“I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.” Ani di Franco
“Don’t criticise the SNP”, come the cries. “Wait for Independence” and “Don’t split the movement”.
Hold on a minute – the broad Yes Campaign was always internally critical. It was the different views of what Independence was and what it could lead to that turned a dry constitutional question into one about jobs, public services, communities, equality and the kind of Scotland we want. Wrestling politics free of the stale, top-down model, we found our voice, more precisely our voices, and we’re not going to shut up now.
Of course, the SNP were the biggest beneficiary from this in terms of members and in terms of their success in the General Election but therein lies the challenge. Can the actions of the party match the rhetoric and match the expectations of those who have joined and/or voted for them? We are still, to some degree in a honeymoon period, yet cracks are beginning to show.
The other main reason for the success of the SNP has been its ability to offer itself as an alternative to the corruption and elitism of Westminster that oozed out of the Better Together campaign, as an option for people who wanted to do politics in a different way. Yet, essentially, they are a party in the traditional mould, with decisions made on-high and passed down for rubber-stamping only when required.
Let’s be clear here, criticism of certain aspects of SNP policy, or the actions of certain individuals, is not the same as wholesale criticism of the SNP. The SNP deserve credit for a whole range of things but that does not place them on a pedestal, immune from scrutiny.
Reflecting on the Michelle Thomson and T in the Park affairs, Gerry Hassan wrote, “What we need to ask after last week is whether, for some in the SNP, independence is only about power.” It would be exceedingly naive to deny that such individuals will exist within the SNP, as they will in all parties. The question, therefore, is not whether they exist but how they can be counteracted.
The SNP before and after the Referendum are two completely different beasts in some respect. The ‘core’ party from before have had to reconcile itself to the large number of new members who may have very different priorities and, in some areas, views. The emergence of SMAUG (SNP Members Against Unconventional Gas) is a good sign that the party membership want a greater say on major issues. I would love to see more of this and a shift of power from the top of the party downwards.
As we move forward and specifically as we approach the 2016 elections, I offer this as a critical friend to many in the SNP with whom I know I agree with on much. We have chosen different parties but our hopes and dreams are bigger than can be contained by any one party. The future will not be decided within our respective boxes but in the areas of overlap between us.
We need to embrace criticism, respond to it properly, defend positions worth defending but also admit when we’ve got it wrong. Any dominant party should constantly be challenged and should expect to be – it’s called accountability. Don’t fear it, embrace it. Let’s broaden the political debate and distinguish productive criticism from petty, tit-for-tat point scoring. Let’s also remember what we do agree on and not throw the baby out with the bath water.
As Cat Boyd said recently, “Political variety and respect for difference keeps us strong; the alternative – one big party with an irreproachable leader – never endures.”