There was a mixed reaction to my blogpost of yesterday in which I said I was coming round to the idea that the positives of an Alex Salmond-led list party might outweigh the negatives. A frequent refrain from those who disagreed with me was that we need an overwhelming, unified, single-party majority for the SNP in the Holyrood election to build momentum towards an independence referendum. As regular readers know, I have sympathy with that view and at times have even expressed it myself - but it's not only up to Nicola Sturgeon's detractors and Alex Salmond's supporters to decide whether that can happen. It's also up to the SNP leadership themselves. If they want unity, they need to lead by example and demonstrate that the SNP is a broad church in which all strands of mainstream pro-independence opinion can find a home. That means having a top team that encompasses the most talented parliamentarians from all of those different strands.
When the idea of Joanna Cherry as a future SNP leader has been raised, some people have argued that she's not suitable. Perhaps, it's said, she isn't quite as charismatic as a Nicola Sturgeon, or perhaps she doesn't project her voice in PMQs quite as well as an Ian Blackford. But there can be no credible disputing of the fact that she easily makes the grade as a senior frontbencher. She's one of the four or five most talented people the SNP have in either parliament. If a decision were to be made on the basis of merit, she wouldn't be on the fringes of team selection - she's a star striker, and would be an automatic pick. The fact that she's just been sacked outright strongly indicates that the decision wasn't made on the basis of merit, but was instead driven by petty factionalism. The message it sends is that people who share Joanna Cherry's views (of whom there are many, as the NEC election results demonstrate) no longer have a place in the SNP, except on the fringes. It must raise a doubt over whether the SNP are even bothered about attracting their votes anymore.
During the Labour leadership election of 1980, a group of Labour centrist MPs met Denis Healey and asked what they could expect from him if he defeated Michael Foot. He basically replied that they couldn't expect anything at all from him because he was more interested in courting the votes of left-wing MPs. He didn't need to bother with the centrists because they had no-one else to vote for. "You've got nowhere else to go" he told them. But one or two ended up voting for Michael Foot and then defected to the SDP a few months later. I think I'm right in saying that one of them sent Healey a message that simply read "found somewhere else to go".
I don't know whether the SNP leadership are deliberately trying to drive good people out of the party. But they need to understand that their actions will have that effect, and they need to be very sure that the consequences of that are worth it in return for...well, in return for whatever the hell they think they're gaining by sacking someone of the quality of Joanna Cherry. If you leave people with no other attractive options, they'll always find somewhere else to go.
This is absolutely disgraceful. The SNP want the pro-indy movement to unite behind them in May - well, fine, but that's a two-way street. The SNP top team itself needs to be broadly based, not factional. Star strikers of all shades of opinion.https://t.co/5cJxesEm90— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) February 1, 2021
It would be interesting to know if the leadership decided on its own initiative to declare war on Joanna Cherry and her supporters, or whether other front-benchers "did a Hodge" and blackmailed them into sacking her. Either way, it's a dreadful, factional decision.— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) February 1, 2021
And now Joanna Cherry is sacked from the SNP's front bench! Is the SNP being secretly run by the Scottish Tories?— ruth wishart (@ruth_wishart) February 1, 2021
Have just read the list of Westminster appointments to shadow jobs for SNP MP's. The omissions are way more significant than those given a role.— ruth wishart (@ruth_wishart) February 1, 2021
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Sacking Joanna Cherry is almost the equivalent of Tony Blair sacking Gordon Brown. Maybe not quite, but almost. Blair would never have done that. However much of a control freak he was, however much Brown infuriated him, he would never have done it, and there's a good reason why.— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) February 1, 2021