SNP response to new independence party a mix of panic, diktat, nonsense and hypocrisy – Kenny MacAskill

Senior SNP figures are failing to recognise the benefits of a second pro-independence party standing for regional Holyrood seats, writes Kenny MacAskill

Longstanding SNP members are getting frustrated and need evidence that the powers that be in the party still believe in the old-time religion, says Kenny MacAskill (Picture: John Devlin)

There are good arguments to be made against new independence list parties. A plethora standing in every region, all polling low numbers, could indeed cost the SNP seats and harm the cause. However, the response by senior party figures has been misguided to say the least, veering from panic to authoritarian diktat.

Strident insistence that “Both Votes SNP” always delivers maximum electoral success is arrant nonsense, denying electoral reality under the hybrid system. It’s also hypocritical insisting that there’s already a second-vote option available in the Greens. On what basis are they the anointed ones? There are some SNP supporters who already do but many baulk at it for a variety of reasons, from suspicions over their commitment to independence through to a dislike of policies. Why is one alternative vote acceptable but not another, and if there’s to be an option then who decides?

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A better strategy would be to think about why some are considering an alternative vote in the first place and seek to engage persuasively with them. Some are doing so over actions such as failing to implement rent controls or policies like the Gender Recognition Bill and the Hate Crime Bill. As an election nears, it’s not rocket science to try to unite the party and clear the decks of divisive legislation. That may not be enough for some, but it would at least avoid internal acrimony and satisfy others. But the real disgruntlement has been over independence. It’s incredible the Scottish National Party has got itself into a position where some stalwarts question its commitment to the cause. That’s more deeply worrying, and these people need engaged with and indeed treated with respect, not disdain.

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These aren’t some nutter fringe demanding a referendum next month and implying that only the will is missing. As if it’s just a matter of Joanna hiring the halls and me engaging the staff and away we go on our merry old way to freedom. Instead these are longstanding members who’ve given years of service.

They’ve waited a lifetime for the cause they hold so dear and they’ll continue to wait. It’s frustration not a faltering of belief that’s causing the angst. But they need evidence that the powers that be still believe in the old-time religion.

Growth Commission now out of date

The way to deal with that isn’t to demand loyalty or denounce heresy. Instead it’s to show there’s a plan and explain the tactics. It’s accepted that it’s been difficult with first Brexit and then coronavirus. They’ve overshadowed everything and independence couldn’t be to the fore; but nor should it be forgotten.

Talk of it being put back is simply unacceptable to them even if they recognise it can’t be immediate. Where are the workstreams on currency, pensions and borders? The Growth Commission was three years in the making but is now a lifetime out of date. That work needs done and fast. Doing so would allay some concerns.

A referendum agreed by a Section 30 order’s the preferred option for everyone but if one won’t be given why not consider other legal options? it’s remiss not do so, to say the least.

Simply pointing to opinion polls and assuming that everything thereafter will fall into place is naïve. I’ve deeply devout friends who believe in the Messiah’s second coming but I’ll not hold my breath. Likewise, many independence supporters just don’t buy that another election victory will see Boris Johnson wilt and where then for the cause?

Marching up the hill, then down again

Ten years of Nationalist majorities would further weaken the Union. But there’s no guarantee he’d immediately concede a referendum. Suggestions of seeking solace from the EU were insane given their failure to act on Catalonia, let alone Hungary.

Threatening to stamp your feet and shout unfair isn’t reassuring for members fed up with supine responses to Tory attacks on Scotland. The raison d’etre for them is independence which is why positioning yourself to defend devolution is a turn-off. The SNP paid the price for vacillation in 2017, marching folk to the top of the hill and then back down again. It saw catastrophic losses as activists, not just supporters, were demotivated and stayed at home.

An SNP party political broadcast in 1992 trumpeted that “nobody celebrated devolution day” to a mock-up of the American Declaration of Independence. Those were difficult times for the SNP but a good result was got, partly through the legacy of the poll tax campaign but more specifically through core independence messaging to supporters.

So, it must be in 2021. If the SNP wants to discourage alternative list parties from standing, then it should address why it’s happening. More importantly, as in football, attack’s the best form of defence. Rather than defending devolution, the SNP should be promoting independence, it’s a better tactic to maintain and motivate support.

Kenny MacAskill is the SNP MP for East Lothian

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