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Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Independence: Where is SNP at? Where is YES at? Where am I at?

All that follows is a highly personal view – I speak for no one but myself. It is also very much a minority view among SNP and YES people, as far as I can determine. It is a view that some feel I should not express except in private forums. I reject that position completely.

Where is the SNP at?

The SNP has been engaging in a process of retreat from its manifesto commitment on the EU Referendum and from a second independence referendum any time soon - and certainly not before 2021. They were bounced into this posture by Theresa May’s 2017 snap general election.

They have conspicuously failed to take successive tides at their flood and failed to capitalise on the staggering advantages and opportunities conferred on them by events after the 2014 Referendum – the YES surge, the incredible membership surge, the even more incredible 2015 general election result, the third term win in 2016, and the chaotic state of the two main UK parties and the UK Government.

They have concentrated on “the day job” and taken #indyref2 off the agenda (effectively adopting their opponents definition of what SNP’s objectives should be), with the FM saying she “doesn’t honestly know” when the next one will be.

They were spooked by Brexit and their policy on the EU has often seemed equivocal, despite nominal commitment to Scotland in EU. Following the Brexit vote, their position has often seemed as though they regarded independence as negotiable in return for a soft Brexit. The nuclear issue is rarely mentioned except in a cost context, with rare nods to the inhumanity of nuclear WMD, the gaping logical flaws in the deterrence doctrine, Scotland’s NATO membership and the appalling consequences of a nuclear war for the planet.

Despite all of this, the SNP remains the only pragmatic political choice for Scots old and new who are both anti-nuclear and committed to independence. I am one of them.

They are still the best choice for delivery of competent, equitable and just government in a devolved Scotland, given the present parlous state of the Scottish Tories and Scottish Labour, the near-irrelevant and faintly ludicrous Scottish LibDems and the well-meaning but tiny Greens, who are nevertheless  crucial to a YES majority in Holyrood.

Where is the YES Movement at?

The reality of indyref1 was that people got off their arses and did things, quite spontaneously as individuals, and the incredible political mass movement YES was born and grew on a grassfire basis. It didn't require roles and hierarchies for people - often put in contact by the developing medium of social media - to get together on an ad hoc or regular basis as either local groups or periodic events or initiative-based groups, sometime funded by ad hoc collections. And those same individuals were often already members of political parties - or gravitated to party membership - and took some of their ideas with them into their chosen political parties.

Political parties need hierarchies, they need minutes, they must operate within an identity and structure constrained in part by stringent legal requirements, must account for their finances - and are geographically limited by the constituency boundaries of branches, with only HQ operating in a wider context. Their principle activities are focused around referendums or elections - and they by definition have a limited agenda - i.e. to get their own candidate and their own party elected to a Parliament or to local government, and crucially in that respect, are in direct competition at crucial times with other political parties who share their independence committment, e.g. Greens, SSP, Solidarity, etc.

YES, a mass movement with a single focus, independence, doesn't need any of these things nor does it need to accept any of these constraints - its strength is its loose, spontaneous character, its focus in the individual acting occasionally within a political party, or operating occasionally with focused cross-party/no party campaiging groups, e.g. CND, feminist groups, land campaigners, Amnesty International etc.

In my view, the YES movement of, say 2009 to early 2012 was YES as its best - a loose, spontaneous flexible resource, able to get behind the YES party of its choice at key times and to operate within YES party branch structures as members, but also outside of them.

The confusion and loss of effectiveness came with the launch of YES Scotland in June 2012, with the creation of a Board, bank account, hiring of full-time staff, etc. This predicably descended into the often misdirected use and depletion of scarce funds for a bureaucracy, and accusations from the Left YES movement of being simply a tool of the SNP. The true spirit of the YES Movement spontaneously shook off the often dead hand of YES Scotland and simply got on with it, but crucial limited resources were frittered away in during the life of YES Scotland.

Radical Independence, formed in the same year, 2012 (but not formally constituted till 2015) was essentially a left wing movement committed to a socialist Scotland, predominantly a central belt organisation with an urban west of Scotland bias organisationally.

It probably made the major contribution to weaning the Scottish urban working class away from their traditional Labour allegiances to the idea of independence, and to vote for YES political parties, which rather inconveniently for RI included the SNP, a pragmatic, slighly left-of-centre social democratic party with strong neo-liberal instincts, which was not at all what RI wanted.They wanted - and I believe still want - a new left-wing party, and even made an abortive stab at one with RISE. They almost certainly still intend to pursue that objective.

Radical Independence - in my view - are responsible for a very large part of the success of SNP electorally and for the peak level poll of YES in 2014 at 50% and of the shift of a 28% poll rating to the final Referendum 45% - but I believe that, in their left-wing vision for Scotland, they also inhibited the centre-right and right of Scottish voters from coming across to independence and YES.  (Most recent polls show around 46% for independence.)

Radical Independence peaked too, after the 2014 Referendum, but in the process frightened the horses - the innately conservative demographic, the older demographic, and the Scotland-the-Timid tendency.  Common Weal and Common Space came into being out of that (and out of The Jimmy Reid Foundation), and have a closely similar agenda. With the exception of independence, they are probably closer to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party - the Momentum wing of it - than Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP.

Where am I at personally, as a left-wing social democrat?

I represent no faction or school of thought, and I recognise that my views outlined above are very much a minority view, and almost certainly those of a tiny minority, perhaps even a minority of one.

I have given up on trying to offer these views through formal SNP structures or formally structured YES groups.  From today on, I intend only to -

remain a subscribing member of the SNP

make ad hoc contributions to SNP and YES groups if requested when I am able.


continue to vote in any relevant candidate selection ballots or election ballots, local and national elections and referendums or plebiscites.

In summary, I will get out of the way of the dedicated SNP and YES activists operating through such groups and I will revert to functioning as the vast majority of non-activist political party members and YES voters function.

I will maintain an online online presence on Blogspot, Twitter and YouTube, but as a citizen/voter commentator on political and other international, social and cultural matters.

(This decision is based on a number of complex reason, some related to strategy and direction of SNP and YES, some to personal priorities and circumstances.)

My commitment to an independent, nuclear-free Scotland remains, and I can think of nothing that could change that.

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