‘KNOW your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” The words of Sun Tzu struck home to me in Aberdeen as I observed the largest ever conference of the SNP.
This is an organisation that truly knows its own mind, purpose and role. It has also spent decades trying to understand what barriers exist to other people supporting its goals and drawing them to its opponents. Keeping that awareness of self and others is one of the secrets to success in any walk of life.
But what is increasingly, and dramatically obvious to me, is that so many of the SNP’s opponents currently struggle to understand themselves and what their purpose truly is. They also – wilfully almost – fail to comprehend what the modern SNP has become, is about and how it works. This difference goes a long way to explaining the SNP’s current success.
The Labour Party seems truly adrift without any sense of who they are. Their new leaders are already struggling with dissent on their front and back benches. The members are not quite sure what they are supposed to think or who to follow. Their purpose is to oppose, but they don’t know who or how or why. The idea of them as an alternative government is disappearing over the horizon and we can now wonder whether it can ever return.
At the same time, their analysis of the SNP and its support reflects thinking that is decades out of date and, at best, would represent what they would like to be true rather than what is true. They face in all directions at once fighting themselves, then the Tories and finally the SNP. Fatal.
The Tories in turn similarly miscalculate Scotland and have done for a quarter of a century and more. Their team in and on Scotland are quality individuals but are struggling against a generation of brand damage.
They also lose from attachment to an organisation in London that is creeping back towards its “nasty party” image as it revels in election victory and the collapse of its main opponent. Hubris is on one shoulder and the European Referendum is on the other..
Meantime, the SNP has more than 114,000 members who are as positive unified and purposeful as they have ever been. A senior broadcaster told me lasts week that he had tried to find dissent around the conference on the independence debate and position; “A few of the older long-standing members would rather it was all the party debated, but pretty much everyone else seems naturally and automatically positive and ‘on-message’.”
This is pretty much the core reality. Commentators would love to find or invent splits or fights but there are none of material note. The new members are more representative of mainstream Scotland than the core of us who have been banging this drum for decades. They have joined an organisation that has a clear and consistent culture of behaviour that is grounded in positivism, self-belief and teamwork, hard work at that.
Yes, in some branches I am certain the old hard left will have joined and will be trying their age-old tricks but their numbers are swamped by normal people.
The consistent theme on whatever you speak about is the need for people’s voices to be heard in determining what happens to their country and communities. Taken together, this makes the SNP a modern party with an open culture and clear focus on listening to the people they serve. They also have a discipline in conduct and message that is consistent and almost self-policed.
Nicola Sturgeon opened the conference and immediately set the party on a unified course, setting clear her terms on what could ever deliver a second referendum and focusing on winning next May’s election.
This is a party that put its heart and soul into winning last September’s referendum and lost. That left an ache that will take time and change to fade. The election success in May that followed restored pride and heart but the ache will stay. But the party is stabilised now as the only credible opposition to the Tories in the UK and the popular party of government in Scotland. That is a politically powerful combination.
All parties and governments will have their moments. People are human and will make mistakes. For some these will be fixable and for others will mean they lose their jobs. It happens to all and the SNP can be no different as time goes on. But very unlike the other parties it has a culture of support and teamwork borne of the reality that its leaders have been working towards their common goal all of their adult lives. These people truly get on, understand one another and back one another. So do their party.
They must now convince the Scottish electorate they deserve another majority government and that both list and constituency votes are needed to secure Nicola Sturgeon for First Minister. Do that and then deliver reform and transformation with the powers they have and they will earn broader support to do more. And one day, hopefully before too many years have passed, the ache of last September will be gone. «