Why the SNP and ALBA need each other, and the road to independence now.
In 2015 things were good in the Scottish Independence movement. After the crushing disappointment of coming tantalisingly close to achieving our goal, undaunted, we regrouped. There was a U.K. General election looming in May 2015 giving the perfect outlet to show David Cameron what we thought of his ‘morning after EVEL’, and to shout loud & clear that Scotland’s constitutional conversation wasn’t over. An army of grassroots activists, many who’d never been politically engaged before 2013/14, let alone in a political party before, flocked in their droves to the party that delivered them the democratic key to independence on Sept 18th 2014!
The SNP almost overnight had more members than it knew how to handle, the party was firing off glitter cannons in self gratification – it didn’t have a plan, it didn’t really have a purpose, but people were angry, they were determined to finish the task and the SNP would come to enjoy that energy.
Nicola Sturgeon had the “signature” tour, and Alex Salmond had a book tour, an Edinburgh fringe show and once a year they’d share stage at conference and both would receive copious rounds of applause. Endless rapture. In some ways – the success was always down to both.
2015 was the beginning of the SNP becoming the Ford Motor Company of political parties. Over the next few elections, and subsequent gains, it would offer up councillors as its hatchbacks, MSPs as the work trucks, MPs as the vans and MEPs as some glittery form of mustangs dealing with the lofty heights of European politics.
It all seemed very good. Not everyone wants a Ford but enough do that they’re popular, sell well and have an offering at every level.
That’s the problem though, isn’t it?
The SNP became lots of things to lots of people. It wanted to showcase good government. Good government is hard. Good government is very very hard on declining resource and funding. Good government is very very very hard when your Union wants you gone. Still it plods on. Every session harder than the last.
The SNP Motor Company though produces good vehicles for this though, they handle the random potholes, small puddles and winding roads. They navigate council tax increases, they move spending about, they market the paltry amounts better and better. After-all as all car companies know, the magic is in the marketing.
There’s a huge problem though – the better you get at handling the ‘normal’ day to day politic, the further you wander from aspirational politic, the harder it becomes to be radical.
You see the SNP is now so widely varied in type and spectrum, that it struggles to reinvent itself, and do so in a believable manner.
In 8 years – the SNP still cannot answer the currency question, they cannot answer the questions on the monarchy, they cannot answer the European issue. In doing so, you lose some of your support.
In the extreme you lose the government. Scotland has so much oil and gas it could make Dubai look cheap. European leaders are no longer looking for the cheapest oil and gas – they are looking for strong democratic western nations to fill the barrels.
The war in Ukraine has shown that Russian and Middle Eastern energy economic support is dangerous to the very fundamentals of our humanity.
However Scotland can’t follow Norway and dig deep and fast because the Greens would have a fit and that would be the end of the government.
Never mind we have the solution to environmental problems in the form of wind. Where we can fix the immediate energy security concerns with oil/gas and then double dip, getting paid for having the resources and unique opportunity to fix the dependence on fossil fuels.
Finally we have the fringe elements in the party who seem hell bent on unpopular policy such as the GRA. This terrifies the MSP contingent in the SNP, who many do not support the government policy but fear expulsion or reprisal by the party “youth”.
I served my time in the SNP as organiser to Shirley-Anne Somerville, and while SAS is the minister responsible for getting this over the line, she made clear on multiple occasions to some of us that this was a personal ask of the first minister, to her loyal friend. If the ballot was anonymous and reprisal free – I doubt the minister in charge of delivering it, wouldn’t even vote for it.
Someone at SNP HQ however has cracked how to handle the YSI – they’ve employed them all and had another bunch elected. Guess what every elected member/staffer in the SNP agrees to do? Follow the party whip and line unquestioningly. It now seems quite clever the bill was delayed again to after the local authority elections.
The YSI enjoyed enacting this policy on everyone else – they’re about to find out how it feels when they’re reminded even though the policy doesn’t meet their expectations, they have to go sell it or jump off the “gravy bus”.
I digress but to summarise;
The SNP are paralysed to being “good” for fear of losing support of fringe elements, government partners with blinkers, and losing electoral support from folks who want no rocking of no boats.
Calm, stable and reliably steady cars are the order of the SNP political day.
Now why does anyone need ALBA?
Well for as useful as the Ford Motor Company is at producing lots of different stable and steady vehicles, from driving to hard work, and some flash with the mustang. None of their vehicles are for the adventure and the brave moments that sometimes come up.
For that you need a different car brand, one that sees adventure as its purpose, one that isn’t afraid of never being on the road and instead being in the lakes, the rivers, the puddles, the rocks, the beaches. We need a vehicle that climbs cliffs, hits dead ends, needs its winch, one that’s designed to roll and be in a mess all the time.
We need a political Jeep.
You see Jeep doesn’t sell cars, or vans or work trucks. It has no need. When you put the key in the ignition it’s surrounded by the words “to the adventure”. It’s not shackled to the mundane day to day – because it never wants that, it’s never used for that, it’s not designed for that.
ALBA in year with a global pandemic didn’t need to deal with the health crisis, it didn’t need to deal with the shackles of governing and having to behave. Instead it spent the year having an adventure.
The adventure led us to energy security, a new currency, a republic, an answer to the European question and single market. We got a poverty plan, we got a pension plan, we got defence of woman’s rights and a citizens assembly on how to progress the debate on GRA.
Speak to the SNP activists, they actually enjoy this, in fact many are absolutely jealous that ALBA talk about this stuff and have it as policy.
Lots in the SNP have salivated at The Common Weals policy deck, ALBA walked in and scooped a lot of it up. Commissioned the author of most of it, Robin McAlpine, and then put it out in a format that the whole movement agrees is the best way to present these things to the electorate.
Had the SNP commissioned the same book in yellow, then last week it would have been deposited through doors in Scotland without an issue. Notice curiously the powers that be in the SNP have very little to say in retort to that solid policy piece?
ALBA has its own problems though.
Alex Salmond needs moved on up from Party Leader to Honorary President. I doubt he actually wants to be an elected member, he has dutifully served his time and at the age of 67 deserves the chance to contribute on a less than daily schedule that being an elected party leader demands.
I am biased I admit – he’s been my political hero from my political entry point, but his thoughtful strategy and insight would be better on a less daily rigours of politics scale. It would help to assuage the barrage of SNP narrative that he’s on a personal vendetta against Nicola Sturgeon.
There are plenty capable lieutenants in the party that could lead it. Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh has the wit, knowledge and acumen to lead the party to success. A proven Salmond loyalist who won’t repeat the mistakes of the SNP.
ALBA is also very young and has to go through a maturity stage where the extreme elements are handled rather than ignored. Having every single member that’s being kicked out or singled out of the SNP can make for some excruciating facepalming. The SNP should realise though – ALBA has done them a favour since they’ve all flocked out of the SNP. The social media training and codes of conduct go some way, and should be continued vibrantly.
The party also needs to realise the market doesn’t want or need two mainline independence parties chasing daily government. The unionists know this only too well having suffered it since 2007.
The only aim of ALBA should be the regional list vote in the Holyrood elections. The kingmakers, the supermajority, the guarantors of independence progress. There was only 6 weeks in the previous Holyrood election and the message didn’t hit home. It will be a very different story if that was the next 4 years campaigning on repeat.
The SNP cannot endorse or support ALBA for the fear of losing support. It cannot support ALBA councillors or MPs because it will come at the detriment of its own. I’m not surprised the SNP don’t allow a shared platform.
ALBA could easily commit to only contesting the list and in doing so protect every councillor and MP the SNP have – remove any fear of losing hard fought and won dominance, while in return providing something incredible.
The prize of ALBA to a considered SNP would be a supermajority, no need to debate with the tories about basic human decency – instead you could win the prize of debating how quick or how large the next referendum is. Which royal you call the last. Which wind super farm you build next. No hostages in this government.
The ALBA party could fling more and more radical plans into the mix. The SNP can claim electorally that they were dragged to these positions by ALBA and avoid punishment by the strong and stable no movement in any direction electorate.
ALBA would be elected on votes that are otherwise wasted or pay the hostage taking Greens on the list anyway.
As sure as the sun will set, the unionists will call foul at this trick of voting prowess – however we will not heed the calls of democracy denying charlatans.
We need the Fords for the daily routine and we need the Jeep for the adventure.
Together they cover our good government and our radical ambition. Ironically, the SNP needs an ALBA to provide the off road experience needed to chart a new path and discover new ground to convince the people to get behind the opportunity to build a new independent Scotland, unless, they themselves adapt.
There is much talk now comparing Scotland with Ireland so inevitably the SNP’s approach to delivering independence is under the spotlight. Many across the independence movement are taking inspiration from an newly energised Ireland.
Some in SNP starting to discuss the need to select a stateswoman, in the leadership election after Nicola Sturgeon, as we need such a figure to reunite the movement, with an amnesty for all, to re-support a party of government with open arms to all those with a passion for a peaceful, democratic and orderly delivery of an new exciting Independent Scotland from a new more radical and policy focused SNP bolstered by ALBA.