Some Advice for the New leader

The departure of Nicola Sturgeon has kicked off another round of the wild conspiracy theories that have swirled around her career. Sturgeon was a character that attracted vitriol and invective from all corners. My favourite conspiracy about her was that she just pretended to read books in order to project an image of herself as a bright spark. She was, according to detractors from either side simultaneously obsessed with independence to the point of ignoring all else – and yet also completely uninterested in independence and focussed solely on her own advancement.

The truth is perhaps more prosaic. She did attract support for independence – and for the SNP – from a wider range of the Scottish electorate by presenting a less bellicose face of nationalism – and by putting forward a social democratic suite of policies. She increased free school meal provision up to nine, developed ground-breaking legislation on domestic violence and coercive control, and as Dani Garavelli has noted: “Scotland’s tax system is the most progressive in the UK, and the Conservatives’ welfare reforms are being mitigated by the child payment – £25 per child per week for low-income families.”

But if these and other reforms marked Scottish social policy as being more liberal than the UK’s, this was a low bar, and hardly transformative enough to win over sufficient enough numbers to ‘the cause’. It did win over that progressive Scotland that would previously have been attached to Scottish Labour, but it wasn’t enough next to wider policy failures over education and drugs deaths and the litany of controversies and ‘scandals’ (of varying degrees of basis in actual reality).

What Sturgeon was good at was winning elections. While this was enough at first these victories didn’t lead to anything. The ridiculous and huge Westminster cohort have produced very little actual change to speak of. The lack of cohesion and strategy between the Westminster group and the Holyrood one is a failure of leadership but its also reflective of a truth that while the former had too much time on their hands, the latter had to deal with the details of running a country.

Now faced with neither a leader nor a strategy the SNP will need to re-make themselves. Unfortunately for them, and us, this process is already aligning around purely factional interests with Alex Salmond and Joanna Cherry promoting the younger and socially conservative Ash Regan and Kate Forbes – as are a surround-sound of the Unionists finest scribes and editors. If I was the SNP I would not choose the culture wars as the ground to fight. It’s the economy stupid, as the famous snowclone has it.

It’s early days – and the past twenty four hours has seen more candidates rule themselves out than in – but the problem with the candidates so far is that none of them has articulated a strategy for moving independence forwards. If the sole criteria for success is determining which element of the party or the movement they represent – or where they align on issues of trans legislation – then we are in deeper trouble that we realise.

Sturgeon was right that Scotland is in a position of stasis and deadlock. She was right that she had become a divisive figure. She had become the central point of focus for hatred from all sides. For some within the independence movement she was a failure or a traitor, while for those from a unionist perspective she was the devil incarnate, or at least (hilariously) Jimmy Krankie.

To shift the dial for Scottish independence, and to avoid repeating the conditions that led to this state of affairs, the SNP should do five things.

First, avoid creating the problem in the first place. Avoid replacing one ‘great leader’ with another. Avoid the New Labour trope of creating a presidential-style leadership model where everything is parsed through a single person. Instead create a team and multiple leaders.

Second, frighten the horses. Gaining independence is about change, radical transformative change, to pretend otherwise is just nonsense. Breaking up the British state is the task. Your not going to do that without making some noise. Britain is already broken. Say it. This idea that we can slide seamlessly and without ripples away from the Union is both completely misleading and completely dispiriting. There is no ‘juice’ in this approach and its been a proven failure.

Third, there needs to be unity between the Westminster and the Holyrood branches of the SNP. The MPs need to have a plan for what they are doing and why. It seems really unclear what their actual purpose is – beyond representing their constituencies and collecting their salaries, What are they there for?

Fourthly, and this shouldn’t need saying but it does, they need to campaign. Despite the hysteria of the unionist community the SNP really aren’t obsessed about independence. The case needs to be made and re-made and needs to be put to the people in new forms and by new mediums. This is NOT an argument for speaking to the converted or for going along to endless rallies and marches of the Yes movement. The Yes movement are not who they need to be speaking to. This entails much more than the half-hearted mealy-mouthed ‘papers the FM published over the past year. People need dynamic detailed plans and they need the building blocks of a new state to be put in place and tried-out. None of this happened. As Jonathon Shafi has written: “The existing “revamped” prospectus for independence, farmed out to the corporate lobby, doesn’t stand up to even mild scrutiny. The new “White Papers” amounted to no more than short-lived publicity stunts which came to a halt without notice or explanation.”

Fifth, they need to change. There needs to be transparency and honesty, two things that have been absent and allowed the festering sewer of wild conspiracies to bloom. Professional political parties like control and secrecy, but after a while the benefits that tactic brings is outweighed by the suspicion it provokes. One key thing to be open and transparent about is the tactic for re-entering the EU. This is a popular idea that demarcates it from other parties. It’s the clear blue water between Labour and the SNP, it’s the clear blue water between an independent Scotland and remaining with Britannia Unchained. But it’s not really viable within the current, discredited, currency plan. That needs to change.

To move beyond stasis and deadlock these things need to happen. Reflecting on Sturgeon’s time in office we are in a paradox. New polling from the Ipsos Knowledge Panel, conducted the day after Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation, found that three in five of the Scottish public (59%) say that Nicola Sturgeon has changed Scotland for the better, but also that a majority of the public think that her resignation will have a negative impact both on the case for Scottish independence and on the SNP. Both these things are true. If the SNP are to be resurrected they need to embrace change – which is darkly ironic for a party that proposes – at least in theory – dramatic, seismic political and constitutional change.

The single thing that is needed is for the SNP – and the independence movement – to show how creating a functioning democracy will improve social conditions for millions facing economic crisis on a scale they’ve never experienced before. This and only this will change things. The irony is this isn’t actually difficult to do. For whoever replaces Nicola Sturgeon this is the task at hand. All flows from this. This is about Raploch not Bannockburn.

Comments (35)

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  1. MacGilleRuadh says:

    One essential missing element from your list: gie Murrell his jotters.

  2. Robert Hill says:

    We also need to emphasise that an independent Scotland would be free to elect whichever political party they wanted to.

    1. Iain says:

      Indeed. Perhaps even a commitment to disband, following a Yes vote would neuter the ‘What would independence look like *under the SNP*?’ and ‘They can’t even run a devolved parliament’ disingenuous but impactful queries ….

  3. Roland Chaplain says:

    You’re absolutely right Mike about saying that the SNP needs to build a new team rather than focusing on finding just one new leader. To do that requires an extended period of hustings where the key players present their pitch for what they could contribute. The NEC appear to have missed the opportunity to enable just that by virtue of compressing the leadership election timetable.
    The forthcoming leadership contest will provide an amazing opportunity to profile the SNP’s position on climate and the environment.
    Interestingly several commentators have already flagged up the importance of our having a young, new start leader such as Mairi McAllan. For myself, the position Scotland is taking in relation to “Loss and Damage” in the context of the global climate emergency is becoming the defining issue of our era. In this respect COP26 and COP27 have put Mairi on the international stage identifying her with a new way of thinking about economics that is profoundly different from the conventional economics and supporting legal systems that are the prime cause of the nature and climate emergencies.
    We need to throw everything at building on the momentum for Scotland to have international recognition as a “nation” in our own right, not just “sub-state” status. Scotland’s future lies with that of all indigenous people who have been the victims of exploitative technologies and legal systems which have allowed centuries of theft of peoples’ “natural capital”.
    Lets hope we have the courage to choose a new leadership who get this.

    1. MacGilleRuadh says:

      Màiri McAllen is not even standing is she Roland?

      1. No she’s issued a statement saying now is not the time to seek the very top job

  4. Jim Anderson says:

    An excellent article using the resignation as an opportunity to do leadership and governance differently. I totally agree and have been commenting where I can, on your third point of using the MPs. It has become abundantly clear that the Westminster group has been seen and treated as secondary to Sturgeon’s Holyrood cabinet and close clique. Maybe this will become clear when (if) we get sight of the email of McDonald that Craig Murray has promised to publish.

    The Leader and FM posts can and should be separate. There are huge advantages to this for the party, members and general public looking in on the process but the choice needs to be orderly, consensual and preferably an individual. The latter could be achieved by the President and/or Deputy Leader calling a Zoom meeting of all MPs/MSPs and striving for consensus. That the President and Deputy are awol is further incompetence at the top of the party. That self interest of some MSPs, especially those that would be most members last choice, comes before party or country needs is also adding to that sense of incompetence.

    The Leaders job is primarily to progress the prime aim of the party – Independence. The previous regimes have maintained a feeling that the MPs at Westminster were somehow different to the MSPs at Holyrood. Both MPs and MSPs were elected by the people of Scotland, not the party, on similar manifestos and have the same basic job to do in the two parliaments. No other colony or territory gaining their independence from the British had that opportunity to influence, research, guide, exploit relationships, obtain expert advice and opinion from within the British state to assist their liberation. The party should use that advantage.

    By choosing Flynn, who has, in the short time he has been in post, shown he is capable the party has the benefit of an experienced, investigative, fresh team at his disposal to take the independence issues forward, the main one being a new white paper on independence. Choosing an MP has the advantage of ensuring the chosen FM is able to concentrate on the disgraceful management of major initiatives, clear out the controlling clique in Bute House and Gordon Lamb House, stop the apparent unaccountability, particularly to the membership, of party chiefs and get back to effective progress on all initiatives meant to support the people of Scotland.

    This will be last chance saloon for many SNP elected representatives and independence. If those MPs/MSPs and President do not understand that the membership drift will become a tsunami and independence will dead for many years to come. So come on Mr President, get this bourach sorted!

    1. Frank Mahann says:

      Choosing an MP. In other words the boss is in London.

      1. Jim Anderson says:

        And your point is? We live in an age of simple video communication, fast transport and collective responsibility. If we are to return MPs to Westminster why are they not used to the full in the midst of the British government. Which group of politicians are better placed to do the work on development of the required white paper on independence to give support to the independence supporters campaign? Which group of politicians are best placed to continue the day to day governance of Scotland, arguably a huge task? Who in the party could do both jobs? Flynn found it difficult to answer such a question this morning apparently and the bun fight starting amongst MSPs is appalling, as is some of them actually thinking they could do the job. Flynn is ideally placed with a great team in support to take independence forward and Forbes has the the ability to deal with the day to day activity and between them they would have the strength to sort out the party management.

  5. Jake Solo says:

    Amazing. It’s the vile bam full house. Who woulda thunk it?

    1. Too culty and too deferential
    2. Too feart and too cringey
    3. Too low wattage and too pointless
    4. Too compromised and too lazy/comfy
    5. Too secretive and anti democratic

    Many saw this years ago, saw it would take us nowhere, and were hounded, abused and excluded for it by the party and its troops of wheeshty flying monkeys.

    The SNP doesn’t get my vote again until they actually deserve it. An general apology and a period of outright grovelling are a precondition to even considering it.

    I won’t hold my breath. They’re rigging the leadership contest as we speak.

    1. Frank Mahann says:

      Ach well there’s always Alba………

    2. Politically Homeless says:

      “..troops of wheeshty flying monkeys.”

      LOL. Singlehandedly restored my faith in the power of the Scots language. All of the above agreed,

      This was, I think, a very carefully calibrated response by Mike Small. Keeping the cards close to the chest and preparing to trim sails to the wind. The minimum of capitulation to critical positions to credibly explain Sturgeon’s departure, all reassuringly couched in the obligatory condescending digs at the Wings/Kevin McKenna type demographic. And yet it recuperates a lot of their positions. The talk of presidential leadership styles, failure to seize the opportunity of Brexit etc, on independence, and that lovely formulaic canard about “lack of transparency” as a euphemism for admitting when conspiracy theories ought to be taken seriously.

      There’s a 6th bullet point that ought to appear here, and that’s the SNP’s clientelism. Our civil society is overstuffed with a Nomenklatura of middle class bureaucrats and influencers in a sort of mentally symbiotic relationship with whoever they make out their next funding application to. Unfortunately this isn’t going to change until another funding paradigm comes along, which it won’t while the current one persists.

      But this is why for example, the angst of the deplorable sides of the “culture wars” simply does not register across much of Scotland. Nobody gets a grant for being a TERF, for being a free speech liberal, for pointing out the “wrong sort” of flaws in pandemic policy, for questioning woke intellectual fashion, etc. Unfortunately those who need to be won over on independence by definition lie outside this incestuous Consensus. They do register these issues, and they respond to them in some normal way with a spectrum of opinion quite different from clientelist groupthink shaped by ultra-technocratic globalist leadership. Some of them think that for example, letting rapists into women’s prisons is, you know, a really big deal. Ditto, giving the cops totally amorphous powers to define “hate speech”..

      Therein lies the crisis and the internal contradictions of the current SNP. Worse, it’s looking like Humza will be the next leader and he exemplifies the problem.

      1. Alec Lomax says:

        That’s some platefu’ o’ word salad….. ye ken?

      2. Michael says:

        Politically Homeless: very astute analysis…

        “This was, I think, a very carefully calibrated response by Mike Small. Keeping the cards close to the chest and preparing to trim sails to the wind. The minimum of capitulation to critical positions to credibly explain Sturgeon’s departure, all reassuringly couched in the obligatory condescending digs at the Wings/Kevin McKenna type demographic. And yet it recuperates a lot of their positions. The talk of presidential leadership styles, failure to seize the opportunity of Brexit etc, on independence, and that lovely formulaic canard about “lack of transparency” as a euphemism for admitting when conspiracy theories ought to be taken seriously.”

  6. John Robertson says:

    ‘but it wasn’t enough next to wider policy failures over ….drugs deaths’ – so wrong.

    These failures are not SNP failures but are the long-term consequences of UK Conservative and Labour policies, set in place long before 2007:

    SNP Government policies are succeeding in turning around drug deaths:

  7. Gavinochiltree says:

    Open collective leadership—well said, Mike: no more cliques, walk-a-bouts or photo ops. Royalty they ain’t!
    The SNP isn’t the YES movement but is obviously important politically.
    If we want self-rule, the SNP are in position to articulate why, and to build a better consensus among the wider population.
    They must step up, and use their collective voice in the media—and insist on getting airtime reflective of their electoral strength.
    Drop all the marginal stuff and concentrate on governing—health, education and the economy.
    Campaign properly on independence. Why we want it, and why it will improve all our lives (though it is not a nostrum).
    Insist on a future good relationship with our neighbours, both in the British Isles and abroad.
    Keep Trident for a decade. No longer than that.
    Float a new currency ASAP—as a prelude to joining the euro ( it’s not a bogeyman, lots of us have experience of it).
    Holyrood should ask for an inquiry into the BBC, funding for Scotland and content. It won’t happen, but will frighten the horses.
    Make life difficult for Mr Jack. Don’t ignore him. Ask him to facilitate cooperation between Holyrood and the EU. Ditto the UN. The £20 billion connectivity money he claimed he had. Ask about HS2. Ask how much defence spending we got—is it proportionate to our population. The nuke sub hulks. How much Westminster industry support we get, compared to, for example Englands car industry.
    We have lots of MPs—-fight our corner—ask questions— make a fuss—be insulting, if you get insulted—use humour.

  8. JP58 says:

    Best, honest thought provoking article I have read on Nicola Sturgeons resignation.
    SNP must ensure they are Social Democratic on policies as this is in line with majority in Scotland.
    They must reassess the roles of Westminster MP’s (more campaigning for independence and pointing out how Westminster hinders ScotlandI would suggest) and from what I have seen Stephen Flynn looks capable for this adversarial role.
    In power in Holyrood they must concentrate on delivering in improving prosperity of people of Scotland and making independence seem more attractive.
    Lastly I think the leader should be separate from FM and head up Yes movement campaigning for independence.
    It has to be understood that Westminster is not going to grant a Section 30 for referendum if Yes have possibilities of winning only exception would be possibly if SNP have balance of power at Westminster.
    Therefore there needs to be a clear strategy on how Scottish electorate can clearly, without any dubiety show that they are in favour of independence that would also be respected abroad.
    Lastly I firmly believe that only approximately 25% of voters are firmly attached to Westminster and the real job is convincing another 25% that they, their families and community would be better off in an independent Scotland. It is possible but not easy due to overwhelming antagonism of political establishment and media to independence.

  9. Niemand says:

    A good analysis, and I agree with points 1-5. But the culture war reference is much too dismissive.

    Culture really does matter and fighting for it is now a key part of any political movement. Cultural warriors are active on all sides of the political spectrum because we care about this stuff. It is no the preserve of any political wing. Therefore the stance on various key cultural questions is very important. Saying it is not important, a sideline, divisive so best avoided is to abdicate responsibility, as is so common, with the self-ID legislation for example. Any new leader has to have a position on this matter and others, and to state it clearly and unequivocally. There has been too much fudging and quite literally contradictory statements from NS / SNP over recent times (to try and please / placate everyone but behind the scenes not really doing that but just paying lip service to it in a way that is in fact, deeply dishonest) and these became increasingly untenable and exposed as fraudulent. This kind of stuff needs to stop or it will continue to fester and poison to the point of destruction.

    The lack of time now given for candidates to talk about all of this as part of their pitch, comes across as simply more of the same old brushing things under the carpet, which is now bulging so much you can no longer walk on it. The rush for possible candidates to rule themselves out is depressing: hardly anyone wants the job and the main culprits for that are the very people who don’t want it – they have poisoned their own well.

  10. SleepingDog says:

    Seems a reasonable take, although I don’t follow parliamentary politics that closely these days. Perhaps the truth is generally more prosaic? It was perhaps ‘poetic truths’ that contributed to the First Minister’s resignation, although perhaps not many people could endure that kind venom much longer. Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon was unfortunate in her partners in government, who seemed to have lost their environmental compass. One of her constituents apparently said she was one of the best of a bad bunch, which may be so, but would cast doubt on her agglomeration practices.

    But certainly the cult of leadership, the seemingly inevitable corruption and compromises of party politics, with its promotion of loyalists and defenestration of dissidents, the media focus on court politics, the apparent ineptitude of the SNP in some of the everyday procedural tasks of government, the kowtowing to royalty and imperialism, meant that crossing of a low bar was something I expect VAR will be looking into.

    It is entirely possible and rational that people will vote for the SNP as the surest way of getting rid of the SNP through Scottish Independence. I agree that this is another opportunity to look more urgently into more radical visions for a new nation, as well as clearer visions of just what kind of client-imperial Britannia we will be leaving, the better to disentangle from.

  11. Dougie Blackwood says:

    Well said. Yes we do need to frighten the horses. Upset some of our more comfortable citizens and press on with progressive policies. Graeme McCormick has been going round pushing a land tax but nobody in government has been listening. This, local council reform and land reform are on the back burner where they should be front and centre.

  12. BSA says:

    Fine useful article. The usual good sense and vision.

  13. ALEX HOLMES says:

    An impressive post – thank you – and one that has inspired me to make a donation to BC.

  14. Graeme McCormick says:

    this article should be essential reading for all SNP members.

    i think we also need to know from the candidates if Scotland can only become an independent state with the consent of the U.K. parliament. If not, then they have to tell us how to take a substantial majority of our people with us to effect a dissolution of the Union if the Westminster parliament won’t negotiate.

    1. Thanks Graeme, you make a good point – my question is really how do candidates see a way forward, not what their views are on X issue

    2. JP58 says:

      Graeme I think it is highly unlikely Westminster will approve a Section 30 again – they got an enormous fright in 2014 and have no intention of repeating if possible Yes victory The only possibIe scenario is if SNP MP’s hold balance of power though this is still unlikely to budge Labour or Tory governments. This is undemocratic and unfortunate but IMO becoming self evident with each passing day.
      To get Westminster approval for independence Holyrood would have to show that a substantial majority of Scottish electorate were in favour of independence- more in line with 97 Devolution vote. This would also demonstrate to Europe and wider world the undoubted majority for independence and garner their support. This will in turn make Westminster rejection of result more difficult as it would potentially have international repercussions.

  15. florian albert says:

    ‘Second, frighten the horses’

    This strikes me as very likely to be counter-productive.
    Two recent examples come to mind.
    Nicola Sturgeon and her GRR Act. If this act had not been promoted by Nicola, there would – almost certainly – have been no resignation this week.
    Liz Truss introduced a budget which frightened the horses – and the money markets too. It led to her losing her job in record quick time.

    1. Equine startling can take many forms. Some can be inspiring.

      1. Sam says:

        Turd polishing.

        Her leaving has weakened the SNP and especially the INDY aspect.

        Scotland, and the UK, is so much better now.

        Ding dong.

        1. Alec Lomax says:

          Scotland in Union ding-donger.

        2. Derek Thomson says:

          Is that a mote in thine own eye? Or just shite with the turd-polishing?

    2. JP58 says:

      Disagree mate.
      I am pretty sure Nicola Sturgeon did not resign due to GRA more likely the lack of support within SNP for her de facto independence plans. She had support of majority of party (& parliament) over GRA reforms despite media hostility. It is however difficult to lead a party that doesn’t agree with your plan for the fundamental principle of the party

    3. Derek Thomson says:

      “Her” GRR bill. My blood boils pretty easily these days, and this is one of the phrases that sets It off. Michael Savage used it in the Observer on Sunday, along with accusing “her” with picking a fight with Westminster over the issue. Complete and utter claptrap. The Tories were fully cognisant all the way through the bill as to what was in it, then cynically stoked their culture wars with it, whipping up a hysteria that in my opinion shamed Scotland. It was a bill six years in the making, and (how many f****** times does it have to be repeated?) it was a bill that was voted in by a majority, with all parties (not all MSPs obviously) in support. Grrrr!!!

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