SNP, Labour and Internal Democracy 159

Not even Turkmenistan, where the Glorious Leader renamed the days of the week after his family and bequeathed the Presidency to his dentist (who remains President) do they have a national anthem as ludicrously obsequious as the British. Furthermore, even North Korea’s anthem makes no mention of the ruling dynasty. I haven’t sung the British hymn to arse-licking since I was old enough to understand what it meant (about 13). As a British diplomat and Ambassador I used to do exactly what Corbyn did – stand silently. And I have done that while in the Queen’s company.

I was musing on the choices Nicola Sturgeon and Jeremy Corbyn made in the same circumstance, though it is more difficult when you are actually with the Queen, as Sturgeon was. Nobody wants to insult an old lady. And it led me to muse on a problem each has with party democracy, where again the approaches are different.

The SNP recently does not seem over-concerned with party democracy. Or to put it another way, it does not seem to have much party democracy. I have attended two party conferences, one in Perth and one in Glasgow, where there was absolutely no debate on policy issues. Leadership addresses dominated the agenda and almost every speaker called was a member of a parliament or an approved candidate. It does not seem the forthcoming Aberdeen conference will be much better. There will be no debate on the really interesting issues – NATO, the monarchy, currency post-independence, the single police force, privatisation of CALMAC. Remember, 90% of the party membership were not members when there was last a debate on any of these.

Rather the motions selected by the party gatekeepers range from the self-congratulatory to the anodyne, with only a small proportion selected which originated with constituency grassroots. The management is heavy-handed. Most notably, the party members will not be permitted to discuss the key question dominating Scottish politics – the second referendum.

Nicola Sturgeon has briefed the media that the SNP manifesto will set out the circumstances in which a second referendum may be held. In coordinated briefing, Blair Jenkins and others have been floating 2021. What is being made plain is that the leadership will decide, not the membership. That seems to me disrespectful to the 100,000 members of the Yes campaign who joined up and may be presumed to have an opinion.

I consider myself a party loyalist. Actually I am especially loyal because I keep supporting the SNP no matter how plain the SNP makes it that it does not want me. I believe the SNP is the necessary vehicle for independence. But there is a difference between a party loyalist and a leadership loyalist. Leadership loyalists reply that you cannot argue with success, and the SNP achieved massive victory at the Westminster elections, and is set to achieve massive victory at the Holyrood elections.

To which my response is, that I do not deny that autocracy can be a most effective means of gaining and maintaining power. But that does not make autocracy desirable. Some very bad people have been extremely good at gaining and holding power. It is not a proper measure of success.

It has become accepted within the SNP that the criterion for a second referendum is that there must be a “material change” in circumstances. But why is that the criterion? Apparently because Nicola Sturgeon said so. We didn’t vote on that. Now the argument becomes about defining that material change. I gather we still don’t know what it will be exactly, but we kind of know it will come about in six years time.

Apart from “material change” the other hackneyed phrase defining what passes for “debate” on the issue – and there is almost no debate on the issue in which ordinary SNP members are permitted to participate – is “when the Scottish people decide”. When I called a couple of months ago for a referendum in 2018, the internet was filled with leadership loyalists parroting no, it would be “when the Scottish people decide”. The problem with that concept is that it is unclear how the Scottish people are to express their decision. What is the mechanism for that? Is it psychic? What people really meant was “When Nicola decides the Scottish people have decided.”

I still want a second referendum in 2018. I believe we can win it. I am very confident the SNP will sweep the coming Holyrood elections. I am not so confident about the Holyrood election after that; it would be a brave prediction that the SNP trajectory will be ever upward. Stuff happens in politics.

Therefore we must go for a second referendum on the back of these forthcoming Holyrood elections; we might not have another chance after 2020. Besides which the unpopularity of the Etonian government in London continues to work in our favour. I don’t give a stuff about “material change”, but if you want to point to one, the SNP sweeping two elections is a “material change”. 2018 should be it.

There are people who I respect as genuine supporters of Scottish independence who would prefer to delay beyond 2020 or until they are “sure of winning”. Listen. You are never sure of winning. Politics can overturn orthodoxies. Jeremy Corbyn was a 200 to 1 shot. We will never have a better chance than now. Let’s go for it.

People can argue that I am wrong about the timing. But why can’t we do that? Argue? Debate? At conference? And have a democratic vote on the timing? Why is the SNP not a democracy?

Rather more worryingly, the degree of democratic space permitted within the SNP appears to vary according to which side you are on. Readers will recall that I have been twice refused vetting as an SNP parliamentary candidate, on the grounds that I refuse to accept I will tow the party line at all times. I was told very directly it is completely unacceptable for an MP or prospective MP to argue against the party line.

Yet here is an example of an MP – Angus Robertson – arguing directly against the democratically agreed party policy. In 2012 Angus Robertson gave many media interviews advocating membership of NATO, at a time when party policy was firmly against membership of NATO. I raised this precise example at my latest vetting refusal and was told that this was different; the party leadership was entitled to argue against party policy because they had a leadership role, and Angus Robertson had succeeded in winning a vote subsequently to overturn the policy at conference.

It seems to me self-evidently pernicious to develop a doctrine that the party leadership may ignore agreed policy, but nobody else may. Another interpretation may be, of course, that you can attack party policy from the right, but not from the left.

Back in January I argued that the SNP appeared to be a democratic centralist party, where policy was centrally decided but then everybody was forced rigidly to stick to it. I said strict democratic centralism was generally not accepted as part of mainstream political tradition in this country, but was generally considered as Stalinism.

But actually it seems it is worse than that. Policy is not democratically decided. Rather a leader is democratically elected, but then that leader makes up the policy, and everybody has to follow it. That is an even worse political system than democratic centralism, and is known as the Leadership Principle. I could have put that in German.

That is the SNP, of which I remain a loyal but long-suffering member.

In Labour, Jeremy Corbyn faces related problems of party governance and internal democracy, but of a rather different kind. Corbyn has the backing of a large majority of his members, but he has a right wing parliamentary party – in some instances quite astonishingly right wing – which is entirely out of step with both Corbyn and the membership.

We therefore had shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith saying today that Labour supported the benefits cap, and going on to say that Labour supported overall benefits cuts, and could not oppose benefits cuts when the public supported them. Smith appears not to have noticed that the debate in the leadership election had happened, or that he was putting forward precisely the argument that got Liz Kendall a humiliating 4.9% of the votes of party members.

After three days of the parliamentary party doing everything conceivable to undermine him, what I believe is Corbyn’s strategy is to institute reforms to party democracy whereby the members decide policy. He can then obtain clear party policies which he supports and demand the PLP support them. That includes on Trident, where the SNP continue to twist the knife as Corbyn is hamstrung by a parliamentary party absolutely owned by the corporatist agenda.

In the longer term, I just do not see how it can work. The only conceivable strategy for Corbyn to succeed is mass deselection of the right wing shills who constitute 70% of his MPs. But that process is incompatible with a working party at Westminster. I genuinely wish Jeremy, whom I know and respect, well. But I very much fear the Blairites have put the Labour Party as an institution well beyond saving.

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159 thoughts on “SNP, Labour and Internal Democracy

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  • Resident Dissident

    “To which my response is, that I do not deny that autocracy can be a most effective means of gaining and maintaining power.”

    I am surprised to hear you argue for the ends justifying the means in such a manner. I also rather doubt your interpretation of Corbyn’s and NcDonnell’s intention towards the Labour Party – if you look here at the Labour Representation Committee’s website and the Wikipedia page on its structures you will see pretty clearly what amounts to a party within the party with its own structures and policies, and then look who are members

    I wouldn’t advise trying to set up anything similar in the SNP – your arse would touch the ground after being kicked by MR and Mrs Sturgeon.

  • Bob Smith

    Craig, the more I read your blog, the more I think your home is in a revitalised Labour Party where you could campaign for Scottish independence, and persuade many members of the need for it. I have struggled to ever believe that the SNP is any more than a one issue political party, and the way you describe their strangling of membership debate is an exact description of Labour in the Blair years.

  • Hector

    “Readers will recall that I have been twice refused vetting as an SNP parliamentary candidate, on the grounds that I refuse to accept I will tow the party line at all times. ”

    You might have done better if you had refused to toe the party line.

  • Murray McCallum

    I understand and agree with your points about democracy, the need for open debate, and a worry of party management but I can’t see the justification for a 2018 referendum [that Yes would win] at present.

    There is an urgent need to improve the economic case for independence especially targeted for the older generation and a far more robust currency proposal – one that isn’t 100% reliant on the British government agreeing to it in the first place would be an improvement. Obviously the British government will criticise everything, but let’s not be dependent on their public agreement.

    So I agree there needs to be urgent action but that is in preparing and improving the case. I also agree that open debate is the best way of achieving that. However, I fear a rush to referendum in 2018 could also unravel and leave little prospect of a future referendum.

  • Republicofscotland

    Excellent article Craig I agree with most of it, like you the SNP are the mostly likely vehicle to obtain independence. But it hierarchy does appear to be a closed shop.

    Jim Sillars constantly points out that the SNP should, open the question of when another independence referendum should be held to its members. Sillars also states that it should sooner than later.

    Sillars also pointed out that,and I have to agree with him, that the SNP were not agressive enough in the run up to the referendum, on things like a Scottish currency. I just hope the SNP don’t become comfortable in their Westminster niche.

    Gordon Wilson ex-SNP leader has been critical of the current incumbents and their lack of clarity, on issues that lost us the referendum.

    I’m not sure I’d vote for the SNP in an independent Scotland, as the other parties would have to evolve and produce good viable policies just to exist. But for now at least, the SNP may well hold the key to independence.

  • RobG

    It’s almost as fascinating to watch the SNP reaction to Corbyn as it is to watch the Establishment’s.

    Due in no small part to Project Fear last September, the nationalists lost the referendum by 45% to 55%.

    The SNP landslide in the May general election seemed to me to be more down to an anti-austerity ticket than nationalism, and the fact that people’s perception of the media shifted dramatically.

    If ‘Corbymania’ carries on it will continue to eat away at the SNP vote. Therefore for nationalists I would say that the sooner another referendum is held the better.

    And if MI5 do ‘fix’ Corbyn, and the neo-cons come to the fore again, Scottish independence will be a dead cert.

  • Tony_0pmoc

    I know most of you who regularly post on here may not like this…but maybe you will appreciate what Canspeccy was trying to say…I am beginning to – not about the colour thing though. I like colour and diversity…but its getting SILLY. I know the UK is lovely – but “ALL” you guys are simply not going to fit..Yes – We Are The Best Country in The World and You All Want To Come Here.

    I can understand that…

    Is it O.K. if We Go and Live in Your House – Where Its Warm?

    The Boss Didn’t Have The Balls. Now She wants His Job.

    There are suddenly so many wandering the Streets, That they make me think they are coming in on Container Ships. They don’t bother with the imported cars any more..More money to be made Shipping Refugees and Economic Immigrants To The UK.

    They are Going To FREEZE To Death..If we get a Winter Like 1963 again..which has actually been Predicted.

    If they want to Survive..Shiit..I think they we should too Move To Spain…How Come There are Virtually No Immigrants in Southern Spain except the Normal Licensed African Traders..Nice Guys..I bought a watch off one of them..for a few Euros..Still Keeps Perfect Time Fake of Course – But It Still Looks Legit..

    And All This Empty Accommodation…Even Most of The Young Spanish have moved to Northern Europe…Mostly England (even The North of England)

    All The Empty Accommodation is in Spain and Portugal (yet Africa is only a short swim away in warm water – though the Atlantic does come in a bit…like The Solent..

    Check The Distance…Shiit I think Even I could Swim it if I had My Snorkel, Flippers and Mask On,-5.5022925/36.0190836,-5.5901831/@36.1101122,-5.6231421,6z


  • Alexander Grant

    Hi Craig, whilst as a member and activist I share some of your frustration I have to agree totally with Murray about what has to be achieved before another referendum. I,amongst others, made this point forcefully to senior party members at least 12 months before the last referendum. It will always be about ‘the economy stupid’!
    As to the party’s central controlling tendency, frustrating though it is, it is hardly unusual and when it has been so successful it is hard to persuade senior members to change??? Don’t forget the NATO vote was only won by a narrow margin and that debate was unavoidable. I confess that I would like to see many things debated and hopefully to have a more radical agenda but there is danger there. If the current strategy can win independence then with a PR system everything is possible. But then you would probably say that’s a big IF?

  • Becky Cohen

    Whatever one’s opinion on the monarchy or for that matter Jeremy Corbyn’s views, I think it’s pretty nasty and immature the way that the mainstream careerist politicians and the right-wing press are ganging up to bully Jeremy Corbyn over him not singing ‘God Save the Queen’ at the Battle of Britain memorial service the other day. I mean, why should he be expected to pretend to pledge allegiance and promote two concepts he does not believe in? If we go down the line of failing to respect the right of other people to have a different opinion from our own and to express that opinion then ironically we could become the sort of society that the Battle of Britain pilots fought so hard to keep away from our shores. It’s quite depressing the way that mainstream MPs and a constantly pestering press are conforming so easily to try and stifle freedom of speech and expression in this country. If anything, looking back at WW2, should make us remember how easily freedom is lost and how difficult and costly it is to win back.

  • Becky Cohen

    …And we all know which side certain newspaper editors and upper class toffs wanted to win in 1940, don’t we? Instead of moaning about the jacket that Jeremy Corbyn wore or the tie (or lack thereof) hanging around his neck, perhaps representative of certain newspapers should be forced to turn up wearing a sandwich board with some of the many pro-fascist headlines that their newspapers turned out back in the day?!

  • Habbabkuk (scourge of the Original Trolls)

    I note with pleasure that with this latest post Craig shows that he is fully aware of the dangers of going a-whorin’ after false gods.

    (All but the stupidest will understand what is meant by false)

  • Resident Invigilator(" H" is the name)



    The Communist parties in the UK and France worked actively on many levels and in many fields against the UK and French between 1939 (date of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact – it was an “imperialist war”) and 1941 (date of Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union – it became a “war against fascism”).

    [1940 in the case of France;, then passive there until 1941]


    Cue Mr Goss…….

  • Tony_0pmoc


    Nothing Personal, But I thought You Posted and Still Post Repetitive Rubbish and Never Post Anything Interesting or Inspirational. Maybe in Real Life You are a Very Nice Charming Person.

    I still, don’t like you, and I tend not to mix with people I don’t like.

    Goodbye Troll,


  • Habbbakuk (la vita e' bella!)

    Becky Cohen (20h17)

    Did any British newspapers carry “pro-fascist headlines” in 1940?

    This is a genuine question, so I should be glad if you would answer (and perhaps even give a couple of examples of those headlines?).

  • giyane

    Becky Cohen:

    “If we go down the line of failing to respect the right of other people to have a different opinion from our own and to express that opinion then ironically we could become the sort of society that the Battle of Britain pilots fought so hard to keep away from our shores. ”

    Freedom of expression and freedom of religion are rights we in the UK believe in for ourselves, but not for others. David Cameron has set up an extremely narrow, bigoted corner of Islam to dominate, spy on, bully, kill and remove the property of all the others in Pakistan, Libya, Tunisia, and now Syria.

    Question is whether David Cameron counts Scotland as part of the UK or as a foreign country which intrinsically exempts its citizens from these aspirations. He certainly does not feel we in the UK should be obliged to accept authority from the European Union. A weird way of looking at the world all the citizens of the UK, green, black or blue have priveledges that everybody else is denied.

    Under the terms of the Union, a locality which wants independence should be made to taste the pain of its temerity and folly, to choose not to be governed by Etonian illegal war-mongering Zionist tossers, and experience the utter ruin and misery of becoming fawreners and having to live under the likes of Stalin.

  • fred

    Why on earth would the people of Scotland agree to another referendum so soon? They agreed last time because it was meant to decide the matter once and for all for at least a generation. That is what Nicola Sturgeon said and put her name to, that is what Alex Salmond said. To call another referendum would prove one thing, the SNP are not to be trusted, they lied and if they lied about this then why on earth should we trust them about anything else?

    What is the point in a referendum if one side just ignores the result if they don’t like it? Thinks they can just keep on having referendums till they get the result they want?

  • Habbbakuk (la vita e' bella!)


    I fully respect your right not to mix with people you don’t like.

    Nothing personal, but I’m rather relieved you don’t like me.

    Adieu, Tony (or should that be au revoir?)

  • craig Post author

    Cynical Highlander,

    Yes, I am very aware there was a debate on NATO three years ago, with an extremely narrow result. I was a party member at the time. It is time to revisit it. As I wrote above, there has been no debate since 90% of party members joined. I strongly suspect most of the new membership are anti-NATO.

  • Kempe

    ” Don’t forget that in 1940 the Communist Party was neutral ”

    From the outbreak of war until Operation Barbarossa the Communist Party of Great Britain opposed the war and encouraged strikes and other forms of sabotage.

    One thing needed from the SNP is a clear commitment on Scottish politics after independence. From Craig’s description I get the impression that they won’t be in any hurry to abolish themselves and I can easily imagine a series of “interim governments” stretching on until the EU, or somebody, loses patience.

    One thing too easily forgotten is the tendency of British voters to vote against governments rather than for them, we only have Cameron because Labour weren’t able to provide a viable alternative and I think to an extend that’s true for the SNP. If Corbyn can turn Labour around and present themselves as a party that listens to it’s members we may yet see a resurgence of Labour north of the border. That of course depends on how long Corbyn can stay on as leader. I think he’ll be gone within two years. Not because of any MI5 plot but simply because he’s not up to the job of holding the party together.

  • muttley79

    I think the SNP do need to think about developing a better democratic structure for members. I agree with Jim Sillars and others who argue that members need a greater say and input. That said I am against an early independence referendum, I do not think enough has changed generally since last September, and I do not think we have developed the necessary strategy and policy details to cope with how to handle issues such as currency, EU, the MSM’s coverage etc. I also think it should be left to the SNP leadership to decide the precise time to go for another independence referendum.


    If ‘Corbymania’ carries on it will continue to eat away at the SNP vote.

    What do you mean by continue to eat away at the SNP vote? The opinion polls are the same as they have been for months. As far as I can tell there has been no effect of Corbymania in Scotland, so far at least. I also do not think he has anywhere near the political ability and talent that Sturgeon has. He will also lead a party with a much bigger split in its ranks than the SNP.

  • Pete

    “Mass deselection” sounds good to me. I’d argue for that if the Labour Party ever lets me in (I’m not holding my breath on that one!)

    As regards the national anthem, not only is it the dreariest I’ve ever heard musically, it’s surely the only national anthem in which the nation isn’t actually mentioned. It is simply a prayer asking God to lengthen the life and power of the reigning sovereign, enhance her personal status and well-being, and weaken or destroy her unspecified enemies.

    More importantly, the military oath of allegiance likewise makes no mention of the nation, its people or their lawfully elected government. The loyalty of the Armed Forces is entirely to the sovereign and his/her heirs and successors, and would still be binding even if said sovereign decamped to another country or declared war on his/her own people.

  • Habbbakuk (la vita e' bella!)

    Becky Cohen

    It’s just occurred to me that when you wrote “pro-fascist headlines” you might have been referring to headlines concerning the unprovoked Soviet attack on Finland (the “Winter War”)?

    If that’s the case, it would be helpful if you could give a couple of those headlines so that readers can judge whether they appear to be “pro-fascist”.

    Thanks in advance.

  • giyane


    “This is a genuine question, so I should be glad if you would answer (and perhaps even give a couple of examples of those headlines?).”

    And I am a sea-lion.

  • Habbbakuk (la vita e' bella!)


    “As regards the national anthem, not only is it the dreariest I’ve ever heard musically”

    Which is probably why the Swiss got rid of it as their national anthem (“Rufst du, mein Vaterland”) after 1961 and why it was the Prussian anthem after 1815 (Heil Dir im Siegeskranz”).

    Dreary people, the Swiss and the Prussians!

  • Habbbakuk (la vita e' bella!)



    “This is a genuine question, so I should be glad if you would answer (and perhaps even give a couple of examples of those headlines?).”

    And I am a sea-lion.”


    Well, you certainly bark like a sea-lion, Giyane.

    But why the doubt? Ms Cohen is merely beong asked to identify the newspapers in question and, if possible, to give us a sample of the headlines she mentioned so that readers might decide for themselves if they seem “pro-fascist”.

    Aaark! Aaark!

  • Republicofscotland

    “What do you mean by continue to eat away at the SNP vote? The opinion polls are the same as they have been for months. As far as I can tell there has been no effect of Corbymania in Scotland, so far at least. I also do not think he has anywhere near the political ability and talent that Sturgeon has. He will also lead a party with a much bigger split in its ranks than the SNP.”


    Agreed the SNP’s rating seem to be holding strong, polls on the coming local elections appear to back that up.

    Kezia Dugdale, leader of the Labour branch office in Scotland and the ex-deputy of (right wing Henry Jackson society) Jim
    Murphy, doesn’t seem to have what it takes to thrall the masses into returning to Labour in Scotland, mainly because they can’t be trusted.

    But mostly because they stood with the Tories on independence and sold their soul.

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