A photograph (above) posted on Twitter by Alex Salmond and shared by Joanna Cherry has prompted some speculation about the latter making a move to join the former in the Alba Party. The photograph shows a smiling Joanna Cherry standing between former First Minister Alex Salmond and senior Alba member Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh. As one individual puts it when commenting on a report in The National, “What point is Joanna making unless she joins Alba?”. What point, indeed? Defection seems rather a lot to read into a photograph of three old friends together. But such is the nature of political speculation. But this speculation may be a bit superficial. Rather than being seen as suggesting a possible move from the SNP to Alba, Joanna Cherry’s words can be interpreted as hinting at something much more interesting.
Let’s take a look at what Joanna Cherry actually said and place it in the context of other things that we know.
Great to meet up with old friends last night. Important to keep cross party lines of communication open. Particularly within the #Yes movement. As we take forward a campaign toward the next referendum we will need cross-party working and co-operation
There are a few things we know – as in accept as fact with a high degree of confidence – which seem particularly relevant One thing we know from simple observation is that a large and growing number of people in the wider independence movement have grown seriously weary of the incessant, repetitive, vacuous tribal warfare between online supporters of the SNP and Alba. This puerile squabbling is representative of the corrosive factionalism which has taken root in a Yes movement cast adrift for more than seven years with no leadership and no campaign to which activists might apply themselves. There is much talk of “unity” on both sides of the SNP/Alba tribal divide. And even more such talk amongst those determined to steer clear of the bone-headed bickering. But factions being what factions are, and behaving as it seems factions must, each faction wants unity on its own terms. No faction is prepared to compromise with all other factions. Which is unsurprising given that factions define themselves by the disagreements they hold to be irreconcilable.
Another thing we know is that the rocks will melt in the sun before there is even the frostiest of rapprochement between Alex Salmond and his successor, Nicola Sturgeon. You won’t be seeing that pair photographed together any time soon unless World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. pull off a remarkable coup. Who wouldn’t pay to watch that on Amazon Prime?
In sharing the photograph posted by Alex Salmond, Joanna Cherry is saying that some – perhaps sufficient – degree of unity in the independence movement can only be achieved if the SNP and Alba are able to talk to one another and that she is the one who is maintaining lines of communication. There’s the photographic evidence to prove it. Exhibiting appropriate caution, she doesn’t refer to a form of unity which might be over-ambitious but to “cross-party working and co-operation” – a familiar and comforting term for something generally regarded as positive.
There is meaning – and appropriate caution – in the image as well. Being pictured next to the leader of Alba Party suggests communication at party leader level. Having Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh in the picture, however, suggests the possibility of communication at a lower level. Either way, Joanna is there for the SNP.
If communication is to be at the highest level then it can’t happen while Nicola Sturgeon is leader of the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon can’t talk to Alex Salmond and she is the SNP leader. Joanna Cherry can talk to Alex Salmond but she is not the party leader. Do the math! This could readily be interpreted as the subtlest of leadership challenges – with plenty space for plausible deniability.
Nicola Sturgeon says she’s going nowhere. There is little appetite for a leadership challenge either in the SNP or the wider Yes movement. But Sturgeon is sitting on a box of grenades any one of which might blow her off her throne. So far, she has managed to managed to keep all the pins in. But there’s a fair bit of tugging at the pins going on. So it does no harm to have your hat if not actually in the ring, then at least hovering at the edge. Few things will end a political career as effectively as a failed leadership challenge. It’s best to be able to say you were never intending to throw that hat.
The presence of Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh says there’s a role for Joanna Cherry even if she isn’t SNP leader but the engagement between the two parties is at a less senior level. She is keeping options open.
Whether Joanna Cherry is nudging herself forward as a potential leader of the SNP or simply nominating herself to be the go-between in talks with Alba she has very effectively made her presence felt and raised what is already a high profile. Whatever else it may be the episode is certainly a big fuckyou to the gender Fascists trying to drive her out of the SNP, while also serving to let it be known that should they succeed she has the option of a position within Alba from which she could be a thorn in the side Nicola Sturgeon really doesn’t need at the moment.
All of which is just speculation, of course. It might just be a photograph of three old friends having a get not too close together.
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