As part of our #newvoices series, this from Malcolm Kerr. Malcolm joined the SNP in 1967. As a GP on the Isle of Arran, and Convener of the Isle of Arran SNP Branch, he was closely associated with the Yes Movement locally from 2012 to 2014. Despite having lots of elderly and English-born residents, and defying these demographics, Arran voted 60/40 for Yes. Malcolm is currently one of five nominees seeking to represent the SNP in North Ayrshire and Arran in the General Election.
We seem to be putting quite a lot of energy into dissecting the various scenarios that an expanded group of SNP MPs might encounter in May. No harm in thinking about strategy, of course, but I’ve begun to feel just a little uncomfortable.
Are we going to quadruple our Westminster representation to a couple of dozen? Maybe three dozen? A landslide with 50? Will we hold the balance of power in a hung parliament? Which British party will be the largest? Will Labour want to negotiate, assuming we won’t pass the time of day with the Tories? Given the panic that gave birth to “The Vow” and the Smith Commission, what will the Tory and Labour rank and file think of more powers for Holyrood when they are actually consulted? Should we try to act as Smith enforcers? What if the Labour and Tory parties, with or without a National Government, choose to join forces (again) to block any further progress for Scotland?
There are three disadvantages to all this speculation. Firstly, we can really have no idea either how the dice will fall, or what the Westminster weather will be like on May 8th and thereafter. Secondly, we may, albeit by consensus, paint ourselves into some strategic corner. Thirdly, there is at least some risk that the SNP ‘politburo’ may have established what’s to be done before we even know who’s going to Westminster and before the new cohort has had time to have a say. On this point SNP members who have joined up in the last four months could feel that they are being taken for granted.
My underlying concern in all this is that we are putting a lot of effort into planning what we will DO, yet have not yet convincingly declared who we are going to BE.
We have to go back 93 years, to the 1922 General Election, to find a time that was as momentous and replete with possibilities for the Scottish people as is 2015. In 1922 the Independent Labour Party (ILP) swept Glasgow with a landslide victory, taking 10 of 11 constituencies from the Liberals. Led by John Wheatley, the group headed for Westminster with Home Rule high on their agenda. But not before offering a contract to their celebrating constituents. At a victory rally in St Andrews Halls, 8000 gathered to hear them make a pledge to the people of Scotland with a historic and stirring declaration. The text is worth reading in full, but it concluded:
“In all things we will abjure vanity and self-aggrandisement, recognising that we are the humble servants of the people and that our only righteous purpose is to promote the welfare of our fellow citizens and the well-being of all mankind.”
Humble servants, indeed?
With a hard-right arch-Blairite adherent of the Henry Jackson Society at Labour’s helm in Scotland, it is fairly clear that this tradition is now, for Labour, ancient history. Just to underline the point, why not enlist as your lieutenants two of the most cynical ‘Better Together’ manipulators who helped you scrape a narrow ‘No’ victory with Tory support?
But let’s not worry about them. What about us? How do we aspire to rate on the ‘humble servant of the people’ scale? Are we fully taking on board Bernadette McAliskey’s wise warnings about Westminster’s potential to corrupt, and her reminder of our duty to resist that?
So, here’s a plan. Sign up now to the ‘Kerr Principles’.
Salary Uplift Tithe. There was no need for a 10% pay rise for MPs in 2015. MPs are well paid already. No one else (excepting Bankers, probably) is getting 10%. SNP MPs should agree collectively that the 10% is going to charity. Food banks, maybe.
Really Transparent Living Expenses. This is about how MPs provide a service to their constituents. We need to devise an independent system, its transparency away ahead of statutory requirements, to post our legitimate travel and London living expenses, in real time, where they can easily be accessed by everyone.
Fair and Open Staff Appointments. Recruitment of staff should involve branch members and perhaps representation from the wider Indy movement. Some of our 93000 members will have expertise to contribute.
Accessible Group Meetings. SNP MPs should meet routinely in Glasgow before travelling to London. It might not be a bad thing if this is seen as quasi-abstentionist. How much do we need to be in London? We are trying to get out of there, are we not? Sorry Dundee, but it has to be Glasgow.
Nae Bevvying! In a career of over 30 years, I’ve never drunk alcohol at work. For most people it’s a sacking offence. Not for MPs, though. The House of Commons drinks bill amounts to over £1.5 million per year. We should embrace Jimmy Reid’s legendary advice to the 1971 UCS work-in workers. At the very least, we need self-awareness around who’s buying the drinks, who’s providing the lavish buffet, and why.
Grass Roots Dialogue. In this information age, ‘humble servants’ need a hard-wired two-way conduit for information flow to and from their constituents: SNP members, members of other Independence parties, the community. This will entail social media, video-linking, prioritising time spent in the constituency, imagination and good will.
Westminster isn’t a Career. At Holyrood we need brilliant professional politicians as personified by Nicola Sturgeon and her gender-balanced team. Our MPs should be different. I trust we will never be tempted to take up any executive role. Recurring terms of office should become unusual. The House of Commons isn’t a club.
Katy Clark MP, ex-Labour Deputy Leadership hopeful, is talked up as the epitome of progressive thinking in the Scottish Labour Party. The evidence for this image is shaky, to say the least. Opposition to nuclear weapons is usually cited as an example. Well, she had an opportunity on September 18th last year give this ‘principle’ a test run as part of a programme of action. But preferred not to risk her job.
By early February I will know whether I am to be the SNP challenger who will be working to shine a light on this record of hypocrisy, – or campaigning to get one of my four co-nominees elected.
In any event, the ‘humble servant’ agenda ought not to go away.