My column sparked major debate on need to vote SNP

WELL now, my last column seems to have touched a nerve for many.

Usually, I don’t get a lot of reaction to my musings on the topics de jour, but my suggestion last time that people who support independence should vote SNP at the coming election, and an observation that the cause will be set back if they don’t, seems to have caused more than a little excitement.

Not amongst my parliamentary colleagues and party members, it should be said, most of whom thought it was fair enough, but among opponents of independence of every hue.

The proposition was restated in similar terms by the First Minister when launching the party’s election campaign. He said that if Scottish Labour get their feet under the table, they will swiftly take independence off it. Keir Starmer will claim every vote as one for shutting down and shutting out those who believe Scotland would be better off as an independent state.

The BBC suggested that the FM got his inspiration for this from my column earlier in the week. Hardly. Humza has many better sources of inspiration than me. It’s not even a matter of great minds thinking alike. It is, frankly, just a statement of the blindingly obvious.

I like to think that my political arguments – although nurtured by an ideological credo – can be backed up by evidence. So here goes. I present exhibit A. Last Tuesday, the Alba MP Neale Hanvey introduced his Scotland (Self-Determination) Bill to the House of Commons which sought to change the law to allow the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a referendum on independence.

Much as I agree with the sentiment behind Neale’s case and I firmly believe in the principle of self-determination, I don’t think conferring a specific power on Holyrood is the best way to achieve it. I would have preferred changing the schedule of reserved powers to remove or qualify Westminster’s exclusive right to deal with constitutional matters, thereby creating a competence for the Scottish Parliament to act within the constraints of existing constitutional law.

But that’s not the point. The vote on Tuesday was not on whether people agreed with Neale’s proposal but whether he should be allowed to introduce the bill for debate. And of course, we should have. Which is why my SNP colleagues and I voted for it.

Not surprisingly in a chamber where Scotland’s interests are at best peripheral, the vote was 228 to 48 against discussing the matter further. But what’s instructive is to look at who voted in which way. Most of the Tories didn’t bother; two even voted for the bill. But every Labour and LibDem MP present was instructed to vote against. Strange behaviour, this. The nature of these private members’ bills is that very few are opposed as they are unlikely to get anywhere in the legislative machinery of the parliament anyway. On this occasion, however, Labour went out of their way to vote against it.

It was to make a point.

My suggestion that if the SNP lose the election then the debate on indy stalls was predictably seized upon by hardline Unionists. From Brian Wilson to Douglas Ross (below), they leapt on it with glee to suggest this was the way to deny and defeat the aspiration to control our own affairs.

But not so fast, guys. I wasn’t suggesting this was going to happen, just warning of the dangers that it might, particularly if many indy supporters stay at home. It works the other way around. If we don’t lose the election, our ability to prosecute the case for independence is enhanced and energised. I trust Messrs Wilson and Ross will accept that.

I firmly believe we can win this election. Now, I know many people are getting mightily pissed off at the fact that voting for the SNP in the past hasn’t produced independence. That is principally because the Conservative government at Westminster has been determined to deny our mandate in the hope that it will go away.

Our determination must be to not let it go away. And that’s the thing about mandates – each one only lasts until the next. So that is why it matters. That is why anyone who supports independence – or even the right to have a choice on independence – should vote SNP.

I seemed to have provoked a reaction from some elsewhere in the Yes movement too; shot by both sides. Alba’s Ash Regan commented that “the independence movement is bigger than one person or one political party”. If she had actually read the article, she would have found me agreeing with her.

Of course, different parties and many voices must build our movement. But 2024 isn’t the final vote to declare our independence – it’s an election for members of the Westminster Parliament. There will be several steps yet to becoming independent, this is just the next one. Given the corrupt first-past-the-post system, only the SNP can win seats for the movement in this election. The movement should take advantage of the party to make that happen.

I even got taken to task by my old friend Iain Macwhirter. Iain is extremely vexed at some of the policies of the Scottish Government, and he writes these days for a different demographic. Nonetheless, he is guilty of several unforced errors of logic in his recent Times column.

He quotes me stating my central proposition and says: “If this is so, the great constitutional debate may be over because the latest opinion poll suggests the SNP are on to a loser.” Leaving aside the wisdom of basing a political argument on one opinion poll, he has just made a great leap from me suggesting an election defeat might halt progress towards indy to him implying the matter is closed. Woah!

The debate will only be over either when independence is achieved or when everyone stops wanting it. Every SNP MP elected – even if only one – will argue the case for Scotland’s independence. I’m only saying that if we don’t win a majority, we cannot claim a national mandate. If that happens, you can be assured, we won’t be shutting up and we will set about the task of getting that majority next time round.

The “SNP bad” brigade, including some influential commentators, repeatedly decontextualise the actions of the Scottish Government. Ignoring the good, highlighting the bad. Leaving no dysphemism unused, they believe the party needs to get a kicking and they’re happy to hold the coats.

And some of our hitherto supporters will even go so far as to explicitly endorse the principal party of the Union in Scotland. How else can we explain Iain’s statement: “It has long been accepted that the road to Number 10 runs through Scotland.” Does it? Does it really? Didn’t Tony Blair win three elections in a row, each one with a bigger majority than the total number of Scottish MPs?

The only thing voting Labour in Scotland will achieve is stacking up a bigger majority for the least radical, least ambitious opposition party in history, giving Starmer a blank cheque and setting the cause of independence back until the next time. I mean, do that if you want – it’s a free country – but don’t claim you’re supporting independence when you do.

Why independence supporters must vote SNP at the next election

It’s 2024. Election year. And it really is all to play for.

Under the UK’s unfit-for-purpose constitution, the incumbent gets to decide on polling day. Opposition parties talk up a May election. They will claim the Tories are running scared if they don’t call it then. But unless the gap between the Tories and Labour gets close to single figures, it’s difficult to see why the Government would go early.

It doesn’t really matter, the result is already clear. Labour are so far ahead in England as to be uncatchable. Pollsters predict that if a General Election were held tomorrow, Sir Keir Starmer would romp home with a majority of between 100 and 200 seats. It won’t be held tomorrow, and the majority won’t be that big, but even with their track record of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Labour cannot lose in England.

The reasons for Tory oblivion are pretty clear. There’s been no Brexit dividend, and the unified right which made it happen is splitting down the middle. Although Reform aren’t quite inflicting the damage Farage did in 2017, they are getting there. Real incomes are falling; most people feel worse off. Westminster’s catastrophic management of Covid continues to unfold with questions mounting as to why they spent so much more than comparable countries only to preside over many more deaths.

Labour just need to stand aside and let the Tories fall apart. That is precisely what those around Starmer will do. Every one of the 44 red wall seats is already toast. You can see it in the eyes of the incumbents; the likes of Lee Anderson and Jonathan Gullis know they are well past their sell-by date. But Labour will oust more than 100 Tories from their own heartlands too.

Now you might argue that with the Tories in such disarray, now might be the time for Labour to champion a revitalised British social democracy. Comparisons are made with 1997.

Say what you want about New Labour – and I could say plenty – they did at least have a bunch of stuff – devolution, tax credits, international aid – that added up to a different vision from the tired John Major government.

But today’s new, new Labour have given up on pretty much everything the party ever stood for. There’ll be no attempt to make the wealthy pay more. Even those at the very bottom subsisting on state pensions and benefits can’t be sure Labour would be more generous. Inequality will remain the scourge that it is without any conviction or plan to change it.

There’ll be no new money for the NHS. No acceleration to green energy. No return to Europe. Every hare-brained right-wing populist idea the Tories come up with is top trumped by Labour.

The Labour strategy isn’t pretty but as a short-term device to win seats, it is effective. I feel for the many lifelong Labour activists in England now abandoned by their party. Some will stay at home, some will vote Green, but most will go along with it. Turnouts will be low, disillusion will be high, feeding a dangerous legacy of alienation and apathy. That’s the price Labour seem content to pay to win Tory support.

This is Labour’s strategy for England. But it won’t play well in Scotland where desire and demography are different.

Against that backdrop, we should consider how this election campaign is fought here. A generation of Labour activists – of which I am one – made a conscious decision to embrace independence as a political strategy not because we were nationalists, but because we believed it offered a better prospect for achieving the social and economic change we desired.

A medium-sized European country north of Britain seemed just more able to deliver a just and equitable future than a vestigial imperial power avoiding coming to terms with its past. And the very idea of running our economy in the public interest sat well with the character and psyche of the Scottish electorate whereas it grated against England’s small C conservative majority.

Every statement Starmer makes, every abandoned promise, every reassurance to the rich and powerful demonstrates that we were right. This is not to say that the right has taken over Labour – although that is clearly the case. It’s more that for Labour to win electorally in England, they must compromise so much that they cannot achieve real change. Independence offers Scotland the chance not to have its ambition thwarted by another country’s political reality.

Given that the prospect of the Conservatives winning this year is practically inconceivable, two things follow. Firstly, what is the best way to influence an alternative UK Government into being something better than a low-calorie version of what it replaces? Secondly, how can we make sure this country’s journey to having autonomy over its own affairs and resources does not stop after two decades of remarkable progress?

There are many decent people in Scotland contemplating voting Labour simply because of a desperation to get rid of the Tories. I understand that. But the Tories have already lost, and the SNP are a more anti-Tory party than Labour. I have lost count of the number of times we have voted against proposed Tory legislation whilst Labour sat on their hands for fear of upsetting some swing voters somewhere.

More to the point, on pretty much every social and economic policy you can think of, the SNP will press for the things that Labour used to believe in and have now abandoned. So, anyone wanting real change at a UK level would do better to send representatives to Westminster who will force Labour to be different, rather than give Starmer a blank cheque.

There is a bigger question for Scottish voters. Will they simply be ignored by a Starmer government? If the SNP lose this election, the answer is yes.

Around half of the population believes that Scotland should be an independent country. The desire has not – and will not – go away. At some stage, we will vote to establish a new independent country – and the campaign to win that vote must be broad and diverse involving every party and organisation in the movement for national autonomy.

But that is not where we are now and that is not what we are voting for in this year’s General Election.

We need to be very clear with the electorate – this year’s vote is about whether the journey continues, whether we can create circumstances to move towards our independence. And with a corrupt first-past-the-post system, the only way to do that is to vote SNP.

The Daily Record, in a hardening of its editorial stance against the party, last week questioned whether the SNP can still represent the political ambition of independence. The point is we don’t have a choice. If the SNP lose the election in Scotland, the debate on independence stops. That is why we must put aside our differences and unite.

If we win, we will use every means to press that mandate against a British state under new management. Crucially, we will demand that this decision must be made in Scotland and that the UK constitution is changed to respect that principle. That is why anyone who believes Scotland should become independent, or even that we should have the choice to do so, ought to vote SNP.

The stakes are high. We must win. It will not be easy. But it can be done.

Don’t write off SNP’s election chances

Last week I was chosen by local members of Edinburgh East and Musselburgh SNP to be their candidate in next year’s general election. It’s a great honour. For me, that election cannot come soon enough.

But I am under no illusions that it will be easy to keep the job I’ve been doing for the last eight and a half years. The coming election will be the biggest challenge the SNP has faced in a long time. It will be a hard fight. But one I am determined to win.

As I write this the votes are yet to be counted in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election. You’ll know the result now. And I would be astonished if Labour did not win. It used to be one of their safest seats. The incumbent MP, elected under the SNP banner, disgraced herself and was effectively sacked by her own constituents. If Labour couldn’t win in these circumstances, they really ought to give up.

But don’t be too quick to write off the SNP in places like this. I know from having spoken to over 150 people in Rutherglen that there is still strong support for the party. Of course, some are fed up and disillusioned. They read of the resignations and enquiries. They see a party arguing with itself and they question whether it can achieve the change it seeks.

In part this is the consequence of the refusal of the Tories to respect the wishes of the Scottish electorate. Not one, but three mandates have been ignored as the Tories just say no. It wears people down. It saps their confidence. It destroys their self-belief. That’s what it is intended to do.

In some ways we have brought these problems upon ourselves – or at least made them worse. But we are rebuilding now. We have a new leader, a new CEO, and this month’s conference will allow us to refresh our message as we agree our strategy for the election.

Despite all the political turmoil the arguments for Scotland becoming an independent country have never been more compelling. Over the last few years many more people have realised that the powers that come with independence are exactly what we need to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and the climate emergency.

Now more than ever we will need to press that case and demonstrate that this is not some abstract debate about the constitution but a matter of real changes here and now.

This country is blessed with abundant natural resources yet too many of our citizens live and die in poverty. Lives unfulfilled. Potential wasted. Only by taking control of our own affairs can we ensure our wealth is marshalled for the common good and not global corporations.

Across the UK voters are being offered a choice between two sad and uninspiring options. The sickening right-wing populism of the Tories on the one hand and the pathetic lack of ambition of Sir Keir Starmer’s hollowed out Labour Party on the other.

Thankfully, Scotland and Edinburgh have an alternative. We can be better. We can demand more from a new UK government than Labour wants to give us. And we can maintain our journey to self-government. That is why this election is so important.
Bring it on.

How to advance Scottish independence at the next election.

SNP activists head to Dundee today battered and bruised by the turmoil of the last few months. We need to regroup, reset. We need to engage and involve our membership, talk to supporters beyond our ranks, devise a strategy to advance our cause at the coming election and work out a way to win. That’ll take more than one day. But let’s make a start.

Support for independence appears remarkably resilient, despite our party’s problems and the fragmentation of our movement. But let’s not get carried away. Given the palpable chaos at Westminster, who wouldn’t consider an alternative. We don’t know how deep or how shallow that support is. And we don’t know whether people who tell pollsters they support independence will vote for it at the next election.

We need to be frank. The police investigation is having an effect. It will need to conclude, and we will need to deal with the consequences. Our activist base is smaller and tired. Our party is still Scotland’s most popular, but political representation of the movement has splintered. There’s caution and uncertainty in the population, and not enough confidence in our ranks. This can change. But we need to be honest and realistic. We need a strategy which isn’t chasing the dream like it should happen yesterday.

The SNP only exists because people want independence. So, we need to ensure that at the next election, we are the political expression of that ambition. Who governs Scotland, and who decides who governs Scotland must be central to our campaign.

But this cannot be the final decision on becoming an independent country. At some stage we will need an eyes-wide-open specific vote on whether people want to do that. The next election is not it. For starters, that means the debate about Yes candidates and Yes alliances is for another day.

First, we need to make independence more relevant than ever. Rising bills. Crippling mortgages. Overstretched public services. Immigration. Brexit. Unionists pretend that independence is an abstract constitutional concern, disconnected from these real-life problems.

This is a lie. Always has been. Independence means the power to change lives. We need to spell out the direct connection. The power to raise minimum wages, improve benefits, regulate energy. To mobilise the capital we need to become a renewable powerhouse. To be part of Europe and allow people to migrate here.

Secondly, we need to show how it can happen. The Supreme Court says that the Scottish Parliament does not have the legal authority to organise a referendum on independence. We must demand that authority. We should seek a mandate to change the British constitution to permanently transfer power to Holyrood to consult and represent the people who live here on how they are governed.

We are beyond asking permission through a section 30 order. This is demanding and asserting a right. The right to decide for ourselves how we are governed. This change would put into legislation the 1989 Claim of Right for Scotland, endorsed at the time not only by the SNP but Labour and Liberal Democrats too.

This is the mandate we should take into the new Westminster Parliament after the election. A clear expression of desire to become independent and a specific mechanism to give people that choice. What happens next will depend on the outcome of that election. If SNP votes are needed for Labour to govern, then we will extract a price for that cooperation.

But what if Labour has a big enough majority to ignore us? This takes us into virgin political territory. Never in history has there been a Labour Government in the UK without a mandate in Scotland.

Of course, there’s a chance that Labour could be every bit as intransigent and dismissive of Scottish opinion as the Tories. But maybe not. It’s not a good look for a new Government wishing to present as an alternative. And after all, we will be pursuing something that they once signed up to. Something resonating with their backbench MPs keen on constitutional reform more generally.

But if we are met with contempt then we still have 2026. If the British state continues to refuse to let people in Scotland have a say, we can re-purpose that Scottish Parliament election to allow that to happen. There are many advantages in doing this then rather than now. We will have given the British state every opportunity to review – including changing its Parliament. The entire focus in 2026 will be about who runs Scotland, not who runs the UK. And of course, the franchise is bigger and the system fairer.

But first things first. We have an election probably within a year. If we don’t win, none of the above happens. Since 1967 the SNP vote has been a barometer of support for self-Government. When that vote rises, the state makes concessions. The reverse is also true.

We must make our electorate aware of this simple truth. If the SNP lose the next election, independence goes off the table. At least until the election after that.

So, we must win. And we must win in an election where many people will be desperate to get rid of the Tories above all else. Some independence supporters will be seduced by Labour’s argument that only they can do that, and independence can be left for another day.

This is not true. SNP MPs will never support the Tories in Westminster. To win, Labour doesn’t need to defeat us in Scotland, it needs to defeat Tories in England. Labour can, most probably will, do that. So voting Labour here isn’t necessary to rid ourselves of the Tories.

Moreover, given the chance would anyone really want to give Starmer a blank cheque? Mostly the SNP wants stronger, faster action to tackle poverty and inequality. Given the choice, we will keep Labour honest.

Voting SNP means getting rid of a Tory Government we didn’t vote for this time, and the choice to lock them out of Scotland forever. That’s a compelling message and if we can’t sell it to our countrymen and women desperate for change, maybe we shouldn’t be in politics.

Investigation doesn’t change the case for Scottish independence

I have no idea whether the present turmoil surrounding the SNP’s finances is something more than a series of bad campaign spending decisions. And I guess even if I did know, I wouldn’t be able to talk about it as it’s part of a live investigation.

So, here’s what I do know. Here’s what I can talk about.

First, if someone has done something wrong, then they will be held to account – both by the law and the party itself.

Second, we will use recent events to reform and improve our democratic structures, making the SNP more accountable to its members. A governance and transparency review is already underway and will be back with recommendations in under two months. 

Third, we will take no lectures on financial probity from the Tories. A party which accepted at least a quarter of a million pounds from Russian donors since the start of the war in Ukraine. A party which failed to account for £3.6m during the last UK General Election.

Fourth, all of this relates to the internal finances of a private organisation. It has nothing to do with government policy or taxpayer money. Meanwhile, the Tories are consumed by cronyism, sleaze and corruption in public office. Cash for honours. Contracts for pals. Backhanders for themselves.

Now of course, it saddens and frustrates me that the current media feeding frenzy surrounding SNP has overshadowed the first weeks of our new leader and new government. Particularly as there is so much to welcome.

Humza Yousaf is derided by his opponents as the ‘continuity candidate’ as if that were an inherently bad thing. Of course there will be continuity in delivering the left-of-centre socially democratic prospectus on which the SNP Government was elected in 2021. A Scottish Government doing what it can within Westminster’s powerful constraints to tackle poverty, protect public services and act on the climate emergency.

But Humza also represents a fresh approach to getting things done. On Tuesday, he set out his vision for Scotland. It’s worth a look. A renewed focus on delivering efficient and effective public services. Postponing things like the deposit return scheme and proposals to restrict alcohol advertising – which are right in principle – but need more time on the detail. Laser focused on tackling poverty and protecting people from harm. All of this delivered with a new collegiate team approach.

While opponents of the SNP lick their lips and scent advantage, real people outside the Holyrood and Westminster bubble will be guided by their everyday experience. Though times are though, differences are being made in Scotland that matter.

The Scottish Child Payment is putting a hundred quid a month per child into the pockets of low-income families, easing the Tory cost-of-living crisis. Record numbers of young people from working-class backgrounds are going to university. We pay our nurses and teachers more which is why they aren’t on strike. And we ask wealthier people to pay a bit more in tax, making this the fairest taxed part of the UK.

Why I’m backing Humza Yousaf to become leader of the SNP and Scotland’s next First Minister

Whatever your politics, it is undeniable that Nicola Sturgeon has been a commanding figure in Scottish politics for two decades. For good reason many suggest that she is the preeminent politician of the devolution era. She will be a hard act to follow, for sure.

But those hoping that a change of leadership will spell disaster for the SNP, and that support for independence will crumble away, shouldn’t count their chickens yet.

The aspiration that Scotland should become a normal independent country and reset its relationship with the rest of the UK isn’t just a phase. It is an ambition which has registered sustained levels of support among half the population for several years – and enjoys even greater support among voters under fifty years old. The SNP is not the reason people support independence. The desire for independence is the reason there is an SNP.

There is no denying that confidence has been knocked by sustained attacks on the right of people in Scotland to decide their own future. For example, despite continually voting for representatives on a pledge to deliver another independence referendum, those mandates have been denied and blocked by Westminster.

As a result, frustration and anger have ensued which has undoubtedly fractured the wider Yes movement. However, it hasn’t made anyone who thought Scotland becoming an independent country was a good idea suddenly decide it’s a bad one.

So, the challenge for the new leader of the SNP is to galvanise and unite the movement for change. That means building on the strong foundations for independence which have been laid over the last twenty years. But it also means reaching out to engage with new people and harness new ideas.

To my mind, Humza Yousaf is the person who can meet that challenge. Despite his relative youth, he has more than a decade’s experience in high office. In that time, Humza has handled some of the toughest jobs in government, briefs that many others would have shied away from.

Humza is also seasoned grassroots campaigner, who knows how to motivate and lead people on the ground. I remember when he came to campaign for me during the 2019 general election. His energy and enthusiasm were clear to see.

Some have referred to Humza as the “continuity candidate”, implying that there will be no change from the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon. That’s inaccurate.

Sure, the Scottish Government will continue to deliver on the manifesto it was elected on. However, as leader of Scotland’s largest political party, Humza will bring with him a fresh approach in how the SNP organises, communicates, and engages with our base. This is essential if we are to unlock new levels of engagement.

With a change in leadership also comes the opportunity to reset political strategy. It will allow us time to think about how we deliver a credible roadmap to independence, and to shift the debate from process to policy. In doing so, we must set aside the idea of using the next Westminster election as a de facto referendum, and instead use each democratic event to advance the case for independence.

With this approach, we can build support to levels that cannot be ignored and demonstrate majority support for independence. Only then we can definitively say that independence has become the settled will of the Scottish people. Only then will we achieve it.