CONSIDER the sweep of Scottish political history in the past 80 years and one thing is crystal clear: with the exception of a few days following 6 September when a poll put Yes ahead in the referendum campaign, the Scottish National Party and its objectives have never been in a stronger position than they find themselves at present.
It may not feel like that to many people now, weeks following an unsuccessful referendum on independence. But pause for calm reflection and it is clear this is the case.
The party enjoys historically high support in the polls. It is a unified and positive governing and campaigning institution. Its membership trebled in recent days and is higher than at any point in history.
Independence commanded 45 per cent support on a day of remarkably high turnout. It is the pipe dream of a fringe group no more. It is a legitimate option that could yet be chosen with confidence if the Westminster and Whitehall system demonstrates it can’t adequately reform to satisfy the aspirations of the people.
The pressure on Westminster to move more responsibilities to Holyrood is therefore very real. The three main UK party positions remain way behind the overwhelming majority of Scottish people who want Holyrood to be very significantly more responsible than now. The people are more informed and engaged in how they are governed than they have probably ever been.
The party itself has greater talent, resource and organisation than ever before. Its leader Alex Salmond hands it on to his deputy Nicola Sturgeon in fine shape but ironically this only escalates the pressure on her.
The challenges for her stewardship are greater than for any leader before her because the stakes and the opportunities are too. In my estimation she is more than up to the task than any leader before her at this point. The party’s new members join at a great time and in Nicola they have a leader they can and must trust.
The disappointment among the Yes campaigners and their supporters is real and painful. I feel it too. But it is time to get over that or we risk squandering the opportunities in front of us. The generations to come would not forgive that.
With the benefit of perspective and the positive channelling of all that energy, this moment can secure the benefits of both of the SNP’s objectives – securing independence and promoting Scotland’s interests in general.
Soak in self-indulgence, finger point, blame, complain, divide and entrench, and the SNP will fail. Revert to an appeal solely to the base support that already agrees with it and it will fail. Revert to tactics and rhetoric that manifestly failed in the past and they will fail again. And that failure will set Scotland, the SNP and the independence case back decades, if not forever.
Scotland has been world class at squandering opportunities in the past. Scotland’s party needs to look itself square in the mirror and judge whether it has what it takes to keep winning for its country. I believe it can and that it will. It must.
Now is its moment to occupy the continent of common ground where the vast majority of this country sits, of all classes, regions and groupings. Let the others slice, dice and triangulate. The national party must unify the nation behind ambition for the country and its people, every single one of its people. Figuring out how to do this with the responsibilities we hold within the UK is the challenge of now. Striving to do whatever it takes must be the calling of all.
We need to change the way we talk, think and act, fundamentally. Get this right and the SNP will achieve both its objectives and more quickly than many dare dream right now. The country needs leadership, now more than ever before.
There are storms abroad in our world: economic; social; environmental; and political. And they show no sign of relenting any time soon. They are visited on too many people whose lives are too hard and who deserve so much more.
Leadership now means delivering a substantial outcome from the Smith Commission process and securing powerful home rule for Scotland. Leadership now means securing the strongest of voices for Scotland in next spring’s general election. Leadership now means governing with a reforming grace, vision, ambition and immense energy to traverse the colossal pressures on the public purse and services. Leadership now means letting go of power at the centre and letting communities and people be the very change they want to see. Leadership now means defining a modern role for the positive force for good government can be at all levels in Scotland. Leadership now means keeping our eyes on the prize today, tomorrow and in the longer term.
Get this right and my children will raise their own, God willing, in a Scotland at peace with itself and its place in the world along with the almost 200 other countries we live with. All things are possible. Everything. «
• Twitter: @AndrewWilsonAJW