In recent days we’ve seen a number of SNP leaflets posted through doors with the line “and no other party” after “vote SNP 1/2”. Rather than going with the flow and jumping on the bandwagon, I wanted to confirm for myself that it wasn’t just someone trying to stir up trouble in the movement by putting leaflets through the door and claiming they were SNP HQ approved.
Indeed, I held up hope that this was the case right up until I got a direct response from the SNP themselves after I emailed them to confirm. I have to admit that I just sighed when I read that the leaflets are, in fact, genuine, and are 100% signed off by SNP HQ.
I’ve seen comments on both sides of the argument, most notably from SNP members striking back and saying “how terrible, a party advocating for itself”. However, that’s not what we’re talking about here. I fully understand the party’s need to strenuously advocate for itself – but does it really need to do it while skewering other pro-independence candidates with the likely result being the election by default of unionist councillors?
Let’s not be coy here. Turning councils yes is extremely important because while the legislation for a referendum might be the remit of Holyrood (despite what Westminster thinks), it’s ultimately the councils that will deal with the logistics of a referendum. Personally, i’d rather see pro-indy councils with a mixed bag from SNP, other parties, and yes, pro-independence independent councillors, than a split between the SNP, Labour and Tory, where the Labour and Tory go into an unholy alliance purely to deny the SNP control of the council and deliberately try to disrupt a referendum.
The fundamental fact is that a blanket approach to campaigning does not work, particularly the track the SNP are going down because it fails to accommodate for the underlying sentiments within individual wards, and I say that from personal experience of living in, and standing in a staunch labour ward where the only SNP councillor (now independent who has actually endorsed me to take her seat) got in at round 7 of the count.
The SNP, since 2014 has placed itself at the heart of the movement claiming to be the party of independence and to be an extension of the movement that was around in 2014. I was entirely impressed by their original decision just after the referendum to take candidates from across the movement and add them to the SNP ranks. However, since then, the SNP as an organisation has done very little to promote cohesion within the movement and has over time become quite insular in its approach.
That’s not a swipe at the SNP, merely a reflection of my disappointment in them.
We cannot hold the SNP to the same standard as the likes of solidarity, alba, the greens, the SSP, ISP et al, because none of them claims a stature of being the political wing of, nor claims to speak for the movement as a whole. All they do is claim to be representative of the politics that they believe in, as part of a wider movement. The SNP on the other hand have chosen to project themselves as being the overall political voice of the movement as a whole but increasingly has chosen to isolate themselves from the wider movement.
The SNP, therefore, should be held to a greater standard because they chose to place themselves at the centre of it all. Nothing frustrates me (and I say frustrate, not annoy, because I’ve stopped having faith in any politician) more than to hear the leadership of the SNP periodically stand up and shout about how the movement should “get out and campaign” because the “movement” never stopped campaigning. I know because I have been organising the march and rally in Dunfermline for years, we were the first after the referendum to have an SNP speaker, but Douglas did that off his own back through a direct approach to him after SNP HQ were silent.
By comparison, all of the other parties snapped to arranging speakers to come along. As far as we are concerned, the movement has never stopped campaigning for independence, but the senior management of the biggest political party has been lackadaisical in standing beside us at such events, left to individual parliamentarians to fill the vacuum of their own volition.
And now we find ourselves with yet another move that acts against the cohesiveness of the wider movement. To be clear, I am not saying that parties do not have a right to argue that people vote for them first, that would be a singularly stupid position to take. However, there are ways to do that without actively taking a swing at the wider movement, and which do not create the perception of self-entitlement which can only be compared to that of the labour party during the blair years.
All votes are lent to parties by the electorate based upon the persons alignment with a party’s politics. Parties are not, and should never be encouraged to think of themselves as automatically entitled to a persons vote, and at every point should be reminded that it is a gift, not a right – otherwise you end up with new labour and a party that becomes complacent because it both assumes it has a right to those votes, while simultaneously getting annoyed when it doesn’t get it. The best thing for any party is to feel uncomfortable that it could lose votes at any time, because that keeps them moving forward and progressive. It’s the reason why I love proportional systems over first past the post – because it stops a situation like Westminster where people are not actually voting for the best candidates, they are voting for the least bad option. All that the two main parties need do is wait long enough until the electorate gets pissed off with the other guy more than them, and then the pendulum swings the other way.
The SNP had the right idea in previous years, with a clear “Vote SNP 1/2” message. It advocated for them and took a passive and benign approach to other parties in the yes movement. That was the right move. It respected the right of the electorate to select other pro-indy candidates while also asking them to vote for them. The problem, therefore, is NOT the message “Vote SNP 1/2”, it’s this new addition to the message “and no other parties”.
The higher standard that we should hold the SNP to, as the self-proclaimed political wing of the yes movement, is that it safeguards and promote that movement first and foremost. Otherwise, they are not a party for a movement, they are a party taking advantage of a movement. That does not mean going out and saying “Vote for us” and then “vote for them”. It simply means saying “vote for us” and leaving the second bit out, and respecting the choices of pro-independence members of the electorate to exercise their vote how they choose. Saying to pro-indy supporters “and nobody else” is the same as saying “we’ll respect you only if you vote for us and nobody else” and that can only lead to two things.
Firstly, it’s going to irritate all of the other segments of the movement, bearing in mind that the SNP membership actually only accounts for 1/14th of those who voted yes in 2014. Secondly, it’s going to result in people choosing not to vote for the SNP, because the same rule of “advocate for thy party” applies to all other parties as much as it does to the SNP. The thought process will be pretty simple: “Why should I vote for a party that says “don’t vote for anyone else”, when I am pro-independence, put the movement before the party, and (if they are a member of a party) my party has actively said “vote for us…and the SNP”.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what people do or do not then go on to vote for, it only matters that this particular question ends up floating about in their heads in the first place. The very act of deliberately trying to skewer other yes parties, rather than simply taking a passive approach of simply not mentioning them at all, means that it undermines the solidarity and cohesiveness of the movement.
There’s not much I can say really. It’s disappointing that the party which is supposed to be integral to the yes movement has adopted an approach of open hostility to the wider movement, or at the very least has now created an underlying perception of such hostility. Even a passive approach of just “SNP 1/2” as the SNP have adopted previously would have been fair enough, but a clear statement of “and for no other party” sends the wrong signal at a time when the movement should be showing solidarity with one another, not least in the face of what is about to become the worst cost of living crisis since the winter of discontent, and highlights the exact reason why Scottish Independence is necessary.
The SNP need to step up and show unity and solidarity, even if that may have a small detrimental impact on their own electoral success in favour of a net gain for the movement as a whole. That was the expectation that they themselves created when they proclaimed themselves to be central to this movement. Namely that their partisan politics should be secondary to the independence movement. You cannot project a new way of doing things if you are simply going to do what all the other parties have done – that’s a lesson Labour failed to realise during the Blair years.