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.

159 thoughts on “SNP, Labour and Internal Democracy

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  • N_

    A tip to the YeSNPniks. You want to win? You gotta get inside the heads of the NO crowd. Just flooding the field with your happy propaganda again won’t work.

  • northwestcircus

    The trouble with party members voting on individual policy is that the membership is made up of a tiny fraction of the total electorate who are by and large like-minded, politicly aware (dare I say enlightened!) individuals. There are various policies that I suspect members would happily vote for and feel entirely comfortable with, but which would be particularly jarring to the wider electorate and cost votes. While I imagine membership would vote for it, I just can’t see us making any headway on an anti-NATO, anti-monarchy, 2018 referendum ticket in next years elections?

    Electing a leader and expecting him or her to use their accrued political savvy to come up with policies that reflect our views, and also our expectations at the ballot box seems a better option to me. And if their judgement turns out to be poor, then we can vote them out and elect a new leader in his or her place.

    Besides, even if there was time for endless debate and voting on every major policy decision, presumably we would still be left with disgruntled sections of membership who find themselves on the losing side.

  • bevin

    Actually the Labour Party is in the best position that it has ever been in for evolving into democracy. In the old days Conference and the National Executive Committee ruled and conferences made policy.
    What saved the right then was that the Trade Union block vote was invariably (almost) mobilised to neuter the conference, which was dominated, in every other way but block voting, by the Constituencies.
    Now the TU Block vote has gone, thanks to the Blairites, which means that all that is needed is to restore democracy in the Consituuencies. That will be a relatively simple task.
    And it will mean that the CLPs will choose their own candidates, which will mean that those who will not represent the CLPs will not be re-selected.
    That is democracy. The immediate task of party members is to assert themselves locally and at Conference, while the ‘leadership’ simply enable democracy to take its course by refraining from stitching up the resolutions committee, the chairing and, of course, the idiotic habit of inviting rightwingers to make long and dreary speeches about how ridiculous it is to work for a decent society.

  • N_

    “Democratic centralism” prevails in the British cabinet, where it is called “collective cabinet responsibility”.

  • Jives


    Quentin Letts and ALL at the Daily Mail ASK!!!??

    Was Al-Bin-Corbyn in daily secret policy cabal discus$ions with Aleister Crowely,Jimmy Saville,Max Clifford,Jonathan KING! and the Kray Twins to sneakily BRAINWASH him into unlearning The NATIONAL ANTHEM!!!!???

    VOTE NOW.Each call $33 per second.

    Bikini titty babes are on the RIGHT hand sidebar of the browser although OBVIOUSLY we support WOMENS rights,yeah mate?

  • Pan

    Craig –

    Re: The national anthem…

    “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.”


    “Nobody wants to insult an old lady.”

    The only way I can find that NOT to be a contradiction is to assume that although you were “in the Queen’s company”, you were quite certain that your motionless lips were not visible to the Queen at the time.

  • Pan

    Craig –

    Of course, there is another way in which your two above-mentioned statements would not contradict each other, which would be that the Queen, in your own subjective judgement, was not ‘old’ at the time.

    In which case, I wonder how ‘young’ you consider a lady should be in order for the desire not to insult her, no longer be a matter of concern.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Bevin, at 1:45am, today and others: Absolutely. But there needs to be a number of people in Parliament, in the Cabinet and in the Party machinery overtly, publicly, supporting – and not apologising for, or seeming embarassed about – Corbyn. He is up against every organ of power in this country. He cannot do it on his own.

  • Mary

    I hadn’t realized how events here were registering in the US press.

    ‘September 16, 2015
    Why the U.S. Press is Afraid of Marx (and Jeremy Corbyn)

    The Cold War paranoia of socialism seems to have just made a comeback. After the election of Democratic Socialist Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the UK labor party on Saturday, the American press went, to put it crudely, completely batshit crazy. Over at The Daily Beast, for example, the normally rational Maajid Nawaz turned apoplectic in his article “The Daily Hate: Corbyn, Trump And the New Politics of Spite.” He opens with a knock at all populist politicians and the angry and hateful masses: “Peddling hate makes for popular politicians, and being angry is the new “being cool” (is being angry at, say, inequality really such a bad thing?). While he lumps Corbyn and Trump together as hate-peddlers, he does not provide one single example of Corbyn doing so during his campaign over the past few months, which may be because he hasn’t.

    But “hate peddling” isn’t what the American media is really upset about. Indeed, the fact that Corbyn is an “admirer of Karl Marx” is what has particularly irked editors and reporters — or maybe “shocked” is the better word. Various outlets, including NBC News and Yahoo News, republished a Reuters story with the tabloid headline: “Karl Marx Admirer Jeremy Corbyn Voted as Britain’s Labour Party Leader.”



    Had a peep at the Mensch output from her Upper West Side perch in Manhattan. Repellent.

    She was the Con MP for Corby until she resigned in 2012. Labour were elected in the by election but the Tories got back in May. There is a large Scottish population who came to work in the steelworks. The local ASDA store sells more Irn Bru than any other English store!


  • craig Post author


    No, you are quite right, it is a contradiction. But the Queen knew I did not support the monarchy and had refused honours from her. (LVO and CVO, which are in her personal gift). We had had an open and friendly conversation about it. I suspect Nicola Sturgeon may not have had that conversation (yet).

  • craig Post author


    “The normally rational Maajid Nawaz” in the article you quote is of course the appalling money-grubbing fraud from the Quilliam Foundation. Corbyn is a direct threat to the millions he makes from the Islamophobia industry.

  • BrianFujisan


    Good points..Thank you.. We are Buddhists.. Catholics.. A thousand other Religions …ALL made Up By E.T..or Power gaining Empire Building Cnuts

    It really should not take the visual image…

    Because we are ALL Humans.. Well Almost All…According to me.. and Mr Sagan 🙂

  • Pan

    Craig –

    Thankyou for your gracious response.

    I am much gratified and reassured that you are the man I thought you were.

    That is to say, not one in need of sycophants.

    I expressed a heartfelt grievance and you not only accepted it, but elaborated on the missing context (which you were under no obligation to do) in such a way as to eliminate any misunderstandings that might have occurred (on my part).


  • YouKnowMyName

    I was drinking Kumis last week, in Milan at the Turkmen exhibit at EXPO (food-fest), underneath a ’50 metre high’ photo of the dentist. I don’t know the Kremlin’s opinion of the SNP – (I’m sure both they and the US are studying the situation) – but an article in the Independent yesterday by Kim Sengupta (Defence Correspondent) does carry fascinating details from the (real) president Putin.

    “Without an active participation of the Syrian authorities and the military, it would be impossible to expel the terrorists from that country and the region as a whole,” he declared. “Without Russia’s support for Syria, the situation in the country would have been worse than in Libya, and the flow of refugees even bigger.”

    What happens in Syria will continue to be played out in the coming days. But it is Russia’s President, increasingly the man of the moment, who seems to be holding most of the aces.

    a surprising POV on the great-game from MSM?–and-vladimir-putin-holds-the-key-to-any-breakthrough-10502694.html

  • Habbbakuk (la vita e' bella!)

    Becky Cohen

    Just to remind you that we are still waiting for answers to the two questions I put regarding your claim that certain British newspapers printed “pro-fascist headlines” in 1940.

    The names of those newspapers and a sample of the headlines, if you please.


  • Mary

    Of course Craig. I was not fully awake and the name did not register.

    They must do well from appearance fees on the ‘news channels’. They are often on. Wonder what they have to say about Agent Cameron’s latest exhortation to students to report extremism on the campus and to ban ‘extremist speakers’, ie curtailment of free speech and thought.

    ‘British universities that give the floor to extremist speakers are named and shamed
    King’s College London, Queen Mary University and SOAS among institutions Prime Minister will name and shame for giving platforms to hate preachers who are determined to undermine British values.

    The ‘British values’ being………………. ???

  • Mary

    One of Theresa’s predecessors at the Home Office, Jacqui Jackboots Smith, regularly reviews the ‘news’ papers on Sky News. She found a nice new niche as chair of the NHS trust in Birmingham which includes the *PFI QE hospital.

    Latest Sky News Press Preview: Corbyn at PMQ’s, Labour donor defection & Mark Carney on Corbynomics.

    September 17, 2015, 6:41 am
    Presenter: Lorna Dunkley.
    Guests: Jacqui Smitht and LBC’s Iain Dale.

    *Farce of new £545m NHS Queen Elizabeth Hospital
    21 Mar 2013 – 1,213 bed hospital is the second biggest in PFI scheme in the NHS

  • Ba'al Zevul

    a surprising POV on the great-game from MSM?

    More likely Alexander Lebedev, the Indy’s owner, knowing which side his bread is still buttered. However, in this instance, he’s probably right. (That’s IN THIS INSTANCE, Goss Tendency.)

  • BrianPowell

    We still need as much party unity as possible, otherwise it can lead to factions, which would be a Christmas present to all the opposition. Remember right now they don’t even need real ‘divisions’, they make them up.
    My branch asks for any ideas and some people said, why are they asking for ideas, we want them to lead!

  • fedup

    Thanks Mary,

    From your link, the response of the Home Office is a clear indication of how far down the road to surveillance state we have been pushed.

    We can confirm that the Home Office holds information on the role of the EAU. However,
    following careful consideration, we have decided that this information is exempt from
    disclosure, by virtue of the exemptions at section 35(1) of the Freedom of Information Act,
    pertaining to the formulation of government policy. Section 35 of the Act is a qualified
    exemption, and requires the consideration of the Public Interest Test. We have balanced
    the public interest considerations for and against release of the information you request,
    and found that the public interest falls in favour of maintaining these exemptions. Further
    explanation of this decision, including the Public Interest Test, are set out in the attached

    In addition, we neither confirm nor deny whether any further information within the scope
    of your request is held, by reliance on sections 23(5) (information supplied by or relating

    In other words we are spying on you ad we cannot tell you how! Needless to point out another one of “fruits of success” of zionist supremacists cancer metastasising and infecting our world, directly affecting each one of us.

  • fred

    “P.s. The weather looks Good for Saturday.”

    Don’t you think the rally planned for Saturday is somewhat provocative? Surely if anyone has the right to celebrate the anniversary of the referendum it’s the side that won and if they turn up at George Square and find the losing side already there there could well be trouble. Considering Glasgow Council wouldn’t give permission for a rally because they couldn’t provide security don’t you think that if things should turn nasty Saturday and people get hurt then it would be the organisers of the rally who were to blame?

  • YouKnowMyName

    Have any of the posters here, Craig himself maybe, signed up for tonight’s Channel 4 TV show “Hunted”? according to some Russian news the show is в «пост-сноуденовском» мире (in a post-Snowden world) and the ‘volunteers’ seek to escape from ‘followers’ ‘live’ on reality TV.

    Of course, there are the hunted and there are the hunters – more details here

    I’m sure that the UK ‘Government Extremism Analysis Unit’ will be paying close attention – if in fact they haven’t paid for the show itself! (remember the boost that “Sailor” gave to the RN in 1976, when the UK still had a navy)

  • YouKnowMyName

    Hunting?, following “a legal victory Privacy International obtained earlier this year, the UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal is now required to search through data the GCHQ obtained from the NSA for information collected on anyone in the world if that person so requests it. If you request the info and the Tribunal finds something, it must let you know. The catch is you have to make the request before December 5, 2015. Privacy International has made this easy with its “Did GCHQ Illegally Spy on You?” online tool.”

    elsewhere, Fahrenheit 451 “The American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) has joined the American Library Association (ALA) and other library groups in urging a federal court to limit the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance of international electronic communications, including those relating to the purchase and use of books”

    Daily Torygraph journo worked for MI6

    public gight back!

    a ‘False Flag’ bombing is now 21 years old

    interesting world we live in?

  • Mary

    It becomes grimmer by the day. Max surveillance.

    MI5 boss warns of technology terror risk
    5 minutes ago

    Andrew Parker was interviewed by Mishal Husain on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme

    Advances in technology are allowing terrorists to communicate “out of the reach of authorities” the head of MI5, Andrew Parker has told the BBC.

    In the first live interview by a serving MI5 boss he told Today that security services could potentially no longer obtain crucial information.

    He said internet companies had an “ethical responsibility” to alert agencies to potential threats.

    But MI5 was not about “browsing the lives” of the public, he added.

    Ministers are currently preparing legislation on the powers for carrying out electronic surveillance.

    But Mr Parker said what should be included in new legislation was a matter “for parliament to decide”.

    “It is completely for ministers to propose, and parliament to decide. It’s a fundamental point about what MI5 is. It’s for us to follow what’s set by parliament, and that’s what we do.”

    He said online data encryption was creating a situation where the police and intelligence agencies “can no longer obtain under proper legal warrant the communication of people they believe to be terrorists”.

    He said it was a “very serious” issue adding: “It’s in nobody’s interests that terrorists should be able to plot and communicate out of the reach of authorities.”

    Jump media player


  • YouKnowMyName

    re:Mi5, they do have serious work to do, and it’s certainly not “browsing the lives of the public” but the very very rare cases of terrorism that the might discover.. I personally estimate the rate of actual developing hard terrorists is of the order of 0.0000015% of the population per year(*).

    Doubling that, we’d get an engineering approximation, of around 190 physical persons actual planning AQ/IS/ISIL/Daesh motivated terrorism in the UK (ignoring all the state spy vs. spy stuff, and the multiple international teams following Jeremy Corbyn, Craig and Nicola Sturgeon)

    (*) figures derived wildly from
    where the Moroccan MI5 [Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation BCIJ] have done a great job and just discovered & arrested another 5 out of their 33 million citizens, prior to planned attacks. . .

    “Moroccan authorities said they had dismantled a militant cell planning to create an Daesh affiliate, seizing weapons and bomb-making materials in raids on their hideouts. . . The group was operating in the southern city of Essaouira and the central town of Sidi Allal Al Bahraoui. . .

    . . .reporters were shown weapons, ammunition, tasers, swords and bomb materials seized from hideouts. . . [note to MI5: BBC could do this?]

    The five members of the group had pledged allegiance to the Daesh group, and planned to create a local offshoot, called the Caliphate Soldiers in Morocco, bureau head Abdelhak Khayyam said.

    The group’s name is inspired from the Algerian group of the Caliphate Soldiers, an Al Qaeda splinter faction that had declared allegiance to Daesh last year before kidnapping and beheading a French tourist”

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