2007 - 2021

Future Focused

It’s taken a full twenty years but the SNP have now completely supplanted the Labour Party in all aspects. Complete dominance of Scottish politics? Check. Superb slick media operations. Check. Leadership adrift in centrist compromise? Check. Party besieged by internal factionalism and bloodletting? Check. Accusations of infiltration and entryism? Check. Expectations of massive electoral success? Check.

The day after the schisms and splits within the SNP were fully exposed – and victory declared for various factions (of which more in a moment) – IPSOS and STV polling showed huge trust in the SNP and in the First Minister, huge support for the SNP and a pro-indy majority at Holyrood in May and sustained support for independence at 56%.

The Holyrood seat projection from IpsosMORI poll has the SNP with a 17 seat majority; a pro-independence with majority of 27; with Tory & Labour falling back and the Greens, oddly losing a seat. All of this slightly undermines those who decry the SNP leadership as (variously) useless, feckless, corrupt (insert insult here).

See “SNP dominates Scotland’s political landscape ahead of May elections” for full breakdown.






A note of caution amongst the celebration, Emily Gray from IPSOS points out: “But a quarter of Scots don’t appear to hold a completely definitive position in favour of either indy or the Union. Yes campaigners can’t afford to be complacent, and all might not be lost for those who want Scotland to stay in the UK.”

Given the lack of credible opposition in Scotland, opposition to the SNP has to come from within the SNP itself.

The danger is – looking at these figures and a five month timeline – what exactly are the plans for the dissident wing? Can they act as a coherent pressure group from within the party to effect change and play a positive role, or will ego and ambition drive them to destroy the host? How do those within (and accountable to) the party driven by genuine desire to embolden the party – relate to those outside the party driven by their own personal agendas and vendettas?There couldn’t be a more Scottish outcome than having got to this stage in history then witness self-sabotage at a grand scale in the final hour.

Questions remain about the coherence of the group (s). As ousted policy development convener Alyn Smith has written: “I don’t see a lot of coherence there – the idea that sincere women’s rights defenders will find much long-term common cause with Alex Salmond apologists hardly strikes me as likely.”

There’s no doubt that some of the elections are a big defeat for the party leadership racked with criticism for inertia and timidity and corporate sell-out and the results have emboldened the more critical wing of the movement/party. As George Kerevan writes on Conter:

“Many movement activists (a lot of whom are outside the SNP) are not prepared to rely on parliamentary manoeuvres to win independence. There is a lot of discussion within the movement of mass action, civil disobedience and holding a referendum without Westminster approval. Movement activists are aware that, at the very least, it is necessary to keep pressure on the SNP leadership. Recent weeks have seen the creation of YesAlba, a new, autonomous membership organisation pledged to winning independence, along the lines of the Catalan ANC.”

The trick would be for mass action and civil disobedience to come in forms and formats that brought energy to the whole movement and country which is on a path to independence rather than actions that undermine that momentum. In the same way, while the “just hold a referendum” “just get on with it” “do UDI now” plays well within the bubbles of the movement, it’s not at all clear it plays well in the wider society.

But creative civil disobedience and direct action could play a major part in providing powerful symbol and energy to the whole country if well conceived.

I’ve not been convinced by other side of the culture wars, and not prepared to be confined by the binary nature of the “debate”, such as there is any. The shrill and often hysterical language used in much of this debate has been, often, appaling, and the divisions, in my mind unnecessary.

It seems like this time needs leadership which is thoughtful and courageous but can also unify a party scarred by division. Yet there are key issues which the party needs to resolve in forming its manifesto, and key amongst these is the currency question. In this sense some of the appointments might make that crucial debate much easier to have because it will be impossible to silence those of us critical of the Growth Commission’s Sterlingisation plans.

If the SNP have come to form some of the defining characteristics of Labour, there are other similarities. Between those jostling for position with political ambition and those spearheading toxic factions, there are in the party and the wider movement the far greater proportion of people who just want change and want to transform Scotland through independence to a more peaceful and more ecologically viable country. The great majority of the movement – and increasingly now the country – want to eject from the class-ridden inequalities and poverty of the British state and still sense that Another Scotland is Possible, to use a well worn phrase.

It’s in this context that Nicola Sturgeon was clever to frame Scottish independence as an essential part of our post-covid social reconstruction, not an obstacle to it. “Independence is not a distraction from the task of post-covid reconstruction it is essential to getting that right” she said.

The challenge ahead is to find a way to rebuild in the ashes of post-covid / No Deal Brexit in a way that looks forward with the real ambition and energy and vision that the moment requires. That might require us all to be our best selves and to seize the moment and the opportunity for the country which lies before us.

Comments (39)

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  1. Axel P Kulit says:

    I find little to disagree with here.

    As to currency I have said we should use the Swiss Franc (perhaps the stablest in the world) or the Euro. How to sell it to the public is another matter, though we could have dual use – either currency being accepted.

    I feel there are quite a few people hight in the SNP and YES movement who, consciously or otherwise see getting independence as a threat to their careers and, as someone said in another thread, developed a symbiotic alliance with unionism. Again I suspect, consciously or otherwise, they will do their best to prevent independence, perhaps by use of slogans like “UDI now” or “Why leave the UK just to be ruled by Brussels”

    1. Julian Smith says:

      Why would Scotland want to do either of these? Currency is issued by Governments primarily as the means of exchange of goods and services within the country. The supply of currency has to meet the needs of the economy of the country. A Scottish government would have very limited and uncertain control of its economy if the currency of another country were used. And it is very bad practice to borrow, should that be necessary, in a currency that you don’t control.
      It really is time to accept that an independent Scotland would create its own currency via its own Central Bank according to principles set out in a written Constitution, as many other independent nations do.

      1. Axel P Kulit says:

        Three options

        1. Use sterling
        2. Use another currency
        3. Set up an independent Scottish currency

        2 and 3 will alienate those who want to keep the pound. 3 will take time. I do not want 1.

        So we may have to use another currency for a time. The options I put out were the Swiss Franc and the Euro. Others may have other ideas.

        1. Andrew says:

          Option 3 is a must. Without your own currency you are not independent. Without your own currency you can’t set interest rates. You need to build up reserves in the currency you are using which means you have to tax more than you spend (i.e. austerity), export more than you import, borrow on financial markets which exposes you to currency speculators and sell the ‘family silver’ by privatisation.
          Starting your own currency need not take all that long. Some countries have done it in a few months but the likely two transition years between the decision to go independent and independence day should be reasonable time. During that time we would be likely to continue with sterling partly so as not to scare the horses and partly to educate people on how the new currency would work.
          Finally, the EU expects members to use the Euro but several countries e.g. Sweden, Denmark, do not and have put off doing so to the indefinite future.

          1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Sweden and Denmark, like Britain, decided as existing members not to opt into the Euro when it was instituted. Is there an option for new members not to join it, or is joining the Euro a condition of new membership?

          2. Arboreal Agenda says:

            It is a legally binding obligation for all members who have / will join since 1992 though new members have to ‘meet the conditions’: ‘These criteria include: complying with the debt and deficit criteria outlined by the Stability and Growth Pact, keeping inflation and long-term governmental interest rates below reference values, and stabilising their currency’s exchange rate versus the euro. Generally, it is expected that the last point will be demonstrated by two consecutive years of participation in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II)’.

            What is interesting here is the bit about stabilising the currency as there will be no stabilised currency for a newly independent country. So the idea that there could a temporary currency first makes sense but any discussion of currency that assumes EU membership but does not address this issue is pointless: Scotland in the EU will have to adopt the Euro within a few years. Unless, of course the EU decides otherwise.

          3. Axel P Kulit says:

            There are some countries have managed to defer adopting the Euro for many years, perhaps kicking that into the long grass.

            I am not aware of any rule says we would have to use the Euro exclusively: Switzerland, or at least Swiss People, use the Euro and the Swiss Franc

            I read that the Euro is on of the few currencies large enough to be unaffected by currency speculation.

            I agree our own currency would be best.

          4. Arboreal Agenda says:

            Yes this is true – Sweden joined in 1995. Denmark was already a member in 1992 (joined 1973).

            The question is though what would happen with Scotland? It is quite possible EU membership could be negotiated without no obligation to adopt the Euro but the opposite is also quite possible. One would have thought some clarity on this would be needed for any new independence referendum as otherwise the currency issue would be, yet again, a very serious matter for voters.

      2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

        If an independent Scottish government rejoined the EU, wouldn’t it HAVE to use the Euro? Would it have the choice?

      3. Coinneach says:

        If the policy is to join the EU, we have to have our own central bank and currency before we’ll be considered. We also have to signal willingness to adopt the Euro, but others have done this and never adopted it viz Sweden, Denmark & UK (although secured a dispensation to maintain the GBP). There are inherent weaknesses in ECB management of the Euro and widespread doubts about its future, so EU attempts at forcing us into adopting it are unlikely.

  2. Alasdair Galloway says:

    Can someone give me an argument to support Alyn Smith’s claim that ” the idea that sincere women’s rights defenders will find much long-term common cause with Alex Salmond apologists hardly strikes me as likely.”
    Just what does Salmond has to apologize for? Or was Kirsty Wark right, that he did done it, and was as guilty as sin? Is Joanna Cherry not a “sincere women’s rights defender”? In fact more than that?
    Does that claim not illustrate the problems with Smith’s argument – basically
    1. the jury got it wrong and the alphabet women were right all along
    2. anyone who treats someone claiming to be a woman as anything different or less is not only wrong but very wrong.
    For the record, my own view is informed by the Oliver Wendell Holmes that “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” The cause of trans women (and men!) is not helped by making a case which tramples over the views of others
    Moreover, if there is a diversion from seeking independence is this debate not diverting attention from independence. Joanna Cherry – whatever your views of her in relation to trans rights – in one of our movements very best legal minds which should be focused on how the law might be used against Westminster (as she did with regard to Brexit), and in particular not being diverted by the buckets of odeur being poured over her by those who disagree with her on this one topic, and indeed threats to her person. The lack of support from colleagues – and Smyth in particular – is deafening.
    You ask “what exactly are the plans for the dissident wing? ” First of all dissidents are not one dimensional – there is more than one reason to dissent. But putting trans rights to one side for now (PLEASE!) the issues are basically what you say – preparing the case, being willing to adopt means that take forward the possibility of independence including “creative disobedience”.

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      I presume this has to do with the factionalism that has broken out in the SNP ahead of the parliamentary elections next year and, in particular the so-called ‘coup’ that has removed so many woke liberals and their domestic policy distractions from the party’s National Executive Committee and replaced them with more authentic radicals with a sharper focus on gaining independence.

      I don’t think Alyn Smith offers any argument for his claim that it’s unlikely that sincere women’s rights defenders will find much long-term common cause with Alex Salmond apologists in the context of the NEC. On the face of it, however, his wider point – that an NEC riven by factionalism is unlikely to be cohesive or coherent – does seem plausible.

      The extent to which all this in-fighting (and, more to the point, the government’s behaviour in relation to the Holyrood inquiry into its behaviour in relation to the Alex Salmond Affair) will affect the performance of the SNP in the upcoming elections NEC remains to be seen. If you listen to the hype, it can’t lose. The question is: can it win by enough?

      Politics in Britain has long been hostage to such party shenanigans. Look at the Labour Party and its dramatic self-destruction over the past ten years. Look at the Tories and the whole Brexit fiasco, which might still come home to haunt them. It’s edifying that Scotland is not exceptional in this regard. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

      You’ll excuse my quiet sniggering.

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          Kevin McKenna’s term, in yesterday’s National.

    2. John B Dick says:

      Thanks for the Oliver Wendall Holmes reference. I must look him up.

      An American Unitarian minister told be that one c1958 and I’ve always wondered about the context.

  3. Daniel Raphael says:

    Another fine and timely article, Michael. Sending it to the usual suspects.

  4. Drew Morrison says:

    Reasoned and sound. I am sure many of us who desire Independence but are not (and hopefully will never recognise nor be) part of any faction must have feelings of trepadation that it will all end in tears. The very fact that a personality like Craig Murray ran for President of the SNP while practically calling the FM dishonest this week begs the question what is it all for? Is it just merely a simple political power struggle between two opposing factions? Will the opposing group to the current SNP leadership feel emboldened enough to really challenge or even try to replace the most successful and popular leader that the SNP has ever had and in doing so, to my view, put a near future Independence referendum into jeopardy? For putting it bluntly with the exception of the political savvy most voters and citizens have never heard of practically most of the members that make up the CWG within the SNP. This is important to recognise. Voters do not merely vote for a party they vote for personality also. On the other side of the coin how will the leadership of the SNP deal with the changes to the NEC? It’s anyone’s guess… but what is essential is stability some calm water as the SNP head into the May elections next year.

  5. Michelle Shortt says:

    Very good piece Mike. I can’t find anything to disagree with your analysis. As someone with some reservations about the proposed GRA reforms I most certainly didn’t make my NEC nominations for that reason. I nominated those who I felt would take the growth commission to task and help move the conversation onto a more left wing agenda including central bank and currency as these are the two main issues the wider public will be alert to not identity politics having nasty swipes at each other on twitter.

  6. SleepingDog says:

    The party to end all parties.

  7. Pogliaghi says:

    Stu Campbell (he who cannot be named) made the correct riposte to Alyn Smith’s sour grapes about Salmondites and “sincere defenders of women’s rights” making common cause: What are Salmondites “defending” Salmond from now that he’s been found innocent, exactly? Oh that’s right, SNP elites don’t believe in the rule of law when it comes to Salmond, but rather, eerily like Labour elites, that the monstering of the populist wing is a self evidently justified and unimpeachable cause.

    Also, Smith and his ilk never accepted that the Women’s Pledge wing were “sincere defenders of women’s rights”, but rather treated them in bad faith and gave into the incendiary vicious circle of groupthink that has turned the trans thing into some sort of Manichean struggle, rather that what it ought to be, a carefully and sensitively handled question of how to balance the rights of two, differently but simultaneously vulnerable groups. The same out of touch mentality exists with respect to the justice minister (an illiterate when it comes to drafting legislation with his crap framing about “aggressive campaigning” etc), attempting to ride roughshod over Scotland’s civil society – lawyers, journalists, academics and the cops – in the name of ultra political correctness.

    Key point: the factionalism _started in the party elite_ among know-better-than-thou technocrats – not with the old “Zoomer” crowd. From the early days post-referendum when the populist wing were genuinely “problematic” in their refusal to accept the vote etc., *party elite radicalism* – which is basically driven by careerism -amplified and nurtured the populist reaction. The challenge is now for the SNP elite is to respect the results. They must rediscover a party identity that’s based on consensus policy making and not upon listening exclusively to small caucuses of business people, identity politics sub-factions etc.

  8. florian albert says:

    The NEC election appears to have united three different (though perhaps overlapping) groups; those who believe Alex Salmond has been ill-treated; those who believe the SNP is too pre-occupied with identity politics and those who believe the SNP is, on economic matters, too conservative.

    Combined, they make up a significant section of the activists whose support will be needed in an Indyref2; too important to be ignored

    My own view is that the failure of the SNP – which right now means Nicola Sturgeon – to produce a more coherent vision for an independent Scotland, than the one which was rejected 6 years ago, is an even bigger danger to the whole project.

  9. William Spalding says:

    I find it incredible and perhaps even suspicious, that there are people who would look at the positive movement in support for independence in the last 2 years and decide the best approach to winning independence is to choose a different strategy, at the very moment when the indicators show the current strategy has brought the nearest point of success since 1707.

    “YesAlba, a new, autonomous membership organisation pledged to winning independence, along the lines of the Catalan ANC.”

    Choosing to go along Catalan lines is absolutely stunning as a choice.

    Not one single country recognised the Catalan Referendum as legitimate, not one single country has spoken out with any continuing conviction about the treatment of the Catalan leaders and the EU stated referenda had to be carried out within the legal constitution of the country involved.

    This massive error of judgement by the Catalan ANC has set back any hope of Catalan independence by decades.

    I’ll stick with Nicola’s plan which has delivered 15 polls in a row in favour of independence (even if polls are notoriously unpredictable when reality intervenes)

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      Ah, but the Catalan action was exotic and sexy, which better fits the self-image of ‘authentic radical’ in the political marketplace.

      Political activism in the postmodern epoch all about branding and lifestyle-fantasy. Just think of the profits all those flags and other merchandise must generate!

  10. John Docherty says:

    I do enjoy when unconditional British Nationalist supremacists attempt to be reasonable. Really do

  11. Elaine Fraser says:

    Women don’t need your version of coherence what ever that is …..we dont need Alex Salmond …..and we certainly don’t need Alyn Smith or anyone else telling us who we are or how we should behave or who/what we should vote for.

    Personally I’m never going to forget those who looked the other way ( on the erasure of womens hard won sex based rights) and I have absolutely no idea how I will vote in any future Indy Ref.

    Well done blokes

  12. MBC says:

    Perhaps it will be a relief to the SNP government that a separate non-party national campaign for independence is being set up, as that frees it to get on with the business of government, its manifesto and its policy offer. Not to mention its organisational structure. Whilst activists can get on with a campaign.

  13. john burrows says:

    Looked at dispationately, the scraps within any party are a function of their nature. It’s all just a ‘tempest in a tea pot’ to the majority of the electorate.

    Activists live in a bubble outside of the reality of the lived lives of the greater electorate. The majority of whom are oblivious to their arguments of how many angels dance on the head of a pin. It has always been thus, wherever you look. The SNP is no different from other parties in this respect.

    As a lapsed member of the SNP, I don’t have any skin in this game any more.

    While I greatly admire Ms. Sturgeon’s quiet stoicism, eloquence and stamina, I disagree with her use of independence as a dupe to conceal her puritanical social agenda. Surrounding herself with like minds, who have sought to purge the party of the politically incorrect, has been a disasterous strategy. I left the party when this became obvious to any with eyes to see.

    The unabashed libertarian Tories who now rule in Westminster, amply demonstrate, on a daily if not hourly basis, the complete bankruptcy and redundancy of such a strategy on a UK level. They rule a divided society they themselves have engineered.

    It can be safely argued that Westminster governence has never been more inadequate to the challenges it faces since Charles I. Entirely self inflicted.

    The Scots are faced with a simple choice: follow England, or set out on their own path. But whatever path they choose, it will be fraught with hazards. This is beyond dispute. There is no longer a status quo to cling onto.

    The fact that the SNP membership have been motivated to park the personal and focus on the general good, can only be seen as progress for a party hierarchy with a pathological obsession of staring at its own navel. A stark difference with the choices made by the Conservative party membership.

    We can only hope those who have reclaimed the governance of the SNP executive council, will seize this opportunity to undue the damage done to the cause of independence, by the mediocrats who were determined to seize defeat from the jaws of victory.

    The SNP’s only hope is to return once again to the “big tent” to secure independence for Scotland.

    To succeed I would suggest to the party that they must never again allow those with their own personal ambitions for society to usurp the immediate common weal of our nation.

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      Hear! Hear!

    2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      I’d only add that, to flourish, we must never allow communities of interest, like the SNP, with their own corporate ambitions for society, to usurp the state. To allow this is unhealthy in the sense of being inimical to the common good, as determined by the general will rather than by the decree of some party’s policy committee.

    3. Arboreal Agenda says:

      It’s a weird situation.

      When you look at long periods of dominance of any party in power (Tories in the 80s and 90s, Labour after) they always lose their way in the end, get more and more inward looking, get kind of drunk on forcing through ideological agendas and arguably simply become corrupted on an individual level. This is clearly now happening to the SNP after so long in power and pretty uniquely, with effectively no opposition. In normal circumstances, the opposition would step up and win an election. This isn’t going to happen in Scotland (or so it seems . . . ) but the worry for the independence cause is that there is no serious party of opposition that can take up that mantle that also wants independence. The power shift at the top is a positive thing in the respect of trying to stop the party rot and it may work. History suggests however that it may not.

      The lesson is that you really do need effective opposition in any democracy and where there is a massive cause like seeking independence, you need more than one major party to support it because if the SNP seriously falters, do not rule out it being replaced by the electorate – the last decade or so has shown that major, unexpected political shifts should no longer be a surprise.

      1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

        ‘Decadence’ and ‘deconstruction’ are two words that spring to mind; the immanent process by which the relational quality of any organisation inevitably collapses under the weight of its own internal contradictions, which are implicit in its forms of expression. The task of philosophy as subversion is to assist this process by making those contradictions explicit through immanent critique.

        1. Axel P Kulit says:

          “philosophy as subversion”

          love this idea

  14. Alex Montrose says:

    The SNP are projected to win 70 Constituency MSPs.

    The SNP are also projected to win 47% of the list vote, this will gain 3 list MSPs, for 38% of the list vote the Con/Labs are projected to win 45 list MSPs.

    If Independence supporters were to lend their list vote to the Green Party, it would increase the Independence majority and decimate the list MSPs of the ConLab Parties.

    If the Greens have a strong commitment to a referendum in their manifesto, I will be voting SNP 1 Green 2, in the NE Region.

    1. It is highly likely that the Scottish Greens will have a strong commitment to a referendum in their manifesto.

  15. Michael says:

    How does projected success for the SNP “undermine those who decry the SNP leadership as (variously) useless, feckless, corrupt (insert insult here).”? What is the evidence to support an inverse correlation between uselessness, fecklessness or being corrupt (insert other evidenced concerns here) and party popularity? Isn’t this claim wishful hyperbole?

    1. Well for a very long time elements of the wider movement have moved from having differences of strategy/policy/urgency with the SNP and the leadership to wanting them destroyed and Sturgeon removed. I have a great many differences and criticisms of them but their ongoing electoral success seems undeniable.

      Ditto the rise in support for independence.

      1. But if your point is that something could be both useless and hugely successful then I guess that’s true too.

        1. john burrows says:

          Johnson’s ‘government’ seems a likely candidate of the latter, for the people of the UK at least.

          Despite their obvious ineptitude, their popularity with the electorate seems undimmed. In defiance of reason.

          But uselessness is relative.

          It has been quite successful for Tory donors and their factors. Hedge funds, oligarchs and sharks feeding on the NHS, are also doing quite well.

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