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By Jason Michael

TALK OF THE FORMATION of new pro-independence parties in Scotland for the purposes of challenging the hegemony of the Scottish National Party and representing other political interests in the country has caused something of a stir. Stu Campbell of Wings Over Scotland fame and Lesley Riddoch have suggested setting up parties and I haven’t shied away from discussing the need for another party myself. The reaction to these suggestions has been varied, to say the least. There are those who accept Campbell’s analysis that another popular party in Holyrood, playing a tactical game, stands a decent chance of securing a pro-independence super majority – which, given the calculus of the system used in Scotland, makes perfect sense. Then there are those who think other parties will do little but “split the vote” and weaken support for independence in Edinburgh.

Firstly, before delving deeper into this discussion, it is important to address the question of the SNP – the dominant pro-independence party in Scotland. The desire for a new party, much like support for the already existing pro-independence parties (the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party), does not imply hostility towards the SNP or a ploy to undermine the campaign for independence. What we have, rather, is a distinction between unicity and unity of purpose. People in favour of the entire movement backing the SNP so as not to split the vote are describing political unicity – a one-party movement with all social, economic, and political opinion hedged into the corral of single parliamentary representation. Supporting another pro-independence party or seeking to establish another is to adopt a unity approach – it acknowledges variety in social, economic, and political thinking across the nation and seeks to represent that difference in parliament while remaining united on the question of independence.

This author has moved in the past few years from unicity – supporting a one-party strategy – to unity – seeking a political party that better suits my particular political opinion. The SNP is in the main a pro-business party which backs a broadly capitalist mode of economic thinking. Its social policies are markedly centrist, in some quarters verging on the radical centre. There is nothing wrong with this (well, that’s a discussion for another time). It represents a wide – and reasonably wealthy – constituency of political opinion. In late 2014, fully realising the nature of the SNP, I made the decision to accommodate myself to the party, thinking independence was imminent and that my support for the SNP would be a short-term strategic option for the sake of securing independence – after which we would be free to become a multi-party independent democratic nation-state. That was over five years ago.

It really shouldn’t have to be explained to people that there is more going on in Scotland than independence. There are other economic, social, and political issues which require our attention. All of these live issues and questions are being addressed by a centrist party in government. The leadership and party apparatchiks of the SNP are setting the agenda on these issues and moving the country in a particular direction, and this is happening because – for the sake of independence – the overwhelming majority of the independence movement has put politics on ice. When we remove the question of independence from the equation, it is clear that many independentistas are voting against their best interests by supporting the SNP; the only reason they have for doing so is independence.

We don’t have independence right now. What we have is the word of the First Minister that she will be seeking a Section 30 order from the British government in the coming weeks, and – thanks to a decision made at the recent Aberdeen conference – if that is rejected the process will simply go on as it is. Perhaps the Scottish government will take the British government to court, perhaps it will try something else, but there will be no quick – no radical – solution to the problem. It could be another year, another five years even, before we have the chance to go to the polls in another independence referendum. This means that for however long it takes those of us in the movement who do not support the economic and social policies of the SNP, and this is no small number, are stuck for the foreseeable future – for the sake of independence – without real and meaningful political representation. This is the cost of unity.

It has become clear to me and many others that the wait has become too long, and, with no end as yet in sight, it is time we started normalising politics in the country for the sake of regaining political representation for our politics – other than independence. This is by no means a suggestion that we move away from the cause for independence. This is still at the forefront of our minds. What this is about is the creation of other political parties which, while still supporting independence, represent the other political opinions of the independence movement. Nor does this mean that the vote for independence will be split. The arithmetic of the Holyrood voting system allows for the SNP to remain dominant in constituency seats at the same time as other pro-independence parties can both represent other political opinion and increase the pro-independence majority in the chamber.

There is no real reason to think this a bad thing. It may even speed up the process of winning independence. But it is unfair in the extreme that all the variety of the politics of the independence movement be silenced until independence – a day that may still be years down the road. Why should Scottish socialists and economic conservatives, for example, allow their country to be dominated by the extreme centre – not to mention the growing insanity of the identity politics dominating much the SNP – for the next five, ten, fifteen years “for the sake of independence?” There are tons of SNP policies and agendas the majority of the movement is losing patience with. What, have we to just grin and bear it because “independence is closer than ever?”

Look, there is nothing wrong with supporting and voting for the Scottish National Party. If – other than independence – the SNP represents your particular politics, then support the SNP. If that’s the Greens, vote Green. If that’s the SSP, then vote SSP. But if none of these quite fit where we are politically, then it is quite undemocratic for others to expect us to shut up and sit back down for the sake of independence. Politics in real life isn’t an either/or. We can have a party that represents our opinions in run of the mill concerns and acts in unity with other pro-independence parties for independence. Unicity no longer suits me. It no longer suits many others in the movement. We are not a one-party state, so why should anyone expect us to be a one-party movement? It’s bonkers. It is time that we opened up to the idea of normal democratic politics in the independence movement.

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Party Systems: Crash Course Government and Politics


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7 thoughts on “Party Time

  1. Lets be honest. There is no point in having Indy parties if you don’t have a parliament to sit in, and you are made invisible in Westminster. Go nuts…have as many as you like – but are you just getting in early on “fighting the last war”.. that horse may have already bolted.

    Only real courage and brilliant political acumen will save Scotland from what is coming down the pipe.

    The failure to realise the future is not “just like now” with only with the things that benefit you changing. Not wanting to rock the boat/ avoiding confrontation is not just lazy and doomed to failure, you are a punching bag.

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  2. Yes I agree that this consensus with the SNP won’t last much longer.
    You saw in a microcosm,at your meeting in Airdrie, how easily the debate was deflected when any deviation from the narrative was put up for discussion.
    I don’t think it is SNP loyalty ( with the exception of the guy you were far to polite to )
    It’s more caution because we’re so close … Well closer than ever in my lifetime…
    No one wants to wreck it…
    I think that’s what’s behind the backlash Wings is experiencing right now.
    Which is no a bad thing ( unless yer Wings ) because it makes people think.
    “Some people would rather die than think, and often they do”
    I can’t see, how people can’t see , that we would benefit from a bit of diversity in the Negotiation after the Yes vote either…. And need to see to it now!
    If we don’t go for that … How do we trust that the current British Parties will negotiate from the interests of Scotland and not from looking to a settlement that’s good for Westminster?
    Without “other” voices – so called “civic Scotland” – will involve themselves to recreate a mini me Westminster run in, and for, their interests.
    And you may not agree,but the Churches have cause enough trouble down the centuries,I think,to warrant a secular constitution.
    So, it seems to me, not just necessary but, essential, that other Representatives come forward…. Not to mention, all of these expectations are much too much of an ask from one party….
    Scotland shouldn’t be satisfied by just “getting Indy done” Scotland should aim to get Indy right….

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  3. If I thought independence was imminent I would be one of those who say ‘hold your nose and vote for the SNP, even if that smells bad to you’ but, as things stand, that party do not appear to be taking the cause of iScotland much further than where we were in 2014. But I think we need to be very, very careful about the idea of being able to game the Holyrood voting system because, as James Kelly of Scot Goes Pop has pointed out time and time again, it is just as easy to shoot independence cause in the foot.

    If people genuinely want and see the need for other political parties then get them established. But having an established party does not mean standing in each and every election. If the people – not just the political activist sorts like us – like your ideas they will vote for you. Try standing in local elections and see what happens. This idea that completely new and untested parties are going to instantly garner significant support at national level is pie in the sky. Look how long it took UKIP to become a credible party (in numbers of votes cast & seats obtained) and they had the backing of billionaires and the BBC. It has only been the defection of Tories to the Brexit party following the Brexit referendum that has seen Nigel Farage realistically eyeing a seat in Westminster after all.

    I agree that the SNP are heading towards an iScotland that is very similar to the UK as it stands at the moment and I don’t think that is entirely a good thing. But what do the voting public think? Let’s establish the parties we want to see in politics and sell our ideas to them. If they won’t buy in then we are the ones out of step and we need to put our personal ambitions (I mean that in the sense of our hopes for the future for the entire country and not necessarily for ourselves) aside and concentrate on the one thing we all want, independence from Westminster, and, currently, there is only one party who has a hope of delivering that.

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  4. Another excellent article. I think part of the dilemma for independence supporters is that as soon as we express any kind of doubts about what the SNP are doing, unionists jump on it and start talking about ‘civil wars’ etc. On the other hand we can’t afford to go down the path of treating the SNP as beyond reproach because then we’re accused of being sheep. My only solution at the moment is to go on voting for SNP candidates but with the proviso that in a Holyrood election I’d be quite happy to give my list vote for any independence candidate who stood a good chance of being elected.

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  5. Well said,

    I think the SNP have been influenced in some very strange directions by small but very loud groups. Some are leaving because things that they value more than Independence (some do exist!) are under threat. This is what the small groups want -it strengthens their power.

    I find it hard to understand the leadership but it does have the hallmarks of ‘Groupthink’ (Janis 1972). It is very hard for those outside the InGroup to be heard. I found this myself when trying to alert them to a ‘Political Trip Hazard’ that I happen to have in depth knowledge of.

    I still think the best option is to stay with the SNP and try to get a bit more common sense applied.

    Regarding extra Parties, I think James Kelly is right about this being a very dangerous route, even in Holyrood lists. This was also the view of Stuart Campbell in the past.

    However, I think the threat of a further Independence Party may be effective is shaking SNP complacency.

    The power of the idea may, ironically, lie in it being so potentially destructive.

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  6. Hello Jason. I agree with much of what you say here. A couple of things – first about Leslie Riddoch’s remarks – I cannot agree with her assessment in that tweet on the present situation in Scotland, there’s been plenty of advances in social house building (tens of thousands more than the six built by Labour), massive progress in green energy (with the limited levers the SG have over generating issues), greener building regulations etc – in fact lots of initiatives in the areas she talks about. With regard to local power, (I assume she means political) that is as much up to councils as it is to SG. Councils have to exert their own power to gain power and fight for more localised democracy. I agree that local democracy should return to the days of wide areas of responsibility with uncapped council tax (or rates or whatever) allowing voters to choose which they want: better services or low rates for example. That is local democracy. I like Leslie Riddoch but in this tweet she is wrong.

    As to talk of another independence party – that is the problem. Talk. That’s about all you hear from wings these days and occasionally even on here. Its almost as if the exponents of this idea are tentatively testing the water or weakly asking permission. It is in fact very simple, if you want to set up a new party it then do it. Don’t keep hammering away with all the negativity against other independence parties that we hear from wings these days in what seems like a not too veiled attempt to generate a positive atmosphere for the creation of this ‘new’ party – really its a case of shut up and do it. Greens didn’t need to fiddle about, SSP didn’t need to do surveys, Rise got on with it themselves – indeed even the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party got their act together without carping on all the time.

    There is no problem here. Nobody is stopping anyone from putting up a new pro independence party – although it would be nice if they had some other policies.

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