Nae Bevvying

B1NxCCgIIAIsMlxAs part of our newvoices series, this from Malcolm Kerr. Malcolm joined the SNP in 1967. As a GP on the Isle of Arran, and Convener of the Isle of Arran SNP Branch, he was closely associated with the Yes Movement locally from 2012 to 2014. Despite having lots of elderly and English-born residents, and defying these demographics, Arran voted 60/40 for Yes. Malcolm is currently one of five nominees seeking to represent the SNP in North Ayrshire and Arran in the General Election.

We seem to be putting quite a lot of energy into dissecting the various scenarios that an expanded group of SNP MPs might encounter in May. No harm in thinking about strategy, of course, but I’ve begun to feel just a little uncomfortable.

Are we going to quadruple our Westminster representation to a couple of dozen? Maybe three dozen? A landslide with 50? Will we hold the balance of power in a hung parliament? Which British party will be the largest? Will Labour want to negotiate, assuming we won’t pass the time of day with the Tories? Given the panic that gave birth to “The Vow” and the Smith Commission, what will the Tory and Labour rank and file think of more powers for Holyrood when they are actually consulted? Should we try to act as Smith enforcers? What if the Labour and Tory parties, with or without a National Government, choose to join forces (again) to block any further progress for Scotland?

There are three disadvantages to all this speculation. Firstly, we can really have no idea either how the dice will fall, or what the Westminster weather will be like on May 8th and thereafter. Secondly, we may, albeit by consensus, paint ourselves into some strategic corner. Thirdly, there is at least some risk that the SNP ‘politburo’ may have established what’s to be done before we even know who’s going to Westminster and before the new cohort has had time to have a say. On this point SNP members who have joined up in the last four months could feel that they are being taken for granted.

My underlying concern in all this is that we are putting a lot of effort into planning what we will DO, yet have not yet convincingly declared who we are going to BE.

We have to go back 93 years, to the 1922 General Election, to find a time that was as momentous and replete with possibilities for the Scottish people as is 2015. In 1922 the Independent Labour Party (ILP) swept Glasgow with a landslide victory, taking 10 of 11 constituencies from the Liberals. Led by John Wheatley, the group headed for Westminster with Home Rule high on their agenda. But not before offering a contract to their celebrating constituents. At a victory rally in St Andrews Halls, 8000 gathered to hear them make a pledge to the people of Scotland with a historic and stirring declaration. The text is worth reading in full, but it concluded:

“In all things we will abjure vanity and self-aggrandisement, recognising that we are the humble servants of the people and that our only righteous purpose is to promote the welfare of our fellow citizens and the well-being of all mankind.”

Humble servants, indeed?

With a hard-right arch-Blairite adherent of the Henry Jackson Society at Labour’s helm in Scotland, it is fairly clear that this tradition is now, for Labour, ancient history. Just to underline the point, why not enlist as your lieutenants two of the most cynical ‘Better Together’ manipulators who helped you scrape a narrow ‘No’ victory with Tory support?

But let’s not worry about them. What about us? How do we aspire to rate on the ‘humble servant of the people’ scale? Are we fully taking on board Bernadette McAliskey’s wise warnings about Westminster’s potential to corrupt, and her reminder of our duty to resist that?

So, here’s a plan. Sign up now to the ‘Kerr Principles’.

Salary Uplift Tithe. There was no need for a 10% pay rise for MPs in 2015. MPs are well paid already. No one else (excepting Bankers, probably) is getting 10%. SNP MPs should agree collectively that the 10% is going to charity. Food banks, maybe.

Really Transparent Living Expenses. This is about how MPs provide a service to their constituents. We need to devise an independent system, its transparency away ahead of statutory requirements, to post our legitimate travel and London living expenses, in real time, where they can easily be accessed by everyone.

Fair and Open Staff Appointments. Recruitment of staff should involve branch members and perhaps representation from the wider Indy movement. Some of our 93000 members will have expertise to contribute.

Accessible Group Meetings. SNP MPs should meet routinely in Glasgow before travelling to London. It might not be a bad thing if this is seen as quasi-abstentionist. How much do we need to be in London? We are trying to get out of there, are we not? Sorry Dundee, but it has to be Glasgow.

Nae Bevvying! In a career of over 30 years, I’ve never drunk alcohol at work. For most people it’s a sacking offence. Not for MPs, though. The House of Commons drinks bill amounts to over £1.5 million per year. We should embrace Jimmy Reid’s legendary advice to the 1971 UCS work-in workers. At the very least, we need self-awareness around who’s buying the drinks, who’s providing the lavish buffet, and why.

Grass Roots Dialogue. In this information age, ‘humble servants’ need a hard-wired two-way conduit for information flow to and from their constituents: SNP members, members of other Independence parties, the community. This will entail social media, video-linking, prioritising time spent in the constituency, imagination and good will.

Westminster isn’t a Career. At Holyrood we need brilliant professional politicians as personified by Nicola Sturgeon and her gender-balanced team. Our MPs should be different. I trust we will never be tempted to take up any executive role. Recurring terms of office should become unusual. The House of Commons isn’t a club.

Katy Clark MP, ex-Labour Deputy Leadership hopeful, is talked up as the epitome of progressive thinking in the Scottish Labour Party. The evidence for this image is shaky, to say the least. Opposition to nuclear weapons is usually cited as an example. Well, she had an opportunity on September 18th last year give this ‘principle’ a test run as part of a programme of action. But preferred not to risk her job.

By early February I will know whether I am to be the SNP challenger who will be working to shine a light on this record of hypocrisy, – or campaigning to get one of my four co-nominees elected.

In any event, the ‘humble servant’ agenda ought not to go away.



Categories: Commentary

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32 replies

  1. Totally agree with the need for Grass Roots Dialoque.

  2. Grass Roots Dialogue. well said Malcolm !
    At last somebody from the SNP understands the importance of engaging with the membership in a truly modern way – using the internet. Not everyone of the 93000 can attend branch meetings. The party needs to set up interactive digital social media where members can air their views, promote their ideas and receive a response from the Party HQ, make the members truly feel part of a social democratic party that listens to it’s people. In this way the party can better gauge the mood of voters. This is not difficult to set up and run – it would require a team of maybe 10 or 12 with the necessary social media skills based in a central office with direct access to party policy makers / media PR to ensure their answers to the membership are ‘on message’ with SNP policies. (This is how the major pop festival sites operate – they have to to engage with thousands of possible festival goers to ensure ticket sales in a competitive market). What a march that would steal on the unionists. And just for info – I have communicated with the party on 4 occasions without response, that is bad and if others are experiencing this, then those enthusiastic new members will become disillusioned and will not renew.

    • Correct – Recently at the hustings for candidate selection – roughly about 300-400 turned up over the 3 meetings – a great turnout BUT SNP now have 1900 !!!! members in the constituency – so the vast majority is not working with the traditional means – they wont attend hustings , they wont attend brach meetings BUT
      Give them some canvassing or a YES stall or social media to spread policy and its a powerful force but the hierarchy need to use non normal means to get feedback and create policy. Different Era Now.

    • This old member (and party funder within the limits of the law on ‘foreign’ donations) is having the same trouble. There are enthusiastic new members where I live (in southern Finland), Scots who are here for a while or for life, but who want to contribute more than by just being a headquarters member. I’ve tried numerous times to get advice from SNP HQ on setting up an overseas branch. Cheesed off with the lack of response doesn’t begin to cover it.

  3. can I move to Arran and vote for you. Much sense spoken.

  4. A candidate to be an MP who wants to serve the people rather than being an “Imperial Master”……. I’ll vote for him!

  5. Forget your ‘to do’ list, just declare independence with the 30+ SNP MP’s and don’ t expect to take the Westminster salary and exp. You are standing for Scotland’s independence after all, aren’t you? Be prepared to declare it, then get back to a real job.

  6. I totally agree with getting into the minds of ordinary folk. There are lots of new politically awakened members of the public in Scotland, who find that the sometimes… too articulate, and intellectual blogs, and banter, a bit much to evaluate and act upon.

  7. I would say that getting these Kerr principles accepted and out to the people of Scotland would add significantly to SNP chances of a landslide victory. It is appalling the lack of ethical standards that we, the people accept in our politicians.

    It is one thing to accept that we are all human, with frailties – but politicians seem to make an art form of their tails wagging the dog… Setting the bar a lot higher for politicians would go some way towards getting better servants….

  8. This is very important and I think the only way forward for any SNP MPs. Brake the mold and show the “corrupted” that we can send proper “humble servants of the people” to Westminster working for Scotland’s people in Westminster.People all over the UK are crying out for proper representation and Scotland can show the way.

  9. Some excellent ideas here. I especially like the idea of expenses transparency. It’s still a pretty hot topic and would win respect as well as votes.

    When it comes to living expenses though, I think there would be a lot of value in buying a large property and converting it into effectively a Scottish Embassy in London. Our MPs can stay there at a fraction of the cost of each one buying their own place, there can be meeting rooms and office space, and if it’s kitted out properly, it can show the way forward in terms of energy efficiency etc. too. Perhaps Plaid and any Green MPs might like to get in on the act as well. Every little bit we can do to show how much more efficient and principled we are compared to the Westminster establishment is a major positive.

    As far as party organisation goes, I think getting power into the constituencies is vital. With 100,000 members, a “command and control” model may be possible given the communications technology now available, but is it really what people want? Far better, I think, to move towards a “communicate and co-ordinate” role. Give people on the ground information about what’s happening at Westminster (and Holyrood) as well as whatever other research and statistics are available to support the cause. On specific issues, send out talking points. But always ensure it’s a two-way flow of information. With so many members, the SNP can be MUCH closer to the mood of the nation than any other party purely by dint of the number of conversations the members can have with the electorate. As with the referendum campaign, it’s those one-to-one conversations that will change minds, not least because we can’t expect to get a terribly fair hearing from the English-British media. Members will need to feel empowered to have those conversations and be in full possession of the facts.

  10. well at the moment the only place we can get the SNP response to ‘hot topics’ or the latest political events is via quotes from Nicola or whoever in the MSM. Nothing on the website – how are the activists, the supporters, we people arguing the case in workplaces etc supposed to get the ammunition for our arguments. Starve your troops of ammunition, you’ll be defeated. Fair do’s to them, the SNP have always been ahead of labour in political ideas, but now the party needs to adopt 21st century methods and get connected to its membership so that the party gets the feedback from the frontlines. When I get an email asking for support from supposedly Nicola herself and I reply – I should not be getting a great big silence.

  11. Hope the FM is reading and listening

  12. Well said Malcolm

  13. What a wonderful article. Good luck, Malcolm!

    I almost think politicians like Malcolm Kerr are too good even for the SNP. I think we all understand that we must vote SNP in British elections. But when it comes to Holyrood, I believe it will be far healthier for everyone, the SNP included, if we have a whole range of independents and indy-desiring parties. The whole key is the grass roots movements — one political party will just suck away all the energy and “Animal Farm” will revert back to being “Manor Farm”…

    • Again spot on. I have been saying to sceptical SNP bashers since the referendum began that when we get independence the SNP(which really is a coalition for Independence) will probably disperse into their constituent factions and form different groups at Holyrood so we all can be heard. So why not now? It would give anti SNP, but potential Yesers, a voice of their own. The Alliance for Independence as has been suggested before. Part of me is saying it could create more problems, but worth discussing.

      • That used to be the expectation of many members that I knew (me included) but I no longer think it is the case. The discipline needed to win and keep power has not only had an effect on outward behaviour, but also on the inner life of the party.

        I’d now expect the SNP to continue largely unchanged post-independence, as most parties who achieve independence do (South African ANC? Mexican Institutional Revolutionary Party? Algerian National Liberation Front?) and it will be the slow march of time, with intellectual rust and the promotion of place-men (or women), that sees them lose position rather than any fracturing of the ranks.

  14. I have sent the link to this excellent article to the prospective candidates for SNP MP in Argyll & Bute pointing out that this is what the voters expect of them and wishing them luck. Please could any readers of this do something similar and start the communication ball rolling. We need what is being suggested and we can act as well as talking. We did it in the Indy Ref with the resources we had then, so the more we communicate the more the need for better channels will become obvious. We need to “walk our talk”.
    As a footnote I have to say I am so relieved to read this article as I have been worried about the slightly unrealistic expectations for the SNP, at the General Election, being banded about when we can’t possibly know what is going to happen, but we can do our best to actually make it happen if we use Malcolm s ideas and act.

    • The whole article surely misses the irony; we do not want Westminster MP’s in Scotland, period. The 30+ SNP MP’s, a Scots majority, once elected, should declare what they are standing for – independence. Then they don’t have to trouble themselves with travel to London, or having to take the unionist salary and expenses, or any other nonsense.

  15. Excellent article Malcolm!
    And I totally agree with leginge 08.57.

  16. Totally agree with all you say. I am going to take this list with me to the meetings that the local candidates (from all parties ) will be having and ask them what their thoughts are. Also sending it to WFI local group.

  17. Why Glasgow exactly? This kind of meeting should be moved around the Country.

    While there’s still a pervading feeling from many in the Highlands and Western Isles that Holyrood is as remote from understanding their issues as Westminster and is focused on the Central belt (justified or not) what kind of message do you think “it has to be Glasgow” sends?

    Might I suggest all SNP MPs should routinely meet in and get to understand all parts of the country.

    • My concept was that routine group meetings would take place at or close to a major transport hub in Scotland, – but not Edinburgh. No objection to moving around the country as well, acknowledging this will reduce the time spent in London. I”m assuming we are going to London. Nobody is talking about abstention, correctly. MK

  18. Lovely words. But as for the ‘Really transparent living expenses’, why not pay these out of your MP salary in the same way that everyone else has to? As far as I can tell, the only expenses MPs should be eligible for are their travel expenses (which should cover only the cheapest rail or air fare available – anything over and above that should come out of the Member’s own pocket, so if they really, really want to travel in First Class, they can damn well pay for it from their salary).

    And in terms of the salary, why not follow the example of what the SSP MSPs did, and take a worker’s wage rather than 60-odd grand?

  19. Delighted to see that you are a potential candidate in the Westminster elections Malcolm and I think this article here is timely; we need to see the work-plan and the ambition for those SNP elected members and the kind of communication strategy you suggest would be quite revolutionary. Good luck, and if the good folk of Arran constituency are wise, then you will surely get elected. All the best,

  20. You’ll have read this but just in case. He is spot on, I say.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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