Kenny MacAskill: Nicola Sturgeon creates '˜New SNP' and undemocratic regime

Splits among independence supporters over the Growth Commission report should not be over-estimated by hopeful unionists, even if Nicola Sturgeon is creating a '˜New SNP' and her '˜presidential '˜regime' is undemocratic, writes Kenny MacAskill.

All political parties are coalitions and political movements even more so, encompassing individuals who moderately disagree and even possessing some who can’t abide the sight of each other. The Scottish independence movement is like that and why would it be any different? The nearest example in Ireland had James Connolly and those pursuing a socialist country standing shoulder to shoulder with Padraig Pearse and those seeking a Catholic Ireland.

So, hopes of a serious split in the independence movement over the Sustainable Growth Commission report is simply wishful thinking by unionist opponents. When the cause goes again, the divide and even the animus between individuals and groups may have increased but the common goal of an independent country will prevail. As shown most recently in Black America where divides between liberal and radical factions that arose after the death of Martin Luther King were buried to ensure the election of Barack Obama, a Black President.

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But, it has been unedifying all the same and some of the abuse heaped upon individuals has been puerile. One side criticising the failure to adhere to the one true path and the other seeing a breach in unquestioning support for party orthodoxy. But, the independence movement won’t stand or fall on the Growth Commission report as it’s much wider than the political position it takes and bigger than even the largest party within it.

The Growth Commission report has led to differing opinions in the independence movement. Picture: Gordon Terris

Some aspects are long overdue, such as on currency where the failure to generate debate never mind offer a comment was becoming embarrassing. Other positions on immigration are to be welcomed given the serious challenges the country faces. So, it’s up to individuals within the wider movement whether they support it or not. There are aspects in it I’m perfectly comfortable with, after all Denmark and Finland in particular are countries I greatly admire. However, some of the vocabulary used and the acceptance of so many aspects of neo-liberal doctrine are steps too far for me. But, it’s a document, not tablets of stone handed down from Moses and many activists for the wider cause will simply choose to ignore it – just as many rank-and-file activists simply ignored aspects of the White Paper back in 2014 whether on the monarchy or other issues.

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What it does pose are interesting questions regarding the direction of the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon. For, the Growth Commission raises questions about party policy as well as the running of the party itself. So far, she has sought to portray herself as to the left of Alex Salmond but that becomes harder to justify if the neo-liberal aspects of the report are accepted without qualification.

Alex Salmond was an old-fashioned social democrat who would have easily fitted in to Old Labour. The perception of him being to the right is mostly over policy on corporation tax and a courting of the business community. Yet he was socially liberal and in favour of redistribution. Indeed, at the time of his expulsion from the SNP many years before his leading it, senior Labour figures north and south of the Border actively courted him. He would have slotted into a long line of radical Scottish Labour greats that there have been through the decades, neither Bennite nor Blairite. Thankfully for the SNP he rebuffed their charms and the modern party was built by him.

Nicola Sturgeon is constructing a New SNP and much of the perception of being left-wing is down to action on social rather than economic issues. Legislative and policy changes on gender and sexuality have generated it. And it has to be said the changes were long overdue. However, the issue of class or, more exactly, inequality has been tackled far less vigorously and receives far less profile.

For sure there have been great efforts made to preserve much of the welfare state that is being dismantled south of the border and valiant attempts have been made to mitigate the growing effects of austerity north of it. However, it does look that, as with much of the left elsewhere in Europe, the emphasis has moved from the collective good to individual rights.

If the language and some of the recommendations of the Growth Commission report are accepted without demur, that’ll be confirmed. Likewise, the SNP has never been larger in terms of members and influence, yet ironically it has never been more centralised. The presidential regime under Nicola Sturgeon with appointees and even her husband in key positions is fundamentally undemocratic. That the report appears to being restricted in how it can be debated or even amended doesn’t augur well. It’s time the party opened up and not just in the debate on this issue.

So, both those aspects cause the party some difficulties and rifts with the wider movement might well increase. The party has to be wary of alienating those who’ll deliver the vote in the housing schemes and are far from enamoured by it. There are some now in the New SNP who seem oblivious to what a housing scheme is and are unrecognised in the deprived areas they represent. The people who’ll lead the independence campaign there shouldn’t be derided but respected.

But, independence is fundamentally about the right to run your land the way you choose and not have it decided for you. Many have a different vision to Andrew Wilson but will still prefer his to the imposition of purgatory under Thatcher and enforced austerity under May.

It does take time to build a nation and mistakes can be made as Ireland has shown in the past and even more recently. But, they’ve still been able to sort them, not have to simply endure them, as has been Scotland’s plight.

The Fine Gael government in Ireland isn’t what James Connolly dreamed of but the theocracy has finally ended. Whether on abortion or economic growth – with figures that Scotland can only envy – modern Ireland is at least being built the way the people of Ireland choose.