The question for conference

The question of whether the public wants Nicola Sturgeon to remain as First Minister is quite distinct from the question of whether her remaining is what best serves Scotland’s cause. Or for that matter, what best serves Scotland. Clearly, there is no appetite either within the SNP or among the general public for Sturgeon to step down. But it would be incorrect to say that public opinion perfectly mirrors the constitutional divide. This would be to ignore the fact that much of the admittedly small clamour for her to go comes from within the Yes movement.

It is unsurprising if those on the Unionist side of the constitutional divide have a negative attitude towards the leader of the self-styled ‘party of independence’. The significant development would be any increase in the negative attitude to Sturgeon among independence supporters. And more significant still would be any sign of a weakening of Sturgeon’s support within the party. If there is any such weakening then it isn’t sufficient to make a striking impact on the polling numbers.

One of the problems with polls, however, is that they are just arithmetic. They give some indication of attitudes and intentions among voters in general and/or some particular section of the electorate. What they cannot do is take account of qualitative factors. For example, on the bare numbers support for Alba Party may be negligible. But even parties with relatively very little support can have an effect on the political landscape out of proportion to their showing in opinion polls and/or elections. Alba Party’s impact has been less than it might have been. But even if we consider only the fact that it has provided a home for disaffected SNP members then its effect may be important, even if not measurable. Having somewhere else to go may be the thing that overcomes reluctance to quit the SNP and to whatever extent this is the case, it will be an ongoing factor.

Again, qualitative assessment becomes more relevant than those bare numbers, because a large percentage of those who quit will be from among the more engaged and active members of the SNP. The loss of, say, 3,000 members may seem trivial with total membership standing at 120,000. But maybe not so trivial if that 3,000 includes 1,500 of the party’s best and brightest.

Similarly, when there are people within the Yes movement calling for Nicola Sturgeon to resign, it is not only the number that matters, but the nature of both the people making this call and of the arguments they put forward. If the calls are coming from people able to command media attention this will have more impact than if it’s just a few lambs bleating in the desert. And if the reasons given for wanting Sturgeon to step down are at all persuasive this will matter more than if there are no reasons given or if the reasons are flimsy.

Consider the fact that, though the number of people saying Sturgeon should step down may be small, it includes elected representatives as well as random Tweeters and reasons that include political strategy as well as personal antipathy. Consider also that whatever else it may be, social media has been and continues to be the starting place for a multitude of impactful campaigns.

Another qualitative aspect of resignation demands we should consider is whether they are born of some passing mood or whether they stem from an issue which has legs. Just as favourable opinions of the First Minister were fostered by her performance during the pandemic only to subside when the crisis appeared to be over, so negative opinion may be sparked by a remark in an interview or even something as trivial as the clothes she wears. We must ask ourselves whether the motivation to have Sturgeon resign is transitory or whether it is likely to be sustained. And if the latter, whether it is in the nature of something that might take root and grow.

The furore around GRR is not something that is going to subside any time soon. In part, this is because, like fleas, big issues have little issues that feed upon them. When there is an issue that looms large in the media and therefore the public consciousness, it tends to attract other issues that seek to piggy-back on its prominence. So it is that something like the ‘ferries’ issue comes to be mentioned alongside GRR. They are totally unconnected. But they share the potential to justify criticism of the FM and calls for her to step down. A minor presentational hiccup becomes a serious error of judgement solely through being associated with whatever is making the headlines. These things can snowball into a career-ending clamour even if none of the snow could make a snowball big enough to do harm.

There is a lot of subjectivity involved when analysing these situations. But when I look at the snow falling around Nicola Sturgeon at the moment, I can easily envisage it becoming a crushing avalanche. I get the sense that things are piling up against Nicola Sturgeon and she has nothing with which to push back. The main – if not the only – thing she has going for her is inertia. Fortunately for Nicola Sturgeon, inertia may well be the most powerful force in politics – especially in electoral politics. Much of what we see reflected in the polls is the effect of inertia. Some smart-arse will inevitably comment that if anyone looks like having mastered that force, it’s Sturgeon.

But inertia can be overcome. No politician can depend on it holding forever. All it takes is any sudden jolt and inertia’s paralysing grip is broken. The dam is burst. A torrent of unplanned and uncontrollable change ensues. The stuff of the professional politician’s nightmares.

Sturgeon has survived a few jolts. Hers is the prize scalp for her personal enemies and political opponents alike. That is a dangerous combination which makes otherwise unthinkable and always uncomfortable bedfellows of pro- and anti-independence forces. Not formal allies in a concerted campaign, as some imagine. But enemies with a common enemy. Adversaries who are coincidentally working to the same end – Sturgeon’s downfall. GRR has been the most powerful jolt to date by a considerable margin. We have yet to see whether it has broken inertia’s grip. How long it takes for this to be confirmed depends on another powerful political force – momentum. Initially, it’s touch and go which will prevail. Will momentum build? Or will inertia reassert its hold over change?

My assessment is that the special ‘democracy’ conference the SNP is to hold on 19 March is likely to be the decisive factor. Until then, it’s the proverbial ‘jaiket on a shoogly peg’ for Sturgeon. The conference will either confirm her stultifying dominance of party and government, or it will kick inertia’s arse – and hers!

There is a delicious irony here. The ‘special’ conference (the descriptor seems to change weekly) was initially just another of Sturgeon’s more or less panicky ‘initiatives’ intended to make it appear that she was actively pursuing a resolution of the constitutional issue while not rocking the devolution boat in which she hopes to sail on to a glittering career in global politics. The irony is that it may turn out to be the initiative which sinks that boat. She is relying on her own ability to control the party machinery and her husband’s now legendary ability to ‘manage’ big set-piece events such as party conferences. Cracks are beginning to appear in the former with such as the position taken by Stewart McDonald MP regarding a de facto referendum and the amendment submitted by Angus MacNeil MP. It remains to be seen whether Peter Murrell can prevent such independent thinking infecting conference, supposing Sturgeon fails to crush the nascent sprit of rebellion before then.

There are three possible broad outcomes from the ‘special emergency democracy conference’ initiative. If it goes entirely Sturgeon’s way, it will confirm and bolster her control and mean that her ‘strategy’ for Scotland’s cause will continue. And continue to fail.

If it goes entirely against her and conference insists on a change of strategy, Sturgeon will learn from personal experience what the term ‘untenable position’ really means.

Then there’s the fudge. Some compromise that allows inertia to restore its hold and Sturgeon to maintain her position. Even if her position is considerably weakened.

Readers will note that two of the three outcomes, including the arguably most likely number three, are bad news for those of us committed to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. The odds are stacked against Scotland’s cause. Or, to put a more optimistic spin on things, there is a glint of hope showing for Scotland’s cause. Much to Sturgeon’s chagrin, I’m sure, the conference presents the Yes movement with an opportunity similar to that which we had at the 2021 Scottish Parliament election. An opportunity to combine for a common purpose. The purpose of impressing on conference the need and the demand for a total rethink of the Sturgeon/SNP strategy.

I know that the conference is supposedly tasked with looking at the need for change anyway. But who seriously believes that was ever what Sturgeon intended. What she was hoping for was either the rubber-stamp of approval for her ‘plan’ to use the next Westminster election as a de facto referendum or a very gentle arm-twist allowing her to defer things until 2026 and the next Holyrood elections. Either of these would have suited her. Procrastination is something she obviously favours. And it would be nice if she could share the blame with conference when her UK election pretending to be a Scottish referendum ‘plan’ meets ignominious failure. It wisnae jist me! It wis conference an’ a’!

What Sturgeon neither expects nor wants from this conference is that it should have something meaningful to say about how the fight to restore Scotland’s independence should be fought. It would be a serious blow to her authority if conference so much as acknowledged the lack of progress over the last eight years and more. Should conference formally recognise the implication that a complete change of strategy is called for, Sturgeon will feel the ground crumbling beneath her feet. This would surely signal the end of the Sturgeon hiatus and the recommencement of the genuine independence campaign.

I want you to imagine delegates arriving at the conference in Edinburgh on 19 March to be greeted by 10,000 people demanding that they put cause and country before party and personality. Or 20, 000! Or more! Make no mistake, it would need something of this magnitude to embolden those delegates to break free from the Sturgeon straitjacket that has immobilised Scotland’s cause for approaching a decade. Words like ‘rethink’ and ‘reframe’ must be part of the debate at this conference and for that to happen they must become part of the discourse of the entire independence movement. The idea of a change of mindset has to take root now in order that it can be fertilised by the conference and grow roots and branches that connect the entire Yes movement once again.

A single idea sits at the centre of all this – #DissolveTheUnion. That is the common goal that can be recognised as such by the entire independence movement. It is the key to the unity of purpose that we must rediscover in order to succeed. The question conference should be considering is just this – how do we #DissolveTheUnion?

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23 thoughts on “The question for conference

  1. A good article.

    Just one small point:

    When you say

    ” But maybe not so trivial if that 3,000 includes 15,000 of the party’s best and brightest.”

    do you mean that “1,500” rather than “15,000”?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “The question conference should be considering is just this – how do we #DissolveTheUnion?”

    Simple – Nationalist MPs declare to the HoC that the ToU is ended, walk out of Westminster, and convene a parliament in Scotland.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. An alternative #ScottishUDI to the one I have suggested? It’s good to have options.

      Personally, I would contend that we already have a Scottish Parliament with unchallengeable democratic legitimacy ─ so, why not use it? It is a ‘simple’ matter of converting Holyrood from the crypto-colonial administration that it is now to a fully-fledged national parliament. This is achieved by the relatively straightforward expedient of asserting the relevant powers subject to ratification by the electorate.

      My contention, as I think you know, is that the best way to do this is to use the British state’s intransigent denial of the legitimacy of demands for a referendum against them by stating that asserting powers over the constitution is the ONLY way the people of Scotland can be enabled to exercise our right of self-determination. That takes care of the ‘problem’ of international disapproval. How can any nation object to another nation or people exercising a right guaranteed to them by no less than the UN Charter?

      MPs would be part of the process through involvement in a National Convention ─ as sort of ad hoc second chamber. I see difficulties with those MPs claiming to be the legitimate parliament of Scotland. Not only would this legitimacy inevitably be challenged by the British state and its friends in Scotland, it would also be challenged by MSPs.

      To my mind, creating a new parliament is an added complication that we can easily avoid.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. 👍 I think it’s been all to easily forgotten that we were not asked to vote for devolution, the ballot was run on just 2 questions, ‘ should Scotland have its own Parliament ‘ and ‘ should it have tax raising powers ‘ . It’s arguable that westminster were nothing more than the facilitators acting on the stated will of the people of Scotland. I find it difficult to believe that had we voted against a Scots Parliament that westminster would have forced it on us against our will.
        Michael Forsyth was in no doubt as to the possibility that once the Scots Parliament was in place that ‘ they ‘ the Scots could just declare independence. Winnie Ewing ,at least, had no doubt that Holyrood was Scotland’s old Parliament reconvened and said so.

        “Personally, I would contend that we already have a Scottish Parliament with unchallengeable democratic legitimacy ─ so, why not use it? It is a ‘simple’ matter of converting Holyrood from the crypto-colonial administration that it is now to a fully-fledged national parliament. This is achieved by the relatively straightforward expedient of asserting the relevant powers subject to ratification by the electorate”

        I agree.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I don’t necessarily disagree with you Peter, as you know. However, any subsequent Scottish parliamentary ‘process’, whilst of course important, must ultimately be dependent on the one decisive ‘act’, which is that: “Nationalist MPs declare to the HoC that the ToU is ended, and walk out of Westminster” for the final time, takin Scottis soveranety hame wi thaim.

        It is from that act alone that the Scots, the English, and all the nations of the world, will then be in no doubt that ‘our people’ no longer participate in the UK union and so declare Scotland an independent country.

        It follows then that some form of parliament would need to be established in Scotland, but it is of less significance if the assembly of Scotland’s national representatives takes place at Holyrood, or up in the auld ane at Parliament Square, the Drill Hall in Castletown or the Peoples Institute in Kirkcaldy.

        The matter of utmost importance here is the initial act, on which all else depends; much as it was the case that a majority of Scotland’s MP’s/Commissioners brought Scotland into the union, so the same majorities must withdraw Scotland from it.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Regards the role of the MPs, I think there should be some kind of a deal, whereby they become the Second Chamber of the Scottish Parliament, to begin with.least.
        That gives them something worthwhile to do.
        As we move forward, the role or even permanence of a Second Camber can be discussed and expanded upon.
        However, any such additional chamber would have to have its own rules within the Parliament so to avoid some of the things we presently see in Westminster between their 2 groups.
        But that our MPs should walk out of Westminster, is a major part of the ending the Union.


  3. o/T Peter.

    Sturgeon is to resign, hopefully she’ll take Murrell with her, though there’s no point in her going if she’s to be replaced with the like s of Robertson, Brown or Swinney, maybe she saw the writing on the wall with regards to the police investigation over the 600k, or maybe the e-mails to her from McDonald are very damaging, either way her tenure as FM was mostly a poor one.


    1. Hopefully Sturgeon going will trigger a Scottish election which can be used as a de facto referendum.


  4. I remember a TV programme from years ago depicting the lives of the Borgias. One scene from it has always stuck in my mind. In it, Cesare Borgia was revelling in the death of his pontiff father that he resented, feeling he had held him back, claiming that now “he would gaze into the face of the Sun”. Of course, those around him knew that with his father’s death, Cesare’s was only days away at best. Be careful what you wish for.


  5. Oh Christ the narcissistic me, me, me speech packed with self-sympathy from the Sturgeon is utterly cringeworthy, she even had the brassneck to say she’s brought independence closer .

    I now see her as the Gordon Brown of the SNP.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aye Ros and that is some we’cht o’ an Albatross tae hae hingin’ aroon yir thrapple!!


  6. I was surprised at this, just as everyone else was.
    I think Nicola Sturgeon has been a good First Minister, and that calls for her to go, were misplaced.
    However, it is also the case, that she didn’t do anything useful for Independence.
    This resignation a decision isn’t too helpful either, but then again, that might just be part of her thinking, that it might help.

    However, it remains to be seen how things go from here, and if her stepping back, could in fact help.
    For there is no doubt, a great many have seen Sturgeon as a barrier, and there are more than a few folks who dislike her, sometimes out of just pure petty jealousy!
    But I listened in to BBC Scotland on the wireless, (Kaye Adams) and a few guys phoned in to berate her and SNP for destroying Scotland, and creating divisions, etc, etc, etc.
    The facts these idiots brush aside, is that it has been the pro London politicians supported by the anti Scottish Media, who have created divisions in Scotland, not SNP or Nicola Sturgeon.
    One fool mentioned the Economy, again, totally ignoring this is controlled from London, with Brexit not helping matters at all.

    I did note, I think it was a BBC journalist who asked at the very end of the news conference at Bute House about some Police investigation. Huh!
    Could he not simply have accepted the news conference was at an end, and appreciate a moment in history, but no, he has to throw in his wee spoiler.
    Stuff like that just encourages above mentioned fools to keep going with their stupid anti Scottish prejudices!


      1. Such rumors have been on the go a few years now.
        It was always just speculation.
        Talk of getting something with UN, likewise has been around for ages.
        It remains to be seen if anything comes of it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Aye Alf I saw yesterday that you called it.
        I thought at the time that that appeared overly optimistic, but here we are now!
        Time will tell how the prediction of ‘ the anticipated UN/other international posting’ pans out.

        just a FYI
        you can link directly to your own comment by copying the url from the
        date field that appears to the right of the username in your comment.



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