Unexpectedly, the election for leader of the SNP has become a true hinge moment in the entire history of the Scottish nation.
Sure of their control of the party, the devolutionists in the SNP have openly come out with the proposal that Independence is merely an “aspiration” – Humza Yousaf’s exact word.
Stewart McDonald and Alyn Smith have set 2050 as a possible Independence date. Humza has poured scorn on the idea that 50% + 1 of votes would be sufficient for Independence, thus conceding the Tory proposals for a qualified majority and abandoning the principle of the 2014 referendum.
This puzzles me entirely. If 50% + 1 for the Union is enough to decide for the Union, why is 50% + 1 against the Union not enough to decide against the Union?
Why can I have my will thwarted by losing by one vote, but Gordon Brown not have his will thwarted by losing by one vote?
Above all, Yousaf, Smith, McDonald and a large number of SNP elected parliamentarians have stated explicitly that Independence can only come with Westminster’s agreement.
They have conceded that London has a permanent veto over Scottish Independence.
Even Nicola Sturgeon never explicitly came out and said that, though her insistence that Independence must be legal in terms of UK domestic law had the same effect.
The problem is that, if you believe that London has a right of veto over Scottish Independence, you cannot actually believe that Scotland is a nation with the right of self-determination.
A vote for Humza Yousaf is a vote for decades more of devolution. Which is why a majority of the SNP MPs and MSPs, collecting huge salaries from the UK devolution settlement, have come out in support of him.
Humza is the trougher’s trougher.
Not only is the “official” Sturgeon continuity SNP solely devolutionist, its primary interest in devolution is to pursue identity politics, rather than general wealth equality.
Hence we have had radical reform on Gender Recognition, but timid and tiny efforts at Land Reform, which have paid tens of millions of public money to the Duke of Buccleuch and others for small parcels of marginal land they did not want to keep.
Hence the attempt to move the conversation on to whether candidates will, within the devolution settlement, carry on a hopeless legal battle with London over gender reform, whereas the solution which the SNP is supposed by its constitution to advocate is the opposite: obtaining Independence for Scotland so Scotland can settle these matters for itself.
Ash Regan offers the opposite view. She espouses precisely what I have advocated on this website for a decade – that Scotland’s elected representatives should declare Independence, as has been the normal and accepted route to Independence, in a world where over half the states have become Independent during my lifetime.
So SNP members have the clearest choice. If they vote for Humza they are voting for devolution and no action on Independence apart from “aspiration” and “conversation”.
If they vote for Ash they are voting for confrontation with London and eventual UDI. As the SNP continues its electoral dominance, this is a major turning point.
It is not entirely plain which side of this divide stands Kate Forbes, but I believe she is closer to Ash’s position than to Humza’s.
The key point is that nobody knows what the SNP members actually think about all this. The choice will get clearer to them as hustings go on these next few weeks.
The SNP leadership have spent eight years dismantling the democratic mechanisms of the party. Conferences have been cancelled or reduced. The last one was about a fifth the size they were from 2014 to 18, and heavily influenced by the payroll vote.
The National Executive is dominated by representatives of affiliated groups, who are massively over-represented compared to those elected by the party conference.
There has been no election by the entire party membership for twenty years, nor I believe any other kind of whole membership vote.
The SNP staff and SNP elected representatives are very heavily behind the Sturgeon agenda. Because of Sturgeon’s personal crusades they are far more interested in identity politics than in Independence.
The presumption has been that this is representative of the SNP’s current membership.
Certainly it is true that over 10,000 members left the party, dissatisfied with Sturgeon’s commitment to Independence. 6,000 of them formed the Alba party.
It is also true that many young members have joined who are much more interested (as is their right) in gay and trans issues than in Independence.
But I suspect that the SNP elected members and staff, and those wannabe careerists dominating their youth groups, are less representative than people realise. On Twitter, the SNP appears almost exclusively a matter of pronouns and rainbow flags, cf. the much lauded Mhairi Black intervention to attack Kate Forbes.
Yet I believe there are tens of thousands of ordinary members whose primary interest is still Independence – and Independence quickly, not in 2050.
I meet these people at Yes group, AUOB and similar events. They have remained loyal to the SNP in the patient belief that things will come right and action on Independence is pending.
It seems to me that the SNP leadership have miscalculated their membership – because the leadership has been in a small cocoon of staff and troughing MPs and MSPs not too bothered about Independence.
I think the members are about to let the leadership know what they really think, in the first opportunity for decades.
While I would love to see Ash in charge, I suspect the ultimate beneficiary may be Kate Forbes.
It is an STV election. I suspect that followers of Ash and Kate will largely transfer between each other. To be plain, to win Humza needs to be far ahead on first preferences.
That is looking highly improbable. The devolutionists have badly miscalculated.
A final thought. I do not trust Peter Murrell at all to run the election. Voting is electronic.
Candidates have no method to tally those issued with voting logins against the party membership, and to do sampling to check that all those electronic votes are from real, existing members. Or indeed from real people at all rather than just batches of fake names to support batches of logins.
That is just one weak point in the system. There are many others. It would be much better if a respected organisation were brought in that oversees the whole process including verification sampling of voters.
The SNP uses MiVoice, which does not do this. The Electoral Reform Society would do it.
Do not hold your breath for a fair voting process. At the very least, the person in charge should not be under police investigation for fraud.
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