Euan McColm: Introducing Sturgeon’s successor
I DON’T know if you’re reading this or not but I hope you are. You’re the next leader of the SNP and I’ve got some things to say to you.
You might already be a member of the Scottish Parliament, but there’s every chance you’re not. Perhaps you’re going to be elected in May, an MSP in the fifth session since Holyrood opened for business in 1999.
I don’t know much about you but I’m fairly certain you’re young – Nicola Sturgeon’s not going anywhere soon so you’ll have time to bide – and I wouldn’t bet against you becoming First Minister some day. After all, the opposition parties can barely land a glove on your lot; power will be the SNP’s to lose for a long time to come.
It will have occurred to you by now, I’m sure, that you might one day pitch for the leadership of your party. In the meantime, you should study both Sturgeon and her Deputy First Minister, John Swinney. You should carry yourself as they do (and never as the sneering deputy leader, Stewart Hosie does). That means being respectful to opponents and avoiding the sort of petty spats that can erupt on Twitter, where you should establish yourself as a decent, good-humoured sort.
Right now, too many of your colleagues are squandering an opportunity that nobody in your party would have dared dream of a few years ago. Of the 56 SNP MPs elected last May, few have made much of a mark. Sure, every member of the parliamentary group can recite lines about austerity and standing up for Scotland, but you’re not another drone, just making up numbers. You’re going places.
You will want to get noticed, of course. It might be tempting to play the big “I am” and taunt your opponents, but Pete Wishart does that and look where it’s got him.
Instead, you will make your name not for the relentlessness of your sarcasm but for the quality of your ideas (and your personal appeal. You’re a charming sort which, along with being essential, will immediately mark you out from most of your colleagues).
When this year’s Holyrood election is run and won by the SNP, you will dedicate a great deal of time to thinking about the party’s future. If you are wise, you will want to play your part in defining what exactly independence means in the 21st century. You’re too smart to think your party can simply ask for the same things in a different way and expect victory in a future referendum.
Fortunately for you, there is time to spare before another such vote. Sturgeon has signalled that the constitutional question is off the table for the foreseeable future.
Yes, yes, you will have a part to play in maintaining the grievance that keeps the independence movement alive, but you will already be thinking big. You’ll know that currency is still a huge issue and you’ll want to find a solution. If Scotland is to be independent, then voters will have to hear a credible case for a new currency – or, gulp, membership of the euro.
When your party last tried to persuade voters that an independent Scotland could share a currency union with the remainder of the United Kingdom, they did not, in sufficient numbers, believe it. That argument is dead and you need a new one.
And while we’re on the subject of money, your party has spent the past four decades arguing that North Sea oil would make an independent Scotland one of the richest countries in the world. That doesn’t look quite so likely now and the SNP needs a rethink in its plans to factor in a future without big oil money.
You will decide against personal gimmicks (no Saltire painted tanks or SNP logo nail polish, thanks) and look sharp and professional (again, study Sturgeon for that one), and you will be able to relate to mainstream voters, the young families in suburban estates who might not participate in noisy rallies but who do, most assuredly, dictate election results. During the Yes campaign, you will have chummed along with all sorts of “radical” types but you know that the way to keep the SNP in power is to cosy up to “middle Scotland” and you won’t forget it.
At Holyrood, you will be loyal to your leader but confident in bringing forward ideas. Sturgeon and Swinney are both talented politicians but they carry heavier loads than they should have to. There is a paucity of talent on the SNP benches. There is a place for you. The Scottish Government needs bright thinkers and you understand the importance of new ideas for the health service and the education system.
Lesser politicians will make your life difficult from time to time. They will see you get on and wonder “why not me?” It will not occur to them that the reason is you have talent and they do not.
Be diplomatic with these colleagues. Disarm them with friendly words in the canteen and take an interest in what they’re up to. Most of these people are idiots, but one day they will be your idiots. It’s a good idea to start building up loyalty from the get-go.
You may get annoyed by press coverage but – unless you’re the victim of a blatant defamation – you’ll roll with it. You’ll make contacts in the dreaded mainstream media so that, when your time in power comes around, you can make your case to journalists and editors who trust you.
But the most important thing in all of this is that you do not take for granted the SNP’s continuing success. Sure, things are going spectacularly for your party right now, but momentum can dwindle. Complacency is the greatest threat to the success of your leadership when eventually it comes around.
Perhaps I’ve met you – I can think of one or two who might have what it takes to lead the SNP – but if I haven’t, do get in touch. I’ll be fascinated to follow your rise to power.