Monday, April 18, 2022

Just two hours left to register to vote in the local elections

If there are any independence supporters in your life who aren't yet registered to vote (young people, for instance), now is the time to give them an extremely urgent reminder that they have until just before midnight tonight to register in time for the local elections.  The link they'll need is HERE.

And of course tell them to vote til they boak as well, but save that advice until after they've registered - time is very short!

Could we have stopped the SNP from losing its way on independence?

Fergie Kate replied to the above with: "Far too many fawning, obsequious members have allowed them to f*** up the best chance of Indy we ever had. Every month it recedes further into the past."

This raises the interesting question of whether SNP members, including current Alba supporters who were still in the SNP until a year ago, share responsibility with the leadership for the grotesque direction the Scottish Government have taken. At the very moment the SNP should be moving into the endgame for independence, with Brexit as the casus belli, they've instead settled into a bizarre comfort zone with the help of bland and meaningless buzz phrases such as "ease the squeeze".

As I've noted a couple of times recently, there's a difference of view among Alba members about exactly how we're going to help bring independence about.  The majority view is that we'll do it as a relatively small party, using electoral pressure to nudge the SNP in a more radical direction.  There's also a minority 'utopianist' view that we'll soon replace the SNP as the most popular party and directly deliver independence ourselves.  Whichever interpretation you subscribe to, though, there's no question that we're talking about a huge amount of additional work which really should have been unnecessary.  It would have been far more optimal if we'd been able to march together towards independence within an SNP that had maintained a laser-like focus on the prize.  So could we have rescued the SNP from the inside?

The short answer is "not with Nicola Sturgeon as leader". That was pretty conclusively proved in late 2020 by the aftermath of the victory of "the good guys" in the SNP internal elections, which the leadership swiftly and effortlessly nullified by procedural chicanery.  Most famously, Fiona Robertson carried on as if nothing had changed, as if being voted out of office was a mere technical detail. She undoubtedly continued to wield more power than her elected successor. This circumvention of SNP internal democracy was perhaps analogous to the dying days of the Weimar Republic, when a supposedly democratic system proved to be a hollow shell due to the massive overuse of centralised presidential powers - which were technically constitutional, but which no-one had ever really envisaged the potential significance of.

So realistically if the SNP was to be kept on track, it would have meant Nicola Sturgeon never gaining those centralised powers in the first place, which in turn would have meant her not becoming leader in 2014.  And that would have been a tall order. The most straightforward way it could have been achieved is if Alex Salmond had simply never resigned as SNP leader, thus preventing a vacancy arising.  Funnily enough, just a few hours before he resigned, I was asked by the BBC to go on the breakfast programme the following day, and in the preparatory phone conversation the producer/researcher said to me very emphatically: "Now obviously Alex Salmond isn't going to resign because of the referendum result, no-one would expect him to do that, there's no reason for him to do that."  Those words seemed very authoritative, and I was bit stunned when the opposite occurred so quickly.  Perhaps it would have been perfectly feasible for Mr Salmond to ride out the referendum result, because after all the Yes campaign had performed a lot better than most observers had expected.  It's a borderline call, though, because remember he was less than three years away from a decade in Bute House, and there comes a point where any leader will be accused of trying to "do a Thatcher" and stay in office forever.  But maybe, just maybe, he could have held on for four more years, giving him just about enough time to hold a second indyref in 2018 in the wake of the EU referendum result.  The snag is that he had no way of knowing when he resigned that an EU referendum would take place or that Leave would win.

Without Mr Salmond staying in office, is there any other way Nicola Sturgeon could have been thwarted?  Well, someone could have challenged her in the 2014 leadership election.  As a matter of principle that would have been a good thing because it would have prevented a coronation and facilitated a debate about strategy, but in the long run it would have changed nothing - she would undoubtedly have beaten any challenger by a country mile.  

More realistic would have been to prevent her becoming recognised as the undisputed heir to the throne prior to 2014.  There was nothing inevitable about her gaining that status - remember that if it hadn't been for Alex Salmond's last minute entry into the race, the 2004 leadership election would have been a three-way contest between Nicola Sturgeon, Mike Russell and Roseanna Cunningham, and it was almost universally accepted that Roseanna Cunningham would have won comfortably.  However to know the importance of preventing Ms Sturgeon becoming seen as 'the anointed one' you would have needed a hell of a lot of foreknowledge about how any administration she led would prove to be pro-independence in theory but devolutionist in practice.  I'm not sure there were any real clues in advance.

Hindsight really is a wonderful thing.  I recall the former blogger Jeff Breslin saying in 2014 that it broke his heart that Alex Salmond had chosen to stay on as leader, rather than allowing the supposedly wider appeal of Nicola Sturgeon to win the referendum for us.  But whether or not it's true that Ms Sturgeon is the ideal person to lead a referendum campaign, that's not of much use if no government she leads will ever take the action required to actually bring a referendum about.  I think we just have to accept that there was a lot of fate involved in where we've ended up, and instead of beating ourselves up about things that would have been hard to control or predict, we need to think about how we're going to drag ourselves into a better position. In my view, that has to involve some kind of electoral progress for Alba, and we can make a start on that in the local elections.

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To catch up with my Scot Goes Popcast interview with Alba candidate Lisa Keogh, please click HERE (video version) or HERE (audio only).