If the leadership announced at 9am tomorrow that they were reintroducing capital punishment and dropping their opposition to Trident, by 6pm they'd be tweeting without any sense of irony: "Eyes on the prize, troops! Don't get distracted!"https://t.co/8J2DR39eNH— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) February 20, 2021
It's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry whenever somebody close to the SNP leadership lectures the membership on the necessity of unity and discipline in the run-up to a crucial election that could make or break our chances of independence. It's like: in that case, would you mind terribly abstaining from petty score-settling against Joanna Cherry, and from introducing highly provocative definitions of transphobia that you know perfectly well are going to enrage half the party, and from treating the man who led the party for twenty years as if he is some sort of political foe? Can't that sort of self-indulgence wait until the election is out of the way?
"'And yet Alex Salmond is still making these ridiculous and baseless claims and lashing out at all and sundry' said an SNP spokesman."— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) February 23, 2021
It is absolutely grotesque to see the words "said an SNP spokesman" at the end of a sentence that reads like Tory propaganda.
There was a determined (and possibly coordinated) effort on social media a couple of weeks ago to portray an opinion poll showing that Alex Salmond had slightly poorer favourability ratings than Boris Johnson as the death-knell of any hopes of a political comeback for Mr Salmond. But I think the leadership are in danger of falling for their own propaganda on this one - they've started to think those poll numbers make them fireproof in declaring outright war on Mr Salmond, and they couldn't be more wrong about that. However the general public may feel, there's still considerable sympathy and admiration for Mr Salmond to be found within the SNP membership. I suspect I'm fairly typical of SNP members in that I have a high regard for both Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon, and think they're both exceptional leaders. However, if anyone had asked me, I would have advised the leadership not to needlessly force us to make a choice between the two in the way that they now appear hellbent on doing, because they may not like our answers.
That said, it'll only be possible to make a direct electoral choice between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond if the latter chooses to stand in the May election. If he doesn't, then realistically the SNP will remain the only game in town for achieving independence. And Ms Sturgeon herself is highly likely to still be SNP leader on election day. Wings justifies his "tear the whole house down" attitude by saying it's "inevitable" that Ms Sturgeon will depart and that all he's doing is trying to hurry the process along. But that's wishful thinking on his part. From everything I've heard both publicly and privately, Peter Murrell and Liz Lloyd are toast. But Ms Sturgeon will probably survive because her wildly popular handling of the pandemic will insulate her.
Someone said to me the other day "Jimmy, come on over to the ISP, even without a celeb politician to hold your hand". I thought about that for twenty seconds, and although the policy platform of ISP is undoubtedly closer to my own views than the SNP's is right now, I wasn't particularly tempted. It's not just that I don't think ISP will win any seats - I'm actually not at all sure they'll even exist a year or two from now. They might well quietly fold in the same way that Change UK did after an election flop (and bear in mind that Change UK was far better financed than ISP and had much more high-profile backers). Having been a member of the SNP for several years, I don't want to give that up for a party that might leave me politically homeless within a few months. I want a marriage, not a casual affair, if that makes sense.
What we need to do is ignore the provocations and condescension from the leadership and think about the best interests of the independence cause in a hard-headed way. We are the foot-soldiers, we are the ordinary people of Scotland, we are the ones who are actually serious about independence and care passionately about making it happen. There are no career considerations complicating the issue for us. It may seem strange to quote Peter A Bell at a time like this (or at any other time for that matter) but he's been right about at least one thing over the years - the SNP are our vehicle for achieving independence, and we use them, not the other way around. Even if we think the party has been hijacked by identity politics entryists, we still have to use them if they're the best option available to us, and especially if they're the only realistic option. Grass-roots campaigns are important, but they can't do the job on their own - having a pro-independence Scottish Government, and a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament, are absolute prerequisites for realising our goal.
I know there's a snag, though: a party that wins power will claim a mandate for anything and everything that was in its manifesto. So people who are deeply concerned about the SNP's direction of travel on civil liberties or women's rights may be worried about casting a vote that could be interpreted as a blank cheque. But I suppose it just depends on how serious you are about independence - are you really willing to consign us all to London rule for God knows how many more years to thwart the SNP leadership on these other issues?
A better idea might be to take charge of how our votes are defined. In 2005, Polly Toynbee urged Guardian readers to photograph themselves wearing a nose-peg as they cast their votes for Labour, to make the point that they were doing so to keep the Tories out, and not as any kind of endorsement of the war in Iraq or any of Tony Blair's other right-wing excesses. Perhaps we could set up a 'memory box website' in which people make personal declarations about the meaning of their votes for the SNP. "OK, you asked me to keep my eye on the prize of independence, and you told me that voting for the SNP was the way of doing that, so I took you at your word. My SNP vote today is a vote for independence, nothing more, nothing less. I do not give my consent to any erosion of civil liberties or women's rights." And the word 'consent' really ought to prick the conscience of the leadership, given its prominent place in the new definition of transphobia.
But what if, say, stopping self-ID really is a dealbreaker for you? What I would say is that if you vote ISP, don't kid yourself that it's some sort of brilliant strategic way of gaming the d'Hondt system, because it isn't. You'll be giving your vote to a party that won't win a single seat. But if you're casting a vote of principle rather than of tactics, it's nevertheless fair to say that you're doing something a whole lot less destructive than voting for a unionist party. The popular vote will be looked at when judging the strength of any mandate for an independence referendum, and even a vote for the tiniest fringe pro-indy party will help in that respect.
In the absence of a Salmond-led party, though, the only ways to achieve an indy mandate in terms of both votes and seats will be to vote SNP/SNP, or SNP/Green, or possibly SNP/Wightman.
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If you missed my podcast chat with Dr Tim Rideout of the Scottish Currency Group yesterday, you can catch up with it HERE.