Two Outstanding reasons for an Alba List Vote
Political logic and a parliament for economic reconstruction
The arithmetic is incontestable. SNP List votes are truly wasted ones. I know, I have been at counts and seen them pile up and up, without winning a single seat. A List vote for Alba cannot be a wasted one, because it will count, and will return MSPs committed to independence.
However logical that reasoning may be, it is not the only one for voting Alba. We are electing a parliament on 6 May for the next five years, with it facing the immediate, unprecedented, challenge of reconstructing the economy, creating and protecting jobs, achieving “catch-up” in education for our children, especially for those in the deprived communities, and restoring the NHS to its function of delivering universal health care – not to mention tackling just how we can create a care home policy that is easy to talk about, but which requires deep thinking about new structures and new funding.
Alba’s strategy is the same as all other parts of the independence movement, and the aim of a supermajority is a tactic towards bringing that strategic aim to fruition. Once in place, that supermajority will need to devise and develop other tactics to advance independence. That will mean working from within parliament in close partnership with the movement outside of Holyrood. That has to march hand-in-hand with the post-pandemic reconstruction, which will be the people’s most immediate priority.
What about our children?
This where Alba is important. I was heartened when Alex Salmond said a parliament, and a movement, can do two things at the one time., The roadmap to independence is of supreme importance to activists, and I will come to that in relation to the role of Alba. But I start with the post-pandemic reconstruction in the economy and civil society. If an independence party is linked to economic and social policies that matter in the day-to-day life of the people, as Alba is, then a bond is created. Trust is built. And it is upon that trust, born of a proven commitment to the needs and aspirations of the people, that the independence movement builds upon.
Right now, post-pandemic policies are essential. By “policies” I don‘t mean slogans. I mean policies that emerge from studying the problem, with concrete solutions emerging. The small business sector has been hammered by the pandemic rules. It has employed 1.2m people, and represents 99.3% of all private sector employment. There are small companies employing fewer than 50 people, and some above that number, where the owner has mortgaged the family home. They and the jobs they provide are a priority for the incoming parliament.
Scottish food and drink, creative industries and sustainable tourism are linked together in one sector of our economy and, pre-pandemic, employed over 398,400 people. An engine of recovery is needed. We have families without homes sitting on a waiting list numbering around 162,000, while our construction industry is given a social housing target of only between 7,000 and 10,000 new build a year. You may recall that in the first public pronouncement of the SNP budget, the social housing allocation was cut by £246m, and only restored when this was attacked. You either believe a massive social housing programme is a priority or you don’t; and if you do the policy must be one that says “the only way to solve the housing crisis is to build houses” and go on to build them.
Then there is our children’s education. Professor Lindsay Paterson writes regularly for the Sunday Times. He has pointed out that children and young people have lost the equivalent of 20 weeks schooling in the past year, and that inequality will have increased by 50% because of the disparities between the well-off and the not very well off. Not only is a catch-up for all needed, but so is a specific well-funded programme for those primary children and secondary school young people who were, even before the pandemic, ill served by our educational system.
So, while I will vote for Alba on independence grounds, I know from inside sources that Ishall be able to do it also on policies designed to meet post-pandemic Scotland’s economic and social reconstruction. How can a new party, only a few weeks old, produce substantial policy? It’s the people who have joined it, and the man who leads it.
These are serious people. Not for them the PR headline stunt with no meaning. Alba may be new, but they are not. They bring knowledge, years of experience in the real world, and the ability to apply hard-headed analysis to problems, so that the solutions can be achieved.
I have been a past critic of Alex Salmond on his role within the SNP, but I have never doubted his ability. He is a heavy weight in any political company, and when he was first minister there was a drive, energy, and achievements, in his economic and social policies. But it is not just him. It has been little noticed, and so not commented upon, but Alba right now can muster a cabinet with a great deal more ability and gravitas than Nicola Sturgeon has been able to do from the MSPs available to her.
When I look at Alba, I see serious people, given to thinking, to exploring policy in depth, willing to canvass opinions beyond their own ranks, recognising that they need to tap into the knowledge of others, as well as their own. So, Alba’s policies will be rooted in reality. Not only what should be done to bring inequality to an end, but what will be done.
I enjoyed watching the Alba broadcast and press conference on Tuesday: with Salmond demonstrating that X factor that marks out the exceptional from the ordinary politician. But there were the others too, who spoke before him, all quality people. I am taking a bet that we shall not be disappointed when the economic and social policies are unveiled shortly.
Alba’s importance in getting to independence
Let me come now to the importance of Alba to the aim of securing sovereignty. The speech Alex Salmond made on Tuesday was one for us to think about, because it was grounded in realism – that a supermajority is vital because it tips the tactical advantage to Scotland and away from Westminster, but that is not an end in itself. It is how we deploy that advantage that will matter in the end. That was the message.
Since 2014, and especially after the Brexit vote in 2016, the movement has been fed pie-in-the-sky. Brexit, whether people liked it or not, created a new paradigm. A new paradigm requires a new independence policy. Central to everything is where a sovereign Scotland is to locate itself in relation to our neighbours south of the border, with 60% of exports going there; which in turn affects our view of Europe, which includes EFTA and the EEA, as well as the EU. What of the world, where the UK is doing trade deals? We shall have to consider whether to remain in or opt out of them: for example, if the UK enters the Trans Pacific Partnership (a new vast market opportunity) will be want to stay in or come out, a decision that would need to be judged in the context of any European policy.
The new policy for the new paradigm cannot be a back of the fag paper one. It needs our people to look at a range of options. Weighing the advantages and disadvantages, before coming to a conclusion. That conclusion will mean replacing the so-called growth paper produced for the SNP by Andrew Wilson. I personally like Andrew, but go watch the car crash of him trying to defend it when being interviewed by Andrew Neil on The Spectator TV, just before Christmas.
With people like Jim Walker and George Kerevan in Alba, we can look forward to an economic policy for a sovereign nation that will stand against any criticism unionist think tanks can throw against it. They are examples of the ability and experience that the membership of Alba bring to the independence movement.
Last, but by no means least, is the tactical ability that Alex Salmond showed on Tuesday. In short, he was saying that there are many ways to skin the Westminster cat. The supermajority is critical, but what was important also was his recognition of how essential it is to mobilise the people and come at Boris Johnson from a number of angles. Salmond has a grip on statecraft. That is what we need in the parliament, and for the nation. That is what that List vote for Alba will deliver.
Once again Jim runs an experienced eye over the opportunities that lie before us. Realising those opportunities will be crucial in determining whether Scotland’s Independence moves closer after the 6th May. I would urge you to support Alba to make those opportunities a realistic goal.
I am, as always
YOURS FOR SCOTLAND
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