Kevin McKenna’s hopes for the SNP’s ’emergency’ conference are worthy, but unrealistic. Given the behaviour of the party leadership over the last few years the idea of them running an open and inclusive event seems more than a bit ridiculous. This is not an organisation that welcomes constructive criticism or fresh perspectives. It is an organisation intent only on defending its own established orthodoxies. Its wagons have been well and truly circled around Nicola Sturgeon. In a very real sense, protecting the leader has become if not the sole, then certainly the primary function of the party machine.
It was obvious even to ‘amateur’ political analysts such as myself even before the vote in the 2014 referendum that the SNP needed to rethink its approach to the constitutional issue. After the vote was the time to do this. I, and I’m sure many others, kept our own counsel during the latter stages of the first referendum campaign because the most important thing was to maintain a united front against the increasingly vicious onslaught of British Nationalist propaganda. I, and I’m sure many others, assumed that the SNP would have plans in place to undertake a rigorous review of the whole campaign as soon as possible after vote and regardless of how that vote went. There were lessons to be learned. Valuable lessons. There were no such plans. There was no such review.
By late 2015 it was clear that there was not going to be any meaningful analysis of the 2014 campaign by the SNP. Looking back, this was the point at which the first signs began to appear of the rot that would set in over the next few years. By 2016 it was plainly evident that, notwithstanding all its protestations to the contrary, the SNP leadership was keen to set the constitutional issue aside – while keeping it to hand as a card to be played when an election loomed.
That is pretty much how things remain. There has been no action on the constitutional issue such as would alter the situation. It now becomes clear that there wasn’t even any planning for any action. The priority for the leaders and senior managers of the SNP since the first referendum has been to prevent scrutiny of the leaders and senior managers of the SNP. They got away with this because we trusted them. I say ‘we’ because I was among those who trusted Nicola Sturgeon and her inner circle.
Kevin McKenna refers to the disgraceful scenes at the SNP conference in 2019 when Chris McEleny was booed and heckled for doing no more than trying to open an internal discussion about the strategy for progressing Scotland’s cause. To suggest that something different was needed was to suggest that Nicola Sturgeon might be wrong. That is how it was viewed by the ‘palace guard’ Sturgeon had assembled from what is new referred to as the ‘woke’ faction. A semi-formal trade-off was made with any faction that was prepared to go along that their agenda would be prioritised in return for their service in protecting the leadership. It really wasn’t any more complicated than that. Not a huge conspiracy. Just a fairly mundane trade-off of the kind that is common in pretty much every organisation large enough to have factions.
We still trusted Sturgeon. I know from conversations with other Yes activists that I was not alone in having increasingly serious doubts about the way the party was going in the four years following the first referendum. But many of us felt that the party could be changed from within. We thought the party was still answerable to the membership and that the membership was not going to let that change. We were wrong. Every private exchange I had with others in the Yes movement after the 2019 conference was dominated by talk of how the party had been hijacked. Some that the situation hopeless already. Others felt it was worthwhile to persist in trying to take back the party from the clique that had seized control. Some were torn between staying and walking away. By April 2021 I’d had enough of the control-freakery and pursuit of agendas that were alien to the party I first joined in 1962. I resigned.
My point is that this is not now a party which is amenable to the kind of openness and inclusiveness the Kevin McKenna urges. It simply isn’t structured in a way that permits this. It’s not that kind of party any more. As increasing numbers of former members have gone public with their concerns and criticisms, the core of the leadership and party management has grown more and more defensive. It’ll take more than the wishful thinking of a journalist to break into the citadel Sturgeon has built for herself.
Some time ago I commented that when waiting becomes the strategy, all you do is wait and pretty soon that is all you are capable of doing because the capacity to act atrophies while your resources are devoted to justifying further procrastination. Similarly, when the strategy becomes protecting the status quo, all you do is protect the status quo and pretty soon that is all you are capable of doing because the capacity to change atrophies while all your resources are devoted to justifying the status quo.
This describes the SNP.
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.