Stuart McMillan with the future of the SNP
We have an election to win, and the short campaign starts as Parliament dissolves. Stuart McMillan will pipe out the Parliament, as he has done for a while now: if you aren’t already an avid Holyrood viewer, make sure you don’t miss today, it’ll surely be memorable. Yet even after the excitement of the conference has piped down, the First Minister made an announcement that has SNP supporters and detractors abuzz with excitement – that the SNP would launch a new initiative to promote Scottish independence this very summer.
Some might argue this might serve as a distraction from the election: we’re fighting the election to be Stronger for Scotland, about delivering for Scotland what other parties resolutely failed to do since devolution, and preserving the trust that voters have placed in the party since their first term all those years ago. I would argue the opposite – that contrary to smug declarations from triumphalist unionists, anything that furthers the cause of independence cannot help but further the success of the SNP. So we’ll still be working hard to get Stuart McMillan as Greenock & Inverclyde’s constituency MSP after nine years as a West Scotland list MSP. But Stuart would be the first to remind us that independence is always the ultimate destination.
As an SNP member, I wholeheartedly support both votes SNP. I expect, and welcome, members of other pro-independence parties to promote their own. But I have reasons beyond party loyalty and number-crunching to support the SNP so resoundingly, and I’m not afraid to say they are emotive and transcend the particulars of policy. It’s not just head & heart – it’s soul.
We all know what this is. Billy Wolfe & Julian Gibb’s 1962 design is simple & elegant, easily replicated no matter your skill with a pen, pencil or brush, evocative of several Scottish icons – the saltire, the thistle, the clootie dumpling – and, fortuitously, the mark of an “X” in a voting ballot.* It has evolved over the years, with dalliances with organic, rectilinear and cyclopean incarnations, before coming around to its current form.
Yet the clootie, and the SNP, symbolise even more than that: it’s a symbol of Scotland’s faith in itself.
Consider: ever since the democratic reforms of 1802, every party which won at Westminster was represented in England and Scotland. Even those that didn’t, such as what was the Unionist Party in Scotland, were considered de facto votes for a larger UK-wide group. Regardless of whether you were Scottish, Welsh, or Irish (later Northern Irish), you could be sure that the party of government would always be chosen by a large number of English voters. The best the smaller nations could hope for was to turn the tide of a close campaign, as we saw in 1964 and 1974 – where they voted for a UK party.
For the longest time, voting for any national party on the UK mainland – be it the SNP, Plaid Cymru, or one of the various English Democrat parties – was seen as a fringe vote, not much different from voting for an independent. For most of its history, the SNP have only managed single figures at Westminster, as it was seen as a UK game – only parties that stood in the rest of the UK (but particularly England) stood a chance of forming the government. A vote for any smaller party was “a vote for (whichever party you don’t like)”.
Devolution changed everything. In 1999, the first election of the new Scottish parliament, we could guess what the largest party would be in terms of votes and seats, given what happened in 1997 – the largest party in Holyrood was also the largest party in Westminster. But the second largest party was not one that stood elsewhere in the UK, nor was it the second largest party in the UK – indeed, it was only the 5th largest in Westminster. The leader of the opposition in Holyrood was the leader of an irrefutably Scottish party. Not the Scottish branch of a UK party – a Scottish party. It isn’t a matter of chauvinism – it’s a matter of accountability, of representation, of identity. Even though the other three of the four largest parties could draw upon resources, funds, manpower and clout many times larger, the SNP saw off all but the largest of the UK parties… only a few months after it was proclaimed that “devolution would kill nationalism stone dead.”
Stuart McMillan & a weel-kent face at Ferguson Marine, during the former’s first term as a West Scotland MSP
This, in itself, showed the direction Scotland was taking. A vote for the SNP was no longer a vote for a party that could only ever gain under a 10th of UK seats, but a vote for a party which was proven to have sufficient support to be the main opposition – in its first election to that parliament. That same election also saw the very first elected members of two other Scottish parties. The next election, while disappointing from an SNP perspective, also showed that other Scottish parties could make a significant impact and gain seats – all without the larger coffers, publicity and influence of UK parties. The 2007 election, of course, was history, as for the first time, a truly Scottish party – a party that does not stand anywhere else in the UK – became the party of government.
Why is this important? I believe it is essential in proving what many feel – that when the people of Scotland have confidence in those they elect, then they become more active and engaged in the world of politics. The Scottish government is the most trusted in Europe by a significant margin – even by those who do not share the SNP’s great goal of independence. Current polls showing the party at 50-60% in constituency polls are practically unprecedented, in Holyrood or Westminster. The 2015 General Election result in Scotland is a paradigm shift unseen in UK history. And it moves us all inexorably towards the logical conclusion – that the people of Scotland are best suited to decide their own destiny, and that destiny is best decided through independence.
That is, after all, what independence is all about. Polls have suggested time and time and time again that the people of Scotland already think that all decisions affecting Scotland should be decided by the Scottish people through the Scottish parliament – it’s just that a large number of them are unwilling, unable, or uninterested in leaping to that logical conclusion. But with confidence, information, support, and good will, they can join us. We voted SNP to the Scottish Parliament twice before. We voted a record number of SNP MPs in 2015. And now, we’re aiming to make a historic third term in a parliament that was originally designed to stop the SNP entirely.
The more people believe in themselves, the more people will believe in independence. I am certain of that. But they won’t believe in themselves if we don’t believe in them. And even after everything that’s happened… I believe.
Stuart’s fundraiser (10 days left!)
*Also the Ichthys, or “Jesus Fish”: while not all SNP supporters are religious, the original context of the symbol as being a visual shibboleth used by a marginalised cause is fitting, certainly for the majority of the SNP’s existence.