The National newspaper has published a powerful piece from a Scottish MP that illustrates clearly there are serious and perhaps irreconcilable divisions within the principal party of Scottish independence which commands a mature and determined response from the wider independence movement.
The fact that Joanna Cherry, a Scottish National Party (SNP) MP of considerable talent, integrity and courage, was earlier this week sacked from her front bench role in Westminster highlights the gravity of the problems surrounding the SNP currently given her history of championing women’s rights and greater urgency in promotion of the independence cause.
Support for an independent Scotland has always been bigger and broader than support for the SNP. Even the SNP’s best electoral performance in May 2015, a mere eight months after the historic 2014 Referendum, saw them record 1.4 million votes compared to the 1.6 million that supported independence. SNP internal strife must not be allowed to derail the independence train.
There are only three months to go before the most significant election in Scotland since the re-convening of her Parliament in 1999. The May 2021 election is the “independence election”.
It will determine whether the current momentum and support for Scotland becoming a normal sovereign country which gets to choose its own government and destiny instead of remaining the lapdog and servant of England actually delivers the change most of Scotland desires. This is reflected in several election victories for the SNP since 2014 and twenty opinion polls in succession since early 2020 indicating Scottish independence is now the will of the people.
Deep and significant though the divisions within the SNP, are they must not be allowed to scupper the chances of further advancement for the independence cause.
When Alex Salmond resigned as Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the SNP shortly after the 2014 referendum result, he did so with dignity and no disgrace.
In 2013 support for Scotland breaking free from Westminster was only at 23% but by September 2014 that support had almost doubled to 45% despite an intense and biased campaign by the British Unionist state which deployed its media and big business supporters to do all they could to sway the vote in favour of Britain remaining intact.
By uniting with the Tories so publicly the Labour Party in Scotland effectively imploded and was destroyed at the General Election of May 2015, losing forty of its forty-one seats and nosediving into a terminal decline from which it has never recovered.
Sturgeon Inherited a Strong Hand from Salmond
Nicola Sturgeon inherited Alex Salmond’s mantle after his seven years at the helm in Scotland. The SNP experienced an unprecedented surge in membership on the back of the referendum and became a mass party in the run-up to the 2015 election proudly declaring over 100,000 members.
Those were heady days indeed for the SNP. They secured an incredible general election result that saw Scotland send 56 independence supporting MPs to Westminster from the 59 seats allocated to Scotland. They also won the 2016 Scottish election result but with a share of the constituency vote only 1.1% higher than that recorded under Salmond in 2011.
The Brexit vote of June 2016 saw Scotland diverge from England with 62% of Scots voting to stay in the EU compared to the 53% in England who voted to leave. Despite unionists suggesting throughout the independence referendum that the only way to retain EU membership was to vote NO to independence, the opposite was about to occur.
Scotland would be dragged out of the EU against its democratically expressed wishes and even those like me who have grave disagreements with the EU could recognise the democratic paucity of that decision.
What the SNP then did for three years filled me with disappointment. They spent enormous amounts of time, money and energy on trying to reverse the democratic result of the Brexit referendum in England but nothing to prepare Scotland for the next referendum which was now necessary and urgent given the materially different conditions Scotland faced post the 2014 result.
Such a change was supposed to be the trigger for IndyRef2, not operation ‘reverse Brexit’ in the face of English votes. The 2017 general election was poorer than 2015 as up to half a million former SNP voters decided to stay home disillusioned with the lack of urgency in pursuing IndyRef2.
Only on the back of several IndyRef2 promises in the run-up to 2019’s election did many voters return to the SNP, although the 1.2 million votes won was still down on the 1.4 million secured in 2015.
SNP Spent Too Much Time on Brexit and Too Little Time on Indy Case
The truth is the party of Scottish independence has done little of substance to advance the cause of independence since the last referendum apart from repeated pleas for IndyRef2 mandates which they have received in 2016, 2017 and 2019 as well as two Scottish Parliament votes.
This inertia on the core raison d’etre for the SNP’s existence has been filled with alternative and divisive issues like a new Gender Recognition Act. The latter – despite the existence of human rights and equality compliant legislation that already protects the rights of those seeking to change their gender and a Hate Crime Bill which has been widely interpreted as a serious restriction on existing rights of expression and free speech.
The leadership of the SNP has lost its way in leading Scotland towards independence. While grassroots campaigns like All Under One Banner, Hope Over Fear, Forward As One and scores of other local YES campaigns have continued to mobilise marches of thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands for independence the SNP leadership has remained detached from these giant events and failed to mobilise through its own structures.
The fact opinion polls have recorded consistent support for independence now has much more to do with the election of Boris Johnson by England and his woeful inability to deal with the Covid19 pandemic.
Compared to Boris Johnson the style and deportment of Nicola Sturgeon have been a stark contrast and every poll has illustrated that more trust her than Johnson to see Scotland through the pandemic.
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed is king. Despite Nicola Sturgeon’s failure to use any of the multiple IndyRef2 mandates she has been given and her allegiance to supporters of gender reform who deploy insults and abuse in place of reasoned debate to advance their arguments Johnson and his band of Tory spivs are so unpopular in Scotland that she and her party retain support in excess of 50%.
Defend with Skill and Wisdom
My plea to those like Alex Salmond who has been subjected to a deplorable conspiracy to destroy his reputation and even jail him over false accusations and Joanna Cherry who has been subjected to vile online abuse and denigration is not to stop defending yourselves and highlighting the truth in the face of the multiple lies and slurs levelled against you but to continue to insist that those who rightly see the need to defend you and speak on your behalf retain the essential vision of the bigger picture and cause.
The justified and necessary defence of those badly wronged by sections within the powerful SNP apparatus and their allies in the UK civil service and criminal justice system must always be done with dignity and recognition of the fact the British State have a vested interest in promoting division. Defend with vigour but always promote the independence cause with honour.
Some have suggested the Indy movement stays silent while well-known advocates of the cause are traduced and denigrated as it is the best way to advance the cause but staying quiet is not an option in the face of such damaging and devastating falsehoods.
Joanna Cherry and Salmond are Victims Not Perpetrators
The online abuse of Joanna Cherry has now led to a man being charged with serious threats of a “vicious” nature against her and there is clearly more to this incident which will cause embarrassment for the SNP;
“This is not the first time I have required help from the police or indeed faced going to court to give evidence against men who have threatened me in the course of my employment as an MP”.
“However, it’s pretty upsetting when the threats and abuse come from within your own party and those in authority refuse to condemn them. That said, I am comforted by the fact a man has been arrested and charged. I am constrained in what I can say about the case for now but suffice to say that when the full story becomes public it will make very uncomfortable reading for some”.
Those within the independence movement who have been subjected to abuse, unsubstantiated slurs, lies, and conspiracies designed to ruin them have every right to defend themselves and the rest of us have a duty to support them. That is a matter of principle. When your comrades are under fire you don’t abandon them, you come to their aid.
What is also essential however is that we recognise the wood for the trees, that we see what lies behind these attacks and we refuse to play into the hands of the British unionists. We always defend our comrades but continue to promote and explain the powerful case for independence.
Voting for the SNP on the constituency vote in May is still required in pursuit of independence but using the second vote, the Regional List vote, for another alternative progressive independence party is now more vital than ever. Electing an SNP majority parliament with a solid independence opposition is now our task.
If Alex Salmond does not fill the vacuum with a new List only party soon then other individuals and parties from the independence movement will have to step up to the plate. Personally, I believe Alex will do the right thing and return to the front line again.