By Gordon Morgan
Peter Arnott’s very insightful post last Sunday highlighted the tension between the broader YES movement’s expectation of a unified election campaign in May which could effectively wipe out the unionist parties, and the reality that the SNP has made no proposal for a YES alliance.
One week on this tension is resolving itself but in a disappointing way. Although the woeful Smith Commission report confirms that the strongest possible independence cohort of MPs is necessary at Westminster, various individuals such as Lesley Riddoch and Cat Boyd, who could have been representatives in an alliance, have ruled themselves out. The Greens and SSP are likely to each stand in 14 seats, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition in around 10. Overall these parties may stand in over 20 separate seats.
Whilst the SSP and TUSC are anxious not to stand in winnable SNP seats, no such restraint has come from the Greens. Moreover, the criteria for which seats are “winnable” is highly subjective. To seriously dent Labour, swings of over 20% are required. If say 10% of votes went to Green and socialist parties rather than the SNP, then Labour would likely hold the seat. This could happen in up to 10 seats. In Johann Lamont’s term the “dinosaurs” would have survived.
Before considering what if anything, can be done, it is worth reflecting how we got here.
The YES referendum campaign embodied thousands of groups and hundreds times more individuals largely independent from and certainly not controlled by the official YES campaign or the SNP. Many talented individuals blossomed in the campaign and became local or national figures. Many of these individuals were associated with RIC or non SNP parties.
A considerable time before the election, the idea for a YES alliance was raised and a number of bilateral discussions (some formal others informal) were held between the above groups/parties/individuals and individuals in the SNP leadership. These continued up to the referendum and reputedly after it.
Following the referendum, all 4 independence parties got a huge surge in membership which they are still trying to incorporate into their structures. They each held conferences which they opened up to new members. The Green party conference, perhaps forewarned, decided it would be standing next May, the SSP kept the door open temporarily to a left/YES alliance, Solidarity will decide in February. The SNP, conscious of the minimal desires of its new members, opened the door to non SNP members being adopted as candidates and standing as YES alliance.
Excluded from being adopted as SNP candidates were, however, any member of another party. Furthermore, those standing need to accept the SNP programme [I have a different understanding of this situation – the Editor]. What programme this is unclear, however, those ruling themselves out have mentioned NATO, economic policy and the monarchy, although to be fair many SNP candidates disagree with these policies as well.
One final observation on where we are.
The Greens and SNP in particular will be transformed by their membership and changes to both policy and their party structures are inevitable. The Greens will be changed by recruits from the West of Scotland, the SNP by the huge scale of their membership increase. Most new members have never been in any party and are much younger than the “seasoned” members. It is doubtful if many of the new members are fully aware of let alone consciously agree with all aspects of party policy.
Moreover, which party people have joined appears serendipitous based on: locale; who people campaigned with; access to membership forms/branches etc. There appears more in common between new members in all parties than the rather distinct and unchanging party profiles prior to the referendum.
If only new members were consulted a YES alliance would stand for the one-off election next May. A deal would be struck whereby pushing for real devolution max, fighting austerity and social injustice and giving both Red and Blue Tories a kicking were the election themes.
Can this be put on the table at this late stage? Only the SNP leadership could propose it now. It is not too late yet, however, by Christmas it probably will be.
It would as Peter suggested put internal noses out of joint in the SNP and others, however, it could on balance gain more seats for the SNP.
It might not be successful, however, not to try risks disappointing the wider movement, the SNP’s new members and overall that would be a greater set back.
For lack of a proposal the deal was lost. For lack of a deal the YES alliance was lost. For lack of an alliance some seats were lost. For lack of the seats the victory was lost. For lack of the victory Scottish independence was “postponed”.