Siol nan Gaidheal

The Way Forward

"My poor country!"
Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun

Recent events have illustrated perfectly the deep-seated malaise within Scotland’s Party. We have witnessed the growth of an elitist clique over the past few years, whose insidious influence has robbed the party of several unique talents and which led to a fall in membership which can realistically only be described as disastrous, regardless of what political spin is put on it. Siol nan Gaidheal were warning against this as far back as in January 2001, when “Lost the Plot” was written – that the British Unionist Labour Party had sucked the SNP into their carefully prepared devolution trap - and that the SNP had fallen for it hook, line and sinker. Lured by the siren call of becoming an official, Westminster-style opposition party, with long-term job prospects for the careerists and unrestrained access to all the delights of mainstream politics, principles went out the window and it was hello to the good life for the favoured few.

The good life, however, has come at some considerable cost to our stated ambition to be a free and sovereign independent nation. Bemired in the daily need to be seen as a party with policies on absolutely everything, the SNP slowly lost sight of its ultimate and only raison d’être – Independence. The word became almost anathema for a long period, and has only recently resurfaced in party rhetoric. Discontent within the ranks of party activists and branch members increased during this period, resulting in plummeting numbers and morale. Stage-managed conference motions and proposals only added to these feelings of impotence, and challenges to the leadership clique were stifled, as was any form of realistic internal debate. All of which ultimately led to the recent scenario of John Swinney tendering his resignation, albeit reluctantly. But does this mean that the party’s troubles are over?

Not by a long chalk, unless the deeper issues are tackled first. Simply replacing John Swinney with a clone from within the leadership clique will result in the further fragmentation of the SNP, to the despair of all true nationalists and the delight of the enemies of Scotland. Swinney had to go, nothing is surer. But it will now be touted by the great and good of the party, including those he thought his friends, that he was the architect of all the party’s ills, and that now he is gone all will be rosy in the garden. This is not the case, and several others must be considered as equally guilty of the faults John Swinney is being seen as the fall guy for. Jim Mather, Nicola Sturgeon and others are all by the same token guilty of the financial mismanagement of the SNP, whose debt is now fast approaching £800,000. Of this, £600,000 is owed to the banks, and a further £200,000 is due in loans from various supporters and branches. The collapse in membership of some 9,000 members from December last year alone represents a further ongoing significant lack of finance.

Added to the above is the deep unpopularity of various policies touted by the leadership clique, first and foremost among them being the referendum on Independence. Who save a fool would give the Unionists a second bite at the cherry? This idea should never have seen the light of day, as it speaks to the electorate of a leadership patently afraid of the role which might, almost inadvertently, be thrust upon it. The party stance on Europe is also being called into question more and more, particularly in the light of recent developments in the Common Fisheries Policy. Now we know that it is fashionable to dismiss this as a merely teuchter concern, best espoused by Campbell Martin’s somewhat careless remark that “the vast majority of the electorate will only care if the local chip shop runs out”, a fairly typical illustration of the Central Belt bias in much political thinking. However, an attack on any one section of Scottish society, community or industry is ultimately an attack on us all, and there are signs that there is a great deal of support for the fishing community in the Central Belt. Who suffered more during the decline of the steel and coal industries? There is a degree of inherent sympathy in the community there which remains as yet untapped by the SNP.

By continuing with their uncritical stance on all things European, the SNP is also grossly out of touch with the electorate. At a time when the British Unionist Labour Party is struggling badly to convince the electorate that Tony Blair’s vision for Middle England is equally applicable to Central Belt Scotland, the SNP are disenchanting potential voters who daily see the harmful effect that the EU is having on their lives. They also thus rule themselves out as being seen as defenders of Scotland’s interests, whether within Scotland, the UK or Europe, and this is politically speaking very short-sighted. If the SNP would quit its docile stance and stand up for the people of Scotland, recognition of this fact would not be long in coming. Fishing and hill farming or crofting are heading the way of steel and coal-mining, and the European Central Bank is now casting its avaricious eyes on Scotland’s financial centre in Edinburgh. Add to this those vested interests that are as of now actively moving to ensure that the Scottish shell fish producers are shut down on extremely dubious ‘hygiene’ grounds, and it is not hard to see that before long Scotland will have little or nothing left to plunder. This is an area where a stated intention to hold a referendum on membership of the EU on attaining Independence would appeal to many voters. It is ultimately a decision which must be made by the people of Scotland, not some ruling political elite.

There is also the point that the public is now seriously apathetic about politics and politicians. The only way to rekindle a flicker of interest is if they hear something new and radical, not the usual tired old pledges and promises. A commitment to a new form of politics, well away from the paternalistic Westminster mould, which has already been tried and is failing in the Vichy Parliament, would be one way of rekindling that interest. As previously proposed, the eradication of political parties per se, with people elected on their potential and credentials, would be a good start – within one or at most two terms of the new parliament the tired old hacks would be eliminated, and people of merit and integrity encouraged to actively participate. The Swiss model is one which could be studied for an example of how this works. Removing career politicians could also be a vote winner, with those who already have established careers in the real world encouraged to play their part in their country’s future, as opposed to those who have never had to work in a real job but have played at politics all their days. Establishing a set term for a political career would almost certainly find favour with the voters, although granted it’s an idea unlikely to find favour with most of our politicians.

Then there is also the issue of exclusivity. Yet another of the reasons the electorate treat the current crop of politicians (of all parties) with such contempt is their perception that any situation is milked purely for personal gain, the cheap scoring of political points which ultimately matter to no-one except another politician. This certainly does not excite the average voter, and the thought of a group of like-minded politicians of whatever hue uniting to solve a particular (important) problem would pique their interest. The SNP must remember that they did not invent the concept of Independence, and nor do they have an exclusive claim on it. Working together with other parties (and independent MSP’s) who have a similar agenda would not only increase their power base, but prove their political maturity to many sceptics.

So who, of those standing for the leadership of the SNP, might carry us forward along these lines? Siol nan Gaidheal does not have an easy answer to that question. We are, after all, a cultural organisation, not a political one (other than our obvious position on Independence.) But we are not fools, and can spot an albatross slung around the neck when we see one. To simply replace Swinney with a clone like Sturgeon would be both short-sighted and foolish. She ran his last three campaigns for him, and to suggest that she has suddenly realised where he was going wrong and has suffered some form of Damascene conversion is insulting in the extreme, both to the electorate and the party. Like it or not, those who flock with the crows get shot with them, and she is tainted by close association. The evidence is all there for those who care to look, and besides, she is only being touted for the job as a stop-gap until President Salmond makes his triumphant return in 2007. A stop-gap is not what the SNP, or Scotland, needs. What is required is a radical change in outlook, approach and attitude to politics in Scotland. Saddled we may be with a Plastic Parliament where debates on dog excreta take precedence over the survival of our few remaining industries, and a pathetic First Minister who blithely spends one third of a million pounds to discover that the Saltire is known globally as Scotland’s emblem. But the paid ‘professionals’ in Scotland’s Party should be capable of tearing these people up both verbally and literally. It is, after all, why we, the Scottish people, pay their wages.

And it is long gone time that we saw a return on our expensive investment in them.

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