The Sunday Herald has a piece on three candidates for the Other Party who hope to gain a place on the list in the election later this year.
Now, my instincts are to be welcoming: “great, a step in the right direction, more people who vote Yes from outside the SNP can surely help people understand this is a wide-reaching, grassroots movement not explicitly linked to party policy, and more pro-independence MSPs mean a greater likelihood of a pro-independence majority in Holyrood” right? I said a while back I was no longer interested in my life being ruled by hate. Yet pragmatism gives me cause to question just exactly what these three Yes voters are trying to achieve.
First of all we have Simon Macfarlane:
Simon Macfarlane, 45, a Unison official from Glasgow, said he is not a nationalist, but had voted Yes “with a heavy heart” for “very complex reasons”.
Think of the wave of enthusiasm experienced by Yes voters, many of whom had no desire or reason to vote at all beforehand. Think of the poll that suggested the vast majority of those recorded in the official result in September 2014 were not only convinced by the case for independence then, but definitely think Scotland should be independent. It’s a very strange tack indeed for Mr Macfarlane to campaign on a platform appealing to the very small minority of Yes voters who are not totally committed to the idea of independence. I mean, it’s nice to see minorities catered to, but the “I voted Yes for complex reasons with a heavy heart” demographic?
It becomes clearer as you read on:
“I was not an exuberant Yes, but on balance I did it and I made no secret about that.
He isn’t kidding. As far as I can see, Mr Macfarlane has only been on Twitter since November 2014. He didn’t talk much about independence, but he did see fit to retweet articles and comments criticising pro-independence individuals and groups, such as the time he retweeted a picture mocking “left nats”:
Well, he did say he wasn’t a nationalist…
You’d almost get the impression he wasn’t that favourable towards independence at all, even if he felt it in his heart – which means he was perfectly alright to let his party continue to lie, cheat and terrify even if he didn’t agree with them. That isn’t much of a vote-winner to me. Aside from pot-shots at nats, he’s tweeted mostly in support of Neil Findlay during the leadership contest and a few wee Socialism & Solidarity messages. He certainly wasted no time in sticking the knife in the former leader post-election.
Macfarlane said many of his fellow union activists had also voted Yes and (the Other Party) could not afford to turn its back on members who had backed independence.
He cited (the Other Party in Scotland)’s autumn conference, with its wide-ranging policy debates, as a sign the party was evolving and jettisoning the “machine politics” of the past.
“We don’t need to position ourselves as always critical of the SNP,” he said.
We have to be talking about what we can do and want to do.
“There’s a record there to be scrutinised and in many respects called out in regard to the SNP.
“But my position is that we have to get beyond the constitutional issues and use the powers that parliament has now.”
Notice something about what Mr Macfarlane says? We have to get beyond the constitutional issues. Use the powers that parliament has now. Does that sound like someone who supports independence? Because I’m pretty sure those are the rallying cries of the Ruth Davidsons and Willie Rennies, not Denis Canavans and Allan Grogans. The result of the referendum and the General Election shows that the people of Scotland do not, in fact, want to get “beyond the constitutional issues.” And your party was first and foremost in demanding “faster, safer change” within the UK, was it not? Why else proclaim that a No vote was really for Devomax/Home Rule/Near-Federalism, themselves profound constitutional issues?
Polls show that most of the people of Scotland are not satisfied with the Scotland Bill. Groups such as Poverty Alliance and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations all considered the Smith Commission proposals inadequate. All signs have consistently shown that the people of Scotland want Holyrood to have more control than it has at present. Why is your party ignoring the majority of Scots’ wishes, even after you voted Yes – “heavy hearted” as you were?
Samantha Ritchie (right, obviously) is the second Yes voter standing for the Other Party:
In May last year, she was one of 100 Yes voters who signed a statement backing a (the Other Party) vote in the general election.
Ms Ritchie, like a lot of people, was not always convinced of the case:
And her Twitter shows she isn’t exactly cordial towards the SNP:
Awful lot of pigeon fanciers ended up voting SNP, then!
The pledge stated: “Last September we voted yes in the independence referendum. But we are now facing another choice just as important as the one we took last year.
The full letter can be found here. I note that the Herald omits an important part of the letter:
Do we take the road to a fairer economy with (the Other Party), or the road to a second referendum with the SNP.
Nicola Sturgeon promised the referendum would be once in a lifetime but she’s already planning another one. We don’t want to go through that again so soon.
I’m not going to open that “when exactly should we have another referendum” can of snakes again, but suffice to say, it is extremely confusing to me that people who claim to have voted Yes are so quick to parrot the false premise that the SNP were “already planning another one” with absolutely no evidence or suggestion of that being the case. Indeed, the General Election campaign was explicitly not about a future referendum at all, as the SNP made great pains to point out.
The continued “once in a lifetime” “promise” misrepresentation is even more baffling, since you’d think Yes voters who truly believed in independence wouldn’t want to leave it for another lifetime (quite apart from the fact it was Alex Salmond, not Nicola Sturgeon, who made the “promise”), nor would they place any authority on individuals over the wishes of the people of Scotland. Can you imagine support for independence going into the 60s or 70s, but the First Minister not calling a referendum because “she made a promise?” The only people I hear regularly holding to the “once in a lifetime” “promise” are people who never want to see another referendum at all – many who never wanted a referendum to begin with. Those people weren’t Yes voters.
Whether you want another referendum now, soon or in the distant future is neither here nor here – but pretending that the SNP were somehow forcing a second unwanted referendum on the people of Scotland despite their astounding election success – not to mention turning a 30-point-deficit to only 10 points – is more fitted to the No campaign’s machinations than the independence movement.
“The election is neck and neck in England. If Scotland votes (the Other Party) we can get the Tories out, stop austerity, ban zero-hours contracts, end the need for food banks and make work pay.
“That is why all of us are voting (the Other Party) on Thursday.”
Except we couldn’t have done any of those things, could we? Your party was not promising to stop austerity, or zero-hours contracts, or food banks, or even make work pay. And we don’t need to point out that even if every seat in Scotland voted for your party, we’d still have a majority Blue government. Indeed, the largest investigation into the short campaign proved not only that fear of an SNP alliance was not a significant factor in your party’s failure in England, but that Orange voters letting the Blues in by voting Red in English constituencies actually was.
What’s more confusing to me is how any Yes voter could even consider remaining in a party which treated their most prominent pro-independence movement as “an SNP front” and saw members quit after announcing their support of independence. Unless, of course, they only viewed independence as a way to ensure their party’s prosperity.
She told the Sunday Herald that the (the Other Party) is a “broad church” and is optimistic about the future:
“We are in the right direction and on the right track.”
I agree with the words of that last sentence, but probably not for the same reasons as Ms Ritchie.
The third candidate, Mary Lockhart, has been “out” for much longer than the other two:
Mary Lockhart, who is trying to secure a top place on the Mid Scotland and Fife List, announced her support for independence in 2013.
She wrote: “It won’t deliver Utopia. But it will deliver the chance for socialists to help shape a Scotland which reflects the identity of its people.”
Ms Lockhart has been actively pro-independence throughout the referendum, is a very outspoken activist on socialist and social justice issues, and even stood down from the Co-Op party shortly after announcing her support for independence – which makes her continued membership of the Other Party all the more confusing:
You’ll notice that the three candidates focused on what independence could do for their party. That’s not a problem in and of itself – plenty of reasons for voting for independence, and I’m certainly not going to criticize anyone for them. But I do note that a great number of Yes voters who were formerly members of the Other Party left them and joined one of the parties which was explicitly pro-independence, be it the SNP, Greens, SSP, or RISE. The only reason they were part of the Other Party was in the hope that independence could revitalise them, bring them back to their roots, free of the neoliberal influence of the London PLP.
In contrast, a lot of people ponder the fate of the SNP post-independence. Some say it would fracture into factions, others that it would dissolve after achieving its ultimate goal. Indeed, most people seem to think that it is the other parties – blue, red and orange – who would benefit the most from independence. So what we have is a currently popular party whose ultimate goal risks rendering them obsolete, and a formerly popular party whose only hope of resurgence could be in aiding their rivals in that goal.
It comes down to a question: does party come first, or do ideals?
I always return to this interview with then-First Minister Alex Salmond from just prior to the referendum:
I sometimes look at the opponents, and they say “this is an Alex Salmond project,” or “it’s the SNP’s vanity project.” You know, in essence, this has got nothing to do with Alex Salmond or the SNP. If someone in this audience could guarantee me – I dunno, if I had the Delphic oracle, or a soothsayer, the Brahan Seer, was sitting in this audience – if the Brahan Seer said to me, ‘Listen, you retire from politics tomorrow and I guarantee you Scotland will be an independent country in the spring of 2016’, I would shake hands on that right away. Absolutely.
If somebody said to me – and I mean, I love the SNP, I mean I’ve been in the SNP for donkey’s years now, I just think it’s a wonderful political organisation. It has its faults, believe me, but basically it’s got a beating heart as a political party. It believes in a principle – the principle of Scottish independence – as compassionate a heart as a political organisation, and I don’t think you could ask much more than that.
But listen, if the Brahan Seer said to me, ‘And the other cost of getting independence is the SNP has to be abolished’, then I would agree to that as well, because this is about the people of Scotland for the first time in democratic history having the ability to determine the government of their choice.
It’s the choice of the people of Scotland that’s the important thing.
So I really only have a few questions for Simon Macfarlane, Samantha Ritchie, and Mary Lockhart, if they were elected to the Scottish Parliament:
- If your party asked independence supporters to leave, would you?
- If the Scottish government called a motion for a second independence referendum within the next parliamentary term, would you vote in favour?
- If a second independence referendum was called, would you campaign for a Yes vote?
- Would you vote Yes in a second referendum?
- Hypothetically, if the price of an independent Scotland would be that you would retire from politics and that your party would be abolished, would you agree to it?
Ask any SNP candidate, and I’m confident they would reply Yes to each one. If you don’t, I’m not sure why you should expect any independence supporter to vote for you – and if you do support independence, I’m not sure why you should expect any unionist to vote for you either.
For all the candidates’ admirable qualities, they remain members of a party which marginalised, ridiculed and demonised independence supporters; a party which openly and covertly subverted the wishes of the Scottish people; a party which even now continues to rely on the very worst of sleazy, mendacious politics. Perhaps they still believe the party can be saved, that it can be changed from within, that the new leader in Westminster is the prophet of a revival.
Noble goals, and they’re welcome to them. You may still believe your party can be saved. You may still believe that you can change its course, away from the Blairite rocks threatening to destroy it. You may even still believe that your party is still the party of socialism, of workers, of the people. But I’m not taking any chances: it’ll take a while for me to have any faith or trust in your party even as worthy opposition. Judging by current polls, I’m not alone.