Is the SNP evolving into a latter-day version of the right-wing New Labour party which obliterated so many Labour principles that it became indistinguishable from the Tories on all the major issues throughout the 1990’s and up to Corbyn’s reign in 2015?
The fact such a question is posed at all underlines the depth of unease and concern I and many grassroots independence supporters feel at the current direction the SNP is headed. Even loyal members are examining their conscience and asking if the SNP is still the progressive left-of-centre party of independence and unilateral nuclear disarmament they joined.
Since 2015 I have voted for and tried to convince others to vote for the SNP. I lost many good socialist friends who accused me of abandoning principles by endorsing a party that was not overtly socialist and embraced free-market capitalism in its economic outlook.
I sought refuge in the fact the SNP was unequivocally for Scottish independence and the break up the British state; stood solidly for unilateral nuclear disarmament and the expulsion of Trident from Scottish soil; and opposed Tory austerity which has caused so much poverty, anguish and pain in communities and households all across Scotland. Those three fundamentals were enough to convince me the SNP was worth voting and campaigning for. Today I have my doubts.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) will hold its first-ever virtual national conference this coming weekend 28th to 30th of November. It is an important event but worrying signs of complacency, arrogance, and willingness to take core support for granted is evident and could undermine their heady levels of support and political dominance just as swiftly as they won such support over the last five years.
Scottish Independence Was Not Always My Priority
I was not always a passionate advocate of independence. Aged 17 I joined the Labour party inspired by the speeches and socialist arguments of Tony Benn. He talked of a socialist Britain and I used to believe that was the way forward.
However, reading and learning about Scottish socialist legends like John MacLean and James Connolly caused me to question the very existence of Britain and the need for a strategy which delivered self-determination to small nations like Scotland and Ireland from British imperial exploitation and occupation.
SNP Leaders Should Remember How Quickly Labour Support Evaporated
Independence activists and grassroots members should be looking forward to the SNP virtual conference over the coming weekend. There is much to be enthusiastic about despite the very real challenges and heartaches caused by the Covid19 pandemic over the last nine months.
The critical Scottish Parliament elections are a mere five months away and fourteen opinion polls in succession have not just recorded majority support for independence but unprecedented levels of support for the SNP.
Remarkably for a party that has been in effective government for over thirteen years as many as 53% of Scots indicate an intention to vote for them with their constituency vote giving the SNP an outright majority. They appear invincible, unassailable, untouchable, in Scotland. But only ten years ago so did Labour.
In the 2010 general election Labour won 42% of the votes across Scotland and 41 of the 59 Westminster seats. In December last year, the Labour vote in Scotland shrank to an embarrassing 18.6% and they won only 1 seat. That is the consequence of taking your core support for granted and ignoring the important issues of the day. Labour united with the Tories in 2014 to stamp on the aspirations of those who sought independence. Votes for independence were highest in working-class and poor areas and amongst young people. Labour and its unionist Tories won that particular battle but, in the process, lost the battle of hearts and minds of core and future voters.
Since 2015 the SNP won three British and a Scottish General election in a row. They won 48 of Scotland’s 59 MPs last December. At three of those elections, the SNP asked for a mandate for IndyRef2. The Scottish Parliament has subsequently voted twice in favour of IndyRef2.
The SNP have twice formally requested from Westminster permission to hold IndyRef2 in compliance with the 1998 Scotland Act. Despite 62% of Scotland voting to stay in the EU, we are about to exit on board HMS Britain under bungling captain Boris who quite clearly doesn’t have a clue what he is doing but doesn’t care as he and his rich privileged chums will be okay anyway as economic insecurity and job losses affects ordinary people, not the toffs.
SNP Conference Agenda Outrageously Gerrymandered
Yet the agenda of the SNP conference has forbidden any talk of a strategy to achieve independence when Johnson once again says ‘no’ after SNP victory in Scotland next May. Senior SNP MP Angus McNeil and Inverclyde SNP councillor Chris McEleny submitted a motion which offered alternative routes to independence, a Plan B should Plan A fail, as it inevitably will. The SNP bosses refused to table the motion and are steadfastly refusing any discussion on an alternative strategy.
One former SNP MP and delegate to the weekend conference has slated the SNP conference committee for political interference designed to produce an ‘outrageously gerrymandered’ agenda which has rejected from the order paper some 138 branch resolutions plus all grassroots amendments to the official six leadership motions. In addition to blocking debate on referendum strategy, the SNP leaders have also blocked debate on a Scottish currency, and an independent Scotland ratifying the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). This has provoked outrage among ordinary members according to George Kerevan.
Evidence of SNP Backtracking on Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament
The significant dilution of motions on unilateral nuclear disarmament and the outright deletion of a commitment to signing the UN TPNW sparked angry responses from the long-established and widely respected SNP CND Group and many other lifelong SNP members who regarded unilateral nuclear disarmament as a core principle of an independent Scotland and view the leadership motion as mealy-mouthed and a retreat from previous policy.
The SNP CND Group has every right to be concerned by the party’s dilution of its statements on unilateral disarmament as the Westminster SNP Group of MPs have in the last couple of days contributed to the UK government’s integrated defence review a shameful submission which reflects devious and disingenuous backsliding on SNP core policy in relation to Trident and ridding Scotland of nuclear weapons on the Clyde.
I wonder how many SNP members are aware their representatives in Westminster who were sent to ‘settle up not settle down’ have submitted an eleven-page report that not only refers to Trident only twice and in compromising terms but also fails to mention unilateral nuclear disarmament at all?:
“If Trident is hardly mentioned, unilateral nuclear disarmament is not mentioned at all…Considering how powerful the anti-nuclear movement had been in SNP politics to this time, such clear changes in emphasis are striking”.
Questioning Faith in SNP to Deliver is Entirely Justified
When I link the failure to use the “cast-iron mandate for IndyRef2”, to borrow the First Minister’s words, with the recent diluting of the unilateral nuclear disarmament commitment and the key passage from the Growth Commission Report of 2018, which spells out a case for austerity, not growth – then I find my three fundamentals which justified voting SNP are all now under strain.
The SNP will not be worried that I am questioning my support for them but they would be foolhardy and arrogant, just like New Labour in Scotland were, to ignore the genuine and very tangible concerns of many members and the wider independence movement.
Are the SNP serious about delivering independence or are they happy to stay in office with all the trappings of power under devolution? Are the SNP no longer unequivocal on unilateral nuclear disarmament? And does the SNP vision of independence involve public spending cuts and more poverty instead of real growth that lifts all in Scotland out of the swamp of poverty, low pay, and homelessness?
My commitment to Scottish independence is rock-like. My belief that the SNP is the party to deliver it, is less solid. Let us see what emerges this weekend from the SNP leadership. I will be searching for substance.