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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  • Habbbakuk (la vita e' bella!)


    Becky Cohen said “1940”.

    You refer to a Daily Mail headline from 1934.

    As the great Robert Conquest would surely say: you are a fucking fool.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    For Habby to search for himself, he should look online at 1940 Newspaper Archives. There are 7,500 entries.

    He can look around for free, I believe, and search for a fortnight for a fee.

    Would be a great opportunity for us to be without him for a while.

  • Habbbakuk (la vita e' bella!)


    It was Becky who made the claim (as a statement of fact).

    Surely it is up to her to back it up rather than for me to disprove it?

    Can you prove you’re NOT a lunatic? No, of course you can’t.


    Anyway, enough of this.

    I called Becky Cohen out and she’s gone to ground, unable or unwilling to back up what she wrote.

    To be borne in mind when we read further stuff from her, eh what?

  • Habbbakuk (la vita e' bella!)


    “And where did Robert Conquest say any such thing about anyone?”


    I’ll educate you,Trowbridge.

    When Robert Conquest’s “The Great Terror” (about the Soviet terror in the 1930s) first came out, it was attacked by the usual pro-Soviet useful idiots as being a pack of lies.

    Years after its first publication, greater access to Soviet archives and further research by Sovietologists made it clear that, if nything, Conquest has under-estimated the extent of the terror.

    Invited by his publisher to consider giving the second edition of the book a new or amended title, Conquest suggested – not entirely seriously – to call it “I told you so, you fucking fools”.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    I can prove that I am not a lunatic, but I don’t know if you can, especially when you put lies in Conquest’s mouth, as Jack Hanson established, and underlined in his obituary of him.

    Don;t think that blogs need to be conducted like some kind of libel trial.

    Posters should make some kind of effort to back up what they claim no matter what the situation is.

    Hope you will not bother us further with your absurd claims here.

  • Republicofscotland

    “Daily Mail should read Daliy Mirror.”

    Now who’s the FF…..I knew you’d pedantic.

  • Tim

    Before this thread dies I would just like to point out that Chamberlain very clearly said that it was Hitler who had “missed the bus”:

    “I stick to the view I have always held that Hitler missed the bus in September 1938. He could have dealt France and ourselves a terrible, perhaps a mortal, blow then. The opportunity will not recur.”
    Letter to Hilda Chamberlain (30 December 1939), quoted in Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Hitler. British Politics and British Policy. 1933-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 355.

    In the Norway debate “at several points MPs derisively shouted out “They missed the bus!”[6] The Speaker had to call on Members not to interrupt and Chamberlain was eventually forced to defend the phrase directly. He asserted that the phrase had not been intended as a prediction but a retrospective comment that the totalitarian states had prepared for war while the United Kingdom was thinking only of peace, and so he would have expected an attack at the outbreak of war when the disparity of arms was at its greatest.”

    There’s nothing about the UK missing the bus or about the USSR

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Just convenient gibberish, using what Chamberlain wrote to his daughter on December 30, 1939 about what Hitler could have done in September 1938 to explain away his dreadful miscalculation about what Hitler was up to during the Phony War, and the Norway Debate took place several days after he made the predictive “missing the bus” claim on April 4, 1940 in the Commons which Members recalled in trying to shout hum down.

  • Tim

    Everyone agrees that Chamberlain got it spectacularly wrong, but his 4 April speech was not in the House of Commons. It was at a Conservative Party rally at Central Hall Westminster. According to the Times he said:

    “The result was that when war did break out German preparations were far ahead of our own, and it was natural then to expect that the enemy would take advantage of his initial superiority to make an endeavour to overwhelm us and France before we had time to make good our deficiencies. Is it not a very extraordinary thing that no such attempt was made? Whatever may be the reason—whether it was that Hitler thought he might get away with what he had got without fighting for it, or whether it was that after all the preparations were not sufficiently complete—however, one thing is certain: he missed the bus.”

    What did he say about the USSR?

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Chamberlain was indicating that in trying to catch up with Hitler, Britain missed the bus by not working with him in going after the USSR.

    If Chamberlain wasn’t implying this, why would the shit hit the fan when Hitler invaded Northern Europe?

    Read Andrew Roberts article where he stated that Chamberlain made a catastrophic mistake in saying then what he did about missing the bus.

  • Tim

    Chamberlain was quite clearly understood by his audience to be claiming that Hitler had missed his opportunity to win the war, because British and French rearmament had caught up. The blitzkrieg in North-West Europe showed he’d got it totally wrong. That’s why “the shit hit the fan” and he had to resign.

    Having failed in their (arguable) commitments to Poland, the allies were trying to work out how they could help Finland resist the attack from the USSR. But at this point Hitler was dividing Poland with Stalin and not “going after him”.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    If Britain was doing all it could against Hitler, why did Churchill recklessly try to play catch up with his own attempt to recover Northern Europe, and still survive when it turned out to be an utter fiasco?

    And I don’t care what Roberts political preference are, only what he wrote about Chamberlain’s speech, and his hasty undoing.

  • glenn

    Habbabkuk: RoS said, “Always willing to help out as long as you don’t become to pedantic about the year.

    And the result…?

  • Vronsky

    “We really need a new treatment of GStQ, don’t we?”

    There is one I do as a party piece. I sing it, but bleep out all the bad words. Altogether now!

    (bleep) (bleep) our (bleep)(bleep) Queen
    (bleep) (bleep) our (bleep)(bleep) Queen
    (bleep) (bleep) the Queen

    Send her (bleep) Tory us
    (bleep)(bleep)(bleep)(bleep)(bleep) us
    Long to (bleep) over us
    (bleep) (bleep) the Queen

  • Habbbakuk (la vita e' bella!)


    “Becky Cohen” posted that there were “pro-fascist headlines” in UK newspapers in 1940.

    Is it pedantic to point out that the example of such a headline – given by Republicofscotland in an apparent attempt to provide the proof that Becky Cohen appears unwilling or unable to provide – is from 1934?

  • Mary

    Bryan Gould, the Labour leader we never had, who departed these shores in 1994, writes:

    A lurch to the left
    by Bryan Gould

    17th Sep 2015

    One of the main obstacles to making sense of today’s politics is the insistence of commentators that any shift in political position can only be described as either rightwards or leftwards. This over-simplified and one-dimensional view of the political landscape means that many of the possible directions of political travel – directions that cannot or should not be characterised in such limited terms – are simply not recognised or are overlooked.

    When a party elects a new leader, as the British Labour Party has just done, this lazy shorthand automatically describes the change as a shift to the right or – more usually and, as in this case – a “lurch” to the left. But such language significantly misrepresents what has happened.


  • Suhayl Saadi

    Yes, around 1990, Labour – with Kinnock at the helm – definitely rejected Bryan Gould’s detailed analysis in favour of neoliberalism. Gould then returned to New Zealand. You’re quite right, Mary, Gould was not regarded at the time as a rabid leftist; rather it was that the Labour Party moved to accept the fundamentalist, extremist dogma of Thatcherism.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Glenn, is it too much to ask lying Habby to stop badgering Becky Cohen to supply 1940 headlines of pro-fascist behavior when he can find plenty of it for himself?

    For example when Chamberlain’s government was collapsing in May 1940 because of Britain’s failure in Norway, he tried to reform his failing government by asking Labour and the Liberals to back it, but Labour Leader Clem Attllee refused, saying that he would not support a government which was still trying to appease the Nazis!

    Can just imagine what the headlines about all this were around the country, especially since Churchill was saying that Britain was finally catching history’s bus.

  • Habbbakuk (la vita e' bella!)

    “but Labour Leader Clem Attllee refused, saying that he would not support a government which was still trying to appease the Nazis!”


    No he didn’t. He said that he would not join a coalition headed by Neville Chamberlain.

    You might recall that Labour did however join a coalition headed by Winston Churchill.


    Have you been expelled from Squonk?

  • John Spencer-Davis

    18/09/2015 4:44am

    I appreciate that Corbyn’s victory gives room for manoeuvre by left-inclined reporters.

    Personally, I think that the most important thing about Corbyn’s victory is that it will actually force the media to present an alternative perspective on the world to that of Blair/Brown/Cameron/Miliband et al. They simply will not be able to avoid that. Granted, it will be placed in contexts of ridicule, but I think that that will have less impact than the media might hope.

    The bias against Corbyn has been so blatant that I think it has backfired rather. Take his refusal to sing the National Anthem. The pretended outrage by the white moustache and gin brigade, in my reading of the matter, has most definitely not been matched by a similar revulsion on the part of the ordinary person. Most social media comments I have read have expressed respect for his principles.

    I am amused and horrified by the presentation of Corbyn as some kind of crazed Marxist lunatic. It shows in a very striking way just how far to the right the “centre ground” has been positioned over the last three decades or so. He may be the most left wing leader the Labour Party has ever had, but that isn’t saying much, in my opinion.

    Kind regards,


  • fedup

    Glenn, is it too much to ask lying Habby to stop badgering Becky Cohen to supply 1940 headlines of pro-fascist behavior when he can find plenty of it for himself?

    You are such a charitable person!

    The specimen in question is not the least bit interested in any of the contents, it is forever asking people to furnish it with! The mission statement is to cast doubt/deride/discount any credible comment. the questions are in fact aspersions/slander on the comments as to portray these as suspected, lacking veracity and of dubious nature, of the comment’s contention.

    This is an old tactic falling off my dinosaur kind, but it seems now and again this bit of theatrics gets picked up by some commenter making the specimen to feel a lot better believing it is remaining relevant!

  • glenn

    Habbabkuk: “Is it pedantic to point out that the example of such a headline – given by Republicofscotland in an apparent attempt to provide the proof that Becky Cohen appears unwilling or unable to provide – is from 1934?

    A bit, particularly since you used that to call RepublicOfScotland names when I believe he was actually trying to be informative and helpful.

    But I thought (on seeing your mention in a later thread about a reply waiting here) that you were talking about searching for older posts, and some suggestions I’d made for you. But that was in the “selective indignation” post.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Just more lies, Habby.

    Attlee said, as the BBC was reporting when Hitler attacked Holland, Belgium and France, that he would not support any such government led by Chamberlain because of its pre=war appeasement policies.

    Expelled from squonk? When are you going to get real?

  • Tim

    Attlee would not support Chamberlain because he HAD been appeasing Hitler. Chamberlain had since then, however reluctantly, declared war on Germany, which would not normally be taken as an act of appeasement.

    When Chamberlain fell the Conservatives elected as leader the man who most opposed appeasement, again hardly evidence that they wanted a secret deal

    The incompetent pursuit of the war in the early months is evidence of nothing but poor preparation which Churchill could not be expected to carry the can for in political terms.

    Stalin of course never trusted Churchill because of his role in the post WWI invasions of Russia, but at least as far as appeasing Hitler is concerned this was a suspicion too far.

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