The Art of Growing Up: The SNP after Sturgeon, Independence and the Power of Light

Sunday was the 25th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament’s opening day in 1999; and the 30th of the tragic death of Labour leader John Smith – two totemic moments which changed political realities and with implications to this day.

The Scottish Parliament opened with its most senior member, Winnie Ewing, declaring: ‘The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on the 25th day of March in the year 1707, is hereby reconvened’, an expression of a nationalist narrative.

The political void left by John Smith’s death produced the election of Tony Blair and the rise of New Labour. The scale of Labour’s 1997 victory, three election triumphs and its trajectory which crashed and burned in the killing fields of Iraq were the consequences.

Such a perspective puts in context the turbulent last few weeks in Scottish politics. Never has a First Minister sabotaged themselves so comprehensively and left office so quickly with so little impression or achievement than Humza Yousaf. John Swinney has become SNP leader and First Minister in a manner which made the best of bad circumstances. 

Understanding the SNP

The SNP are showing signs of wear and tear. They are worn out by the pressures of office, have run out of policy ideas, are responsible for many of the challenges and problems that they face and have no real idea of what to do on independence beyond pretence and rhetoric.

All of this should be obvious. Yet at the same time the modern SNP have never really been subjected to nuanced, informed study and analysis which tries to understand the party, how it sees the world and what motivates its internal universe. Take what the SNP stands for. The SNP is a moderate centre-left party which stands for Scottish self-government and independence. But what is the SNP’s DNA, its inner world, its defining culture and ethos?

Such manifestations define the nature of political parties. These qualities are endlessly discussed about the Conservatives and Labour. Henry Drucker’s Doctrine and Ethos in the Labour Party written 45 years ago remains one of the best studies of Labour’s inner world. Drucker posed that the informal, unwritten ethos of Labour mattered more than formal policy in how it did politics, and that this was defensive, influenced by past labour movement defeats, and was insular and suspicious of others beyond Labour.

Such a study has not been undertaken of the SNP. Commentators propose an SNP caricature with defunct definitions of ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘gradualists’; or present day takes about the need for the party to drop ‘woke crap’ and ‘unwoke’ itself (step forward Iain Macwhirter). A study of party members by James Mitchell and Rob Johns Takeover: Explaining the Extraordinary Rise of the SNP (published 2016)  comes the nearest but is a study of party member opinions.

The SNP’s enduring DNA and ethos beyond the idea of Scottish statehood has remained fuzzy down the years – lacking in detail and open to interpretation. Clearly the notion of Scotland as a nation is pivotal and what flows from this, namely that as a nation there is an inalienable set of rights and responsibilities.

This becomes in places an essentialist interpretation of nations – the ‘Scotland Why Not?’ perspective – which says that because Scotland is a nation it should be independent and a state. This misses that the historical development of nation-states has never followed such a tidy, logical pattern globally, and that many nations are not and never have been states. Understanding the worldview of the SNP, its culture, codes and what animates how it sees things is important and essential to having a nuanced take of the party beyond caricature and with relevance beyond the party.

The SNP after the 2014 Indyref

The SNP pre-2014 used to know the Scotland that it spoke for – and was its heartland. Post-2014-15, reaching the mountain top of ‘Peak Nat’ as the party’s nationwide appeal expanded, this became less clear as the party moved its focus to the Central Belt, the West Coast, and Glasgow.

The superficial take of post-2015 and the early Sturgeon era was that the party was more centre-left and Glasgow-focused.  This reading turned out to be inadequate on numerous levels. First, the SNP did not become more markedly centre-left, instead being balanced by its catch-all electoral appeal. Second, having prioritised capturing Glasgow electorally, the party (as events have underlined) had no real idea what to do with it politically. Thirdly, more than the first two, the party’s success meant that it lost one idea of its political centre (the North-East) but did not replace it with another (Glasgow and the West Coast). This in a sense decentred its sense of itself.

A party without an innate understanding of its existential centre and heartland is building up trouble for itself, and this has been the SNP’s story post-2014. What Scotland does it see itself as championing? Where is the Scotland of the future emerging? In the past decade it clearly was not in the former heartlands of the North-East and rural Scotland which had little to show from the SNP in office. But nor was it in Glasgow and the West Coast with the SNP offering as little to Scotland’s first city even while Sturgeon was MSP for Glasgow Southside while First Minister. 

Added to this is the importance of personality politics. The SNP’s leadership culture in its years in office has developed in an unhealthy direction. The shift back to John Swinney is the last of a generational cohort of SNP senior figures and a symptom of this. As the Politics Joe website pointed out: ‘Every SNP leader for the last 34 years has either been Alex Salmond, Alex Salmond’s deputy or Alex Salmond’s assistant’; to which Salmond replied sarcastically: ‘And on their report cards I have marked: Must try harder!’

The party is missing a whole generation of politicians – in between elderly grandees and the emerging younger generation such as Stephen Flynn, Kate Forbes and Màiri McAllan – because of the oxygen starved from the party by the Sturgeon era. This has created an unbalanced doughnut party because of a long-term failure to encourage rising talent to take on promotion and leadership roles.

The cohort of SNP rising stars now coming to prominence only know the SNP in power. This brings a certain way of seeing the world – of taking being in office for granted, that then dulls political antennas, and reduces the ability to acutely view the outside world. It is not an accident as the SNP years in office have continued that the party has become more centralised – seeing every policy solution as greater powers to the Scottish Government and ministers (Police Scotland; Scottish Fire and Rescue; the perilous finances of local government). The SNP has thus become a party of the political establishment, the nomenklatura and Unco Guid.

SNP atrophy can be identified by how the party misplayed the government agreement with the Greens. This was seen by Sturgeon as providing ballast for the pro-independence parliamentary majority while emphasising the progressive credentials of the SNP and Greens. However, few voices in the party seemed to have given second thought to the dynamics of coalition administrations and the power that a minority party has.

The period of SNP-Green agreement saw many SNP members grow impatient at what they saw as the latter’s influence. Yet had they studied coalition dynamics and bothered to look at the experience of coalition governments in Scotland they would have been forewarned. The Labour-Lib Dem coalition of 1999-2007 lasted eight years and saw the Lib Dems have a disproportionate influence over policy areas like student tuition fees, care for the elderly and PR for local government. All caused Labour resentment – just as Green influence did for many in the SNP.

Anger, confusion and silence in independence

Large parts of the SNP and independence are in confusion. This is aided by the absence of strategic debates on the direction and agenda of the SNP and independence since 2014 – a stance deliberately enforced by the actions of the Sturgeon leadership.

This has left a mixture of sentiments – anger, resentment and a sense of betrayal – in places beyond the usual suspects of Alba, All Under One Banner (AUOB) and the Albaesque tendencies in some sections of the SNP and independence.

Some are still clinging onto escapist fantasies of Scotland – unilaterally declaring independence, or some kind of UN recognition riding to the rescue. More often, there is a sullen silence and unwillingness to face the harsh truths that post-2014 SNP politics, Sturgeonism and independence in the past decade refused to embrace. This silence does no one any good; scared and unwilling as it is to begin addressing the dead-end post-2014 politics took the SNP and independence.

Similarly the official SNP leadership position of late Sturgeon, Humza Yousaf and apparently John Swinney is that winning a majority of seats at the forthcoming UK election is an effective mandate to open independence negotiations. This is a politics of pretence – saying one thing publicly while believing another – in the hope of preventing a dwindling band of loyal troops and voters from asking difficult questions and in the latter, from switching to Labour.

From the fake posturing of UDI to a general election ‘mandate’ runs a deeply wrong-headed politics encouraged by the SNP leadership post-2014. The idea that Scottish independence could be declared against the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland because one political tradition knows best is anti-self-determination – and anti-democratic.

If some find this too harsh it can be put another way. The 2014 indyref saw over two million Scottish voters vote for the union and reject independence – winning by a margin of 383,937 on a turnout of 84.6% after a three-year campaign. These facts give the No victory a depth and legitimacy which cannot be overturned by some fantasy escape scheme – or by a proxy ‘mandate’ at a UK election (or indeed future Scottish contest) where the pro-independence forces win say one million votes. 

The only realistic way of winning independence is via a future indyref where the scale of victory is accepted by both; and (if independence wins) is of a margin to overturn the previous result. And as a counter to those who say ‘what do we do as if the UK continues to say no?’ the first point is that Scottish voters do not want a referendum any time soon, and if and when they do the UK’s stance if they continue to say no will come at the cost of undermining the argument for the union.

Beyond Party: A Campaign for Scottish Self-Determination

Independence cannot go on with the politics of bluster, pretence or magic schemes. It is not around the corner and will not happen after the 2024 and probably 2026 elections. Instead, independence needs a sense of timescale and maturity, not pretending it is always just around the corner and imminently reachable.

A politics of timescales has always been pivotal to any radical change, as the political philosopher Bernard Crick observed, and is as true of Scottish independence as any fundamental challenge to the status quo. The immediate idea of independence posed by Sturgeon when leader and Albaists currently is detrimental to the cause.

First, this means the serious heavy lifting of independence needs to reshape its offer and win majority support is postponed due to the misbelief that we are supposedly ‘very nearly there’. Second, the continual mantra of imminent independence plays into the hands of the SNP’s opponents and independence who pose the former as a ‘one trick pony’. Douglas Ross poses that the SNP are not really interested in government but have an ‘obsession with independence’. Why cling to a politics which falls into your opponent’s caricature of you?

Rather independence needs to reorganise, regroup and rethink. This requires various actions. The SNP must rebuild party democracy and governance and treat party members with respect. The Sturgeon years saw the emergence of a dysfunctional party which concentrated power in few hands and took party members for granted and even contempt, it will thus not be an easy ask to rebalance and rebuild the party. 

One long-term senior SNP activist put it to me: ‘It is hard to imagine the party becoming a democratic decision-making process just by internal efforts.’ They continued: ‘Party leaderships which have eroded and corroded party democracy rarely reinstate those processes voluntarily. They will more than likely have to be forced to change by external factors and the pressure of electoral defeat.’

Independence is not the same as the SNP. Infrastructure building and movement building is required – ten years after it should have started and deliberately discouraged by Sturgeon. This is beyond the scope of one article and voice and requires a wider debate about what should be done and what can be done.

Generally, there needs to be an ecology of think-tanks and research agencies created which go beyond the pop-up models of Common Weal, Nordic Horizons and others. Independence is a mainstream idea and part of the fabric of Scotland; it has to develop a strand of activities and institutions which reflect this.

Related to this we require cross-party, cross-political spectrum initiatives which reflect wider issues of power and self-determination. Previously I made the case last year for a Campaign for Scottish Self-Determination which draws upon the model of the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly/Parliament set up in 1979. Self-determination is a wider, more challenging idea than independence, addressing who has power, authority and voice in society and could have reach way beyond formal politics.

Connected to this such a campaign could draw up a new Claim of Right asserting Scotland’s right to self-determination and drawing inspiration from the 1988 Claim of Right which declared that ‘the English constitution’ that we lived under (to quote Walter Bagehot) was an affront to Scottish constitutional traditions. Such practical interventions could draw together a wide array of independence, radical, labour movement and green voices and create a new prospectus for change for self-government. 

Such political projects must be about more than political parties. The point is amplified by the fact we have done this before. In the period 1979-97 Scottish centre-left opinion came together and established majority support and a consensus for a powerful home rule Parliament. This was not owned or dominated by any one party or tradition whatever Labour or SNP claim today.

A final observation. The language of independence and self-government needs to change. It cannot be just about transferring political power from Westminster to Holyrood. As critically too many independence supporters assume the merits of their case are obvious. John Swinney fell into this trap last week when he talked of winning over ‘those we are yet to convince’ which one Labour activist called ‘offensive’. SNP activist and ex-councillor Mhairi Hunter commented on the above: ‘We are never given a case for the union’ – a denial of the case put forward by your opponents which undermines your own case.

No doubt some will think the above heresy or unhelpful. But independence has shown it can only make limited progress by clinging to half-truths, deceptions and escapist fantasies. That is the ultimate legacy of the Sturgeon near-decade: telling people what you think they want to hear to avoid difficult discussions and choices.

Ultimately the politics and mindset of self-government and independence should be about a growing maturity and embracing of difficult choices and debates, and showing in our collective actions that we are embodying a culture of independence.

This is what has been called ‘the art of growing up’ and while our society and politics has made much progress in the 25 years of the Scottish Parliament, too many cannot face up to some of these hard choices and take responsibility. This includes, in the past decade, that part of independence sentiment that wants to cling to the easy choices and delusions peddled by the Sturgeon leadership. 

It was never going to be easy, nor should it be. We can all do Scotland a favour by foregoing supposedly easy options, escapism and delusions. Ditching the diversion of blaming all our shortcomings on Westminster and the British state, when some of them are a product of our own elites and collective decisions, which we should challenge and scrutinise.

Scottish democracy has to start by holding our own institutions and agencies to account, recognising their limits and shortcomings and doing something about it. This requires breaking through the anger, bewilderment and silences which define too much of Scotland and independence.

This necessitates challenging falsehoods, escapist fantasies and recognising the end of the fairy tales of the Sturgeon era the start of a new chapter, an opening and opportunity. It presents the chance of a politics of liberation and light which although disorientating for many offers the potential of a new road – where we take collective responsibility and ownership, respect our fellow Scots and affirm our common humanity. We need to recognise our power and act upon it, emphasise in these dark times the power of light and optimism, and beware of the darkness around us and which increasingly defines the British state under Tories and Labour.


Comments (51)

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  1. Robert says:

    Surely the Scottish parliament was set up deliberately to avoid one party rule in favour of coalitions. Do other countries with similar constitutions find them as difficult to live with as we appear to?

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Robert, the UK (or British Empire) is rare these days in not having a codified political Constitution, member of an unpromising set of countries.
      Although you can still be a rogue state with a codified Constitution.

  2. SleepingDog says:

    Political parties do not have DNA, not even metaphorically. Political parties can be prescribed, plastic, patronised, puppeted; but they don’t have worldviews. Neither is the froth about the SNP’s relation to a mythical ‘centre’ of politics helpful.

    And when has there ever been a healthy cult of leadership? I hope ‘rising stars’ was sardonic.

    The first half of the article is about how the SNP has shaped systems instead of how systems have shaped the SNP, which locks its worldview inside a box, preventing examination of the political party system (from the outside) and its (familiar and unfamiliar) alternatives. At best, this is unimaginative.

    The second half of the article is more useful, describing a decentralised, parallelised and evolutionary approach. Sadly, this again focuses on Westminster and not on the British Imperial system, which contains an unknown number of valuable lessons as people on the periphery (not Scotland) resist, critique, overthrow and break away.

    However, at the planetary scale, we need to do more than “affirm our common humanity”, which is indicative of the speciesist left-centre-right humanisms which have brought the world to the brink. I agree with some points in the article, but if people cling to ‘fairytales’ (I think ‘self-pleasing myths’ would be a better phrase, fairytales are often instructive lessons) then why do we value their Will over planetary Health? Popular Will may be used to justify genocides and ecocides, after all. To break the cycle we need a politics prioritising Health, rather than Will.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      Spot on! Neither is it accurate to say that the SNP has ‘run out of policy ideas’. That is just a thing people say about parties that have been in government for a long time. Things are actually more serious than that. What has happened is that the hollowing out of the civil service and related over-dependence on corporate lobbyists promoting right-wing gendas has left the party of government actively resistant to progressive policies and lacking the capacity to deliver on anything very much. That’s why we have a Land Reform Bill the provisions of which will make absolutely no difference to the over-concentration of land ownership; it’s why woodland expansion has been contracted out to city bankers; it’s why the response to the lack of affordable housing is the empty gesture of declaring a ‘housing emergency’, while Scottish Government officials continue to sit (for more than two years now) on the Scottish Land Commission’s very sensible recommendations on public sector leadership on housing delivery.

      Scottish government is seriously under-resourced, our public policy development process is broken, and Scotland’s politics have become largely performative. A change in the party of government is very unlikely to make any difference to this sad situation. If the corporate lobbyists get their way, things will only get worse.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Graeme Purves, hollowed-out policies sounds very likely, right-wing corporate lobbyists most certainly, but there are other lobbyists (representing, say, religious and national groups) which are as dangerous to Scottish democracy as elsewhere. Have you been following the Georgian Dream foreign influence transparency legislation story at all? I mean, the UK apparently has a scheme. Would that prevent its rejoining the EU?

        Yet how long before John Woodcock classes Scottish Independentistas as separatist terrorists? (like the Indian authorities have apparently designated Sikhs who want their own breakaway state) This option is available under current Treason Felony law.

        Again, I think we need to differentiate between healthy (care for planet, life and people) over unhealthy (arms sales, genocidal and oppressive regimes, planetary-poisoning corporations) foreign influence.

        1. Graeme Purves says:

          I agree that we need to be alert to other anti-democratic lobbying. I have been following the Georgian Dream shenanigans.

  3. Stuart Swanston says:

    The changes to the party’s constitution at the Annual Conference in Aberdeen in 2018 proposed by Angus Robertson and nodded through with little debate changed the governance of the party by reducing the influence of branches on the National Executive Committee and creating rotten boroughs of special interest groups which have two delegates each on the NEC ( sometimes referred to as Angus Robertson’s Nominees) which with the ex-officio members control the body which is the body which “owns” the party and whose members are jointly and severally liable for any debts the party might incur…. meaning that they could lose their savings, houses and pensions if the party became bankrupt. Awareness of this risk puts many talented and experienced members from standing for election to the NEC.

    ( I have been a member of three of those groups for four years and not once have I received any communications from them such as notification of meetings, agendas for meetings, minutes of meetings, statements of accounts or proposed motions to put at NEC meetings and elections of delegates to the NEC….. yet an affiliated organisation with a few hundred members can have two delegates whilst branches with many hundreds of members have two delegates and those branches have publicised meetings with agendas, published and audited accounts and minutes recording resolutions of meetings and elections of delegates to the NEC.)

  4. SteveH says:

    Good article, although a tad too long for my liking.

    Reminds of two things:

    1. Parties tend to become more interested in getting elected, than the reason they say they want to get elected.

    2. Centre-Left (or right) tends to mean parties who meander aimlessly down the middle of the road careering to one side or another. This confuses the electorate and annoys the membership more firmly lodged at either end of the political spectrum.

    In its desperate need to stay in power, it signed a pact with the devil, i.e, the Greens. The Greens should be called the True Reds, as they are really marxists, with a Far Woke agenda.

    Even the lovable Tories are dishonest. The “one nation” Tories are culturally left, and are more like the Limp Dims than truly conservative. Hence the infighting with the true right in that party.

    UK politics is in a mess, but then look across the Channel. The rise of populist parties, supported and led mostly by young people. This would not have happened if the EU Empire hadn’t been most centre left with a facist-like a cultural and left wing bias who mainly serve the technocrats, the big EU corporates, and the anywhere oligarchy.

    A little Scotland in today’s EU would have less say in its own affairs than it does whilst tethered to the Uk.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @SteveH, are you still here? I grow increasingly disappointed that you haven’t laid down your life for your country yet, as you’ve claimed you’d love to, multiple times. It’s almost as if your word means nothing, and your utterances mere theatrical bombast.

      I suppose your favoured lesson from history is: get your party elected, then ban elections? Aye, reich.

      1. Niemand says:

        Steve was on QT a few years back

    2. John says:

      So Stevie H in your last paragraph you are basically claiming that Scotland as part of the Uk has more political autonomy than an independent country in EU or Scotland has more political autonomy today than France or Germany.
      A child of 5 can see this is fact, free nonsense just like the rest of your utter prejudiced crap you have written.

  5. John Wood says:

    I agree that independence, or rather self-determination, is not the exclusive preserve of one political party.

    All this says to me is that there is no political vision at all. Scotland, the UK and elsewhere – all have fallen for fake consumer politics, led by advertising industry techniques. Everything is about gaining power by any means whatsoever, and not about what to do with the power once you have it.

    Politics is funded by dark money these days, and that dark money sets the agenda, in its own interest. The SNP, Scottish Greens, LibDems, Labour and Conservatives are all basically offering the same underlying political philosophy – private affluence and public squalor. We are encouraged to vote for the ‘lesser evil’ and anything else is portrayed as ‘extremist’ and dangerous. And lying or staying silent through fear is just expected. Ethics are just mocked. Let’s face it, it’s Orwellian.

    Politicians, public servants, academics, journalists are all kept on message by means of sanctions, professional and personal threats and of course bribery.
    The young and naïve, and the old guard alike tell themselves that they can somehow navigate all this and still achieve something worthwhile, , but they find themselves making more and more compromises, clinging on desperately as they are targeted and attacked on all sides.

    The (to me unanswerable) case for independence, apart from the general overriding principle of self-determination, is that we most certainly are not ‘better together’ with Westminster as at present. Nobody seems to have the courage to come out and say that – or to propose anything else. It’s all about being bogged down endlessly in arguments over details. Why? Because the only future we are permitted to even discuss is a neoliberal one in which the idea of national sovereignty itself is being dismantled. Klaus Schwab tells us governments are expected to ‘co-operate’, and they do.

    In such a world, where every political party is now bought and sold for corporate gold, real democracy is dead. You can have any colour, said Henry Ford, so ling as it’s black. So the promise of self determination just becomes another empty political pledge.

    The SNP cannot deliver independence where it’s really needed because they have no common vision of what independent Scotland would look like. And anyone who does come up with a vision of any kind other than business as usual is mocked, as here, as ‘fairy tales’ and ‘escapist fantasies’. The party cannot have it both ways: it either challenges the status quo or upholds it. Let the SNP split into several pro-indeoendence parties and let’s have a public debate.

    What we need to agree on is that commitment to Scotland’s Claim of Right, the sovereignty of the people, which even King Charles has sworn to uphold, is an essential prerequisite for public office. The principle must be clear, whatever your political view – including if you believe that we are ‘better together’ in the Union. If we can’t agree on the right to self-determination, we might as well accept every neofascist outrage visited on us.

    The space is then opened for competing visions of the future to be aired and debated. Some may wish to stay as we are; some might like a nominally independent Scotland still ruled by corporate greed and international so-called ‘investors’ . Some might be happy to remain effectively an American colony. Some might like a Scottish currency some might not. Some might like the Nordic Horizons approach, some Common Weal. Some might want a genuinely green future to replace the totalitarian greenwash. But whatever it is, the principle of self determination is fundamental and separate from competing visions of what Scotland could be.

    This year, I will not be voting Labour or LibDem because of dissatisfaction with the SNP. But I won’t be voting SNP or Green either if just on the basis of keeping the Unionists out. I will contact all candidates in my constituency and unless they commit to the Claim of Right, and be held to it, they will lose my vote – whatever vague promises they offer. If none will do that, I’ll spoil my ballot.

    1. Alastair McIntosh says:

      A very thought provoing article. John Wood sums up so much: “. Scotland, the UK and elsewhere – all have fallen for fake consumer politics, led by advertising industry techniques.” We don’t realise how much our vulnerability to consumerism has put out our eyes. And as Milton said, “They who put out the people’s eyes reproach them for their blindness.”

  6. John says:

    The basic problem for all supporters of independence is that gold standard for establishing an independent state is a referendum that clearly show’s majority support.
    The problem is that UK establishment got an enormous shock over how close the 2014 referendum result was – especially when polls indicated they might lose 2 weeks prior to vote. Westminster will refuse another referendum and any other route to independence until support for independence is overwhelming – i.e. >60%.
    SNP need to concentrate on building the support for independence to this point by:
    1)introducing policies at Holyrood that benefit and have support of the majority of people of Scotland.
    2)show competent governance in areas of devolved power.
    3)highlight how Westminster control is holding back Scotland’s development.
    4)Work with as wide a cross section of Scottish society in developing plans for a future independent Scotland.
    Neil Ascherson was correct when he said that events will inevitably arise which will offer opportunities for independence movement. The SNP and independence movement must concentrate on being ready to take advantage of these opportunities when they arise.
    I firmly believe that if independence support can be sustained above 60% and this is demonstrated via Westminster and Holyrood elections the UK government would have no option but to agree to another referendum. At this level of support there is every chance that the referendum would endorse independence by a significant majority which would be of great benefit to establishing a positive, stable independent country.

  7. Paddy Farrington says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful article. Finally, 10 years after putting it up, I have taken down the YES poster in our window (whatever YesScotland got wrong, you can’t fault its posters: the colour had scarcely faded). It’s high time to move on from 2014.

    Gerry is absolutely correct: we need to stop kidding ourselves that independence is round the corner, that a rematch of the 2014 referendum is possible or even desirable, or that there is a shortcut to independence. That frame of mind was seeded during the 2014 campaign, during which I was always amazed that so many thought we would win, contrary to the polling evidence (not to mention the nightly cold shower of canvassing in a heavily pro-Union area). The movement was born into a bubble, and never really found a way out of it. Nevertheless, whatever the criticisms, the historic advance made in 2014 was to catapult independence centre stage within Scotland’s political scene, where it has remained ever since.

    Gerry makes several welcome suggestions about how the movement might renew itself. I very much agree with the idea of a campaign for self-determination. This would sidestep the nationalist label with all its unhelpful connotations. It would open the way to more collaborative working with individuals and organisations within Scotland’s labour movement. And it would place the issue of democracy right at its centre, where it should belong. This will take time, energy, new ideas, and probably new people. The longest trip begins with the first step, and hopefully Gerry’s article may help to set us on our way.

  8. john burrows says:

    Ironically, the wheels fell off the SNP as a vehicle for independence in 2015, when it won all but three seats in Scotland for the Westminster contingent.

    Ms. Sturgeon, buoyed by her successful campaign to expel the Better Together alliance, had no strategy to make use of this victory. Made more hollow by the contempt with which they were and continue to be received.

    In 2014, after inheriting the role of FM from Salmond, her decision to sever independence from her role as FM at Holyrood, in practical terms, neutered her position as the effective advocate for independence she once was.

    In essence, the party became just another face of the British State. A protest party, nothing more. One conveniently placed in Scotland to accept the blame for all ills brought about by the inept and corrupt rule of Tory Britain. Aided and abbeted by a media landscape almost entirely hostile to the cause of independence.

    For ten years now, it has simply failed to do any of the heavy lifting required to move the dial on independence, as it has concentrated more on promoting issues that have divided the party and the Scottish political landscape, instead of using its political power to force the issue of independence.

    All the party has succeeded in doing over the past decade is lock itself in a Catch 22 of seeking a Section 32 order from a Westminster that will never accede to one. A dead end given that the British establishment will never again make the mistake of giving Scots the choice.

    The final irony of all this is the present manifestation of the SNP is a party afraid of its own raison d’etre. Corrupted by the privileges it has enjoyed within the British State, it has lost its way as a vehicle for independence.

    The SNP has been reduced to yet another ‘Parcel of Rogues’ whose only role these days is to soften the horrors of mercurial British rule.

    The SNP offers no plan to achieve independence and it is pointless to expect them to do so given they are entirely compromised by their complicity with British rule.

    If they had truly wanted independence they should have followed the path of Sinn Fein and refused to sit in Westminster.

    Look across the water to Northern Ireland. It is now law there that a border poll can be triggered every seven years. They also enjoy the privilege of remaining in the single market and customs union. While here in Scotland, Holyrood can’t even institute a policy on returning empty bottles because Westminster won’t have it.

    At the SNP’s rate, we’ll be lucky if we are granted another referendum on independence before the 24th century.

    Only the complete wipe out of the SNP will bring about the renewal of the cause Mr. Hassan advocates, because the current crowd are just not up to it.

    1. John says:

      John – there are massive differences between the political situation in Northern Ireland and Scotland that make comparison almost irrelevant:
      1)Historically there are big differences between the two countries and how they became part of UK.
      2)There is no history of violence associated with independence movement in Scotland. (fortunately)
      3)There is outside legal and political support for nationalist politicians and supporters in NI via Ireland backed up by EU enshrined in Good Friday Agreement.There is no meaningful outside political and legal support for Scottish independence.(unfortunately).

      If SNP MP’s had withdrawn from Westminster in 2015 they would have been seen to have neglected the interests of the majority of Scottish electorate, including many who had voted for them, and they would have suffered enormous losses at the following General, and possibly Holyrood, elections.
      Like it or not, as Gerry has written, the reality is that a referendum is now established as the democratic route to gain independence not only by Westminster but also by majority of Scottish electorate and internationally. The only possible shortcut to achieving independence is for the SNP to hold balance of power at Westminster and to use this political power to force Westminster to agree to another referendum. Even this is not a given outcome as would any referendum.
      Gerry is correct in saying that there are no shortcuts to independence but what is required is a lot of hard work understanding why the 20% of electorate who may be persuadable are still opposed to independence. (I think about 30% of Scottish electorate are implacably opposed to independence). The independence movement must also develop a vision of independence that is in tune with the aspirations of a broad majority of electorate.
      In the 1979 referendum 37% of total electorate voted for devolution and in 2014 37% of total electorate voted for independence and this provides us with a far better analogy of what is required. it took a further 18 years to achieve a devolved parliament by a significant majority but this movement had broad political support as well as a broad support from Scottish society. It is doubtful the UK political parties can be persuaded to support independence but I am sure many of their current supporters can be an influence to help broaden support and there is much the independence movement can learn from how the rise in support for devolution was achieved.

      1. john burrows says:

        There is literally no means whereby any honest conversation about the merits of independence can be had within a British state which controls all meaningful modes of mass communication.

        For those who wish to have an honest conversation about independence with their skeptical compatriots, they must first break this monopoly.

        By failing to fight for a truly national broadcaster in Scotland, they have surrendered the field of battle to their opponents. In my mind, this is probably the greatest failure of SNP rule in Scotland today.

        1. John says:

          John – I have no doubt a national broadcaster would be beneficial but never underestimate the powerful effect of lived experience and reasoned discussion.
          I was a longstanding sceptic about independence but one very simple question from a relative – ‘I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want Scotland to be independent?’ started the process of me changing my mind. This also opens the sceptic up to stating their doubts and gives you an opportunity to question the reasoning behind these doubts. eg if you think Scotland is too poor to be independent why is that? etc
          In my case this started me thinking and challenging my preconceived notions and I gradually changed my mind over a period of time.
          This will not work on died in wool supporters of union (nothing will) but you can gauge how open people are from their replies.

          1. Niemand says:

            I tend to agree John. It is defeatist and a kind of safe haven of despair, to basically ‘blame the media’. It also ignores the fact that not all media (which is now very varied and on several different platforms) is anti-independence – it isn’t. The fact that pro-independence media is now at each other’s throats is hardly helping either.

          2. The dominant media (that with huge resources is still overwhelmingly Unionist, I’d love to be proved wrong on this but I won’t be). As for pro-indy media being ‘at each others throats’ – what does this refer to? I collaborate with about a dozen pro indy media sites.

          3. John says:

            Mike – reading some of the comments on this site about the SNP and hoping they are wiped out completely I see a lot of divisive comments as opposed to constructive criticism. Read the comments section In National and you will see the same. I often wonder if some of these people are plants or agent provocateurs? Division and despair will get us nowhere.
            It is interesting that support for independence is highest amongst younger people who consume their news more from online platforms than msm. I wonder if these two facts are connected?

          4. I don’t think so, I think young people are also prey to propaganda. I think younger people have been brought up without the cultural cringe, assuming that devolution was normal and under several pro-independence Scottish governments. They have no memory or folk-memory of the war and have lived under successive bizarre Tory govts. It would be extraordinary if they didnt think YES!

            As for division amongst Yes supporters i think it is mostly healthy. False unity is hopless.

          5. Matthew says:

            I read The Times (circ in Scotland considerably more than The National). Past opinion writers have been Kevin Pringle, Fiona Rintoul, Andrew Tickell, Darren McGarvey and I can remember guest slots from Nichola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond. Probably others I’ve forgotten.

            The problem is that they don’t address the concerns that the soft Noes have. No point in repeating the arguments that convinced you if you’re trying to convince the so-far unconvinced!

          6. John says:

            Matthew – I agree that understanding why ‘Soft No’s’ are not convinced by case for independence is vitally important. It is work that should have been done immediately post 2014 referendum. Asking someone why they are opposed is patently also a way of understanding why someone is opposed to independence.
            I did say that this strategy was only liable to challenge people’s preconceptions and be an aid to them reconsidering their opinions if they had a reasonably open mind on the subject.

  9. John Learmonth says:

    Agreed Gerry,
    So set up your own left wing/progressive party and see how many votes you get.
    Over to you and good luck

  10. SleepingDog says:

    Why are divisions among pro-Independence view-holders supposed such a problem when more extreme divisions among pro-Empire/Unionist view-holders are supposed not? There has never been, as far as I know, a unified pro-Union sentiment. The failure of the Independence movement so far, I suggest, is to ask the questions and find the perspectives that will shine light into these chasms and clashes.

    For example, on decolonisation, foreign policy (including alignment/alliances), established religion, republicanism, codifying the Constitution, planetary systems (ecology, environment etc), local environment, war crimes and cover-ups, history wars, reparations, immigration, public health, the economic system, partial and dysfunctional legal system, royal prerogatives, education, policing, electoral systems, local government systems, welfare, women’s rights, militarism… the Unionists are hopelessly divided and all over the place. What is more, a wide range of popular policies are not on the manifestos either of the main parties of power, either by omission or contradiction.

    Why defend a political system that delivers evils, rewards evil, is highly resistant to health-bringing change and has been designed thus for centuries without changing a core that drove an empire towards world domination, vile exploitation and crimes almost beyond modern comprehension, and now critically vulnerable to outside informal influences which can often simply buy their way into significant power?

    Just as lightweights, cranks and psychopaths these days are left to defend the British Empire, the Union has a lot of shy supporters whose consciences are every day insufficiently challenged.

    1. John says:

      I agree with much of what you say especially the last paragraph.
      Independence for Scotland will, I and many assume, be achieved ultimately by a political settlement with Westminster representing UK state. The alternative is not palatable to vast majority of Scots.
      History shows that the UK state only moves politically in the face of political strength. To quote many political organisations wanting change – this strength only comes through Unity.
      This does not preclude discussion and debate and the need for political wing of independence movement to act and listen to wider movement.
      I would contend that, regardless of what you consider about current state of SNP, it is the political strength of SNP that has UK state worried. I also have no doubt that UK state is currently fostering division in independence movement. History shows is that this is a regular tactic used by UK state to stymie opponents.
      Independence is highly unlikely in next 10 years and will require a lot of work by SNP and independence movement to achieve before 2040.
      If we go down road of splintering, division and argument independence will not be achieved within next 25 years or many people’s lifetime.
      I am not a member of, or a longtime, supporter of SNP.

      1. John Wood says:

        As I have said before, asserting our political will for self-determination has to be dissociated from any political party. A party must have a wider manifesto than independence and will always be challenged on the whole of its performance, its lack of coherent vision etc. Insisting that the SNP is the only vehicle for Scottish independence is the most effective way of making sure it never happens at all.

        Whatever our vision, for a future to be possible at all we need national self-determination now, not in ten years or five years or whenever. Scotland is a mere colony with a fake democracy.

        It is simply ridiculous to assume that Westminster will ever accept any SNP majority as justifying even a referendum, let alone independence. Why do we give them that power? It’s a lack of self-confidence born of centuries of unremitting propaganda, ethnic cleansing, and violence.

        The right to our self determination is absolute. It is a principle that needs to be asserted regardless of competing visions of Scotland’s future. It does not require Westminster’s ‘permission’ because the people of Scotland, not the king in Parliament, have always been sovereign here – whatever the so-called Supreme Court says. Nor does it depend on promises made by one party or threats made by another.

        We have an easy, simple way of asserting that principle. By requiring any MP, of any party, who wants to represent us, to commit to it. A refusal to vote for any candidate that will not personally commit to Scotland’s absolute right to self-determination would send the most powerful possible message to the Unionists and also put the SNP on their mettle. Their lazy assumption that they ‘own’ the independence movement is asking for trouble. It reminds me of the Labour Party a few years ago. Or the LibDems in the Highlands. Times have changed.

        1. John says:

          I too would like to see an independent Scotland asap and I admire your passion.
          However back in the everyday real world only barely 50% of Scots support independence, the vast majority see another referendum as the democratic route to obtaining independence and very few support the route to independence you have outlined.
          I have no problems with having multi political parties supporting independence- the more the better but under FPTP and constituency vote at Holyrood splitting the independence vote only benefits the unionist parties.
          As we can see from Alba’s polling and electoral record there is little appetite amongst wider electorate for other more radical independence supporting parties at present.
          Lasting, regardless of what you personally think of them, you must admit that SNP and Nicola Sturgeon have been relentlessly attacked by Westminster and unionist media as Alex Salmond was previously. This has been especially prevalent post 2014 and in my opinion shows that the opponents of independence were genuinely frightened of the SNP. Why are they frightened – because they realise that if support for independence is high enough (~60% as quoted by A Jack) that they cannot block it happening.

          1. Alba is not ‘more radical’ than the SNP, if anything it is more socially conservative.

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @Editor, yet the SNP is royalist party who backs NATO membership (the NATO currently supporting Israeli genocide in Gaza, in case there is another NATO that might confuse you), whereas Alba is a republican party which opposes NATO membership, as far as I know on approved and published policies.

            I am not sure how the SNP’s gung-ho militarism is going to “contribute to global peace”, but hey.

            I don’t think you can get much more socially conservative than backing millennia-old theologically-justified hereditary monarchy (and all that goes with it), but perhaps you can explain.

            I’m not saying that Alba has a radical or coherent policy programme (their website has long been patchy and rather amateurish, and no they haven’t worked out how to use blockquote either) but I imagine you can find a few policies less conservative than the SNP’s there.

          3. I was not – and am not suggesting that the SNP is in any sense ‘radical’. Your examples of backing NATO and the royal family are good ones. I just don’t think Alba is in any sense radical either.

          4. SleepingDog says:

            @Editor, fair enough, and those two policies are obvious choices for a party wanting to distinguish themselves from the SNP and appear forward-looking without having to commit themselves to pre-Independence promises.

          5. John Wood says:

            As I have said before, every major political party is now bought and sold for corporate gold. And the corporations themselves are bought and sold by the plutocratic, psychopathic international criminals who claim unlimited power over all of us and the planet itself. We are apparently ‘hackable animals’. In other words technology (and those who control it) are supposedly all-powerful. See There’s no place for democracy or national sovereignty is such a technocratic vision. Any appearance of either is a hollow sham. The one world government will be a dictatorship.

            Scotland does as it’s told by Westminster. And Westminster answers to America. It truly makes no difference which party you vote for anymore.

            The new Clearances are happening on the SNP’s watch. The Unionists are trying to capitalise on this but we don’t want them either. Disillusion with the SNP and Greens does not make us Unionists.

            The Highlands are to Scotland as Wales is to England – except that unlike the Welsh, the Gaels have no real political voice at all, and both the land and cultural heritage are still under sustained attack by people determined to exploit both for short term private profit. Let’s see an independent Scotland on the Swiss model, where the regions can express their own identities and needs democratically, and be heard.

            Scotland itself is a colony of the British Empire, and run by a submissive colonial administration that (like all such administrations), includes some locals. Devolution is a sham.

            The British Empire itself was taken over by the US long ago. Union Jack waving Unionist politicians and public servants of all kinds just follow orders from America. Culturally and politically the UK becomes more and more like America.

            America itself is ruled by organised criminals, the successors of the ‘robber barons’, who care about us as much as they do about the Palestinians, Afghans, Russians, Chinese, or anyone else who might challenge their ‘unipolar world’. They are addicted to absolute power over the entire planet, and to making the world a ‘better’ place for themselves, regardless of the consequences. In fact, ‘mutually assured destruction’ is just a euphemism for that old abuser’s saying, ‘If I can’t have you, nobody will’. They don’t seek our approval to be sacrificed on the altar of their madness. They never have. And beware, I suspect they are planning something very nasty to ‘justify’ doubling down on their oppression ‘for our own good’.

            There are only a few who pull the strings, but many who facilitate them by just following orders and keeping quiet. Shame on them, at all levels. Whether it’s because of corruption, behavioural psychology manipulation or old-fashioned bullying and intimidation, there doesn’t seem to be a single one, in any party, who will apparently dare to stand up for the people they are supposed to work for. Strings are pulled and they all jump – politicians, civil servants, lawyers, academics, journalists.

            There really isn’t any point in arguing about which party is ‘better’ because none dare propose anything but versions of business as usual. We need rid of political parties altogether and to start electing independents who will genuinely answer to, and stand up for, us..

            The only thing to fear is fear itself.

          6. John says:

            Apologies in that I have (mis)used term radical here to describe how they propose to achieve independence in comparison to the SNP.
            Alba are as you describe more conservative with their social policies.

  11. florian albert says:

    ‘the fairy tales of the Sturgeon era’

    Yet these ‘fairy tales’ were electorally extremely successful; even when offered a non-Sturgeon alternative in Alba, the voters showed no enthusiasm for it. Throughout the decade of Sturgeon’s dominance, the progressive left, with a few honourable exceptions, aggressively supported Sturgeon’s self-image as politically and morally superior to the politics of Westminster personified by Johnson and, briefly, Truss.

    ‘there needs to be an ecology of think tanks and research agencies’

    Who will staff these bodies ? Is there any evidence that there are suitable people capable of providing the intellectual stimulus that the pro-independence left so urgently needs? If so, why did they not appear during the independence referendum and the decade since ?
    Even if such an intellectual stimulus was created, the strong likelihood is that it would be ignored by the SNP’s present, time-serving, establishment.

    Contrasting Scotland as an area of light, as opposed to the UK as an area of darkness is what Nicola Sturgeon did for a decade. It has landed us where we are today.

    1. Why would there not be staff to occupy posts in think-tanks?

      1. Robert says:

        The Westminster Tory machine is massive. Any pro independence think tanks would have to be similar to make any headway.

      2. John Wood says:

        The point about ‘think tanks’ is that they are parcels of rogues paid for by corporations and oligarchs to further private agendas (which always means their own wealth and power). There would be plenty of staff for Scottish think tanks if those that funded them thought it worthwhile.

        I want to see a think-tank free Scotland where the sovereign Scots decide our future, no one else.

    2. Gerry Hassan says:

      I am curious why you think there is not the intellectual wealth, talent and energy to fill a world of think-tanks and research agencies?

      Small and smaller nations manage it: Finland, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, to give just a couple of examples.

      1. John says:

        Gerry – there is a section of anti- independence supporters who think that we should leave this type of stuff to the grown ups – ie intellectual titans like Liz Truss & Mark Littlewood etc.
        We Scots are, unlike other similar countries, too stupid to think for ourselves. Like Johan Lamont said it’s not in our DNA (which according to them means ‘don’t
        (k)now anything’ when referring to Scottish people.
        In short it is our old friend the old Scottish Cringe.

      2. florian albert says:

        I reach this conclusion, as I say above, because the political ferment at the time of the 2024 referendum, and the decade since, failed to produce much intellectually, despite the vast number of books, pamphlets, public meetings and TV programmes produced.
        If there is untapped ‘intellectual wealth, talent and energy’, why has it not shown itself ? Few people think that there is a seam of untapped talent in Scottish football, although we all wish it were so.
        Comparisons with Scandinavia and the Baltic States tell us nothing because these countries have a vastly different history and political culture.
        At the heart of contemporary Scotland’s many social and economic problems is the collapse of the industrial economy which made the country a world leader little more than a century ago. Since the 1980s, a new dispensation has been created but it is one from which a large section of the populations gains little.

        1. John says:

          You could have saved yourself a lot of time and just said we are too poor, too wee and too stupid.

        2. Gerry Hassan says:

          Thanks for your comments and comeback.

          You are right on the meta point. Where did the energy and ideas of 2014 go? You take the view that because of a lack of infrastructure building post-2014 that somehow proves the Scots are not capable and/or unwilling to create real resources of ideas, hope and change.

          Two responses. First, post-2014 as a point of fact. The SNP leadership deliberately discouraged a politics and culture of self-initiative, real self-government and independent resources. In short, the party of independence at the moment of its greatest strength and at the high point of democratic engagement in Scotland’s history was against independence as a practice and set of ideas.

          Of course the SNP leadership cannot fortunately control all of Scotland and all civil society and public life. But what they did behind the scenes is block various initiatives, have a suspicion/hostility to anything independent of them, and offered no encouragement or see the point in such an ecology of ideas. In short, they wanted to claim the rhetoric of being a movement while acting as a party which was against any kind of movement building. This is one of the legacies of the Sturgeon era the SNP, indy and indeed civic life has to deal with.

          Second, there is no evidential basis that Scotland is somehow incapable of creating such bodies if our political and public culture can change. Numerous other small and smaller countries have managed it. Scotland is blessed with a rich culture of writers, thinkers, civic entrepreneurs, and academics with a public policy bent, as well as campaigners, NGO policy people, and even the occasional intellectual. There is a Scotland of the mind out there which can be nurtured to feed and change our conversations.

          I think this is possible. But it is a direct challenge to the narrow bandwidth of politics and political power focused on politicians and parties. And some of them – and in particular the SNP have shown an unwillingness and even hostility to be interested in ideas which could practically improve the lives and well-being of Scots. This attitude has to be challenged and defeated.

          1. florian albert says:

            The SNP’s dismissal of the idea of a ‘YES Movement’, to which you refer, was based on the belief that such a movement had little political or intellectual capital. Successive SNP electoral victories vindicated this strategy. A later strategy, of allying with the Greens, proved to be another matter entirely.

            It is true that the various groups with which Scotland is ‘blessed’ might come up with the intellectual firepower which would change the political weather in favour of radical independence. Their record in recent decades does not inspire confidence that this will happen. The last Scottish political – rather than constitutional – programme to do this – even briefly – was the Red Paper of 1975 and its proposals were ditched by its editor, Gordon Brown , in favour of globalized capitalism.

        3. What is the ‘vastly different history and political culture’ of Scandinavia?

          1. florian albert says:

            There are two major strands to social democracy in Scandinavia which are largely missing in Scotland.
            First there is an understanding of the importance of wealth creation to fund their welfare state. In Scotland, this is rarely seen as a priority.. Our political culture prioritizes spending money.
            Second, Scandinavian countries attempted to create a culture of democratic involvement. This approach tried – with a good deal of success –
            to bring together different social groups, employers and trade unions, for example. In Scotland, the culture has been to rely on the increasingly remote state to solve all problems.
            In recent times, Scandinavian – particularly Swedish – social democracy has taken something of a battering. Partly this is because external conditions have made it harder for small countries to resist unfavourable global trends and partly because the Swedes got carried away with the idea of their own exceptionalism.

          2. Gerry Hassan says:

            The last political programme of ideas in Scotland was not Gordon Brown and ‘The Red Paper in Scotland’ in 1975 – which is coming up for fifty years ago.

            There were an ecology of ideas and policies around in the 1980s up until the late 1980s led by the STUC and the trade union movement analysing the Scottish economy and political economy. Similarly, in the 1997-99 era before the Parliament there was a small explosion of think-tanks, publications, and ferment of ideas, which ultimately was not nurtured or encouraged by the political classes: the First Ministerships of Donald Dewar and Jack McConnell being major culprits here.

            Part of Scotland’s political conversation and activism has been focused on the constitution and this has had consequences. Two points. First, Scotland’s political dispensation has not been immune to the retreat and hollowing out of social democracy across the West. This has not been aided by a Scottish exceptionalism in denial of this. Second, it is not automatic that this policy and ideas-lite environment continues to dominate. We have seen political ideas have impact in recent years and know it matters; it is also not necessarily about a radical version of Scotland and independence, but more importantly challenging the conservative mindset which holds Scotland back and dominates our political parties, system and institutions.

  12. Satan says:

    The SNP have been in power for waaaaayyy too long. I stopped listening to them when thet did daily public health broadcasts with Jolly Boy John the dentist, and a lawyer. They are just taking the piss

  13. SleepingDog says:

    There is a wider problem of how the political party system pollutes civil society beyond the formal power structure of government. Political appointees are nothing new, patronage likely has prehistoric origins, and the blacklisting the current Conservative government has tasked civil servants with has many precedents.

    This section of a Parliamentary report is old and refers primarily to the House of Lords, but makes many general comments relevant to party political influence over appointments and promotion, including ‘balancing’, the undue influence of governing parties, the unscrupulous and unprincipled practices of stuffing political place-people, the assessment of political ‘soundness’ and disregard for merit etc.

    I am not commenting specifically on the placing or promoting of SNP affiliates in positions of influence (Bella has provided this useful service in the past), but drawing attention to what appears to be an iron law of political party systems. They systematically degrade opportunities for independent minds, uncompromised characters and objective merit in society.

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