The New Party
For the last few years there’s been a running story in Scottish politics about the need for a new pro-independence party to demand more urgency from the SNP. The idea started from dismay at the lack of progress towards gaining a second referendum and grew alongside a sense of managerialism and drag around the Scottish Government.
The proponents were boosted by the success of Joanna Cherry MP in challenging the proroguing of parliament. In 2019 the “Inner House of the Court of Session ruled that the Prime Minister’s advice to HM the Queen that the United Kingdom Parliament should be prorogued from a day between 9 and 12 September until 14 October was unlawful because it had the purpose of stymying Parliament.” Cherry’s success pointed to the idea of options of better, more radical tactics to gain independence.
Advocates of a new strategy demanded that the right of Scotland to hold a second referendum should be challenged in court. Some argued we should just “declare UDI”, Craig Murray and others argued we should abandon a referendum altogether and “declare ourselves a people” and “go to the UN”. Others argued we should just host a referendum and then declare independence.
If this all sounded completely incoherent it’s because it most certainly was.
The idea of a new party started with Wings Over Scotland last summer (“Wings Over Scotland plans new pro-independence party to take on SNP”). The party, Stuart Campbell argued would benefit from his unique branding and profile. The reason for the new party was to “secure an indy majority” which was under threat, so the argument went, because the SNP would collapse at the polls because of their attempt to create legislation to reform the process “by which trans people gain legal recognition of their lived gender through a gender recognition certificate.”
This sense of entitlement and gigantic egotism that would lead to this conclusion has been growing for years. As far back as 2013 Campbell wrote: “from now on, we’ve decided that our 50,000+ readers are all members of the Wings Over Scotland Party, and as that number is as far as we know bigger than the membership of every political party in Scotland put together, that makes us a pretty major electoral force.” Cocooned inside their block list, and certain that their brand of transphobia was a massive electoral hit, and talking exclusively to each other, the idea of a new party gained popularity on the fringes of the nationalist movement.
The contradictions to all of this were always mesmerising.
The advocates were almost all people who had previously denounced anyone who strayed from absolute party loyalty. These were the people who created the ridiculous #SNPBad hashtag and pretended nothing could ever go wrong in Scotland. These were also the people who attacked anyone who suggested that the second vote on the list should be offered to another pro-indy party, like the Scottish Green Party. To do so would be to “split the vote” and risk losing the indy majority at Holyrood.
Now, somehow, it won’t.
Now attacking the party is a badge of honour.
But none of the predicted collapse in the SNP vote has happened. This week polling suggested the opposite:
These are astonishing figures for a party that has been in office for thirteen years.
Some have suggested there is an ‘incumbency bounce’ during the lockdown. In other words people cleave to the sitting government in times of crisis. That may have some truth, but it seems unlikely to account for the scale of the polling indications. It also doesn’t account for the increase in the Green vote.
These latest polls show 68 seats for the SNP, a majority over all the other parties combined. Add in 10 Green seats, you have 78 seats for independence, a majority of 28.
Any new indy party would only serve to undermine that majority.
The idea was always stupid and ill-defined and now its dead.
So this is the end of the idea of a new party for the previously given reasons (ie to protect an indy majority).
But the real reason has always been about a certain brand of politics (and of course epic levels of gigantic ego and narcissism).
If that’s still the real reason then the party should go ahead.
Enthusiastic supporters of the approach, like Kevin McKenna have argued that “we need more sweary, profane and angry people like Campbell, and the more the f***ing merrier.”
The tone of incessant anger and the approach of huddling around attack blogs spouting constant bile against perceived enemies is thought (miraculously) to be the key to success. The mood of constant paranoia and the fostering of increasingly extravagant conspiracy theories is a self-reinforcing force. Anyone pointing to their ridiculousness is denounced as a “useful idiot” in the jargon of the tribe. In echoes of the Trump movement the “media is a cancer” and the Deep State is always at play, a hidden hand behind any of the “dark forces” at work to undermine the true believers.
So if the need for a new party is not to ‘defend the indy majority’ it should be to articulate their political viewpoint: that of a deeply reactionary set of middle-aged and elderly men who have benefited from the privilege of the internet to give voice to their prejudices for many years. Any such party would give voice to their unique brand of politics that fuses angry macho posturing with culturally conservative ideas, and a deep undercurrent of misogyny and ethnic nationalism.
The are several political lessons that should not be drawn from these polls, and several caveats to be made.
The first is that the SNP and the Scottish Government should not be immune to criticism and we should not assume that all is well. They are not an excuse for complacency.
First of all SNP votes are not automatically translatable into Yes votes. But equally Yes votes can be found from all the other parties, and from people who vote for none.
The criticisms for the Scottish Government’s lack of dynamism and innovation in pursuing the case for independence remains valid and real. The frustration within the movement is very real. But these criticisms need to be based on sold and workable alternative strategies to have any real meaning. If you advocate change but your plans are patently fanciful, or you advocate a new party but never define any policies or personnel you are just irrelevant.
The accusations that the party suffers from too narrow a leadership base at the top remains true and is a detriment to its being able to act with boldness, to have a mixed-ecology of ideas and leads to drift and a lack of original thinking.
The argument that the Scottish Government has failed to develop several of the key pieces of infrastructure that are required to make the next independence campaign more viable remains true. They have been mired in policy timidity, economic centrism and constitutional inertia. They have actively demobilised the popular movement and undermined elements they couldn’t control.
All of these criticisms remain very real and valid, but all are resolvable as we emerge from the chrysalis of the lockdown into the post-covid world.
It is highly likely that the cumulative experience of the debacle of the Brexit experience followed by the criminal negligence of the UK government’s handling of the coronavirus will have detached huge swathes of former No voters from their commitment to the union.
It’s in these circumstances – and amidst very challenging economic circumstances – that the new case for independence must be made. This is a huge opportunity to re-make the movement and together emerge out of the ashes of the virus experience with fresh imagination and a new political culture. Political movements morph and re-make themselves over and over and the movement for self-determination is no different. Our collective ‘near-death’ experience should be an epiphany to reclaim the very best of the 2014 experience but in a new light.
Any monumental crisis like the one we are living though allows an openness for those who survive it. We can rebuild the independence movement as one characterised with openness and generosity, imagination and hope, positivity and radical thinking. The task of the next movement is not just to create an independent Scotland but to make a just recovery, to create a society with all of the insights and lessons we have learned. We are not going to rebuild a society with all of the disfiguring poverty, hierarchy and vested interests it had before.
The reality is that the virus experience has exposed the British state and its system of elite rule as a complete failure. The case for independence has never been stronger or clearer.
So we don’t need a new party we need a new movement, one that operates beyond narrow party interest and embraces whole swathes of society coming out of the virus experience. We need a vibrant movement led from multiple sources with a new set of values and the energy to face the monumental challenges ahead.