SNP should return to the honest argument on independence

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IF ALEX Salmond’s views, as outlined in The Scotsman on 16 August, are representative of the current leadership of the SNP, and I think it is fair to assume that they are, then the party has bigger problems than ever I had believed.

In arguing for the party’s current policy of a pre-legislative referendum on independence, Alex asserts that it is now unlikely that the SNP, on its own, can win a mandate for independence. Instead, the leadership philosophy appears to be that the party, apparently, must now simply be a vehicle to deliver only an SNP Scottish Executive to manage devolution within the United Kingdom, while trying to persuade MSPs from other parties - including Unionist parties - to support the holding of a referendum on whether or not to move to independence.

Again, apparently, this persuading would take place against a backdrop of the SNP Scottish Executive running a devolved Scotland and proving to the electorate of Scotland what great managers they are. So much so that, in a referendum, the people would rush to vote for independence.

Apart from anything else, what this argument fails to take into account is that the Westminster government in London, to which the devolved Scottish Parliament must answer, has no incentive to allow an SNP Scottish Parliament administration to appear a success and, indeed, has at its disposal all the powers necessary to ensure that it is not.

Rather than relegate the SNP to a party seeking nothing more than the right to form a devolved administration within the UK - while trying to persuade members of other political parties to support the idea of an independence referendum, and putting the outcome of such a referendum in the hands of a London Unionist government and a pro-Union press - I would argue that the simplest way to deliver independence is for the SNP to return to the honest argument that a vote for the SNP is a vote for independence.

It isn’t the case, as Unionists and "gradualists" argue, that so-called "fundamentalists" within the SNP simply want to shout independence louder. The "fundamentalist" wing of the SNP wants an honest dialogue with the electorate of Scotland. We want to argue our case, a case that articulates the merits and benefits of independence and, on that basis, persuades the people of Scotland that independence is the catalyst that will allow us to retake the powers we need to tackle the bread and butter issues that affect every one of us, every day of our lives.

Independence is not a nebulous concept - it isn’t about swapping the Union flag for a Saltire - it is about tackling the problems that blight Scottish society; it is about making people’s lives better.

The SNP must be honest with the people of Scotland. We have to say to the electorate: we cannot change Scotland for the better without the powers that come only with independence - and independence is what we will deliver if you vote for us.

Within the constraints of devolution, whether the Scottish Executive is formed by a New Labour/Lib Dem coalition or an SNP-led coalition, we will not have the powers to tackle the problems affecting the people of Scotland. Only independence will deliver to us the powers we need to begin to make people’s lives better - and that is why we say, unequivocally, that a vote for the SNP is a vote for independence. Or rather, that is what the SNP should be saying, but under the current leadership, we’re not.

Under the current leadership, the SNP argument is dishonest. What we said to the people of Scotland at the Scottish Parliament election in May was that they could vote SNP in the knowledge that this wasn’t necessarily a vote for independence, because if we formed the Scottish Executive we would hold an "are you sure?" referendum.

The current SNP line is essentially to ask Unionists to lend us their vote and allow us to form the Scottish Executive in a devolved administration within the UK. The pay-back would be, of course, that the devolved SNP administration would allow the same Unionists to vote against independence in a subsequent referendum. Meanwhile, the members of the devolved SNP administration would still be able to call themselves ministers and be ferried around in ministerial cars.

So, in fact, the current SNP line is simple after all, but it’s not a simple way to deliver independence - it’s a simple way to further the careers of the very small number of MSPs who form the current leadership clique.

Independence, unfortunately, comes a poor second in the current career-path leadership strategy.

• Campbell Martin is Scottish National Party MSP for West of Scotland.