Opinion

2007 - 2022

Party Fears Two

Both the SNP and Labour are struggling with internal wranglings and arguments about the best tactics and strategies to use in relation to Scotland and the National Question in the years ahead.

For Labour the issue lies with an attempt to ‘head off at the pass’ the Tories attacks on a “coalition of chaos” and a re-un of the ‘Miliband in Salmond’s pocket ad’ as described by Jessica Elgot and Severin Carrell in the Guardian.

The enthusiastic framing by Jessica Elgot, the Guardian’s chief political correspondent and Severin Carrell, the Guardian’s Scotland editor (‘Labour will never strike deal with SNP, Keir Starmer to pledge’) has it that:

“The Labour leader is expected to ramp up his pledge that the party would give no quarter to the SNP and would not grant an independence referendum, which will form part of his summer campaign. That position would effectively dare the SNP to vote down a Labour Queen’s speech and bear responsibility for bringing down a Labour prime minister and enabling another Tory administration.”

‘Give no quarter’ is a militaristic phrase, and the combatants to be dispatched are clearly the SNP. While this may (or may not) play well in England, it’s extremely problematic in Scotland. While it does plausibly kill a Conservative ‘attack line’ it also jars with the much-anticipated Brown Report.

Elgot and Carrell report plaintively: “… there are likely to be further tensions over Labour’s approach to constitutional reform in the UK, spearheaded by a strategy from Gordon Brown. That is now expected to be delayed – perhaps even until September. Brown’s interim strategy was presented to the shadow cabinet before Easter but it divided opinion among shadow ministers – some of whom were dissatisfied with how the proposed settlement would affect English regions.”

This divide between the portrayal of Labour as a mediator, a constitutional moderniser, ‘just about to’ introduce a far-reaching programme of change – and one dead-set against any compromise and ‘giving no quarter’ is an irreconcilable one. The reality is the New Labour / Brown-Blair devolutionist party has gone, faded into the mists of New England and post-Brexit Britain. It seems like the resurgent Anglo-British nationalism of Johnson’s Conservatives holds Labour to ransom. In the same way as Starmer can say nothing about Brexit, the Rwandan policy or trade union solidarity, deals with the SNP are beyond the pale. The article even goes on to say: “Senior figures around Starmer have been urging him to make the case in stronger terms to voters, especially those in England …They argue it would pull the rug from under a key Conservative attack line before it is established, drawing comparisons with how the party leader has dealt with antisemitism…”

Wow. We’ve gone from the stage where wrestling with the constitutional question and modernising Britain was a sort of central proud idea of Labour’s, to any discussions being equated with antisemitism.

Over at the SNP there are (lesser) disputes. The idea of a ‘Yes Alliance’ has been put out there by Joanna Cherry MP.  In a slightly confusing message she writes:

“It could be a unifying move bringing together the SNP, Greens, disaffected former SNP activists including those who went to Alba or the other small pro-indy parties and the all-important wider Yes movement which includes such outstanding advocates as Lesley Riddoch and Andy Wightman” Furthermore, Cherry called for former First Minister Salmond to be given a role in the campaign because “his strategic knowhow is too good to be ignored”.

Where to begin?

It seems the idea, today enthusiastically supported by Lesley Riddoch [here]: “It’s time for all indy groups & parties to come together. A Yes Alliance for next election would be ideal, if legal manoeuvres fail.”

Ideal?

How so?

Last time we checked (which was Thursday) Savanta ComRes for the Scotsman had Net favourability ratings of Scottish leaders as follows: Sturgeon +15 Sarwar +3 Cole-Hamilton -11 Harvie -11 Slater -11 Ross -26 Salmond -61.

I can’t remember what the name of the other nationalist parties are, or their leaders, I’m pretty sure very few people could. So how, exactly would  a Yes Alliance be ‘ideal’?

How would bringing Alex Salmond at these favourability ratings and whose party recently polled 1.7% be helpful?

I suppose the idea is that behind these tiny groups and parties there are thousands of disaffected activists who would be galvanized by such an alliance. No doubt there are thousands of activists who are pissed-off at the SNP, but these numbers and this volume never translate into anything at all.

This is bubble-chat from within a small political movement. It betrays very poor political instincts and strategies and a lack of awareness that the bulk of people don’t inhabit these confines. The task is to reach out to the disaffected of society, the non-voter and the new voter and to build alliances across Scottish society. That’s how you build a winning Yes movement.

A broad rich and radical Yes movement is absolutely needed, but a party alliance would seem to bring nothing to the table except rancour and bitterness, a tone which would be gloriously exploited by the Unionist camp (in fact they are already doing so).

This is not to say that there aren’t real problem with the idea of an electoral plebiscite being channelled entirely though the SNP. There are. If this comes to pass it will represent a real conflict between movement and party.

‘Unity’ can be valuable but isn’t a value in itself. Is it good because it shows solidarity? Maybe yeah. Is it a good because it brings political advantage for a cause? Maybe. This idea does neither of these things.

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  1. Norm says:

    Starmer can say what he likes, but to the people in England opposed to a Labour government (and there are plenty of them) it makes no difference to how they feel, and they’ll use the attack line anyway and have a louder voice in doing so than Starmer (see 2015 and 2017 elections).

  2. BMS says:

    Cherry’s right. Cos you gotta hand it to him… Alex Salmond’s “strategic knowhow” in how to lose an independence referendum is second-to-none.

  3. WT says:

    I think it’s a shame that you have adopted your usual anti-Salmond position. It is obvious you don’t like the man but so much that you allow it to curb your judgement? you say:
    “How would bringing Alex Salmond at these favourability ratings and whose party recently polled 1.7% be helpful?” well, they would be helpful if we only had 48.4% of the vote. You point to popularity ratings – what has that got to with political analysis? If people such as yourself and the mainstream media keep portraying Mr. Salmond in a bad light then it is obvious that it will have a negative affect on the man’s popularity. It’s chicken and egg – and you know it. There have been lots of very popular despots throughout the past – it is not a good measure of a person. Saville was popular, Sefan Kizco was vilified. If you want to create an independent nation with good values then one of those values should be to respect the country’s institutions such as the courts and not pander to rumour, insinuation and popularity ratings.

    In your section on building a yes movement you say, possibly inadvertently, that Joanna Cherry has “very poor political instincts and strategies and a lack of awareness” Ms Riddoch shares this myopia also it seems. That’s your opinion and you are entitled to it, but you then go on to say a lot of generalities that wouldn’t be out of place coming from Ian Murray “reach out to the disaffected of society, the non-voter and the new voter and to build alliances across Scottish society.” Sounds good but is vacuous rubbish. I don’t want to offend you but that is the case – anyone can say that stuff. The way you build a yes movement is to convince people that independence offers them a better future than staying within the United Kingdom.

    1. BMS says:

      Jeezo, where to start?

      You say, “to respect the country’s institutions such as the courts”… well I absolutely do. Salmond did not commit criminal behaviour, but he did admit in that very court you ask us to respect that his behaviour was ‘inappropriate’. I agree with Salmond on this, it was ‘inappropriate’. However he has **never** apologised for this to the public, indeed to the independence movement. Some of these incidents occurred in the run up to the 2014 referendum. It sickens me that his ‘inappropriate’ behaviour happened anytime, the fact it happened in the run up to him losing our best chance at independence, unforgivable.

      I’m too young to be able to comment how popular Savile really was beyond a media elite, but one thing is for sure… when the public was aware of the true character of Jimmy Savile, he wasn’t popular. Which is the real Salmond problem that his devotees can’t square. The reason he is popular is because we got a glimpse at his true character.

      1. Derek Thomson says:

        Where to start, indeed. Your last sentence makes no sense, you might want to read it again. There are a fair number of Scottish political commentators, including the author, who have never got over the fact that the witch hunt against Alex Salmond didn’t result in him going to jail. “Bubble chat from within a small political group”. Aye, well there we are, eh? Who needs enemies? Our own worst, etc.

      2. Derek Thomson says:

        And as for Savile in the same comment as Alex Salmond – grow up.

    2. Sorry WT – pointing out facts isn’t ‘adopting a position’. 1.7% is an irrefutable fact, as are the polling I shared. Sorry if that’s difficult but that’s reality.

      Yes Joanna Cherry and Lesley Riddoch’s position is terrible political strategy.I say this not inadvertently but absolutely deliberately.

      I love idea that you reaching out across Scottish society is vacuous. Good luck.

    3. Wul says:

      Hmmm. Salmond might have 1.7% support from a section of pro-indy supporters, but if he were given a prominent position in any YES 2 campaign he would turn off a hell of a lot more people than that. And the media would love him as figure of smear, ridicule and toxicity with which to beat us over the head with.

      He’s better left out of it. His day has come and gone. Yesterday’s man. Happens to us all. He should accept this and enjoy the golf course.

  4. 220703 says:

    Whether there’s a formal alliance or not, I’m confident all the indy groups and parties will be out there campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote. I don’t see how the SNP would benefit from sharing the limelight with its more diddy rivals.

    1. 220703 says:

      It was Anatoly Lunacharsky who coined the term ‘poputchik’ (‘fellow traveller’). Does the SNP need such Mitläufer (‘lag-alongs’, ‘bandwagoneers’), as the Germans call them?

    2. Drew Anderson says:

      I can think of some.

      There are people who are openly hostile to the SNP on the indy side; check Wings, apparently it’s just a ploy to shore up the SNP’s prospects at the next GE.

      If it’s a single issue plebiscite election, there’s no manifesto and, therefore no need for it to be party political.

      If the SNP are standing, there’s no guarantee that there’ll be credible alternative candidates to absorb the pro indy, but anti SNP vote.

      I have concerns about a broad, single issue alliance, but personal ratings aren’t one of them. I wouldn’t want those elected, to the Westminster farce, serving on committees for example. I’d expect them to work for their constituents and to turn up, en masse at PMQs to demand the wishes of the Scottish electorate are respected; and to make a nuisance of themselves in general.

  5. Niemand says:

    Thought -provoking stuff Mike, thanks.

    Interesting analysis of Labour. For me it begs the question of where is the home for those who recognise the need for greater ‘regional’ autonomy but don’t buy into the idea of complete separation? It’s the old devo-max type idea, something that is almost despised more in nationalist circles than straightforward Westminster-centric unionism (which probably also despises it as much). And yet, in many ways, ‘devo-max’ is hardly to be despised – it is, at its best, a way of trying to reconcile peoples for benefit of all, but the arch unionists and nationalists will always scupper it, spitting metaphorically on the ground at the mere mention of the word. No-one likes compromise when it comes to constitutional questions, it seems.

    Yet, if I were Starmer, it is the line I would go for, not because it may or may not be the best political move, but because it is the only meaningful and sensible thing Labour could contribute and might even turn some heads. After all, no other major party is daring to go there.

    But I dare to say this, even as a supporter of independence in the light of only one other choice (the status quo), could it not actually be a way forward? The polls are clear – division down the middle on independence – what kind of country that narrowly wins a vote for or against will result from that divide? Why is the idea of maximum devolution but not total political separation so taboo? This is a genuine question rather than a provocation and is set in a world where one could ask what does ‘independence’ really even mean given that we already have huge, supra-national power blocks like the EU and others , cross-border trade links that form the foundation of entire economies and huge international issues, some never seen before, that recognise no borders and never will.

    As for deciding the constitutional future via a GE, ‘This is not to say that there aren’t real problem with the idea of an electoral plebiscite being channelled entirely though the SNP. There are. If this comes to pass it will represent a real conflict between movement and party.’ Is this not massive, not just a technical detail? It could be total chaos. How would you campaign? Would you actively say, ‘don’t want independence then don’t vote SNP’ (the total opposite of all recent SNP campaigns). The fact that NS did not make clear how this would really work (even to the point of what totals would be used and from what parties) is irresponsible and not the move of a serious politician who has had years and years to work this all out.

    1. 220703 says:

      But Devo-Max or ‘full fiscal autonomy within the UK’ won’t be on the ballot paper in 2023. The whole matter has been polarised into ‘independence’ or ‘not’. So much for giving the people of Scotland a grown-up choice. Take it (whatever it is – the government will sort that out after the event) or leave it.

      I suppose the question is whether, if the Scottish government loses the vote again in 2023, full fiscal autonomy for the constituent parts of the UK will be in the manifesto on which the Labour Party will stand in the subsequent UK general election. Might that be a vote winner for them in constituencies in England and Wales as well as those in Scotland? I’ve no idea whether there’s any more appetite among the constituencies in England for the devolution of state power than there was in 2004. No doubt, Labour’s researchers will be on the case.

      1. Niemand says:

        Well indeed. I was really asking why it is such a tainted idea (I mean know why but as an actual idea, separated from party politics, it is hardly mad).

        I don’t think people in England are that exercised by devo-max but pretty sure they would prefer that to separation and if that was really off the table I don’t think they would object but doubt it would be that much of a motivating factor politically. As for Scotland – well that would be a much more interesting question. Wales is different because Labour are already in power and with a decent majority. I suspect they would embrace it for Wales too though, but there is the nagging question of money – would it actually be fiscally viable for Wales? Sadly Starmer seems more hardline unionist than I understood. I think this a bad mistake.

        1. Wul says:

          Didn’t Salmond want a “devo-max” option on the 2014 ballot paper? And Cameron said “No”, it had to be a binary choice, because he thought that would give better odds for a “No” outcome?

          I’m sure I read that somewhere.

          1. 220704 says:

            Yes, Cameron kept the third option of full fiscal autonomy off the ballot paper because he calculated that his safest chance of preserving the status quo was to unify the unionist vote in a straight Yes-No battle, while Salmond calculated that his best bet was to split the unionist vote between Devo-Max and the status quo and then use full fiscal autonomy as a stepping stone to complete independence of Scottish government from the UK.

        2. 220704 says:

          Lisa Nandy (who’s waiting in the wings, as it were, for Keir to fail) is the great champion of devolution within Labour. I remember reading an article by her in the New Statesman about seven or eight years ago, in which argued that devolution would bring benefits to her constituent part of the UK, and that George Osbourne’s devolution plans were flawed in that a) they represented devolution by Whitehall diktat rather than by public consent and b) they represented nothing but a transfer of power one unaccountable structure in London to another in (in her case) Manchester. I sometimes feel the same about ‘independence’: that it will be imposed on us by (a small) majority diktat rather than consensually agreed, and that it will simply transfer power from one minimally accountable structure to a structure that’s only minimally more accountable in Edinburgh.

  6. Robert Allan says:

    Salmond is toxic. The best thing he did for Independence was form Alba and take all the ‘Bams’ with him. Let’s move on with credibility.

  7. Cameron Fraser says:

    Typical of Nicola, grabs the headlines but despite having had years to work it out, can’t be clear with her leadership party colleagues how numbers /seats won would count in the event of a plebiscite, single issue election. This route, the one that Chris McEleney wanted to debate at conference a few years back, that was booed, screamed and shouted down by her hand picked bright young things, still fighting the ravages of teenage acne but now portrayed as some kind of masterstroke by the same Wokus Dei crew!
    As to Joanna Cherry, unites the yes movement? Now I see where she aims to be going, popular replacement for the Sturgeon regime and a great many scores to be settled, watch out Smith!
    Alex Salmond, his time is passed, his involvement in any campaign would be used as a stick to beat us with.
    Is he capable of playing second fiddle to anyone?
    Not convinced by any of this except another lengthy legal argument and a sapping of will for those of us still able to care.

  8. Jennifer Houston says:

    I can’t stand any of them. I call these people “oppo-sames”. They push many of the same policies, which can be seen being implemented across the world. Why are they all so keen on forcing Scottish citizens to have IDs for example?

    1. 220705 says:

      No one’s forcing you to have an ID, Jennifer. You don’t have to have a driving licence, a passport, a library card, a username and password, a birth certificate, a bank account, an IP address, a NHS or NI number, a name, a registered vote, etc. It is possible (though, admittedly, very difficult) to live a completely off-grid, unadministered life.

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