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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  • Robert Crawford


    The SNP were great until they got power, locally and nationally. They listened and did what they could to help. Now they are in power they are deaf to everything, they decide, they have decided what is to be done, and what is not to be done.

    I think from my personal experience Nicola Sturgeon is worse than Thatcher.

    Jeremy Corbyn is against Scottish Independence.

    What he is saying appeals to every decent person in the world, naturally.

    All the decent bloggers like yourself need to join together to get maximum coverage, because the papers and t.v. will not say anything good about you. Team up with Chunkymark. Take a look/listen to what he has to say to-day. Get in his taxi so that his followers find out about you.

    We are being turned it a society of “drones” working for the Queen and her favoured few.

    The SNP MP who voted for the Tory Bill on Monday needs to be kicked out of the SNP, and the other one who did not vote better have a good excuse. We did not send these people to sit on the fence, even if they like the sensation!

    Stephen Paton of Left:Scotland who did a wonderful job of debunking all the lies during the “hate fest” of the referendum posted a video titled, “is this a democracy?” and answered “no”. Then went on to explain why it is not.

    It only lasted a short while and was taken down.

    Then he tweeted he was going on holiday to Barra, then he tweeted he was going to India to do some voluntary work. He had previously stated he was going to post a weekly LEFT:SCOTLAND video. No weekly videos since. The young guy is GREAT!!! I miss his input to flush out all that is not good here.

    I wonder if he had his wings clipped?

    Finally, I felt Nicola Sturgeon was cowed after she had her meeting with the Queen.

  • craig Post author


    Absolute bollocks. You postulate 100 hard terrorists in the UK every year, but between them all they don’t actually manage to kill anybody. Pretty crap hard terrorists, aren’t they? If I decided to commit a random act of murder, I guarantee I could kill someone today. It’s not that difficult if these “terrorists” actually existed.

  • Robert Crawford


    The Government make up excuses to justify their actions. re. DWP false letters saying people were pleased to be “sanctioned”. or terrorists under the bed.

    In fact, all this badness could be brought to an end to-morrow if all those good, decent pillars of the community (even if it is only in their own minds) refused ti implement all those sanctions and other poverty creating laws that have been put on them (for the sake of their income and pensions) to implement.

    Surely they must know they are being used?

  • YouKnowMyName

    OK, Craig I actually agree with you!

    I was just basing these figures on the fact that Morocco has been finding/arresting around 50 serious jihadists a year – then wildly mapping this to the UK

    we all know that more people are killed by furry slippers or coke vending machines in the UK than by terrorism each year – but our established rights are being removed from the jihadi threat, slippers are somehow not yet banned!

  • Robert Crawford


    Maybe it is, “sore enough” now for the people, and they have found a Champion in Jeremy Corbyn who is articulating their anger and feelings in public. Something no other MP has done.

    I hope the momentum keeps rising while the iron is hot.

    I think it is now or never! If we want a fairer freer country for all we have to get “stuck in”.

  • Laguerre

    re Mary 11.52 pm

    Top Labour donor calls for MPs to quit party
    Assem Allam has dismissed the Labour party as a ‘dead horse’

    The Times has been trotting that guy out for a while. They had him threatening to stop funding if Corbyn were elected. It turns out he also funds the Tories. Hardly a loyal Labour man.

  • Vronsky

    Lysias @10:21

    Agreed, the Athenian system is essential. All this frothing about which party, which politicians, which leader, is an endless loop of repetitive disasters. We’re all insane in the Einsteinian sense – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

  • Robert Crawford


    The Trade Union Bill.

    Someone posted the results of the vote and said one SNP MP voted with the government and one did not vote.


    My apologies for posting a wrong situation concerning Stephen Paton’s post, “Is the UK Really a Democracy?”. It was not taken down, it was moved to a new format that I could not find until now. Sorry.

    I have not recovered fully from the “marker” that was injected into my blood for the CAT scan on Monday. I told the Oncology nurse it had given me a histamine reaction the first time. The nurse said to remind them on Monday. I told the radiologists, they went off to see a doctor, came back and said the doctor had never heard of this before and that it was highly unlikely.

    I was given it anyway and they kept in the hospital for half an hour afterwards. It got me out of bed at eleven o clock. I was red from my neck to my ankles and as itchy as can be and my arms and legs were puffed up. Fortunately I had some of the cream my G.P. gave me the first time, which was a relief. I still look as if I have sun burn.

    I phoned the Oncology nurse and told her what happened, and that I wanted the results as soon as they are known, instead of waiting until the 13th. of October. I think I am asking them to change their policy. However, I will just have to wait and see, and try to keep my fertile imagination in check for a month.

  • MJ

    Jeremy Corbyn (for it is he): Good morning Mr Murray, I understand you want to join the Labour Party.

    CM: It’s certainly an option I’ve been considering. It would of course be subject to a few conditions, which I’ve set out in some detail here. [Craig heaves an enormous file onto Corbyn’s desk, almost breaking it]. I’ve also gone to the trouble of producing this fifteen-page summary of my key demands, in case you don’t have time to read the whole dossier before lunch. I’ll tell you one thing for nothing though matey: Scottish independence is at the top of the list.

    JC: I see.

    CM: Yes. For instance, if – and that’s only “if” you understand, purely hypothetically – you were minded to parachute me into a Scottish constituency to stand as a Labour MP and if, purely hypothetically again of course, I were to accept (which I would) and if one of my opponents was standing on a ticket of independence and I thought she was great, then – and only then – I’d have to reserve the right, at any time and without notice, to jump ship and become my opponent’s campaign manager, most vociferous supporter and mentor.

    JC: Mr Murray, the Labour Party is a broad church and I am keen to encourage all members to contribute towards the
    formulation of party policy. I would have to draw the line however at permitting candidates actively to support their

    CM: You English, Blairite fascist!

    JC: Furthermore, you must understand that I am seeking to build a Labour Party that reaches out to ordinary people
    nationwide, throughout the country as a whole, not just that barely-inhabitable bit at the top. I fear you may lack the
    vision required to make a meaningful contribution to the Labour Party.

    CM: You make Genghis Khan, Stalin, Hitler and Peter Mandelson look like the Osmonds you do. You haven’t been in the job for a week yet and you’re already doing the dark state’s work for it. You were singing the National anthem under your breath you were, I saw you. I think the environment is the most pressing issue of the time, along with Scottish independence of course. I’m going to join the Green Party.

  • Robert Crawford

    Hey Nicola,

    What else can be done to me at this fucking royal hospital.

    BTW, I received £55-00 last Friday as a “gesture of goodwill” from the Royal Hospital for the money that “went missing, could not be found”. “It was stolen by at least one fucking thief in your Royal Hospital”.

    I had to use the SPSO to get it,( Scottish Public Services Ombudsman).

    What next?

  • craig Post author


    I have never evinced the remotest intention of joining the Labour Party. Kindly keep your fantasies to yourself.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Don’t understand, Habby, why Craig allows you to keep badgering Becky Cohen about British media coverage of fascists both in government and the media during 1940 when she apparently thought my reply was sufficient.

    Okay, how do you think the British media covered Neville Chamberlain’s speech on April 4, 1940 when he said about The Phony War that his critics were missing what Hitler was up to, preparing to attack the USSR?

    His claim of “missing the bus” completely exploded a few days later when Nazi forces invade Denmark and Norway, and poor Neville’s government came crashing down.

    Why don’t you go read the damn articles and their headlines!

  • Mary

    An aside. I have just been driving behind a large black 4×4 with blacked out windows. The vehicle bore the insignia ‘BARBARIAN’. I thought how apt for GB in 2015

  • Mary

    The vote for the Trade Union Bill.

    What I said on Monday.
    The debate here Falloch from half way down the page. Abstentions are not noted on Hansard. I will look around.

    The vote at the end

    Nearly seven hrs

    Ayes 317, Noes 284.


    The Labour turnout was:
    Lab 214 Noes (+2 tell) 93.1%

    There were no rebellions.

    The SNP turnout was better:
    SNP 55 Noes 98.2%

    Green, Plaid Cymru and SDLP 100% Noes

    Abstentions could be found by elimination – ie comparing the full list of MPs to those who voted.


    Hope this helps.

  • Mary

    Sorry. I should have said ‘What I said on Tuesday’. The debate and vote took place on the Monday.

  • Jemand

    So how do these referenda work? You just keep having them until you get your own way and then permanently refuse subsequent calls for a referendum despite an inversion of public support?

  • Johannes Climacus

    I regretted joining the SNP after my first couple of meetings and I will be letting my membership expire next week.

    I realised very quickly that there was little, if any, party democracy but that it was constructed in a way to give the impression that there was whilst using members for revenue generation whilst actively disregarding their opinions.

    I suspected very early that the massive influx of new members might make the old guard uncomfortable but the rhetoric of new members having new ideas etc. was nothing but bullshit. I could have clung on to gather more reasons to leave but I really couldn’t stomach it any more.

    Here are a few examples which I have kept anonymous:

    1) Parliamentary candidate stood for selection in several constituencies and was selected in preference to a veteran member of the SNP for reasons of political correctness. When (verifiable) information about their past emerged, they asked canvassers to lie on the doorstep.

    2) My MP blocked me on Twitter for asking a question about a local issue on which we seemed to disagreed. When approached, rather than say something to my MP, another MP used Twitter to ridicule me over this.

    3) The convenor of the local brach gave out very suspicious unprecedented data on local economics which put the SNP in a very favourable light. I queried the data with them by e-mail and at the next meeting, they ridiculed me for questioning the data but I persisted until I eventually proved that they were wrong. I provided official documentation to do so but they continued to use the data,

    4) At about the fourth meeting, members were told that there was no way that it would be possible for anybody to propose policies for debate at the upcoming party conference as they had to be submitted by the next day, thereby raising the question why the matter had not been raised at an earlier meeting.

    5) After some disquiet at the local branch about policy discussion, it was decided that we would be allowed to discuss policies for ten minutes at the end of meetings if time allowed. In the half dozen or so branch meetings as well as the several constituency meetings, there was never any discussion of policy. Meetings only ever discussed administrative matters, fundraising and events.

    I have always been skeptical of party politics but somehow let my enthusiasm get the better of me in the days after the referendum. In actual fact, I ought not regret joining as it has served as a stark reminder to trust my instincts.

  • Habbbakuk (la vita e' bella!)


    “Don’t understand, Habby, why Craig allows you to keep badgering Becky Cohen about British media coverage of fascists both in government and the media during 1940 when she apparently thought my reply was sufficient.

    Okay, how do you think the British media covered Neville Chamberlain’s speech on April 4, 1940 when he said about The Phony War that his critics were missing what Hitler was up to, preparing to attack the USSR?

    His claim of “missing the bus” completely exploded a few days later when Nazi forces invade Denmark and Norway, and poor Neville’s government came crashing down.

    Why don’t you go read the damn articles and their headlines!”

    I am not “badgering” Beck Cohen, I am asking her to name the newspapers which printed “pro-fascist headlines” in 1940 and, if possible, to post some examples of those headlines.

    After all, she presumably made the claim with some specific newspapers and headlines in mind.

    As for your little bit of “hekp” – yes, I know of the “missed the bus” headline. In which way was that headline (taken from a speech of Chamberlain’s) “pro-fascist”?

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Chamberlain was saying that Britain had not cashed in, “missed the bus”, on Hitler’s planned war on the USSR, concentrating instead on The Phony War in France.

    Hard to imagine any statement more pro-fascist.

  • Robert Crawford

    Dear Mary,

    Thanks for the dig out there. I could not remember where I read the results of the vote.

    Well done, bang on as usual.

  • Muscleguy

    I suppose we could get just over half the population of Scotland to march down the Royal Mile to Holyrood demanding another referendum. But the SNP can then say that fit people like yours truly took a double left at the bottom, ran up the Canongate and joined the line to count again.

    As well we could all write polite emails to Nicola except they will reckon we astroturfed the campaign with multiple email addresses per person.

    Same with signing a petition, Maybe we could all sign in blood?

    But anyway Craig the Scottish Left Project are currently crowdsourcing their manifesto. I suppose their position is too far left for you, but you could do worse. I am falling out love with the SNP and their authoritarian instincts. I’m annoyed with my MSP for voting against Margo’s Assisted Dying Bill so I may well find myself voting SLP in May. Don’t worry, they are solidly Yes. Give them a look over Craig.

  • Mary

    BBC Sparks Petition Backlash Over Branding Jeremy Corbyn ‘Left-Wing Leader’

    ‘The BBC defended their journalists choice of words, commenting choice phrases were employed as a matter of “specific editorial justification” to enhance its audience’s understanding.

    “Our journalists use descriptions of different political leanings to help the audience’s understanding or where there is a specific editorial justification,” a spokesperson told HuffPost UK.

    “Mr Corbyn was to the left of the other candidates and now he has been elected it is fair and accurate to say the Labour leadership is more to the left, or more ‘left wing’ than before.

    “We do not use such labels in every instance, but we have taken a similar approach with the different political shades of other parties.”


  • Republicofscotland

    I am not “badgering” Beck Cohen, I am asking her to name the newspapers which printed “pro-fascist headlines” in 1940 and, if possible, to post some examples of those headlines.


    Always willing to help out as long as you don’t become to pedantic about the year.

    It is one of the choicest pieces of journalistic dinner party general knowledge that the filthy right-wing Daily Mail was officially a fascist newspaper in the 1930s.

    The paper was burned on the streets after running the headline “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” and backing Oswald Mosley’s plan to make himself Britain’s equivalent of Adolf Hitler. No surprise then, so the conversational gambit goes, that the Mail is still beating up on asylum seekers today.

    What is less well known is that the Mail’s former stablemate the Daily Mirror was just as pro-fascist. On Monday, 22 January, 1934 the Mirror ran the headline “Give the Blackshirts a helping hand”. The paper went one further than the Mail, urging readers to join Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, and giving the address to which to send membership applications.

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