As I prepare to go to the SNP Depute Leader Hustings in Perth Concert Hall later today (Saturday 28 April) a thought occurs. Pete Wishart has remarked that it is a “good thing” that the issue of the new referendum should “dominate” this contest. I strongly disagree. While the matter of the timing of the referendum is a matter of critical importance, it is not – or should not be – a major consideration in choosing the Depute Leader.
There is a very simple reason for this. As the person elected to stand in for the party Leader in their absence, the Depute Leaders opinions are the Leader’s opinions. At least in public, there can be no disagreement. And even behind the scenes, significant disagreement on any issue of importance would hardly be conducive to a good working relationship.
Of course, it is reasonable to suppose that the Depute Leader might be among those with whom Nicola Sturgeon will surely consult as she makes the decision as to the date of the new referendum. But, ultimately, it is a decision she takes alone – because she alone will be held accountable for that decision. The extent to which the Depute Leader might influence the Leader in this matter is likely to be relatively small. So it would be unfortunate if their views on the timing of the referendum were to become the dominant criterion on which members assess the candidates.
It will not be a major consideration for me as I weigh up the candidates at today’s hustings. What I shall be looking for is someone who can most effectively represent the party in the Leader’s absence. I will not be looking for someone who might represent my personal views on any particular matter. That would be pointless. Because the Depute Leader can only ever represent the vies of the Leader. They aren’t there to challenge the Leader or act as some kind of counterweight, or whatever. That is not the role of the Depute Leader.
What I will be looking for is the candidate with the best presentation and communication skills. Someone who can be the voice of the party Leader in public, and the voice of the party membership in private.
Another important consideration will be the role that the individual currently performs. The role from which they will be removed by becoming Depute Leader. A role which, even if it doesn’t come with a formal title, may well be considered more important.
If the candidates’ views on the timing of the referendum influence my vote at all, it will be only in a minor way. It most certainly will not “dominate” my thinking. I know that every one of those candidates is every bit as committed as myself to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. I know that, whatever date Nicola Sturgeon decides on, they will back that decision as fully and unreservedly as will I.
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