Yes folks, it's a blogpost title in the inimitable style of Peter A Bell (well, inimitable except in the sense that I've just imitated it), which can mean only one thing - after two and a half weeks of putting this off, I'm finally going to reply to Peter's latest blogpost about me, in which he refers to me with uncharacteristic restraint and maturity as a "lying wee s***e", "the Scot Goes Pffft blogger" and "James 'Creepy' Kelly".
Now, before we go any further, let's make sure we're all on the same page and have correctly identified who the man calling me "creepy" actually is. Here's a genuine poster from a few years ago that features Peter. (Posted without comment, as they say.)
Moving on to the actual content of Peter's post, I'm not going to deny that this has been a monumental struggle for me. As I've said before, I find Peter's prose to be almost physically painful to read, and usually the best I can bear to do is skim-read his posts to get the general gist and to pick out the two or three most pompous or ludicrous sentences. However, I've done my level best this time to read the whole thing so I can reply properly.
First of all, Peter seems deeply upset about me "misquoting" him (which apparently means he can't tell the difference between a direct quote and a tongue-in-cheek paraphrase) and about my use of "straw men". I must say that's a bit rich given his repeated attempts to put words in my mouth and to take issue with points that I simply never made. For example, he says this -
"Fully a year after I started asking questions about how Alba Party intended to honour the terms of its 2021 manifesto – far less live up to the overblown rhetoric of its more ‘enthusiastic’ devotees – someone giving the impression of speaking with some authority for the party has attempted some kind of response...According to James Kelly at least, Alba Party has retreated somewhat from the more grandiose assertions and notions contained in its 2021 manifesto...Where a year ago the talk was of a ‘supermajority’ and forcing an extraordinary election and making that election substitute for a referendum, now the aim is rather more modest."
That is complete fiction from beginning to end. I did not state that the Alba Party has "retreated" from anything in its 2021 manifesto. Nor, incidentally, do I think that holding an extraordinary election and using that as a de facto referendum is a bad idea - in fact I suggested such a course of action myself multiple times before Alba was even founded. And last but not least, I wasn't speaking on behalf of the Alba Party in anything I wrote, except to the small extent that I have one voice out of the 15 or 16 on the Alba NEC. As I explicitly stated in my blogpost, there are differences of view within Alba on what the party can realistically expect electoral success to look like over the next couple of years, but I do believe that the utopianists who think Alba can suddenly replace the SNP as the largest party are very much in the minority. I think most members realise that we'll be doing well if we start regularly polling at 4-5% of the vote or higher, thus forcing the SNP to start looking over their shoulders and thinking about what policy measures will be required to stop more of their own voters drifting to Alba.
"Alba Party’s ‘plan’ assumes we can afford to wait until the next Holyrood election in 2026 before acting to dissolve the Union and restore Scotland's independence."
Again, this is another straw man, on two different counts. Firstly, it wrongly characterises my own analysis of how Alba can be electorally effective and achieve its objectives as "Alba Party's plan". And secondly, it suggests that my analysis referred specifically to the 2026 Scottish Parliament. I did not state that, I did not imply that, and I certainly did not mean that. There are council elections next month in which Alba could start to achieve its electoral objectives and thus put pressure on the SNP to become more radical on its independence strategy. That pressure can also come, incidentally, from Alba doing well in opinion polls - and to state the bleedin' obvious, we won't need to wait until 2026 for opinion polls to be conducted.
"The aspect of reality that James Kelly chooses to disregard as he refutes claims not made by me is time. This blithe discounting of time is a ubiquitous feature of Alba Party rhetoric. He also denies political reality. But that may be a matter of perspective. Not so time. Time is real. The electoral cycle is real...What James takes absolutely no account of is what the British state will be doing while we wait for Alba to gain enough electoral support to have some influence."
Alba are currently on 2% of the vote. I'm suggesting they'll be doing well and can start producing results if they get to 4-5% of the vote. Now, I fully appreciate that jumping from 2% to 4% is not all that easy, but from the way Peter is talking you'd think I was proposing a manned mission to the third moon off Jupiter. In reality we're talking about something that in the best case scenario can be achieved within a few weeks or months. I dare say that the British state is more than capable of getting up to all sort of nefarious activities within a few weeks or months, but this begs the obvious question: why does Peter think his alternative strategy will be so much quicker that it can successfully head the British state off? What is it about Peter's plan that is just so God-damn speedy?
The snag is, of course, that to answer that question, we'd first have to work out what Peter's plan is, and that's far from a straightforward task. Indeed it's not entirely clear that he has a plan at all. Let's start with what we know for sure: he wants people to reject Alba and stick with the SNP as the sole vehicle for independence. So to that extent it's a 'do nothing' strategy and is unlikely to produce faster results than a strategy that involves taking some actual action. He does, however, want the SNP to be much more radical than they currently are. In fact, he wants them to do a lot of the things that Alba are proposing and that the SNP leadership have rejected out of hand. Or, to put it another way, he wants to achieve Alba policy by staying with the SNP and opposing Alba. In some respects, he also wants things to be done that are far more radical than what Alba are proposing. So he wants to bring about greater radicalism than Alba's policy by sticking with a party that is much less radical than Alba. Can anyone make sense of this? I can't.
My best guess is that we're supposed to believe that the sheer force of Peter's personality and the unique persuasiveness of his blogging skills is just about to completely transform the SNP out of all recognition. Any time now. Probably before breakfast tomorrow. Thanks to Peter, the SNP will suddenly be more Alba than Alba. Nicola Sturgeon will become a revolutionary who is just gagging to declare UDI. At the moment of epiphany, she'll probably break down in tears and scream "WHY couldn't I see that Peter A Bell was right all along?! He's a thinker AND listener."
Once we all realise that TIME is the enemy, we'll realise that we must avoid all distractions such as actually doing anything positive to try to bring about a change in strategy on independence, and instead turn with religious fervour to Peter's booming voice. Because that, and that alone, can slay TIME.
"I ask the questions James Kelly neglects to ask. Why would the SNP be troubled by Alba taking four or five per cent of the vote in the Council elections? Why would this bring about the change in Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue when all else has failed to do so? How would Alba translate that relatively tiny vote in the almost wholly irrelevant (to the constitutional issue) local elections into a lever with which to move the Scottish Government?"
So yes, in a thrilling and unexpected plot twist, Peter suddenly seems to understand that we're not talking about waiting until 2026, which of course totally contradicts everything he has previously said. But hey-ho, let's not quibble. To answer his question, all I can do is refer him back to the blogpost he's replying to, because that's where the point is explained. If Alba's vote share can no longer be dismissed as negligible, then the damage being done to the SNP's own vote share also ceases to be negligible. Vote share is what wins you seats, vote share is what keeps you the dominant force in Scottish politics. The SNP can't afford to lose one-tenth, let alone one-fifth, of its vote to another pro-independence party. If there's a danger of that, they'll have to take action to stitch their coalition of support back together - and that means speaking to the concerns that SNP-to-Alba switchers have. Overwhelmingly, what those people want is greater urgency on independence and a U-turn on GRA reform.
Next, Peter quotes Jonathon Shafi saying "influence campaigns on the SNP leadership have failed" because the SNP organisation is so centralised. Peter appears to be completely missing the point here, because it looks like Shafi was talking about internal influence campaigns within the SNP. It's precisely because the internal influence campaigns failed that Alba was created, ie. to change the approach to that of applying external influence. It's Peter who wants to persevere with a strategy that has already failed.
"What rational reason is there to suppose that the SNP leadership would buckle under the weight of a 5% vote for Alba in the local elections? Does Nicola Sturgeon look like she might be impressed by this?"
What would you expect her to look like, Peter? What would be the big clue? Something to do with her eyebrows, perhaps?
"James Kelly would no doubt retort that the SNP would be bound to worry that they might lose 5% to Alba in the next Holyrood election. Again, I ask the question he neglects to ask. Why would they worry?"
Because, as I have been pointing out for well over a decade, the list ballot is the most important ballot in Holyrood elections. The SNP cannot rely on retaining such an abnormally high number of constituency seats forever, and once they start losing constituency seats they'll desperately need all the list votes they can get. Yes, Peter, losing five percentage points of support on the list to Alba would worry the SNP. It would worry them considerably."A certain success for Alba in the council elections might even suit the SNP. If the British parties end up with control of more local authorities then we can be sure Alba will be blamed. Whether they are culpable or not is irrelevant. If they can be portrayed vividly enough as the culprits then enough of the mud will stick to do some damage to Alba’s prospects in the 2026 Scottish Parliament election."