Which is my way of saying that, after changing my mind about five times, I eventually voted for Tommy Sheppard in the SNP depute leadership election. I have to say it was so much easier to make a choice two years ago - although we all knew that Nicola Sturgeon was about to take charge, she wasn't yet in harness, so that left the depute candidates some space to differ with each other on policy, and particularly on constitutional strategy. Stewart Hosie's emphasis on making the SNP's 2015 general election campaign all about The Vow and Devo Max (which interestingly isn't quite what happened in the end, in spite of his victory) was very much in line with my own thinking at the time, so that was basically why I voted for him.
By contrast, there's been no vacancy at the top during this year's contest, so all of the candidates have had to be much more guarded about any differences they may privately have on strategy. As you know, I'm on the hawkish end of the spectrum as far as the timing of a second independence referendum is concerned, so at the very least I'd like to know that I'm not voting for a depute who will be arguing behind the scenes for what I believe to be counter-productive caution. But notwithstanding a hysterical article from James Millar in the New Statesman a couple of months ago which, on the basis of seemingly zero evidence, branded Sheppard a reckless 'separatist' and Angus Robertson a boringly realistic 'gradualist', I'm struggling to put a cigarette paper between the two men's stated views on a second indyref. I did discover that Chris McEleny had rehearsed the theory of 'we need to have already won the referendum before we even dare hold it', which I consider to be completely misguided, so that put me off him somewhat. But as far as the frontrunners were concerned, I was clearly going to have to use different criteria to decide.
Sheppard's pitch was mainly a series of suggestions about organisational reform, which all sounded attractive, but in all honesty I'm in no position to judge how feasible or wise they are. One or two alarm bells rang in my head when he pledged to spend 10% of the party's income on the changes. The obvious question is : would some of that money otherwise be better spent, perhaps on campaigning? I simply don't know.
Although Sheppard is undoubtedly the candidate whose views on policy matters other than independence align most closely with my own, I also worried that he mainly appeals to the left-wing voters that Nicola Sturgeon already reaches, and that Sturgeon/Robertson might be the more balanced ticket. And I certainly didn't take seriously the notion that Robertson would have too much on his plate if the burdens of the depute leadership were added to his duties as Westminster group leader. It's entirely normal for parliamentary leaders to have other responsibilities, and in a sense Robertson currently has it quite easy in comparison to his counterparts in the other Westminster parties.
But in the end, I decided I was over-thinking things. Sheppard is the most charismatic of the candidates, in my view, and as I agree with him about so much anyway, it would have been very odd not to vote for him. Here is how I ranked the four candidates -
1. Tommy Sheppard
2. Angus Robertson
3. Alyn Smith
4. Chris McEleny
I'm sure most of you who are SNP members will already have voted, but if you haven't, you'd better get your skates on - voting is about to close!