Leader: SNP supporters face a real test

Nicola Sturgeon will face a difficult choice over whether to call for a second referendum. Picture: John Devlin
Nicola Sturgeon will face a difficult choice over whether to call for a second referendum. Picture: John Devlin
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A DECISION to postpone a second referendum would be the biggest challenge for new Nats.

When the Yes campaign ended up on the losing side in the independence referendum many observers – including this newspaper – predicted a towsy time ahead for the Scottish National Party. Surely there would be ructions and an apportioning of blame.

The swift resignation of Alex Salmond succeeded in heading that off. By taking responsibility for the defeat and falling on his sword, Salmond allowed his successor Nicola Sturgeon a fresh start from which to take forward the work of party and government. More dark predictions were made about the effect of the extraordinary surge in SNP membership in the wake of the referendum result, to close on 100,000. Surely these new members would prove to be unmanageable, with their appetite for a second referendum proving a distraction from the SNP’s job of governing Scotland?

Again, this has not turned out to be the case – that is, until this weekend. Our news story today about the exclusion of former UK ambassador Craig Murray from the SNP’s list of approved candidates for next year’s general election is the first sign that there may be a mismatch between the new members’ insurgent instincts and the tight discipline the party has demanded – and received – in recent years as it moved from opposition to government.

It has to be said, however, that the accusations Murray makes this weekend – hinting darkly that the SNP’s new cadre of professional politicians are in danger of betraying the principles of the party – miss their target by a country mile. His comments suggest more of a fondness for a conspiracy theory than any rational analysis about the state of the SNP leadership. The more sensible conclusion is Murray has misunderstood the nature of the modern SNP – and the SNP has understood the nature of Craig Murray all too well.

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Some SNP supporters yesterday used social media to express their disappointment. The party leadership will doubtless use this as a “teachable moment” to try to educate new members about how the party operates. This is an ongoing process – Sturgeon made good use of her recent “Democracy Rocks” tour of Scotland to answer questions very directly about the party’s stance on issues, including the necessity of a proper mandate for an independence referendum. The SNP is proud of its internal party democracy, but Sturgeon has made very clear that as leader, she has to be in charge.

And yet there is one issue on which the doom-mongers’ predictions for the SNP may yet prove to have some substance. That issue is whether or not the SNP manifesto for the 2016 Holyrood elections should include a commitment to hold a second independence referendum. Sturgeon has said this will be decided late in 2015, which suggests it may form part of the discussions at the party’s annual conference in the autumn.

Few observers believe that Sturgeon wants such a commitment in the manifesto. She has said it depends on the mood of the people and the circumstances in which Scotland finds itself. If the price of oil continues to stay low, and if the Scottish Labour party can win back lost ground under Jim Murphy, Sturgeon may well conclude that the circumstances are not conducive to Indyref 2. The big question is whether the new membership of the SNP, brought to active politics by this year’s campaign, will agree.

Jim Murphy has said Scottish Labour needs its own Clause Four moment to cement a new ­identity for the Scottish party. The SNP conference in September next year could well be the setting for Sturgeon’s very own Clause Four moment, when the new membership of the SNP has to make a difficult choice – between their appetite for independence and loyalty to their leader.

Time for council to tune in

Scotland’s live music and club scene contribute enormously to the cultural vibrancy that makes this country such a tourist draw for the young and young-at-heart. Glasgow in particular is famed for its clubs and for a multiplicity of live venues, while Dundee’s gigging culture has been one of the city’s worst-kept secrets for generations. But in Scotland’s capital the music scene is, by comparison, moribund.

This is not down to a shortage of talent. Edinburgh is home to scores of bands and performers – from young teens flushed with ambition to veterans who cannot quite bring themselves to swap the Telecaster for a pipe and slippers.

The problem is a shortage of venues, largely due to the difficulty promoters face in dealing with the city council’s “noise pollution” strictures, which are among the most restrictive in the country. This is compounded by a lack of larger venues which means music fans often have to travel to Glasgow to see the best acts of the moment.

Now one of the city’s new wave of cultural stars has stepped into the debate, and offered to broker a deal to unblock Edinburgh’s musical bottleneck. Young Fathers, who won this year’s Mercury Prize, are a trio who are proud of their Edinburgh roots and have found international recognition for their hip-hop epics with a Scottish accent. They make a number of pertinent points – including the fact that the face Edinburgh presents to the world at Hogmanay and during the Festival is not the one that it shows to residents throughout the rest of the year.

This is an issue the city authorities must address with as much seriousness as they would if this was a problem with biotechnology or tourism or transport.

There is something badly amiss with the city’s creative infrastructure, the effect of which is to put a large damp cloth over the musical creativity of Scotland’s capital.

Young Fathers are to be commended for the generous spirit of their intervention. And the initial response from the city fathers and mothers is encouraging – they have asked the group to join the task force which has been set up to look at the problem.

The next challenge is to ensure this is not just a talking shop, but the first step to a musical renaissance for Scotland’s capital city.

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