By Alasdair Galloway:
One of the qualities regularly observed in the SNP over the years has been its “tribalism” – the SNP “tribe” against the Unionist “tribes”. Whether this is fair or not, it has been one of the assets of the party, insofar as. far and away, the biggest part of the independence movement (SNP) stood against a much more balkanised Unionist movement – Labour, Tory, Lib Dem. If you believed in independence there weren’t too many other places you could go. If not the SNP, then the choice was between the Greens and a variety of splinter, splintering, splintered Socialist groups.
This though is in danger of being lost with the SNP starting to divide between the Nicola Sturgeon Party and the Alex Salmond Party. As I noted in a previous piece about current goings on, how the Unionist movement must rejoice at this sort of development.
Much social media writing clearly begins with the assumption that Sturgeon knows more about the ‘Salmond conspiracy’ than she is letting on, OR that she and those around her are happy to carry on in the subordinate role of a devolved administration, which for them is nice and comfy and well-paid. What’s not to like?
Taken in its entirety, the following have at one time or another been fingered
- The First Minister
- Her Deputy, John Swinney
- Her most senior Civil Servant, Leslie Evans
- Judith McKinnon, Head of People Advice at the Scottish Government
- Pretty much the entire Crown Office and Prosecution Service
- Police Scotland
- The Chief Executive of the SNP, forecast to sweep the board if there is an election this year
- Its Chief Operating Officer
I think that pretty much covers it, but let’s be clear that what is being alleged is that the political leadership of Scotland, the senior administrators of far and away its leading party, and its Prosecution Service and Police service are lawbreakers.
This reminds me of one of my favourite lines from one of my favourite films, “All the Presidents Men”. Woodward and Bernstein are about to publish a story alleging wrongdoing by John Mitchell who had been Nixon’s Attorney General (and partner in his legal firm). Their editor, Ben Bradlee, tells them “you’re about to write a story alleging that the Attorney General, the most important law officer in the United States is a crook. You had better be right”.
What is being alleged in Scotland goes much further than this – not only is corruption alleged in political and legal leadership, but in the Police as well. Moreover, while I can understand, if not wholly accept, that for reasons I don’t understand, Sturgeon got involved in a conspiracy to put to Alex Salmond on the golf course for the rest of his life, the allegation is that, assuming Evans and McKinnon were complicit, as were Murrell and Susan Ruddick, we are making the same allegation about James Wolfe (as head of Crown office) and the Chief Constable! Why would they go along with this? Was Alex Salmond really THAT unpopular? Or did he never stand his round?
Put at its simplest, what is it that lies at the bottom of this that could cause the independence movement not only to be rent in two but just when independence seems more likely than at any other time. The debate just now seems to be shifting away from questions like “what will independence do to my pocket?” to questions such as “can we not do better on our own?” and “do we really want to be part of Boris Johnson’s UK?”
One very tentative hypothesis is that the reason is not that significant, given the focus that the Unionist parties are putting on whether Sturgeon lied to the Parliament. In other words, their focus is not on substance but on technicalities, when we all know the former have much more cutting influence on the general public than the latter. Were the substance more important, you can bet they would be on that already!
The other quality of the SNP – and the other side of this argument – is its “iron discipline” – that you didn’t depart from the official line in public. Dirty linen was washed only in private. Other parties have envied this for years, but it’s pretty much non-existent now, as debate rages in the press between members of the SNP on the best way forward to secure independence.
Yesterday’s (virtual, owing to Covid) National Assembly, according to Grouse Beater, had a “chat facility” which was promptly switched off when members were (virtually) shouting at the leadership to *quit waffling* and get on with it. Chat facility promptly switched off again.” (https://twitter.com/Grouse_Beater/status/1353300107962294273). Is this really any way to run a democratic organization?
What is meant by “iron discipline”? Does it mean that once a policy decision has been taken, then there is collective responsibility, and party members are expected to follow it? That, at least, could follow a democratic event, such as an Assembly. However, to shut down dissenting voices to secure support for the leadership’s Plan B, which critics had been pleading for for years, is hardly democratic? Does it not reduce the notion of iron discipline to one where the leadership presents future policy which the members are expected – or required – to accept. Is the silencing of dissenting voices DURING THE DEBATE about the way forward indicative of a democratic system?
Or does it mean that the SNP, like most political parties, is now run by a “leadership class” with the power to reward and punish, to control information and procedures, as Robert Michels forecast of political parties (ie not ONLY the SNP) in his book “Political Parties”.
Put short, I suppose, what I am asking is “is iron discipline an example of Michels’ iron law of oligarchy?” How far are the events surrounding Salmond explained by the conduct of a leadership class in the SNP?
Perhaps somewhat, but it also needs to be remembered that it does NOT explain the conduct of the others – the Civil Servants (who would be expected not to act on instructions that they knew to be illegal) or the Lord Advocate and the Chief Constable (whose functions after all are to maintain the rule of law).
However, with that said, the unwillingness of the SNP’s leadership to conduct an open debate, or indeed to conduct their business openly, is a significant reason for their current problems. And one to be deprecated.