Dealing with the linen
There has always been differing views about this in political parties. The arguments can be credible on both sides of any argument.
There is little doubt keeping all discussion internal can be effective with the electorate. Keeping them in the dark about any potential disagreements can be at least initially electorally beneficial. In the longer term, that might prove to be another matter.
One of the things that I liked about the SNP when I first joined back in 1986 was that policy was openly discussed, differing views were openly debated and challenged. I thought that was a great thing. It meant that by the time any new policy was implemented those advocating it had been challenged and had to come up with quality arguments of why it was right. It armed them well in advance of other parties attacking them.
- I have been away from the SNP for a good many years due to the diplomatic post I held for fifteen years so I am unaware of current practice but I have been touring the country, pre Covid19, speaking at SNP AND YES meetings and I have been made aware that some people feel the grassroots is much further away from the decision making process than they used to be. That of course may just be the natural process once the Scottish Parliament was created. It wasn’t in operation when I was heavily involved. Having said that it is not immediately obvious to me why that should be the case. A party with over 100,000 members must have a sizeable talent pool within it and people more than capable of creating and developing policy and ideas. I am sure there were well under 10,000 members when I joined.
- I always was concerned, even when the Party was a tenth of the size it is today what mechanisms existed to promote good ideas, good policies, a path to encourage good and talented people to the top , that allowed them the platform to become sufficiently well known to win a senior position or get the chance to contest a seat on behalf of the Party. It is important that such a route is visible and open to all. If you are good enough.Those in position sometimes lose sight of this worrying that they may be encouraging their replacements. That is not an allegation but I would be surprised if at least some did not think that way.
- Today, the popular route seems to be to leave university, get a job in a MP or MSP’s office, then use that as a platform to go further. It has the advantage of ensuring any candidate has good experience and knows what the job is about. The downside is if you get too many via that route you are going to be desperately short of those who have work experience outside the world of politics.I feel our Parliament is a little short in that department. I would like to see more people from private business. We are certainly a bit lacking in that area and it quite often shows. We are not rich in risk innovators or those who can think outside the public sector box.
Now to look at the other side. It is much easier to run a Party with little intervention from outside your immediate circle. This leads to an image of a United Party but in the background problems bubble away. You need to ensure your immediate power circle behave impeccably at all times and don’t abuse their powerful positions. Positions they hold because you have given them their role, and while they need to remember that, you can’t allow their job insecurity to drag you into controversy as they overstep the mark in trying to ensure any potential challengers in the future are viciously cut off long before that challenge emerges. They may see it as vital to keep you in post as they think it safeguards their own. That is the motivation to keep other talent down. There can be very serious consequences down the line if that happens. Ordinary party members in many cases will not tolerate behaviour like this and will demand action to resolve the matter. Of course they need to know about it first. That only happens when something goes badly wrong and the questioning starts.
This is where a strictly controlled operation becomes a problem. Ordinary members, knowing nothing about what is going on will be shocked and angry they were kept in the dark. They will struggle to believe that such goings on were possible without someone knowing something. They will be angry at those who abused their power. They will want quick action to resolve the matter in as amicable fashion as is possible. This is political reality, even in the most United Party there are people who hold powerful positions but are basically insecure. They try to create factions to build their power base. It is stupid because the word faction should tell you that what you are doing is creating opponents and destroying the Party unity. No “faction” can hold onto power for ever so it is often self defeating.
As I mentioned at the beginning, running a political party is a huge task, it takes a great team and a team it must be. It can’t just be the front folk who get making all the positive announcements, they must also step up and accept responsibility when things, as they occasionally do, go wrong. That is the type of leadership the public admire and support. It is the type of leadership the SNP have been providing to Scotland since winning power in 2007. There is however one issue, I am sure many will know from this article what I am talking about, which is long past time for severe action to be taken.
It is now passing from being an internal matter to a very public Parliamentary inquiry and potential court matter. I fear the containment field will explode very shortly and in my opinion, rightly so, there is severe injustice here and contemptible gaming of the justice system by people who have betrayed their side by behaving in this disgusting fashion.
It would be tragic if this blemish on an otherwise excellent record brought down the leadership. Everyone makes mistakes but when clear evidence is available that spells out a detailed conspiracy against another prominent person in the Party and a jury of our peers independently throws out all the allegations, even after an orchestrated media campaign through malicious leaking of the identity and the the detail of charges etc, then the membership is entitled to expect a remedy to be top of the agenda.
So far it has been prevarication all the way, of course the Covid 19 crisis hasn’t helped but judging what action is needed should be a collective issue for the Party, not just the remit and responsibility of one person. At least it was in my day.
It is now too late, the first inquiry started this week and will ramp up in August and more will follow in both Parliament and the Courts. Would that it had been handled openly, quickly and honestly from the beginning. There is no running away from this. Nor should there be.