I've been following Craig Murray's quest to become an SNP candidate at the general election with quite a bit of interest and curiosity, because the outcome was always going to be the most high-profile test of whether the SNP were following a 'broad church' or a 'tight discipline' approach in the wake of the referendum. Craig's vision of how to fight for independence was almost the polar opposite of the SNP leadership's - as I understand it, he wanted no deals with the London parties and thought that more powers for the Scottish Parliament were a distraction or a trap, whereas the leadership want a deal with Labour to bring about as many powers for Holyrood as possible. As it happens, I entirely agree with the leadership about strategy, and think that turning our back on the chance of a much more powerful parliament within the UK would be crazy. But it doesn't necessarily follow that Craig's disagreement with the gradualist approach should have precluded him from standing for the SNP - there's a strong case to be made that the decision should have been left to the local constituency association wherever he decided to put himself forward.
So was today's decision to bar him from the candidates' register justified? The general rule of thumb is that the minimum discipline required to remain part of a parliamentary party is that you follow the party whip on votes of confidence. Strictly speaking, the question that apparently proved to be Craig's undoing (whether he would vote to retain the bedroom tax if a deal with another party required the SNP to do so) is not an issue of confidence in the government. However, it could be argued that discipline on a wide range of issues is much more important for a smaller party that is attempting to become a junior partner in a 'governing arrangement' at Westminster (I call it that because it probably won't be a full coalition). If, say, 2 or 3 of the party's 25 MPs were known to be unwilling to vote in line with the terms of any deal, that would significantly weaken its bargaining power in post-election negotiations.
The leadership were probably in a no-win situation on this one. By taking this decision, they've bitterly disappointed many people, including myself, who admire Craig Murray and feel that the SNP would be enhanced by being broad enough to have a place for someone like him in its parliamentary ranks. On the other hand, in these specific circumstances, I find it hard to criticise anyone too severely for having a laser-like focus on securing the prize of more powers, and ensuring that the momentum generated by the referendum isn't squandered. I'm fairly convinced that's what lies behind this, and I don't think Craig's suggestion that there is a danger of "managerialism" creeping in is justified. As I've said before, if the SNP end up surprising themselves by entering into a full-blown coalition with Labour, they'll do it not because they want to (they seem genuinely repelled by the idea), but because almost any price is worth paying to bring about self-government.
By the way, I don't think anyone should be concerned about the hypothetical question relating to the bedroom tax - I would imagine the interviewers just came up with the most extreme example they could think of, ie. could you vote for something that every single person in this party loathes if it was necessary to secure a bigger objective? In reality, it's almost impossible to conceive of any Labour-SNP deal that wouldn't abolish the bedroom tax, but it's inevitable that one or two other painful sacrifices will have to be made.
One thing about this episode is that it should dispel the silly idea being put about by some commentators that the SNP aren't really interested in a deal with Labour, and are secretly hoping for a general election outcome that would leave them as a numerically strong but politically powerless opposition group.