. Evidently, this didn’t occur to Ms Sturgeon. And if it crossed the mind of any of the few people who have her ear then – discretion being the better part of valour – they decided to keep quiet about it, or if the were gallus enough to broach the subject with The Boss, they were ignored.
We already know that the SNP/Scottish Government has done precisely no work whatever on planning and preparations for a new referendum. So Alex Salmond is telling us nothing new here. I don’t know about anyone else, but my own capacity for being shocked by Sturgeon’s failures and failings as de facto leader of Scotland’s independence movement has long since worn to a nub. My patience with Alex Salmond’s posturing is headed the same way. The idea that Alba Party might be invited into the fold if and when preliminary work on a new referendum campaign gets under way looks pretty preposterous at the moment. A glance at the below-the-line comments on any story in The National which mentions either Salmond or his new party makes it clear that – to whatever extent the antics of their respective supporters is any guide – the state of relations between Alba and the SNP is dire and deteriorating.
I decline to join in the playground-level jibes and taunts which appears to be the only form of communication between the two tribes. However, I can’t help but think of Salmond as ‘The Great Pretender’. He pretends he and his party are some kind of alternative to the SNP in some less trivial way than a home for bitterly disaffected SNP members and supporters. Of whom, it must be said, there is a significant number. He allows that “it is incumbent on the party of government to lead the charge and get on with the job”. What he chooses not to mention is that ONLY the party of government can do this. If you’re not the party of government, you’re nothing. Salmond doesn’t like being nothing. So he pretends. He pretends to a role in Scotland’s cause which he simply cannot have. And cannot possibly achieve in the small and shrinking window of opportunity before the British state effectively locks Scotland into a Union on whatever terms best serve the interests of Boris’s new ‘Great Britain’.
Perhaps more importantly, Salmond pretends to a radical approach to the constitutional issue that just doesn’t exist. As moderately astute observers will have noted, he criticises – with ample justification – the SNP/Scottish Government’s seven years of failing to keep alongside the constitutional issue never mind on top of it. He quite properly condemns not merely a lack, but a total absence of any planning or preparation for a second referendum. But at no time does he question what kind of preparation must be done. Nor does he have anything ‘radical’ to say about the form of the referendum itself. He slips as easily as Sturgeon does into the assumptions that the new referendum should be as far as is possible a repeat of the first one. Not a new referendum at all. More a rerun of the 2014 process replicating every significant detail.
If Alba Party was half as radical as its devotees like to pretend then Salmond would be adding his voice to those demanding that Sturgeon rethink her entire approach to the constitutional issue. Reframe it. Change everything – starting with the question. Because the question determines the form of the campaign.
Get past the pretence and what do we find? Not only is it infeasible for Alba Party to play any role in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence beyond what any large Yes group might be capable of, even if it could do more what it would do wouldn’t be at all different from what Sturgeon and the SNP is proposing to do.
This pretence is a problem. It is a problem because Scotland’s cause urgently needs a more radical, assertive approach. Many people now see this need. But most of them have been persuaded that Alba Party fills that need. It doesn’t! What Alba does is soak up and neutralise the efforts of those who might otherwise be devising a genuinely radical approach to the constitutional issue.
“Scotland’s independence is bigger than any one party, this was a key lesson we learned in 2014,” say Alex Salmond. Which may be true. Although it is certainly true that this was the constant cry of every group that wanted to hitch its agenda to Scotland’s cause. But we might well wonder what is the point of bringing forward other parties, organisations and groups to stand by the SNP up at the sharp end if they don’t bring with them any fresh thinking.
We might well wonder what is the point of Alba Party.
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