First published in the National
Joanna Cherry: Ignore bumbling Boris Johnson, we need a concrete indy plan NOW
Boris Johnson and his hapless Scottish Tory chums have spent the week digging themselves a hole.
NEVER interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. It’s a good maxim. Boris Johnson and his hapless Scottish Tory chums have spent the week digging themselves into a big hole over devolution. Even the Speaker had had enough when he finally corrected the Prime Minister this week for his sly and recurrent misrepresentation of the SNP party name.
Meanwhile Gordon Brown made another one of his increasingly tedious and irrelevant interventions about federalism. Most realists know there is not a hope in hell of this ever being delivered and it is quite understandable that many question whether these contributions are at all genuine given the lack of effort put into delivering what he promised so vigorously in 2014.
Two good things have come out of Boris Johnson’s outburst. First it is now crystal clear (if it wasn’t already) that expecting any more powers for Holyrood from his government is pie in the sky and not something that focus should be wasted on by any political party in Scotland. Secondly, while the Tories tie themselves in knots trying to get out of the consequences of what their leader has said, the SNP have time to reflect on what we do with the impressive poll leads which Mr Johnson is helping us achieve.
The wider independence movement, like my colleagues in the Westminster group, are brimming with ideas. This was clear from the readout of the AUOB event last weekend at which it was good to hear Ian Blackford embrace the need for the SNP to work with the wider movement.
How we do this needs work and we need to see concrete moves by the party now to put this commitment into practice.
No political party is perfect, but the SNP are the best vehicle to deliver independence. We are a formidable campaigning machine with a very well-respected leader and, according to the polls, the confidence of around half the electorate in the country. This is almost unprecedented across Europe, particularly after 13 years in government.
The SNP are the political wing of the Yes movement. You don’t need to like or agree with all our policies to support us although I would encourage people to join the party, become active and help us move those policies forward to the sort of radical agenda the wider independence movement wants. I can assure you that many of us within the party share your views.
The SNP have a leadership role to play and with that leadership role comes great responsibility, particularly for the policies and the strategy that will win our independence.
On policy, it is time to expedite publication of the “New Scotland” policy papers promised by the FM on January 31. These will provide the information and answers people want on how Scotland can make the transition from a Yes vote to becoming an independent country.
I absolutely understand why work on these was paused to allow focus on the Covid crisis but if we are to have an independence referendum soon, they are needed.
On strategy, I was disappointed by the decision to refuse the conference motion amendment based on my suggestion that the party set up a working group under the auspices of the NEC to consider all democratic and legitimate routes to a second independence vote. The decision seems particularly bizarre in the light of the polling published this week suggesting that two-thirds of voters want a fall-back strategy for indyref2 if a Section 30 order is refused.
But all is not lost. I know my suggestion has the support of senior figures in the party and it is to be hoped it can be progressed by the new NEC that will be elected at conference. The discussion which I and others wanted to take place at conference will instead happen at a national assembly in January. How we take forward the product of that assembly will be vital, and this is what the working group set up under the democratic auspices of the new NEC could do.
I hope those elected to NEC and other roles at conference will in future be more careful guardians of the party’s constitution and its guarantee of ordinary members close involvement in framing the resolutions for conference. There is no point in me and others banging on about the importance of the rule of law if the party itself does not abide by its own constitution in relation to its internal workings.
Likewise if it is right to call for transparency and accountability in government then it is right to call for it in the governance of our party as so many of the candidates for NEC and other roles in the party are now doing.
In this connection it is surely time to lance the boil of the botched investigation into harassment allegations made against our former leader. It is very important for the confidence of future complainers that we get to the bottom of what went wrong here. As elsewhere in public life there must be a proper process for those who wish to make complaints, a process which supports them to do so but which is also procedurally fair and without bias.
We also need to know what led to so much public money being wasted on defending a fatally flawed system. Having worked in the courts for years I have found the attitude of some of the inquiry’s witnesses towards their oath or affirmation to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth curious to say the least. Things would be very different at a judge-led inquiry.
If indeed there has been no cover-up or conspiracy, let’s get what happened out in the open and move on. If there are consequences for individuals in the civil service or indeed elsewhere, then so be it. Matters need to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion or Scotland’s reputation for probity in public life and our party’s cause of independence could be damaged.
So while our enemies seem doomed to repeat the same mistakes, let the SNP use our time wisely so that we can play, to the very best of our ability, the leadership role in the independence movement which has been earned for our party by years of hard work.
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