Can the SNP change?

This could be a really short article. The answer to the question is obviously and emphatically in the affirmative. Of course the SNP can change! It’s a political party. Political parties are predisposed to change. Political parties which function in any way close to the manner in which they are supposed to tend to be highly susceptible to the public mood. At least to the extent that the public mood is reflected in its membership. If a political party is not predisposed to change then it should not really be called a political party.

This is not to say that there won’t be ‘forces’ within the party which are resistant to change. It is in the nature of things that within a party with a membership numbered in the tens of thousand there will be groups, cliques and factions – each of which may have a particular agenda. The dominant faction – usually but not necessarily the leadership – may be particularly resistant to change if, as is commonly the case, the change involves some loss of status. But properly functioning political parties remain susceptible to change even if the dominant faction is not amenable. Because in a properly functioning political party the real power is in the hands of the membership. Perhaps more importantly, in a properly functioning political party the membership is aware of its power and is prepared to use it.

The SNP satisfies the requirements for a properly functioning political party. At least to a greater extent than is generally the case within British politics. It functions well in that it has a large and extraordinarily diverse membership. It is not presently clear, however, that the membership is either fully aware of its power or fully prepared to use that power other than as directed by the dominant group – the leadership. The SNP functions reasonably well in terms of our criteria in that it has a fairly well-defined vertical and horizontal organisational structure and a solid constitution. Not so well, perhaps, in terms of communication along either vertical or horizontal axes of that structure. While the constitution is solid and provides a strong spine for the party, the mission has become blurred as the SNP has developed as the party of government as well as the party of independence.

So! Far from a perfectly functioning machine! But good enough where it matters to be called a proper political party. The SNP can be assumed to be prepared, even if not predisposed, to change. The leadership, less so. How much this matters is, perhaps, a better question. Just how immovable an object is the SNP leadership? Just how irresistible a force is the membership capable of, and willing to, muster? How must that force be applied in order to be as effective as possible?

To hear some folk talk you’d think Nicola Sturgeon and her inner circle was about as mobile as Edinburgh Castle and the rock on which it stands. Even those who are, like myself, firmly persuaded that a new and radically different approach to the constitutional issue is essential and urgent, tend to view this as unachievable. Ye’ll never persuade the SNP! The party leadership simply will not contemplate change! Give up!

I disagree. I do so politely. But I’m prepared to disagree less than politely if driven to it. Because this is important. This is crucial.

These naysayers fail to think it through. If they’ve given up on changing the SNP then they’ve given up on independence. Because without the effective political power that only the SNP can provide Scotland’s cause is going nowhere. I know that it has been going nowhere for six years. I know that this is predominantly the fault of the SNP. I know all about the “unused mandates”. Just as I know about the controversial policies. (Or the policies around which there is some controversy.) But none of that alters the fact that only the SNP is in a position to be the Scottish Government which takes the action which in turn will end the Union. ONLY the SNP! You can ‘hate’ the party and/or its leadership as much as your baser instincts urge. But if you love the idea of restoring Scotland’s independence then you better hold your nose, grit your teeth and perform whatever intellectual and emotional contortion it takes, and back the SNP with all the strength at your disposal.

Scotland’s independence movement desperately needs a whopping dose of hard-headed political pragmatism. It would be an embarrassment before the watching world fit to melt a man were we to lose this opportunity and consign our nation to the fate that British Nationalism holds for us, for no better reason than that we lack the will and the wit to use the tool that is in our hands.

The SNP can change. But only if we, the party members, change it. When I said that the six years of inertia was predominantly the fault of the SNP I left some blame for the party membership. It’s our party! It is what we make it! Or it becomes what we fail to prevent it becoming! It is our responsibility to initiate change. If the party has taken Scotland’s cause down a blind alley and parked it there then we must accept a share of the blame for this. And we must accept responsibility for putting right that which we have allowed to go wrong.

There are, of course, those who will deny that anything has gone wrong. Those who are so dazzled by the polls and personal approval ratings and predictions of electoral triumph that they don’t see there’s nothing connecting any of that to a process which will lead to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. There are those, also, who have grown so frustrated as to run off to play electoral games or pursue interventions by courts and external agencies. That is all part of the problem that we have to address. And address as a matter of the utmost urgency.

But we are not alone. It is not only the membership that can force change on the SNP. Yes supporters outside the party can help. They are voters just the same as party members. Were they to unite and add their voice to that of the membership Nicola Sturgeon would have no choice but to listen. Because she wouldn’t be able to hear anything else. The demand for a change of approach to the constitutional issue is massive and growing. What has been lacking is a point around which that demand can coalesce in order that the strength of the people may be translated into the power of the group. We must combine to succeed. We must combine to save Scotland. We must combine to end the Union and restore our nation’s rightful constitutional status.

In democratic countries knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others.

Alexis De Tocqueville – Democracy In America

That’s all very well, I hear some of you say, but what is the nature of the change being demanded? Even if we allow that the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue can be changed and acknowledge that it is our responsibility to force this change, what is it?

All good questions! To which I shall provide a short answer before moving on the the main purpose of this article.

We demand that the SNP immediately adopt a Manifesto for Independence renouncing the Section 30 process and undertaking if elected to create, initiate and pursue a democratic process entirely within Scotland and our democratic institutions such as will lead to a referendum on the question of ending the Union and restoring Scotland’s independence.

Is that all!? I hear you exclaim. Yes. That’s all. It is nothing more than the principal purpose for which the party was formed. The objective which sits at the top of the party’s constitution. The goal of the entire Yes movement. The aspiration of a nation.

Given that independence is at the top of the SNP’s constitution it seems entirely reasonable to insist that it also be moved from where it has languished since 2014 to the top of the party’s agenda. That is the change we seek.

Who is this “we”? As noted earlier, the fact that there is massive demand for change doesn’t mean that this demand can be effective. In order to be effective those making the demand must combine. They must unite. They must speak with one voice and clearly and loudly and persistently articulate the demand so that it cannot be ignored. It was for this purpose that I created White Rose Rising – a group drawn from across the Yes movement with the aim of become a force for change. When I say “aim”, I might better say “ambition”. Because I was aware from the outset that uniting the Yes movement even for the purpose of restoring Scotland’s independence was going to be like trying to do origami with Ryvita. You set out to make a shape and end up with nothing but crumbs. But I had to try.

Just launched is a new group called SNP Members for Independence which, as the title suggests, is specifically and exclusively for SNP members but which has broadly similar aims. In the interest of full transparency I must state that I was initially involved in the setting up of this group but later withdrew for reasons which are none of your damned business. You can have too much transparency. As you will gather, I still support the aims of this group and hope fervently that it serves as the point around which demand for change from within the party can coalesce.

I urge everybody who aspires to making Scotland an independent nation again to join one or if you are an SNP member both, of these groups so that our voice can be heard. There must be a new approach to the constitutional issue on the part of the SNP and a fresh mindset adopted for the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence.

Let’s unite to put independence back where it belongs at the top of Scotland’s political agenda!


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