SNP ‘could disband’ after independence

Stephen Noon of the Yes Campaign for Independence. Picture: Robert Perry
Stephen Noon of the Yes Campaign for Independence. Picture: Robert Perry
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THE CHIEF strategist of the Yes Scotland campaign has raised the possibility of the SNP disbanding, should Scots vote for independence.

Stephen Noon, one of Alex Salmond’s most trusted advisers for almost two decades, has questioned whether an independent Scotland would “want or need” an SNP.

In an essay published in Scotland on Sunday today, Noon argues that a “Yes” vote would free Scottish politics from the constitutional question and remove its most significant dividing line.

With traditional barriers broken down, Noon describes a “new world” where SNP supporters would be able to give “one or even both” of their Holyrood votes to their current political opponents. In an era in which the independence question no longer dominates Scottish politics, Noon also suggests a number of coalition options could emerge, including the previously unthinkable prospect of the Nationalists and Labour entering government together.

Noon admits that such thoughts would have some “spluttering into their porridge” but he insists that independence would provide an opportunity for a fresh start for Scottish politics and even goes as far as questioning the need for the SNP at all.

The new political landscape, Noon says, would see Labour liberated from the “destructive belief” that the Scottish party answers to London and would result in its strongest team serving at Holyrood rather than Westminster.

He also argues that, post-independence, the Con­servatives would be able to throw off their “toxic legacy” and the Lib Dems would be able to cast off the dark shadow of the coalition deal with the Tories.

But it is when Noon considers the future of the SNP, the party which he has served for most of his career, that he asks: “And what of the party of independence? Will Scotland still want or need an SNP?”

Yesterday, Noon’s essay led to opposition claims that suggestions of the SNP’s disappearance were a “diversionary tactic” to lure more voters into backing independence in 2014.

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “Let’s not kid ourselves that Alex Salmond and the SNP would just fade away after the referendum vote, no matter the result. From saying they will keep the Queen and the pound to asserting we would still be British under separation, the SNP tactic is plain to see: they will do and say anything to curry favour with as many people as possible.

“But such bluster has already seen them get caught out on a separate Scotland’s position within the EU, and I have no doubt voters are now becoming wise to such deception.”

Carlaw added: “This is why talk of whether the SNP will exist or not is just muddying the waters and another diversionary tactic in a bid to make their separation dream sound more palatable.”

Patricia Ferguson, Scottish Labour’s constitutional spokeswoman, said: “Given this government has ground to a halt and seems out of ideas, and that most Scots reject their core policy of independence, many people will be asking what is the point of the SNP now? 

“I only hope that SNP supporters like Stephen Noon are just as quick to embrace the new landscape of Scottish politics if people reject separation come the referendum.”

Noon is regarded as one of the most influential and astute thinkers in the Nationalist movement. He became chief strategist for Yes Scotland after many years working directly for Salmond. He first began working for the SNP leader in 1994. He has worked for the SNP’s Westminster office and also as a government special adviser. He was a key member of the party’s campaign committee for the successful 2007 and 2011 election campaigns.

An SNP spokeswoman said: “The SNP will continue to work hard, now and in an independent Scotland, to earn the trust and support of voters in Scotland. We take no vote for granted now or in the future.”

But, at one point in the party’s history, it was accepted that there was no room for the SNP post-independence. At an election meeting held in Stirling in the 1970s, the then SNP chairman William Wolfe was asked what would happen to the SNP after independence. According to someone at the meeting, Wolfe replied that “the SNP would immediately disband, its purpose having been achieved, thus leaving the political stage open to an emerging Scottish Labour Party, a Scottish Conservative Party and Scottish Liberal Party and so on.”

SNP historian Dr Peter Lynch said: “Most SNP people going back to the 1960s had this dissolve strategy. It was informally discussed although it was rarely aired in public.”

Margo Macdonald, the former SNP deputy leader, explained that there had been a deliberate attempt in the 1970s to move away from the idea that the party would cease to exist after independence.

Macdonald, Donald Bain and Stephen Maxwell – leading lights in the party at the time – were among those who were behind the shift.

“It [disbandment] was an absolutely accepted idea up until the mid-1970s. That was when Steven, Donald and I said that the SNP had to be 
a social democratic party,” Macdonald said. “We felt those values had to be firmly understood, because that would influence the way independence was won and that would, in turn, temper the substance and feel of independence. One of the reasons for that was that we didn’t trust the other parties. We couldn’t be absolutely certain how they would act.”

Twitter: @TomPeterkin