Three of the best

depute_leader_candidatesOnce again, SNP members have been faced with the difficult task of choosing among candidates of the highest calibre. Whoever wins, the contest has proved yet again that the SNP has a wealth of talent at its disposal. It has also demonstrated the strength of the party’s internal democracy. The manner in which these contests are conducted is a credit to the party and to the distinctive political culture which the British state is determined to eradicate.

My approach to differentiating the three candidates involved focusing, not only on the personal qualities and abilities of the individuals, but also on the fit between those attributes and the role of Depute Leader as I understand it. I was also mindful of the role(s) currently being filled by the candidates and how this might be affected by being elected.

My conclusion was that Julie Hepburn is the candidate best suited to the role of Depute Leader.

To some extent, this choice was influenced by the fact that I am persuaded that both Chris McEleny and Keith Brown have much to offer in other ways. And that being Depute Leader might actually limit them unduly. I see Keith as a projects man. His talents are best deployed if he has a sort of ‘roving commission’ to step into situation where strong leadership and effective management skills are required.

Chris, I’d like to see leading moves to secure (or restore?) strong representation for local government within the party as part of the wider reorganisation that is ongoing – even if only slowly.

Most importantly, however, I am firmly convinced that Julie is best qualified and most capable in relation to what I consider the three most important aspects of the Depute Leader role at this critical time for the SNP and the independence project. Without going into detail, these relate to –

  • Connecting (networking) the branches and groups within the party.
  • Connecting the membership with the party leadership.
  • Connecting the party with the wider independence movement.

Whoever wins, these must be their priorities. I’m sure each of the candidates would bring something to the role of Depute Leader. I am certain that Julie would bring something extra.


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From outside the soundproof room

Julie Hepburn
Julie Hepburn

I’m not sure why Julie Hepburn has called for calm in the “row” over the timing of the next independence referendum. I wasn’t even aware that it was a “row”. I was under the impression there was an attempt to have a discussion. And that discussion is not just calm, but becalmed. It’s going nowhere. Because the different perspectives on the issue are being debated in quite separate spaces.

The only ones who appear other than calm are those frantically trying to close down the debate altogether. Or, at least, to close down that part of it which going on in the space marked ‘Public’. The attitude seems to be that it’s OK for politicians and prominent figures to express a view on the matter of when the new referendum should be held, but that anybody else doing so is ‘divisive’ and ‘damaging’.

I have been called a “hysterical agitator” for presuming to disagree with Pete Wishart. Apparently, getting elected bestows omniscience. Simply being an MSP or MP implies possession of profound knowledge and great wisdom. (We have to wonder what went wrong in the case of Richard Leonard.) To question the pronouncements of our political leaders is, it seems, an act of heresy. Pete Wishart is fantastic. He shits fantastic pearls of fantastic wisdom that the rest of us swine aren’t equipped to appreciate. We should all just shut up and stop asking awkward questions about the emperor’s fantastic new clothes.

Pete Wishart’s fine. As I’ve said elsewhere, he’s an excellent constituency MP and has been doing a damn fine job as chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee. But he is about as all-knowing and all-wise as the Wizard of Oz. There is something rather ridiculous about idea that his is the ultimate word on anything. His opinion on the matter of when the next independence referendum should be held is no more valid that anybody else’s. Like any opinion, it is only as good as the evidence and reasoning on which it is based. Like any opinion which has been publicly stated, it is there to be challenged. Like any opinion which is genuinely held and openly expressed, the person holding and expressing it should be willing and able to defend it.

But that’s not what’s happening. It’s as if Pete Wishart and Chris McEleny and Keith Brown and the rest are talking at us from inside a sealed and soundproofed room. Everything being said outside that room is being widely represented as an irrelevant and unwelcome intrusion. If we are not being told to shut up, we’re being told to calm down. Which is no more appropriate.

Julie Hepburn says,

We undoubtedly have a mandate for an independence referendum, and I trust our First Minister to make the right judgement when the time comes and have every confidence our views as SNP members will greatly inform that decision.

There is absolutely no question about the mandate. And we have every reason to trust Nicola Sturgeon’s judgement. But we have to wonder how the views of SNP members – or the wider Yes movement – might “greatly inform” the decision on the date of the new referendum if those voices are silenced or dismissed, as some very evidently want. And we have to wonder how anybody can become aware of the pros and cons of the various positions if there is no debate in which the arguments are comprehensively rehearsed.

Julie Hepburn goes on to say,

But if we continually focus on the when, then I believe we risk neglecting the more fundamental question of how – how to do we win an independence referendum?

In this, we see again a disturbing failure to appreciate or acknowledge why the issue of timing is critical. If we do not focus on the when then we risk neglecting the fundamental issue of what the British political elite will be doing while Julie Hepburn is busy trying to “build a renewed case for independence” – whatever that might mean. If it actually means anything at all.

The “case for independence” is like one of those Lego kits that has all the parts for building a particular thing – a moon buggy, for example. You can dismantle it and put the bits back together in all manner of different ways. But you’re never going to end up with anything better than the moon buggy. Once you’ve built the moon buggy, you have your moon buggy. There is no extra super moon buggy that can be built from the available parts.

British Nationalists are, of course, perfectly content that the Yes movement should devote all its resources and energies to endlessly reconfiguring the case for independence. They’re always going to demand a better moon buggy. That process is potentially infinite. It takes us precisely nowhere. They, meanwhile, sit there with a grotesque, dysfunctional contraption of randomly assembled Lego parts feeling no need at all to explain what it’s meant to be. They just stick a Union flag on it and it gets to be whatever they want it to be.

At the risk of stretching the analogy beyond breaking point, the timing of the referendum is crucial because British Nationalists have already started stealing our Lego parts. Some of us are warning about this process of attrition. We’re doing so calmly. Maybe Julie Hepburn and her colleagues should consider opening the door of that soundproof room so they can hear us. They might even think about coming out and actually talking to us.


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The options

procrastinationI am aware that many in the SNP and the wider Yes movement want this debate about the timing of a new independence referendum to just stop. Pete Wishart may be one of those who wish it had never started. Or so it would seem from his flat refusal to answer questions about his own highly controversial position or to engage in any way with those responding to his call for indefinite postponement of the referendum. On Twitter, there has been a steady drip of people urging an end to the discussion. Apparently, we’re not supposed to entertain any difference of opinion. Pretty much everybody agrees that timing of the referendum is critical. So critical that we must avoid talking about it. No, I don’t get it either.

Personally, I’m glad the issue has come to the fore. Unlike Pete Wishart, I am more than happy to have an open and frank debate. I don’t see how this debate might be avoided. It’s the elephant in the room. And it’s not easy to sweep an elephant under the carpet. If the discussion gets heated, that’s a measure of its importance. It’s not a reason for closing down the debate, as some wish to do.

If people don’t want to participate in the debate, that’s OK. But don’t tell me or anybody else that we should shut up about the matter just because it makes you uncomfortable. Your comfort is not my concern. And don’t tell me or anybody else to shut up because the debate is ‘damaging the Yes movement’. If the Yes movement isn’t robust and resilient enough to cope with vigorous debate than it’s unlikely to be fit to go up against the might of the British state.

Discussion of the timing of the referendum has been valuable, not least on account of the way it has revealed the attitudes of some of our elected representatives. The British parties, needless to say, have no role in the debate. We are all aware of British Nationalists’ fervent, anti-democratic opposition to the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination.

We can safely discount the British politicians who exhibit such disdain for democracy, not to mention contempt for the people of Scotland and their Parliament. But what of the others?

Pete Wishart has nailed his colours unequivocally to the spectral mast of a ghost ship called ‘Optimum Time’. Others, such as Chris McEleny, have exhibited a greater sense of urgency. Which, to be frank, was hardly difficult. Now we have Keith Brown, who seems to be telling us that it doesn’t matter how urgent the situation may be, the SNP isn’t ready. Here’s a senior figure in Scotland’s independence party; the de facto political arm of the independence movement, telling us that putting a timescale on the referendum is the wrong priority. Groping for a term to apply to that attitude, the (printable) one that comes most readily to mind is ’lackadaisical’.

It seems Keith Brown expects the tides and currents of politics to cease and desist while the SNP gets its act together. Which makes him a bit of a Cnut. (Note to historians: Cut me some slack, eh! It’s a good line.)

The most sensible comment I’ve heard so far from any SNP politician is Angus MacNeil’s observation.

Some people think you can only ever have two referendums ever. And when you’ve got that into your heads, then you become afraid of having it in case you lose it.

Pete Wishart’s afraid of losing because he thinks the country isn’t ready. Keith Brown’s afraid of losing because the SNP’s not ready. I’m afraid of losing because of what will then happen to Scotland. But I’m just as afraid of what will happen to Scotland if we delay the referendum. Because it’s the same fate either way.

The thing that’s missing from comments about timing of the referendum made by SNP politicians is any acknowledgement of what the British government is likely to be doing while we procrastinate. We have British politicians openly talking about unilaterally rewriting the devolution settlement and powers being stripped from the Scottish Parliament with the threat of further rolling back of devolution. We hear them state their intention to impose “UK-wide common frameworks” that only the terminally naive suppose will be limited to the likes of food standards and animal welfare – although that would be bad enough.

We are told that, in the new ‘One Nation’ British state, “discrepancies” across the four nations will not be tolerated.

We are warned that the British political elite will not allow anything to damage their “precious, precious Union”.

Even if we couldn’t work it out for ourselves, we are now being explicitly told what fate awaits Scotland if the monstrous ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project is not halted.

And yet our politicians seem oblivious. Not once have I heard any of them address this threat to Scotland’s democracy. I have been deeply immersed in the debate about when we should hold the referendum. I have yet to find any Postponer who is willing to even acknowledge that the British government will be doing something while the SNP sorts out it’s internal organisation and Pete Wishart waits for a burning bush to tell him of the coming ‘Optimum Time’. (Note to Biblical scholars: Give me a break, eh! It’s a nice image.)

It’s as if, in the scenarios they consider, the British government ceases to exist. The British political elite is simply disregarded. The British state’s pressing imperative to lock Scotland into a ‘reformed’ Union is just ignored. The ongoing ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project isn’t a factor. It doesn’t figure in the Postponers’ calculations when they’re considering timing of the new referendum.

Caution may be advisable in certain circumstances. Nobody can sensibly contest the fact that the SNP’s ‘gradualist’ strategy has been successful to date. But the gradual approach has no defined end-point – unless and until you create one. At some juncture, you have to make the final leap. You have to do something bold. You have to act.

All this talk of waiting for ‘optimal conditions’ to spontaneously emerge from the political ether and stopping the political roller-coaster so the SNP can change it’s underpants totally misses the point. The choice is not between going now (September) and losing, or going at some later date (defined only vaguely or not at all) and winning. The choice is between the absolute certainty of the British Nationalist project relentlessly eroding Scotland’s democracy at an accelerating pace, or the possibility of stopping that project in it’s tracks before it can do irreversible damage.

Of course, it’s just a possibility. But it’s the only chance we have. There’s a good reason the Postponers are reluctant to discuss their alternative plan for stopping, or even slowing, the British Nationalist juggernaut. They don’t have one!


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