This is something I've been saying about the SNP for years, including prior to the spring of 2021 when I was still a member of the party. I simply cannot understand how the SNP leadership can justify insisting on iron discipline among the rank-and-file membership, with a view to winning as many votes and seats as possible, and with the implication that a lost seat here or there could make all the difference to independence, when the leadership themselves are quite happy to needlessly chuck valuable seats away like confetti if the fancy takes them. How many times has this happened now? In the middle of the 2019 general election campaign, they hung Neale Hanvey out to dry over extremely tenuous and dubious allegations of antisemitism, which if I recall correctly were mainly about an article he tweeted or retweeted without checking carefully enough. 95 times out of 100, that ludicrous over-reaction from the SNP would have led to Labour winning the Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath constituency by default, but amazingly we got away with it on that occasion. What should have happened, of course, is that Neale Hanvey should have put out an agreed apology for being a little bit careless with what he tweeted, but other than that the SNP should have stood by their man and stressed they were certain of his good faith. What were they so afraid of? OK, they might have faced spurious accusations of "institutionalised antisemitism" from the usual quarters, but that only becomes a problem if you make it one. Very few votes are swung by that sort of thing if you simply face it down.
Then there was the Margaret Ferrier episode. If the SNP had stood by her, it wouldn't necessarily have guaranteed that she'd have avoided being removed from her position, but she certainly would have had a much better chance. As it is we have the grotesque spectacle of the SNP actively campaigning - they're literally one of two officially registered anti-Ferrier campaigners along with Labour - for a by-election to be held that they know is highly likely to lead to a pro-independence MP being replaced by a Labour MP.
And now they seem to be hellbent on also throwing away the Na h-Eileanan an Iar constituency, which they've held since 2005, long before their 2015 breakthrough, and which they previously held between 1970 and 1987. Indeed, in the 1970 general election, it was the one and only constituency that they won anywhere in Scotland. This is heartland territory that they suddenly seem to think is expendable for some reason. It's all so pointless - why pick sides in a personal dispute between two MPs? Angus MacNeil clearly felt that Brendan O'Hara had bullied him and that he was merely standing up for himself, so by suspending only Mr MacNeil for a week, the leadership were bound to look like they were enabling and endorsing bullying, and they could reasonably have expected Mr MacNeil to start considering his options as a result. But even once he did that, he left himself a clear potential route back, which the leadership have now stupidly closed off by initiating proceedings likely to lead to his expulsion. What does it matter if they think they're technically following the rule book? There was a much stronger case, based on crystal-clear precedents, for suspending Nicola Sturgeon, Colin Beattie and Peter Murrell after the arrests, but they somehow managed to come up with excuses for giving those three people a free pass.
Make no mistake, Angus MacNeil may suffer as a result of this but the SNP will suffer even more - ultimately it's themselves they're punishing, not him. He's made clear he will stand for re-election no matter what happens, which presumably means if he is expelled he will be standing either as an independent candidate or under the Alba banner. Either of those scenarios would make the constituency practically unwinnable for the SNP. Na h-Eileanan an Iar is one of the very, very few constituencies in Scotland (or anywhere in the UK for that matter) where people choose how to vote as much on the basis of the candidate as on the basis of the party. After eighteen years in harness, Angus MacNeil is highly likely to have a sizeable personal vote which he will carry over either to Alba or to his independent campaign. Precisely how sizeable is anyone's guess, but what will probably ensue is a two-horse race between Mr MacNeil and Labour, who are also fielding a very well-known (if rather controversial) candidate in the shape of Torcuil Crichton. The absolute best-case scenario for the SNP might be to finish as runners-up to Labour, with Mr McNeil a strong third.
Incidentally, if Mr McNeil is expelled, I very much hope he stands for Alba rather than as an independent. Whatever he achieves as an independent candidate, no matter how remarkable, would be localised and strictly time-limited. Whereas if he was to hold the seat as an official Alba candidate, that would have the potential to be a transformational moment for Scottish politics as a whole.
There should be a cinema ad campaign where a shopper in a supermarket is about to pick up some meat with a Union Jack on it, and somebody stops them, saying "If it's got a Jack...", and then all the other customers turn around in unison and shout "...PUT IT BACK!"— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) July 15, 2023
The Spectator and GB News would both have a collective nervous breakdown. It would be soooooooo funny.— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) July 15, 2023
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