The resignation of Jean Urquhart MSP and John Finnie MSP from the SNP over last weekend’s NATO U-turn must have come like a thunderbolt out of the blue to Holyrood, to the political commentariat, and not least to their own party and to the people who elected them.
It may seem inexplicable in some places (aye, Westminster, I’m talking bout you) that elected politicians still exist who put cherished principles before career, ego, financial reward or even their party. But it happens. And it happened today in our own backyard.
Naturally the SNP will be unhappy to lose two talented and previously loyal members. The party leadership will be unhappy as opponents use this as a stick to beat them over the head with. The party whips may grumble too since the SNP’s overall majority is now cut to just one.
But given that both MSPs are committed to supporting key SNP policies, and have indicated they will work alongside the SNP and Scottish government in Holyrood, the party leaders probably won’t envisage difficulties on key votes.
The short term effect on the SNP government and on the crucial Independence referendum campaign up to 2014 may be negligible. The latter may even be enhanced as it’s possible both MSPs will be in demand over the coming two years as principled advocates for Independence. Freed from party and governmental responsibilities they’ll have more time to do active campaigning.
But the double resignation has also raised a question which many in the SNP are still very uncomfortable with. You can probably guess what’s coming up next but before I go any further I’ll lay my cards on the table.
I voted for and am broadly supportive of the SNP government. Still. Yes, it has done things which have pissed me off big style – chief among them trampling roughshod on local democracy over Donald Trump’s abomination in the Menie plus giving the tax dodging parasites at Amazon a £12m handout – but these are more than dwarfed by its continued commitment to universal healthcare and free education and many other progressive policies. It is a reality that there are few, if any, governments in Europe who are more progressive than Scotland’s. I’m proud of many of the good things they have achieved.
As a party I have no ill-will towards the SNP. Quite the opposite. I’ve got a lot of respect and affection for the SNP. Lest we forget, before us Johnny Come Latelys of the left got solidly behind the cause of Scottish Independence, it was the SNP who kept the torch burning through the dark years before the 1967 watershed. It was the SNP in the 1970s who made it clear that North Sea oil was in Scottish waters and was being syphoned off by London. It was the potential threat of the SNP that ensured the Scottish parliament was reconvened in 1999. And we should never forget that it’s the SNP who have made the 2014 referendum possible. In power they have stick to their manifesto commitment and made sure our referendum takes place without outside interference from London. This is no small beer and it would be churlish to take any of it for granted.
This is why it is with gratitude rather than malice that I can cheerily state here and now that when we win the referendum in 2014 (as I believe we will) it is highly unlikely I’ll vote for the SNP again. The SNP will have my eternal gratitude, definitely, for dragging, cajoling and inspiring us from A to B. Job done and respect. But my future vote?
When the first post-Indy Holyrood election comes around I’ll be looking for something a helluva lot more radical than the current SNP outlook has to offer; especially on such things as banking, inequality, progressive taxation, land reform, local democracy, defence, the head of state or constitutional rights. I’d like to see Scotland move towards a more direct participatory digital democracy exploring best practice in countries such as Norway, Iceland, India or Switzerland. My hopes for an Independent Scotland also envisage a Scottish people empowered to do stuff for ourselves rather than rely on governments to wipe our arses.
This is hardly earth-shattering news to anyone who reads Bella Caledonia. The normalisation of politics is, after all, what we’re all working towards. But therein lies an unstated conundrum. So, for a bit of fun, let’s bring it out into the open. What will happen to the SNP after 2014? This is the question that dare not speak its name.
The resignation of Jean Urquhart and John Finnie on points of principle may be a good indicator of what the immediate future holds for the SNP. After a Yes vote in 2014, I’m pretty sure there will be plenty of goodwill towards Alex Salmond and the SNP. But what unites the SNP as a party will be gone. The sense of purpose that has sustained their very existence since the early 1930s is likely to fragment very quickly as party members embrace the values of left, right & centre and go their own way accordingly. It will be the career politicians, unable to shake off an addiction to high office, who will remain in the SNP after 2014 rather than the idealists and visionaries.
Things could get very interesting and pretty damn fast. There may not be much of a breathing space between a Yes vote and an overarching desire and sense of urgency to construct a new country that chimes with Scottish sensibilities.
Many commentators have sagely nodded their heads and whispered that should Yes triumph then the SNP will be re-elected in 2016 on the basis of their track record in government since 2007, or as a thank you for leading Scotland from the Union. This is a possibility, of course. But its not the stick on that many people think.
Another possibility could see the parliamentary SNP group cut adrift from their former army of activists, losing many more Jean Urquharts and John Finnies in the process, whilst struggling to dampen the reinvigorated aspirations of what could be a highly politicised and demanding Scottish people.
Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Post-Yes, what will be interesting is trying to work out where an effective radical challenge to a rump SNP could emerge from between 2014 and 2016. I have my thoughts on this but am happy enough to work for a Yes vote in the meantime and leave the speculation to anyone who dares.