I am at the SNP Conference in Aberdeen and you may not be surprised to learn that I find myself in immediate and fundamental disagreement with the party leadership.
Nicola Sturgeon in her opening address, as in media interviews yesterday, made a point of stating that she did not only want Independence supporters to vote SNP in the Holyrood elections, she wanted unionists to vote SNP too, on the grounds that the SNP were the most competent Holyrood government.
I disagree fundamentally. When we have the clear mandate for Independence of overwhelming election victories at Westminster and Holyrood elections, why muddy the waters and undermine the mandate for Independence by arguing that a vote for the SNP can also be a unionist vote? It is stupid tactics.
It is also nonsense. There is no significant unionist vote for the SNP. Ever since the referendum, opinion polls have without a single exception found support for the SNP and support for Independence to be almost identical, within the margin of statistical error. There is no well of unionist SNP supporters.
Furthermore, analysis of numerous Scottish council by-elections (see Scot Goes Pop passim) shows that unionist voters will happily transfer preferences between the unionist red, blue and orange tories but not to the SNP. Unionists will not vote SNP in significant numbers.
But assuming I am wrong and unionists flock to Sturgeon’s call and start to vote SNP, that raises major questions about the whole purpose of the SNP. If the SNP is a party which unionists can support, then plainly Independence must, by definition, no longer be the defining purpose of the SNP. That is the route Sturgeon is taking.
This is the danger of managerialism, about which I have written before. The SNP becomes so convinced by our own propaganda about the unique competence of our administration and the unique beneficence of our paternalism, that we come to believe that just having the SNP in charge in Holyrood and representing Scotland in Westminster is a good in itself. The fact that this also leaves the SNP establishment in very comfy high paid jobs with their feet well and truly under the UK establishment table is no disincentive to believe this.
Thus the motion after Sturgeon’s speech was about non-delivery of The Vow and called for the Smith Commission to be fully delivered in the Scotland Bill. I do not give tuppence for whether the Smith Commission is implemented in full, in part or not at all. It still leaves Scotland subservient to Westminster, without a voice in international organisations and subject to being dragged in to illegal war, not to mention the new cold war with Russia and renewed arms race which the UK establishment is preparing.
If Sturgeon gains more unionist votes, and in consequence the SNP had 55% rather than 51% of the Holyrood vote, and thus 65% rather than 60% of the Holyrood MPs, what precisely has been gained other than more jobs for the boys and more feet under the establishment table, at the price of abandoning a clear platform of Independence. A terrible trade-off.
If we abandon the idea of a referendum within the next five years, on the stupid grounds that we might lose, then the chance of Independence may vanish. At the moment we have a hated Tory government in Westminster, a Labour Party in utter disarray and SNP dominance in Scotland. There will never be a more favourable conjunction. Why mess it up by starting to spread doubt about the SNP’s commitment to Independence – which is suddenly less important that its commitment to Having Power.
It was the realisation that Scottish Labour cared more about Having Power than principles that put paid to that party. Sturgeon seems to want to replace Scottish Labour in every sense. The SNP may be dominant now, but if we put Power before Independence – as any analysis of Sturgeon’s speech today can only conclude she does – then we should not be surprised if many for whom Independence is the primary objective start to look at other vehicles to attain it.