This is a guest post from a friend Campbell Martin who has been a long term and principled supporter of Independence and is a former MSP.
I’m not a member of the Scottish National Party (SNP), so this is simply a personal opinion.
In the past week, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the SNP took the decision that any current SNP Member of the UK Parliament (MP) who wants to stand for election as a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) must resign their Westminster seat ahead of seeking a nomination to stand for Holyrood. This means the current MP must make themselves, and their staff, redundant before they are even selected to represent the SNP in a Scottish Parliament election. Of course, having given up their job, the person in this position might find they are not subsequently selected for a Scottish Parliament constituency.
A wide body of opinion sees this move by the SNP NEC as being targeted specifically at preventing current MP Joanna Cherry from seeking the SNP nomination for the Scottish Parliament seat of Edinburgh Central at the 2021 election. Former SNP MP, Angus Robertson, who lost his Moray seat to the Tories in 2017, has already declared his intention to seek the nomination for the Edinburgh seat, which is currently held for the Tories by Ruth Davidson. As things stand at the moment, Davidson intends to stand down from Holyrood and take-up a seat in the undemocratic and unaccountable House of Lords in London.
Joanna Cherry is seen as what used to be called a ‘fundamentalist’ when I was a member of the SNP – I was expelled in 2004. Simply put, a ‘fundamentalist’ is someone who wants independence for Scotland, and wants it delivered in the shortest-possible time. Angus Robertson is, and always has been, a ‘gradualist’. This group held power within the SNP under the ‘leadership’ of John Swinney and have, apparently, re-taken control of the present party. Back in the days when I was an SNP member, I described ‘gradualists’ as those who would accept independence if it fell into their laps, but they aren’t prepared to take the necessary action to end British State control over Scotland.
‘Gradualists’ got the name because they, themselves, described their position as being prepared to gradually build the powers of the devolved parliament in Scotland until we were all-but independent. No time-frame was ever articulated for this process but, given how few additional powers have been devolved to Scotland since the inception of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, you can bet we are talking decades.
‘Gradualists’ within the SNP also tended to be on the centre-right of the political spectrum: they support free-market capitalism: their independent Scotland would mirror the current UK in financial and economic policy. I remember John Swinney once saying he admired what Tony Blair had done with the Labour Party in turning it into New Labour, which, of course, resulted in Labour becoming a clone of the Tory Party.
It seems, therefore, that the ‘gradualists’ in and around the current SNP leadership are determined to stop Joanna Cherry from contesting the nomination for Edinburgh Central. They apparently believe she would beat their favoured ‘gradualist’ candidate, Angus Robertson, so drastic action had to be taken to prevent Ms Cherry from standing.
One of the striking things about many of today’s SNP ‘gradualists’, is their lack of historical knowledge regarding the party. Many of these young members have grown-up only ever knowing the SNP to be successful, to be the party of government in Scotland. There is an arrogance to their beliefs and actions: an arrogance some of us older folk well remember from witnessing first-hand the days of an all-powerful Labour Party.
I wonder how many members of the SNP NEC who took the decision to make MPs resign their seats, before seeking the nomination for a Scottish Parliament seat, were party activists in the late 1990s? How many of them remember the elections to the first Scottish Parliament in 1999?
If the new SNP position on MPs having to resign their seats had been in place in 1998, as branches and Constituency Associations sought candidates for the next year’s election, a total of 6 SNP MPs would have had to stand-down, creating six by-elections that there was no guarantee the SNP would win.
All 6 of the SNP’s Westminster contingent put themselves forward as candidates for the 1999 Scottish Parliament Election, and all 6 were subsequently elected. Margaret Ewing in Moray held a dual mandate – Westminster and Holyrood – between 1999 and 2001 when she stood-down as a Westminster MP. The same applied to John Swinney (North Tayside), Roseanna Cunningham (Perth), Andrew Welsh (Angus) and Alasdair Morgan (Galloway & Upper Nithsdale). The other SNP MP, Alex Salmond (Banff & Buchan), also held a dual mandate until 2001 but, in his case, it was the Scottish Parliament seat he gave up that year.
When John Swinney’s ‘leadership’ ended in 2004, Alex Salmond was re-elected as SNP leader, but his 2001 decision meant he was an MP at Westminster. Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP Deputy Leader, successfully led the SNP Group in Holyrood between 2004 and 2007, when Alex Salmond returned to the Scottish Parliament at that year’s election. Of course, had the SNP’s new policy been in place back then, Salmond would, again, have had to resign his Westminster seat ahead of seeking a nomination for a Scottish Parliament constituency. Again, this would have forced a by-election.
When Alex Salmond returned to Holyrood in 2007, he remained an MP at Westminster. In fact, he served as an MSP, MP and First Minister of Scotland between 2007 and 2010, when he stood-down from Westminster. By all reports, Alex managed to perform all three roles very effectively, and donated his Westminster salary to good causes in his constituency.
The ability of SNP parliamentarians to hold a dual mandate for a limited period and to successfully serve their constituents in both roles has been proved, so the SNP NEC decision was not based on previous experience for the party. It was entirely a decision based on trying to prevent a ‘fundamentalist’ MP from beating a ‘gradualist’ former MP in a contest to secure a seat in Scotland’s parliament. A situation that seems to prove the ‘gradualists’ in and around the present SNP leadership fear talented people like Joanna Cherry. They would rather have manageable ‘gradualists’ who won’t rock the boat.
The same applies to the disgraceful situation in Glasgow Cathcart. Sitting MSP James Dornan initially announced he would retire from the Scottish Parliament at the 2021 election. However, a few months after announcing his decision – having been persuaded by local activists and constituents – James reversed his previous announcement, deciding, instead, to remain and represent his constituents.
James Dornan was first elected as the SNP MSP for Cathcart at the 2011 election, unseating Labour MSP Charlie Gordon – a former leader of Glasgow City Council – securing a majority of 1,592. Five-years-later, at the 2016 Scottish Parliament Election, James Dornan turned Cathcart into a safe SNP seat with a majority of 9,390. Right now, though, the SNP appear to be trying to unseat James, in favour, apparently, of a young, female activist.
Again, it seems those holding power within the party want manageable ‘gradualists’ rather than people determined to deliver independence in the shortest possible time.
‘Gradualists’ are content to manage devolution within the UK , while very slowly building the powers of the Scottish Parliament until Devo-Max or all-but independence is achieved. In terms of their priorities, independence comes behind other issues, such as Gender Reform or a frightening Hate Crime Bill. Independence would be nice, but what matters most to the ‘gradualists’ is keeping the SNP in power at Holyrood. That’s why like-minded ‘gradualists’ must be promoted over those prepared to put independence front-and-centre in our fight to restore sovereignty to the people and parliament of Scotland.
The core of the argument between ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘gradualists’ within the SNP has always been over what independence means. For ‘gradualists’, it is the ultimate, long-term goal. For ‘fundamentalists’ it is the catalyst that returns to us the powers and resources we need to build a better, fairer, more prosperous country for all of the people, and it must be delivered as quickly as possible to stop Tories in London from imposing on us their hated and harmful policies, even after we have rejected them at the ballot box.
Independence is the only way we can restore normality to Scotland – a country where we govern ourselves at home, and represent ourselves on the world stage. It’s time the SNP rediscovered its core spirit of independence and, once again, led the movement to deliver independence in the shortest possible time.