The End of the SNP’s Imperial Era, What Comes Next and the Politics of Liberation

The SNP’s leadership contest has not so far been the greatest advert for the party. Shaped by the end of the Salmond-Sturgeon era of the SNP and Scottish politics which has lasted for nearly two decades, behind the once impressive, professional and disciplined façade a deep malaise and decay has been revealed.

In recent days the controversies have broken at an ever-increasing rate: the confusion over how many members could vote and cards had been issued; the belated release of SNP membership figures; the resignation of SNP media chief Murray Foote; and following that resignation of Peter Murrell, the partner of Nicola Sturgeon, as SNP Chief Executive. And that is all in the course of less than a week.

At the onset of the leadership contest there was an assumption that with a bit of a tweak here and there, the show could keep on the road and continued progress assured. Now such perceptions look deeply complacent and out of touch, ignorant or deliberately not knowing of the true extent of the state of affairs at party headquarters – all throwing up big questions for the future.

The legacy of eight years of Sturgeon leadership

This malaise and decline did not come from nowhere. The backdrop to this contest is germane to what we are seeing before our eyes. The eight years of Sturgeon leadership, the way the party was managed, the deliberate lack of democracy and debate – all fed into the direction and decisions of how the SNP and government was run as a kind of closed shop from the top-down.

This is not to deny the obvious qualities Sturgeon had and has: a gifted political communicator and someone who presided over a period of sustained SNP electoral success; but beyond that there was no real strategy either for government or independence. 

Since Sturgeon announced her resignation on 15 February, a dam holding back powerful elemental forces has finally burst. Its walls have crumbled and a wave of confusion, chaos and disorientation has thrown people about, leaving many of them completely bewildered; some are even so confused they are in denial there is a crisis.

The events of the past month and even more the past week have to be seen in a bigger context. The party membership exploded post-2014 and peaked at 125,691 in 2019 (up from 25,642 just after the indyref). But we knew even then at the party’s peak that this expanded membership was hugely inactive: one measurement being the turnout in depute leadership contests: 33% in 2016 and 26% in 2018. 

Party membership was always going to come down from that peak and SNP HQ built up problems for themselves by not publishing figures since the December 2021 one of 103,884. It was clear since then that membership was declining further, aided by recent controversies such as the GRR Bill, but the fall to 72,186 is a steep one, albeit one that leaves the party by far the biggest in Scotland and larger than all the other parties added together.

The current confusion and chaos in the SNP isn’t just about membership. It is about attitude and the over-bearing self-confidence and hubris that comes with long periods of political supremacy. The SNP we should remember were once outsiders; the anti-establishment party. This was true as recently as 2007.

Now the SNP are a party of the insider class – an embodiment of the devolution class political establishment. This has come at a certain cost: the party has lost its radical edge, its political antenna, and understanding of what holding office should be about and the its ultimate aims. In sixteen years in office the absence of a sustained challenge from political opponents has bred an arrogance and complacency that the party can do what it likes in office and remain there in perpetuity. Such a mindset when it takes hold in any party spells trouble: the case of Scottish Labour and its steep decline offering an obvious example.

The SNP Leadership Contest

Against this backdrop the three candidates have not surprisingly struggled to find traction. Kate Forbes and Ash Regan have projected themselves as the ‘change’ candidates, portraying Humza Yousaf as the party establishment and ‘continuity’ candidate. Forbes and Regan have kicked back against the practices of the party leadership and questioned how the race is run. 

All three are now trying to distance themselves from the wreckage of the party as the entire edifice seems to be falling apart and imploding. It is a messy sight in which a once omnipotent and efficient machine begins to show its wear, tear and limitations and seriously malfunction. 

While the three struggle to develop coherent strategies for renewing government and independence, Kate Forbes has become identified with a social conservative set of positions informed by her faith and Free Church of Scotland membership. At the campaign’s outset she laid out her opposition to same sex marriage and a woman’s right to choose, saying these were personal matters for her that she would not legislate on. 

Such issues still trip her up on occasions. In a Sky News TV debate on Monday past the presenter Beth Rigby asked Forbes on six occasions about her views on gay conversion therapy. Forbes spoke of her ‘abhorrence’ at the practice, but was equivocal in supporting an outright ban. In a subsequent interview with Sophy Ridge on the same channel the following Sunday Forbes could not bring herself to condemn a ‘non-coercive approach’ on gay conversion therapy.

A number of mainstream independence supporters chose after the first interview to lay weight on Forbes’ use of the word ‘abhorrence’ and asserted that because of this she was against all gay conversion therapy. More than likely Forbes had been trying to leave herself with wriggle room when any future legislation comes forth including the possibility of an exemption on gay conversion therapy for religious bodies, but this should be discussed, not denied.

Words matter. We cannot live in a world of Orwellian doublespeak where we collude in the opposite of what is said. Similarly, the deceptions and disinformation presented by SNP headquarters and senior figures have long-term damaging consequences which will fester and damage the party’s prospects and sense of trust and legitimacy with members, supporters and voters. 

Who wins the SNP leadership contest matters. That person will not only lead the SNP but become First Minister of Scotland (unless there is some SNP Holyrood revolt against Kate Forbes if she wins). Yet increasingly it is likely Humza Yousaf or Kate Forbes will be elected on a thin prospectus with little idea of the future direction of the party, government and independence – and inherit a bewildered and divided party. 

The dangers of a politics of absolutes and illusions – and a moment of liberation

This is what it feels like as the era of imperial SNP dominance concludes. For just under twenty years the SNP have been defined by omnipotent leaders who have presided over an iron-discipline party which has defined Scottish politics and vanquished political opponents.

This has come at a cost which is increasingly evident all around. The disastrous state of the SNP as a party, the ineptitude and questionable decisions of senior figures, and the dubious actions of party HQ did not suddenly emerge in the past month. Rather, concerns and discontent have been building for years, with people who asked difficult questions ostracised and dismissed as ‘the awkward squad’.

There are a bigger set of takeaways from this. For one the politics of dealing in absolutes creates problems in a world filled with ambiguity and complexity. The belief and projection of the all-knowing leader which occurred under Salmond and even more Sturgeon in the long run did the party no favours. Similarly, the search for absolutes in this contest is effectively a mirage given the fractured nature of the party and the legacy the winning candidate will inherit. Yet, despite this in places there is still a yearning for perfection, and a leader and politics who will transcend difference and put the edifice back together.

All of this and more can be witnessed in how Yousaf, Forbes and Regan are portrayed. None are perfect or the finished article, but all have qualities. All have obvious shortcomings.

The bigger picture in this is important. The three candidates were released into the light of intense scrutiny with little warning or chance of preparation by Sturgeon’s sudden resignation. And subsequently the unhappy, unedifying state of the party has become increasingly apparent, forcing all three -and the debate – to deal with this messy legacy.

Expecting perfection and infallibility only leads to problematic politics, Added to this is a further strand – Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation has shown the limits of telling your supporters what they want to hear, which in turn leads to lots of them hearing what they want to hear – which not surprisingly never ends well.

Sturgeon embraced an approach on independence of consistently refusing to address hard choices and strategic options inherent in such an ambitious project. In this at its centre was a politics of illusion – part deliberate, part unconscious and reinforced every day as the least hard option of not confronting the myths, folklores and fairy tales which party members hold on independence and their party (and which all parties have in their core beliefs).

A politics of illusion is not leadership and not sustainable. Combined with the projection of absolutes and a desire for perfection, it makes a heady brew which was always going to implode. It does not feel like this at the moment, but the end of that era of illusion and with it the belief in easy answers is a massive release – even a kind of liberation.

In places that illusion continues. Numerous SNP voices believe that once the new leader is elected the show just continues: the SNP’s previous and current dominance, the self-discipline of previous years, and shared sense of mission towards independence. That understates the present state of malaise, how long there has been decay and things going wrong in the party, and that people need to wake up and realise what has gone wrong. Crises can be opportunities for change but only if you recognise they are crises.

Another political era is passing. The SNP won office in 2007 at the fag end of New Labour with the gloss having gone off Tony Blair due to the Iraq War. The Tories then became the UK Government in 2010, at first with the Lib Dems, a year before the SNP 2011 landslide. Thirteen of the sixteen years of SNP Government have had the Tories in UK office: providing a convenient enemy for the Nationalists.

That political age looks like it may be ending with the possible election of a Labour Government in 2024. If this does happen it will deprive the SNP of a potent Tory bogeyman and require a different SNP approach. At the moment there is little sign of this with the standard SNP line being that Labour are the same as the Tories: SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn saying on BBC Question Time last week of Keir Starmer that he is ‘David Cameron with a red tie.’ The SNP are going to have to come up with better lines.

It is disorientating, messy, and a complete stramash. But this is the direct result of the previous era of control and of the party hierarchy refusing to treat members as adults who can deal with complexity and make difficult choices. The next few years, whoever is elected will be more challenging and difficult for the SNP, but from recognising the scale of crisis and challenge the party is in, can come renewal, growth and the next generation of independence.

But that only happens if people can have the courage to break with the fairy tales and deceptions of recent times and embrace light, openness, honesty and complexity. That is a tall order after what has come before, but the SNP and independence have no option but to break with the past (for all its successes), or they will be defined by the excesses and mistakes of that past.

Comments (51)

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  1. Cathie Lloyd says:

    I like the concluding paragraphs of this piece. I’ve long thought (coming from a different political tradition after 2014) that the SNP needed some strategy for basic political education. Does anyone remember the Communist Universities in London of the 1970s and 80s? A heady mix of information, debate and action. I remember an internal revolt in 1976/7 when a large group abandoned the theoretical debates about Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks to take part in a mass picket at Grunwicks to join Asian workers in defence of their working conditions. A mix of practical and theoretical political activity wasn’t far beneath the surface. I remember something of that spirit in the summer of 2014 here. We failed to build on that, instead degenerating into what Hassan describes as ‘fairy tales’. But we need to learn from our limitations in order to confront the new circumstances after the new leader is elected. If either win a slim majority we can help build on the positives we have inherited since 2014. It would help if branches even followed the part of the Modern Studies curriculum which deals with contemporary Scottish constitutional politics. My own priority would hinge on a politics of building alliances – the Greens, the trade unions (already the biggest affiliate group in the SNP). In order to do this our focus will have to shift from process/dates for ‘delivery’ of independence, to what our collective vision is for the future. Can we agree on red lines for a broad alliance to take our movement for self determination further?

    1. Wul says:

      Some very sound ideas and thinking in your post Cathy. I would like to see much more action around the vision for what an independent Scotland could be. “More of the same, but tartan” doesn’t light my fire.

      The excitement in 2014 came from us. From the ideas, creativity and energy that was released by imagining something better could be created right here.

    2. babs nicgriogair says:

      I’m in total agreement with you Cathie. Basic political education is key.
      For young and old.
      Bring back the Socialist Sunday Schools of old.
      I recently learned about Grunwicks Strike from the SWP Breakfast in Red Communiqué to which I signed up, when my son became active in Campus activism.

      1. Cathie Lloyd says:

        Of course these developments are deeply concerning. We need to build on the massive antiracist demonstration in Glasgow at the weekend. But it needs to be from the roots up, we must avoid parachuting into existing struggles. Instead build meaningful alliances.

    3. SleepingDog says:

      @Cathie Lloyd, maybe the Scottish Greens have similar problems to the SNP? Why haven’t they rotated their leadership? Contrast with their England and Wales counterparts:

  2. Axel P Kulit says:

    This makes me despair of the chance of independence.

    The last paragraph is one I tend to agree with. The problem is “The People” hate uncertainty and complexity. I have no idea how to get them to say the future is uncertain and the issues are complex, perhaps even “wicked” problems but embrace this and go for independence. At the moment the unionists are looking at the lions approaching the cave in which they shelter and saying “Lets starve here, even though we can escape: there may be tigers over there”

    1. Matthew says:

      And right there is the tragedy of Scottish politics. Despite the constitutional question dominating everything neither side has developed arguments that resonate with the other side, so we are stuck here in a sort of phoney trench warfare.

      Nicola Sturgeon once said that independence transcended everything, but I can’t recall a single initiative to talk to the soft Noes about the issues that concern them, with the possible exception of the Growth Commission.

  3. Niemand says:

    The much famed ‘discipline’ of the SNP was most obviously manifest in the the way their Westminster MPs would vote en masse to the agreed party line, on every vote and with zero dissenters. Initially I was impressed by this but it quickly started to look suspicious and soon they looked more like Stepford wives than autonomous MPs who are supposed primarily to represent their constituents.

    So this ‘discipline’ was actually a sign of centralised dictatorial approach, the MPs, for all their hot air and wittering in the commons, basically Borg-like entities.

    And after all these long years of considerable power, they have no-one who looks ready to take over from Sturgeon. What a terrible legacy that is for her and her regime.

    The SNP has destroyed itself and NS and the lying and controlling cronies around her are the culprits.

    Their hubris is palpable – their lies have been exposed and yet they are still lying: Murrell – ‘there was no intention to mislead’ over the membership numbers, yet clearly, it is exactly what he did and the evidence is incontrovertible, and now Russell claims to not have known about membership numbers despite being party president. He is lying and he has just taken over from Murrell as Chief Exec. So it continues.

    And there is a strong sense we don’t know the half of it yet but that remains to be seen

    1. Wul says:

      I cannae understand why the decreasing membership was such a taboo subject for the SNP. Why the secrecy? What were they afraid of?

      The massive membership surge in 2014-15 was clearly of a time and a place. (Why, even shy-old-me ended up handing out leaflets for the Scottish Greens in the local high street) That membership tsunami was always going to go down. No need for any shame. From 25k, up to 125k and down to around 70k following some very divisive policies. So what?

      Not being able to face reality is a sure-fire way to oblivion.

      1. Niemand says:

        Yes it is a good point. A culture of control and secrecy and the sharp recent drop reflecting badly on St Nicola of Holyrood, would be my guess and also, perhaps, the figures themselves having been unreliable / manipulated for years, not just recently.

    2. Jacqueline Jensen says:

      I have no problem with the Westminster MPs voting on mass against the current government, I do need read it as ‘Borg’ mentality given what they are voting against. There are literally no policies that in their totality or intent put forward by this government that I would countenance agreement should I have a view. I’d go further to say that I cannot understand the opposition parties abstaining or supporting the Tory government legislation. If you watch WM committees you will see SNP MPs engaged in deliberation, moving proposals and defending positions in part due to conscience in part policy.

  4. Ebenezer Scroggie says:

    What an excellent piece!

    The iron-hard grip of control held by our equivalent of Romania’s Mr & Mrs Ceaucescu turned out to be quite brittle when challenged by Truth-seekers. The end-game accelerated with bewildering speed to the quite sudden final denouement of the Murrells/Sturgeons.

    The Party is now in tatters and shreds. If the continuity candidate wins, it’s all over for the SNP and Labour will be back in Holyrood in a meaningful way. If the Wee Free woman wins, it be a religious fundamentalist State. The Taleban, without their musical jollity and gaiety. Either way, the SNP loses. Forget the Regan UDI nuttiness. That’s just not going to happen.

    The spectacular absence of competence in government since Salmond blew his “once in a lifetime” Referendum is jaw-dropping. Everything from transport to health to education has been dragged down to embarrassingly low levels of degradation in less than a decade.

    1. BSA says:

      Have another gin. You’ll sound more sensible.

      1. Derek Thomson says:

        I hae ma doots.

    2. Dode Sharkey says:

      Labour will be back in Holyrood in a meaningful way ? The plans new nuclear power stations will follow soon after.

    3. John Wood says:

      Mr Scroggie is ‘trying’. What is there to say about this comment except that it is the same tired old Unionist nonsense many of us moved on from long ago.

  5. Jacob Bonnari says:

    A very good summary of the last eight and a half years.

    I’d take issue with the suggestion that Alex Salmond bears responsibility for the current ruinous position of the SNP – he resigned on the 19th September 2014.

    Everything that has occurred in the last four weeks is almost entirely down to how Nicola Sturgeon, her husband, John Swinney and one or two others has ran the SNP.

    I bought into all that enthusiasm in late 2014 all the way through 2015 and up to the Brexit result.

    Winning independence is the biggest change management exercise ever attempted in Scotland. The 2014 result showed that winning independence was possible, but that it needed to be a serious project with serious people (note the plural) running the ship and Nicola Sturgeon at the helm. I once thought that Nicola Sturgeon could be that team leader, but the 2017 UK GE campaign showed that she wasn’t up to the job.

    The SNP were an utter shambles at that point and the lack of organisation and a plan was evident – MSP and MP that I spoke to didn’t have a clue what the strategy was.

    Nicola Sturgeon is as human as the rest of us, so this must be a very difficult time for her and her husband, but the fact is that this mess is her doing and will be her legacy for many.

  6. florian albert says:

    Today, Gerry Hassan writes at length about the failures of the SNP under the Murrells’ leadership. Missing from his analysis is the failure of mainstream journalism to hold the SNP to account. Instead the commentariat – no names, no pack drill – chose the soft option of writing, week after week, about the ‘failed British state’. Today, that failed state looks in better health than the collapsing Potemkin Village of the SNP government and ‘Progressive Scotland.’
    The obvious Scottish parallel is with the collapse of Rangers in 2012. More than a decade on, Scottish journalism fails again.

    1. Gerry Hassan says:

      Dear Florian,

      Thanks for these comments.

      There has been a failure of accountability with the SNP in Scottish public life but it is a phenomenon beyond the media – touching on public discourse, public institutions and institutional Scotland. Indeed part of the failure of the media has been a continual hysterical onslaught on the SNP from the likes of the Daily Mail which has dulled the senses of voters and public discourse by presenting a black and white, Manichean view of the world: ‘the SNP are always failing’ which has run for 16 years and makes it harder to identify the real failures and hold people to account.

      And some of us have been trying to chronicle a more nuanced take on the SNP for years – not Armageddon (Daily Mail, WIngs) and not the loyalist account – but a story of growing problems and limitations – which are inherent in the SNP’s politics under Sturgeon.

      The comparisons with ‘succulent lamb journalism’ which I have made myself – are on the SNP more abt that wider public culture and nature of rhe public sphere – than narrowly on the media.

      1. florian albert says:

        You criticize the Daily Mail for having a black and white, Manichean view of the world. There are problems here. The National, for which you write fairly regularly, replicates this. The Daily Mail, for all its limitations, is a better newspaper than The National. More importantly, the Daily Mail, like all newspapers, has – thankfully – a very limited impact on public discourse. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Scottish Daily Express, had a vastly bigger journalistic footprint. It was fiercely right wing and the hundreds of thousands of Scots who read it ignored its politics and moved to the left and support for Labour.
        You state that you have been trying to give a ‘more nuanced take on the SNP’. Recent evidence suggests that you nuanced approach failed to appreciate the reality of the failure of Murrellism.

  7. Alastair McIntosh says:

    This from Gerry: “… a dam holding back powerful elemental forces has finally burst. Its walls have crumbled and a wave of confusion, chaos and disorientation has thrown people about, leaving many of them completely bewildered; some are even so confused they are in denial there is a crisis.“

    The reputation for sound management built up its strength, and then had its life extended, during Covid. But at the end of the day, elemental forces – Walt Whitman’s “Urge and urge and urge, / Always the procreant urge of the world” – cannot be repressed by top-down force without breaking out sideways into what social psychologists and anthropologists identify as “lateral violence”: the pressure cooker bursting out sideways, hurting those closest.

    1. Alastair McIntosh says:

      I ought to have specified: the “top-down force” I’m referring to is the overbearing weight of an unhappy ‘Union’. It might also apply to structures within the SNP, but I’m not close enough to second guess that one. Even with the Union, at least half of Scotland still endorses it.

  8. Joe Middleton says:

    High on ‘SNP doomed’ predictions but short on actual facts. If this is the biggest scandal the press can come up with about the SNP then we’re doing well. ‘Murrell didn’t want to release membership figures shock!’ The fact both he and Foote resigned over such a minor matter shows our party has integrity at its core. The SNP might get beat in the future but it hasn’t happened yet. The party is still well ahead in polls for both Westminster and Holyrood. After a new leader is elected the party could decline, stay stable or thrive. Labour offer the square root of nothing. Keir Starmer is indeed David Cameron with a red tie. Starmer is just as much a blinkered unionist as Rishi Sunak so all these parties offer for Scots is more political impotence within the union. Independence is normality and makes logical sense. That argument has not been defeated and as long as the case for independence is strong the SNP will play a central role until it is delivered.

    1. Isabel Newlands says:

      Only your comment has left me me without a feeling of doom. There may have been failings at Holyrood but they are not criminal or worse than the string of crisis emanating from Westminster.

  9. Alice says:

    All of above and below changes nothing of the reality that Scotland requires independence of economy ,thought and culture. How and when we achieve these goals requires the will and ways of the Yes movement and it’s political friends .

  10. John MacKenzie says:

    “For just under twenty years the SNP have been defined by omnipotent leaders who have presided over an iron-discipline party”

    Actually part of the problem is the lack of discipline in recent years. What part of people like Joanna Cherry being allowed to undermine the party at every opportunity with complete impunity screams “iron discipline”? The party has been scared to discipline people, and that’s just allowed the bar to be raised continuously. Why on earth did they allow some of the people who joined Alba to leave of their own accord? To an outsider, it has looked like a party scared of taking action in case they get some bad headlines, which they end up getting anyway, but worse.

    There are also serving MPs and MSPs – not to mention councillors – who have failed vetting (allegedly) but been allowed to stand anyway, and lo and behold, they end up being among the troublemakers. I seem to remember their East Lothian selection being inexplicably delayed in 2019, only for Kenny MacAskill to suddenly reappear on the scene and end up as the candidate. Who could have predicted that a man who spent years criticising the woman who sacked him from Government in his Scotsman column would end up stabbing her in the back at the first opportunity? “Iron discipline” indeed. That man should never have been allowed to stand.

    Hopefully the new CEO will lead to a culture change and things will start getting dealt with before they become an issue. Maybe they’ll even start taking vetting seriously and stop letting preposterous people threaten them with legal action to avoid being deselected.

    Gerry is right about this being an opportunity though. The problem with the post-indyref years is that people have always thought independence was just around the corner. Many supporters genuinely believe the majority of Scots already want independence, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Did Sturgeon do enough to play down expectations? Clearly not, but you just have to look at the way Regan has pandered to this contingent to understand why the pressure was there to try and keep people within the tent. It is refreshing therefore to see the other two candidates talk about having to build sustained support rather than talking up gimmicky procedures. Perhaps there is finally an opportunity to get a bit of realism injected into the wider movement and start doing the hard, boring work.

    That realism does not include electing Kate Forbes as leader though. After weeks of flirting with Tory-lite language about government doing less better, blaming “bureaucrats” and “middle management” and such like, her recent interviews with the FT and Times make it clear she is just another centre-right politician with the same tired, discredited solutions – tax cuts and lower spending. No wonder she was so vague on policy issues before ballots went out. There’s a reason Labour likes to accuse the SNP of being Tartan Tories, and making their taunts accurate is not the route to independence.

    1. Gerry Hassan says:

      Those are really well made comments and observations James which really add something.

      You are totally correct on the SNP & ‘iron-clad discipline”. What would have been more accurate to say abt the Srurgeon years is that this increasingly frayed and began to fall apart.

      Folk were either onside with NS or not; and increasingly party headquarters had to engage on fixing processes and rules to get its way; and obviously couldn’t do this all the time.

      I think the language of party discipline under Sturgeon increasingly became another one of those illusions. Just like progress to getting an indyref & independence.

      This does leave behind a very confused, brittle environment. Some people still think little is fundamentally wrong (see above). While the shrill voices of the ‘crazy gang’ of indy think Christmas has come early & tomorrow belongs to them.

      The only way the latter are going to be put back in the box is by a politics of substance, honesty & doing real things. Not going to be easy. But the haters offer nothing and ‘business as usual’ offers only diminishing returns.

    2. Paddy Farrington says:

      In truth there were some good reasons to think that, post-2014, events would produce the majority for independence that eluded us in the referendum: Brexit, Boris Johnson, Covid… But as it turned out, that was not to be.

      Now, as you rightly say, our focus must be on building that sustained majority, and this task must be taken on not just by the SNP but by the wider pro-independence movement, which to be perfectly shares many of the same problems as the SNP. We have to be prepared for it to take time. Perhaps that sustained majority will not come about until we have worked through another period of Labour government in Westminster.

      Now, we need a wide ranging discussion about strategy – most definitely not process. To his credit Ben McPherson has opened this up with his ideas on devo-max and a possible ‘historic compromise’ with Scottish Labour. This need not exclude a twin-track approach, keeping independence in the mix, like that which delivered devolution. Many will disagree: but we do need to have that debate.

      1. John MacKenzie says:

        Yes, those were all good reasons to think that a majority would come soon, not least because each one would lead to a spike in the polls. But if there’s one lesson we’ve hopefully all learned now, it’s that we can’t base our strategy on hoping Westminster finally does something stupid enough to change minds permanently in our favour, because people’s memories are depressingly short. Again, it’s encouraging that Yousaf and Forbes both seem to get that we need a proper rethink.

        There are people in this movement who simply refuse to read the room, however. I remember someone telling me in 2015 that it was already time for IndyRef2 due to the UK GE result – a complete misreading of the situation, as well as numerically nonsensical since the SNP fell just short of 50%. Who can forget the numpties loudly proclaiming there was going to be a referendum in 2018, even after the electorate gave the SNP a bloody nose in the 2017 election for moving too early on IndyRef2? And there is now the Alba Party to pander to those who would rather believe fairy stories about the SNP not moving fast enough to deliver independence, rather than accepting that the next 5-10% are going to be the hardest voters to shift to our side yet.

        I can’t say I was impressed with MacPherson’s article. Timing-wise, it was incredibly naive to release that in the middle of a leadership contest – if he wanted to make that part of the debate, he should have stood himself, or at the very least not backed a candidate beforehand who was then forced to dismiss it out of hand. Content-wise, it was an attempt to look like a great thinker of the movement, but it was just plain daft for an SNP MSP to loudly question whether Scotland was even ready for independence. In all honesty, his “idea” is little more than a rehash of the things Stephen Noon has been saying since coming back on the scene, which itself is essentially a repackaging of the occasionally-touted “New Zealand route” of gaining more and more powers until the country has become independent, almost by accident. None of the proponents seem to consider that unionists would love nothing more than endless rounds of Commissions on further powers, and anyone who thinks Labour are open to devolving things like employment law clearly didn’t pay much attention during the Smith Commission.

        By all means, the Scottish Government should continue trying to pressure the UK Government for more powers, but the overarching strategy has to be about changing the way people think about the union and independence on a fundamental level. And that cannot be dependent on the Tories being in power at Westminster, otherwise people will always have that voice in their head telling them to give the UK one last chance, because the next Labour government will somehow be better than the last one.

        1. Terry Smith says:

          Perhaps being fit to run the Country without constant failure and missing monies might help your goal. I am afraid Yousef will be a nail in the coffin of Independence. The inclusion in Government of fringe extremists with a handful of votes is another nail.

          1. John Wood says:

            It seems to me a mistake to assume that any failure by Yousaf is a nail on the coffin of independence. Independence doesn’t depend on him, or the SNP. It is most certainly coming – one things we can all surely agree on is that whatever happens could hardly be worse, or even as bad as., rule from Westminster.

          2. Terry Smith says:

            Oh Dear….the police are camped on Sturgeons front lawn….perhaps deciding what laws apply to you has it’s consequences…

  11. John Wood says:

    “We cannot live in a world of Orwellian doublespeak where we collude in the opposite of what is said. ” But we do! The SNP have simply been sucked into it by trying not to upset anyone from any part of the political spectrum. The Conservative Party are the masters of Orwellian politics with their ‘nudge unit’ and their psychological warfare (now rebranded, I see by NATO as ‘cognitive warfare’) Experience shows that with them, you can safely assume that everything they say is always the opposite of the truth. Starmer’s supposed ‘mission’ for the Labour Party is a hollow PR stunt with no credibility at all. Labour will win the next general election simply because they could hardly be worse than the Tories. And from election to election, the Liberal Democrats too have nothing to offer us except attacking opponents. Sadly the Scottish Green Party too has been infected by the same culture of narcissism and control freakery: there is nothing genuinely ‘green’ about them anymore.

    What can we do about all this?

    (1) discuss the situation calmly and realistically. It is a disastrous culture that has infected the whole western world. So let us decide what future we really want for Scotland – surely not ‘more of the same’? A nominally independent Scotland that continues this Orwellian nightmare is not worth fighting for.

    (2) assert the Claim of Right. Orwell warned us that our institutions would become hollow, meaningless shells and that is what has happened. The Westminster government – and it seems the Scottish government too – have been bought and sold for US gold. We have to take back our democracy before it’s too late. And we need independence to do that. The point about independence – said many times – is that it is simply a right to self-determination. What currency we use, what taxes we levy, what services we provide, what competing visions we might have about the future, are irrelevant to the basic principle that it is our choice, no-one else’s. Under no circumstances can we possibly be ‘better together’ with rule by corrupt neofascists in London – whichever party they stand for. Tories, Labour, LibDems, – three colours but they might as well be one party.

    Since 1628 British monarchs have been required to commit to uphold the Claim of Right. Here is the form of words used last year by Charles III:

    “I, Charles the Third, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of My other Realms and Territories, King, Defender of the Faith, do faithfully promise and swear that I shall inviolably maintain and preserve the Settlement of the true Protestant Religion as established by the Laws made in Scotland in prosecution of the Claim of Right …”

    The Scottish people are sovereign in Scotland. Whatever the ‘Supreme Court’ may tell us, it has always been the case in Scotland – at least in law – that Kings, politicians, public servants rule by the assent of the people. There is no divine right of kings here. It is up to us to hold them all to account. We need a public commitment from every politician in Scotland to respect this fundamental basis of Scotland’s constitution, one that indeed goes back to before Scotland even existed as a country. I now refuse to vote for any candidate, or any party, that will not publicly make that commitment to put the needs of Scotland’s people, and the biodiversity we depend on for our survival, first. And be held to it – we need people who will stand up for us and our land, every time, regardless of the endless threats and inducements of international oligarchs and corporations with the ‘ethics’ of organised crime. If no candidate will do this, I s[oil my ballot. We have had more than enough lies and empty promises from all parties, and unless we take this action we will always be bounced back and forth between ‘least worst’ candidates while the oligarchs continue to hold real power. Putin described the present system as ‘managed democracy’. It’s fake. Rejected ballots have to be recorded. If the number of such ballots exceeds the difference between the two leading candidates, I will henceforth regard the election as void.

    (3) start a new party. I propose we call it the ‘Planet and People party’ and that it starts from the principle that planet and people are inseparable and ultimately sovereign, everywhere. We do not consent to hand all our property, freedoms, human rights, our very bodies and minds, over to a few narcissistic psychopaths and their so-called ‘artificial intelligence’. We need to engage with real intelligence, that includes empathy, compassion, mutual aid, ethics – all those old fashioned ideas the nihilist technocrats despise.

    What do you think?

    1. Terry Smith says:

      What are you talking about?…you fundamentally misunderstand the Claim of Right…

      1. John Wood says:

        In what way do I misunderstand the Claim of Right? The Claim of Right simply states the fundamental principle that the people are sovereign.
        I can understand that the SNP have felt the need to navigate the fury of the Unionist establishment and have therefore tried to avoid upsetting anyone, least of all the wealthiest and most powerful. However in the end the Claim of Right has to be asserted or effectively abandoned. If you abandon or downplay the core principle that independence is founded on, you might as well give up. So the SNP needs to reaffirm it. That is the ‘break from the past’ we all need.

        1. Terry Smith says:

          Where does it say that…I have attached a link to the entire document?…the Declaration of Arbroath says this but not the Claim of Right…please read and point out where you are right and I am wrong…

          1. John Wood says:

            The document you linked to is a piece of legislation that references, and takes its name from, the historic claim: it is not the claim itself. The claim is actually the principle that kings in Scotland are subject to the assent of the people. The monarch in Scotland is King of ‘Scots’, not Scotland. ‘King’ Charles has sworn publicly to uphold it. The principle is at least as old as Scotland itself and appears in the Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish Reformation, the Covenant, and elsewhere. It is probably the reason that James VI and Charles I were so keen on asserting a ‘divine right of kings’; and it seems to have influenced the Scottish Enlightenment and the creation of the American constitution.

          2. John Wood says:

            “Wheras King James the Seventh Being a profest papist did assume the Regall power and acted as King without ever takeing the oath required by law wherby the King at his access to the government is obliged to swear To maintain the protestant religion and to rule the people according to the laudable lawes And Did By the advyce of wicked and evill Counsellers Invade the fundamentall Constitution of this Kingdome And altered it from a legall limited monarchy to ane Arbitrary Despotick power and in a publick proclamation asserted ane absolute power to cass annull and dissable all the lawes particularly arraigning the lawes Establishing the protestant religion and did Exerce that power to the subversion of the protestant Religion and to the violation of the lawes and liberties of the Kingdome”

            Charles III publicly swore last year to maintain the protestant religion and to rule the people according to the laudable laws and liberties of the Kingdom. In other words, he holds his position by consent of the people. This matters, because he does not rule us by divine right, nor is he head of the church, and the people being sovereign may withdraw their consent if they so decide. Personally I think Charles has no mandate to rule us at all.

          3. Terry Smith says:

            I am afraid you are totally confused….as for you not believing the King has any mamdate…you have delusions of adequacy….you have one vote like us all….you seem to be wanting to pick and choose which laws apply to you….careful you don’t go the way of the pair who arrested the Sheriff after convincing themselves their laws applied and are now in prison for the next five years…

  12. Vérène Nicolas says:

    What surprises me in your piece, Gerry, is that there is no mention that perhaps, the problem is not so much with where the SNP, Labour and all political parties are at re their ability to provide adequate (and i’d dare to say visionary) leadership, but more regarding governance structures themselves. I am of the opinion – though don’t have the academic knowledge to back it up – that the type of democracy we have (the “liberal” kind) is completely maladapted to the complexity of current challenges (including increasing fear, anger and mistrust). Who’s working on this in Scotland? And how could political parties start paying real attention to what’s called for to rekindle faith in the democratic process?

    1. Gerry Hassan says:

      Many thanks for these comments Verene.

      I think the problem of lack of democracy & pluralism in Scotland is multi-faceted. There is the issue of political parties & their cultures & structures. For example when the SNP had 125,000 members did they have any notion of how to involve and engage them bar use them as a cash cow? All the evidence points to the contrary and even that the SNP leadership saw the expanded membership as in part a threat.

      Yes added to that our systems of government & democracy including the Scottish Parliament have not been enabling and participative.

      In looking at how to change this we need to look at root causes. Just as the UK is not a fully-fledged democracy neither is Scotland. And our managed democracy is not all the fault of the union. Much of this is home grown and a product of our own decisions.

      I think one answer is a wider tapestry of political change which included cultural change. And on independence embraces what Stephen Noon (previously head of Strategy of Yes Scotland) and myself (in a previous Bella piece post-Sturgeon) called ‘cultures of independence’.

      The SNP used to invoke such a language but as the years in office have gathered they have turned their back on this terrain. This has had its costs and is an area that I think needs to be revisited and nurtured by those who want change – irrespective of their views on the constitution – if we want to break out of our current limiting politics.

    2. I would say the problem is deeper than that Verene and the problem is whether political parties and the current political system can deliver change at the scale and speed required. Evidence and experience suggests they cannot and there are deeper systemic problems which they simply cannot overcome. They are by definition defined by a set of circumstances and constraints that makes it highly unlikely that they could by pass to get elected and implement the change that is required.

  13. Maxwell Macleod says:

    Brilliant writing. Respect

    1. Gerry Hassan says:

      Many thanks for the positive comments.

      1. Terry Smith says:

        Perhaps truth telling of history is to be encouraged on this forum…truth is truth…

  14. JP58 says:

    This is an interesting article and there is much in it that I agree with.
    I would however query your criticism of Stephen Flynn for his description of Keir Starmer. If you look at Labour’s policies on a number of issues (Brexit, public spending limits, independence referendum for example) there is little difference between the rhetoric of Keir Starmer and the Tories as Labour chases after red wall voters.
    I would also add that the role of SNP MP’s at Westminster is very different to SNP in government at Holyrood. I would contend that the role of SNP MP’s is to represent their constituents, stand up for needs of Scotland and highlight deficiencies of Westminster and its governance of Scotland. This requires a different more confrontational approach of permanent opposition and I think that Stephen Flynn, although still inexperienced, is striking the correct note rather than the more comfortable approach of Ian Blackford. It has been advantageous to be 3rd biggest party as this brings a higher profile.
    The SNP are in government at Holyrood and therefore there has to be an entirely different more positive approach which concentrates on good governance.

  15. Ebenezer Scroggie says:

    The structure of the Party needs to be changed.

    Eight terrible years for Scotland have shown that running a ruling Party like it’s a private family firm, as the Ceausecus and the Murrells did, is a rotten way to run a country.

    What other political entity in British politics has a commercial Chief Executive Officer?

  16. Don says:

    You lot should, including Hassan, should calm down and decide if you support independence or not, as far as I can tell, all the whining for perfection, is just doing the Unionist job for them. So get a bloody grip, stop babbling and get on with being positive and the the job of winning independence. Without control of our own affairs, all this hot air is for nothing.

    1. Gerry Hassan says:

      Don, Keeping quiet abt the current state of the SNP and the mess that Sturgeon-Murrell have left the SNP in does not aid anyone who is pro-SNP, pro-indy or indeed wants to see a more vibrant democracy and politics in Scotland. All it would actually feed is discontent and dissatisfaction and contribute to greater apathy among the public.

      Plus the case for independence has to be made, a new version of it made and a new offer to voters not yet persuaded. And that is in no way helped by a culture of silence around the present state of the SNP. Pro-indy supporters have to stop the pretence that the case for indy has already been self-evidently been won; and that all that is required is endlessly recycling the same mantra, floating the idea of easy escape routes from the UK and the politics of ‘mandate’. Independence should not be just abt what the most passionate indy supporters believe, but being open, listening to the Scotland beyond the indy tribe and who are not yet convinced or continue to support the union.

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