The Undertaker and the Midwife


An extraordinary weekend in Scotland as the fallout from the referendum continues and a new political landscape unfolds. The potential as indicated from Ipsos/Mori polls is eye-popping – with a possible disastrous collapse of Labour votes and a huge swathe of SNP returns to Westminster, which has triggered a wider debate in the radical and progressive left about tactics, strategies and futures.

The polls may be exaggerated, but huge change is still looming, with the potential for the SNP to hold the balance of power at Westminster, in part testimony to Salmond’s legacy and tactical nous.

As The Independent editorial writes today:

“So the moral case for reopening the independence question grows ever stronger, and the SNP is making the most of the Westminster parties’ failures. Come next May, there could be a solid phalanx of SNP MPs returned to Westminster, displacing many Labour and Liberal Democrat members. That will add to the weight of its case; it will also prove a fine practical advantage in the near certainty of a hung parliament. It will, in short, be able to hold any Westminster government to ransom until a second referendum is granted.”

With businessman Ivan McKee, plus committed and well-respected left-wing activist Tam Dean Burn and top human rights campaigners and criminal defence solicitor Aamer Anwar joining the SNP in recent days, the momentum looks irresistible for a huge TACTICAL vote to heave us into a position of power next year.

With the SNP to allow non-members to stand, the way opens for a focused and re-channeled political energy in 2015.

The plan was backed at its annual conference, which opened in Perth on Friday. Under the proposal, prominent “Yes” campaigners who are not in the SNP would be able to stand for election under the party’s overall banner. They would need to be on an approved list and be adopted by a local constituency. The motion was adopted by delegates in Perth and will now be passed to the party’s National Executive Committee for further exploration, before going to the SNP’s National Council for final approval. So there’s some clarity to be had. It will be interesting how key players react to the detail and how discussions unfold.

Whilst there’s been disgruntlement in some parts about the fall-away of the plan for a wider ‘Yes Alliance’ my view is that we need to be pragmatic and tactical. It’s difficult to comprehend a constituency where the SSP – often polling in low hundreds – or the Scottish Green Party – would make any impact whatsoever. This is a brutal but simple reality about the constraints of the First Past the Post system.

If we want to affect change we have to be a bit more realistic and a bit more ruthless. There is no space for ego.

As the Rochester and Strood by-election looms, Britain First booms and a possible further six Tories threat to join UKIP, the indefensible union may become a cracked and broken prospect.

We’re not going to have to wait many years to see transformative change in this country.

Can we rid the country of Tories next year? Can we witness the complete wipeout of Labour as a force in Scotland? Can we create leverage to hold power in London? Yes we can, this looks like a very real prospect.

But whilst this could create a completely different picture – the counterbalance to this would have to be to return a range of radical voices and parties to Holyrood in 2016. The range of new political organisations from RIC 2.0 to Commonweal, to genuinely independent candidates to a newly-revived Scottish Green Party should be thinking now about a two-year strategy. The urge to support, tactically, the SNP next year does not bind people into future support. In other words this is not a zero-sum game, we can support a Yes bloc next year and then expand and create a mass of diverse radical voices for our actual parliament.

The first stage sent to Westminster is essentially going to help in undertaking duties, while the second group are the midwives of the new Scotland.

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  1. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not quite so optimistic about the SNP’s ability to do this well in a FPTP system, and I think that not having even just loose alliances might be a bit of a mistake. I wrote about that in a blog posting this morning:

    1. IAB says:

      I actually think this is a way to get more votes and avoid voting being split. The Yes Alliance brought many strange bedfellows together and this needs to continue until there is enough power at WM. Once change occurs, secondary considerations can take centre stage.

      1. Exactly. FPTP is not an SNP forte, but an alliance for 2015 would be good. A different matter for 2016, where we have a fairer voting system – then I would not be arguing for an alliance.

    2. That’s a superb piece, Michael. One of the best statements I’ve seen for the case for the Yes Alliance.

      1. bowanarrow says:

        So what you are saying is, you want a green candidate in westminster, where they will be able to do nothing, and lets be honest, the SNP are going to be hard pushed to be able to hold westminster to ransom for more powers, so it can eventually get independence. Then a green candidate can have a real voice. If we don’t get our independence there will be “NO!” 2016 elections in this country in which you can be elected. We must stop westminster first and you do that from inside the SNP. Every one want to run, when we are just getting back onto our feet. SCOTLAND FIRST!!!! then lets talk politics.

  2. Agree completely. But I would still encourage people to vote Green or SSP at GE if they can’t, or won’t, because of conscience vote SNP. A vote for a YES party must always better than a vote for any of the Unionist parties. As long as it steals votes from the prime suspects in each constituency.

    1. What if voting for the non-SNP parties splits the vote, as is likely to happen in Edinburgh East, as I explain in my blog ( Then “Labour” gets in again…

      1. Andrea says:

        it was my understanding that it was the Greens who opposed a Yes Alliance – not the SNP..

        It seemed to me that the SNP did a stellar job during the referendum of stepping aside from political divides and letting the people speak. By quieting their political dialogue they allowed the democratic process to be brought to bear on the question of Scottish Independence.

        When you talk about the SNP not being good with ‘first past the post’ elections – you cannot say this with any reasonable certainty – the party has been transformed since September – by the people..who clearly saw a party willing to listen. A party willing to let Scotland be the star.

        Nocola Sturgeon appears to be continuing this theme…

        And whether the Greens like to hear it or not – they do not have the widest appeal and support of the scottish people at the moment. There’s no shame in that, but it seems ‘opportunistic’ to look at the possibility of finally getting one measly member in Westminster …at the cost of an SNP candidate who would not be a lone voice.

        I don’t believe there is any opportunity to gain Independence through the Green party being elected – at the Westminster elections. The only power is strength in voting numbers against the westminster elite. Putting effort into electing a Green member would be like winning the battle but losing the war…..when the vast majority of pro independence people have pinned their hopes on the very opposite.

        I’ve heard several people with a preference for the Greens say they joined the greens but will vote SNP. That is the most sensible strategic way to get Scotland free. The greens could risk alienating potential supporters by allowing ideology to get in the way of independence

        In a free Scotland the Greens would have a much stronger voice.

        But they have got to get there first. It makes absolutely no sense to divide the Yes vote for one seat in Westminster .

        1. Andrea, I’m not sure about the order of such things. If you read the Green statement I’ve linked to on my blog, there is a clear suggestion that the Greens regret the SNP not going down this route.
          As for the Greens being ineffective at Westminster – try telling Caroline Lucas she’s been ineffective! And a Green MP elected on a “Scotland Alliance” ticket would be just as effective or ineffective as an SNP MP, because part of the point of an alliance like this would be to work together on key issues like independence.

        2. oops, sorry, meant to add: my main point in my blog is that by NOT having an alliance, the SNP is preventing people like me campaigning for them. If they can’t bring themselves to campaign for a Yes supporting Green candidate, I can’t campaign for the SNP in my constituency where there is no Green candidate. The challenge facing all who want a progressive Yes-type representation at WM is huge, and we should not underestimate the effort required.

      2. Kara says:

        Michael I have read your article and I live in Edinburgh East and have joined the SNP however I think you make a very relevant point given that Edinburgh East has been a Labour stronghold since the beginning of time is seems – I have seen election results going back to 1935 and it has been Labour all the way. SNP vote increased over the last 2 elections and plenty of reasons to think it will rise again. Your article gives plenty of food for thought

        1. Note, however, that Ewan Aitken failed to beat Kenny MacAskill in the last Holyrood elections – so there is the possibility of “Labour” being defeated there.

  3. this would be my dream come true if the Greens managed 1 seat in place of the Lib Dems 🙂

    1. bowanarrow says:

      are you serious!!!!

  4. Like many, I am sorry that a Yes Alliance looks unlikely in electoral terms, but I am happy to see the motion being accepted for non-members to stand in particular seats, and would really like this to succeed. Perhaps an SSP-SNP alliance could even swing Glasgow East?

    1. daviemurphy says:

      Glasgow east is easier than North East IMO. I’ve voted SSP here in the past and the figures are always low, never been or over 2%. However, there was a YES majority in all of the branch areas but it does state a 3% majority for labour in the graph above, so who knows.

  5. Patrick Hogg, Biographer of Robert Burns says:

    Great article to read. It is such a pleasure to know that the new First Minister and Depute Leader of the Party have completely endorsed the views so many of us felt during and after the Referendum campaign that the SNP itself as a party had to open its doors to talents of the wider Yes Movement: it is civic Scotland pulsing our nation’s identity. I would campaign to the gates of Hell and beyond for any of the three people mentioned in this article if they were candidates for Westminster – the brilliant radical lawyer Aamer Anwar, the wonderfully pragmatic level-headed genius that is Ivan McKee and my dear-dear friend Tam Dean Burn, who is one of the finest actors in these Islands (and one of the smartest radicals too). The essence of the SNP conference showed that we in the SNP put Country before party and most of the time the interests of the party equate to the interests of the best for Scotland and all our people. That is why the SNP are so successful currently. It is not positioning. It is not marketing (no criticism there of Angus R!). It is not selling the message.. We are doing what Brian Cox said: THE RIGHT THING.

    Labour is going through its dying pangs because it serves careers and the London Labour party. The interests of the people of Scotland are a distant secondary objective where Labour thinks it can dream up a slogan or twa and con us that the new buzz phrase will do – social justice and the cost of living crisis. Repeat ad nauseum. Look smart and smile at the cameras Jim and speak softly and you will win us all over? To labour I say – Get real. Get principles. Look long and hard at what is happening in our country and wake up you sad careerist see-through delusionary bubble-living opaque fools. Ditch your London Masters and being praising the SNP for protecting the people of SCotland as best they can amid the torrent hell of rapacious neo-liberalism that is destroying the social fabric and lives of our most vulnerable people. Sadly, the death of the Labour party will lead to the birth of a nation. Labour for too long saw themselves as the guardians of the people of Scotland and became the guardians of their own pathetic self important jobs. You aint our masters. You were meant to be our representatives. So Jim my lad, good luck on your titanic journey. I, like the late and great Jimmy reid, left Labour long ago because you lot sailed to the Right of politics. Vote Labour and ye get neo-liberal Tory policies! Vote SNP and ye get Independence and the chance to rebuild a nation for the best of us all.

    RIP all Careerists. RIP all who put career before principle and country. Do the right thing and represent us or just get out of politics altogether or we will reject and sack you at the ballot box. The People are now empowered and sell-out and charlatans will reap what they sow.

    1. bowanarrow says:

      What a wonderful…WONDERFUL statement……..WELL SAID……!!!!!

  6. Let’s all drink to the death of the SLAB Clowns!

  7. Well said Mike and good for you Paddy. Straight to the point as usual.The only qualification I would make, leaving the opinion polls aside, is that the “elephant in the room” hasn’t moved, and that of course is the M.S.M. The insults, the lies, the misinformation have already started, and as we all know, it will get much worse, rising to a crescendo by next May. Of course, all the pro-independence websites will do a great job keeping us informed, but we are up against a determined foe, and it would be a blow to all of us if another “vow” derailed our campaign to get as many S.N.P M.Ps as possible returned to Westminster. The media are not our friends, and I remain deeply suspicious of any opinion poll, given who controls the companies. Of course, we are already back on the streets trying to get our message across, and the early results have been encouraging, but it is early days, and we have a long road ahead. This method I believe is the most effective way to try to combat the corrosive influence of the M.S.M, by speaking directly to people, and countering the untruths fed to them on a daily basis by the broadcasting organisations and the written press. Wishful thinking I know, but only if we had a truthful media, not necessarily biased towards the independence campaign, just even-handed, I believe we would have triumphed in the referendum, and the scenario of the opinion poll you publish, would indeed be possible.

  8. Annie Bee says:

    As long as the prominent Yes” campaigners have the integrity and honesty we need and are not egotistical and dishonest individuals that could damage the cause by association, I think this is the right way forward. Working together.

  9. Gillies MacBain says:

    Excellent article. Exactly the right thinking. Just the right attitude for the country The more diversity of representation amongst the independence movement the better in the Scottish parliament. Help the SNP in the first past the post election for reasons explained perfectly above. The increased numbers of able people from different walks of life and the wide range of skills and political views can only be good for the SNP. The SNP have weakened their stances on a few aspects of policy over the years due to the hostility of the traditional news media. They have done this to try avoid setting themselves up in order for the press coverage to then lose them voters. Thousands of new, committed members including respected folk from the business community, talented people from the left, human rights campaigners, etc etc, will mean that the party can look at an issue properly and set their policies to suit without being worried how they will be portrayed in our Unionist press and what it will cost them in terms of votes.

    The SNP are the party of government in Scotland. They are coming closer to being a genuine National Party and at the same time are increasingly being seen as a means to an end. That’s always the way this organisation should have been seen and it should be respected for it. The level of selflessness in Mike Small’s words fits perfectly with this.

    1. Gillies MacBain says:

      Sorry I meant the SNP are the party IN government in Scotland. Not OF government

      1. Bob in the Whuns says:

        Very well said Gillies! And you are right about the talents of Mike Small. A leading new enlightenment thinker and a sharp wit with the pen! (keyboard).

  10. Very interesting piece Mike, as is the parallel piece by Michael Martin, linked to in the first reply above.


    I agree that a broader alliance would have made much more sense.

    This is not because adding Green and SSP votes to SNP ones would numerically have greatly improved the SNP’s chances of reversing Labour’s dominance (but note Alex Beveridge’s point that they will have the mainstream media working flat out to stop us) but because that would be a strong signal to the majority of people (people who want politicians to put what matters ahead of party advantage) that they would not be voting for a party so much as voting for a movement.

    That is what got us to 45%, and what could get us to shift the result in the 2015 UK elections.


    When you write that “The urge to support, tactically, the SNP next year does not bind people into future support. In other words this is not a zero-sum game, we can support a Yes bloc next year and then expand and create a mass of diverse radical voices for our actual parliament”, this would make much more sense if it was a ‘Yes block’ rather than just the SNP.

    Splitting our votes between voting for Labour at Westminster to stop the Tories, and voting who we believe in for Holyrood, is what we’ve done for a long time; and so maybe doing the same – but this time voting SNP at Westminster to stop both blue and red Tories – is a fine strategy.

    On the other hand, something new happened with the Yes movement. People realised that it is up to us what happens, we don’t need to play politicians games. We were rallied not by a negative movement of hating another party, but by a positive movement of reclaiming politics for people and for making society better.

    If we want to enable that positive groundswell to continue, rather than just rally to the “stop the worst” tactic of old, then how do we respond to the SNP’s offer of allowing their constituencies to choose non-SNP candidates at the 2015 GE?

    Can we enable the 2015 GE to be one where we vote for the movement not for a party?

    I’d suggest one way, would be for the independents – the Lesley Riddoch’s and Jeane Freeman’s of this world – and even people like Ivan Mckee who has recently joined the SNP, and people like Peter McColl and Andy Wightman who are in the Green party, offer to stand if SNP constituency members want them (and if they are Greens then remind them that those Greens who are in the constituency, as I am in Peter McColl’s Edinburgh East, will be out campaigning with them as we did for the Yes vote, reminding people that this is a movement that is more than one party, and so bringing over Labour voters to our side).

    But maybe these independents would want to be clear that:
    (i) they will continue to be completely independent and will be accountable to the movement through a RIC-like process, and
    (ii) they will stand down and seek a seat in Holyrood at the 2016 elections (creating byelections that will enable others to step into Westminster) bringing their independent-mindedness to where it really matters.

    For this to work, the key would be to continue to act as if the people and not the parties are in charge – and make our decisions on that basis.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Huge questions here but how does this actually practically work ‘For this to work, the key would be to continue to act as if the people and not the parties are in charge – and make our decisions on that basis’ at the General Election? I’m bored of being fucked over by our idealism and being constantly marginal…

      1. It works very simply:

        All those who played a huge role in the wider Yes movement, who are well known and who are up for it, put themselves forward as willing to stand as candidates in the GE 2015. Not competing with each other or the SNP, but accepting the SNP’s offer for constituency SNP members to choose non-SNP candidates. If those constituencies then choose one of these candidates rather than their own SNP member candidates (and stand as ‘Yes Alliance, backed by SNP etc’) then we’ve achieved a Yes movement block without splitting/ competing/ demanding the impossible.

        What I’m proposing is not idealistic cloud cuckoo, it fits with exactly what the SNP have proposed, and it would mean we “continue to act as if the people and not the parties are in charge” while being completely realistic about the context we are working in. It will then be up to the huge wave of new SNP members whether they joined to put the movement first or put a party first. It would also challenge those in the SGP and SSP to do likewlse, and put themselves forward for selection by SNP constituencies despite being in other parties.

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