Leadership contests are good for political parties. They allow for a debate about direction and are a fulcrum for new ideas and policy formulation. It is an opportunity for self examination and for new ideas to come forward. They are nearly always cathartic and obviously good for internal democracy. We won’t be having one with the standing down of Alex Salmond and that can only be considered an opportunity lost.
I support Nicola Sturgeon and I would have voted for her regardless of who may have come forward. Nicola has emerged as one of the pre-eminent politicians of this generation and I have absolutely no doubt she will make an excellent party leader and First Minister. There are very good reasons why there will be no leadership contest but I’m sure that even Nicola herself will feel that she has missed out on putting her leadership case to the party in democratic debate. I remember Alex Salmond telling me that his leadership contest ten years ago was an immensely useful and positive experience for him and the party.
Where we might be deprived of this contest we must not be deprived of the debate. Yes, there will be a contest for the deputy leadership and where this will be an opportunity to explore some of the issues about the future of the party, it is only for the position of deputy. And there is so much to consider. Where do we go after the referendum? How do we accommodate the expectation placed on the party by the incredible increase in our membership? In what way do we continue to make common cause with the wider Yes movement? How should we prepare for forthcoming UK and Scottish elections? We need that debate and it has to include all our members both old and new. The SNP is one of the most formidably disciplined parties in the UK but we need to be relaxed about this debate and we must be prepared to listen to all points of view. We have thousands of new members who will be bringing a new energy and new ideas with them and they must accommodated and encouraged. We should also offer the hand of friendship and solidarity across the Yes movement and involve them in joint platforms and joint initiatives. People are now looking to us for leadership and we must ensure that is offered based on discussion, debate, compromise and comradeship.
I want to suggest a couple of early steps in how this can be delivered. Firstly, there should be a number of deputy leadership hustings and at them a session should be made available for an open floor discussion and debate with an invitation extended to all party members to come along. These should be facilitated by the leadership of the party at Cabinet Secretary or Minister level and the suggestions offered noted for consideration and action. We also now urgently require a revamped National Assembly or rather National Assemblies where policy is discussed and shaped up. These ‘assemblies’ should be regular, happen in all parts of the country and open to all with invitations to colleagues from across the wider Yes movement. Yes groups should be encouraged to remain active and we must see if they can also be accommodated within the SNP party structures whether through continued places on our National Executive down to reserved positions in constituency associations and branches. Our medium term ambition must be to look at how these type of new structures work out and consider and examine if a re-alignment of the party around a wider Yes movement coalition would be beneficial as the way forward under a new ‘Scotland Forward’ or ‘Scotland United’ banner.
We are in a remarkably fortuitous situation just now and the goodwill towards the Scottish National Party is perhaps at an all time high. We must ensure that every sinew of this incredible energy is retained, harnessed and deployed to take our nation forward. We won’t have a leadership debate but in its absence lets have an even wider debate in our party about our and nations future and let’s have it with the country we hope to continue to lead.
The last few days have been just about the most traumatic, exhilarating and emotionally draining I have ever known in my political life. Yet, I still feel invigorated, hopeful and optimistic about the future of my country. I’ve seen my nation accept the verdict of the Scottish people with good grace and without any hint of the rancour predicted by those who don’t really understand the resilience of this wonderful country. I have seen the incredible spirit of those who have campaigned selflessly to the point of exhaustion in this referendum and who have vowed to continue so that the energy and engagement created by the independence referendum continues to have a voice. Many thousands have joined the SNP and other political parties in the last few days; determined to stay in the debate about our future. Many more have vowed to continue to campaign in their own way and have their voice heard. Some, uncertain how to express their views, have just left contributions to be distributed at foodbanks. This is why our country is a most remarkable place and why we will endure, regroup and progress.
I am still unclear on how all of this will now work out. Scotland has spoken and rejected independence by a clear majority, but yet we don’t feel defeated or diminished. What we must, therefore, do is to focus on what we can achieve while we’re all still in this particular place and while we’re all still focussed on national self improvement. I will work with anyone who wants to make my country a better place and that includes all of those in the No campaign who are serious about taking our nation forward. Nothing will disabuse me from the belief that the people who live and work in Scotland are those best placed to make the decisions about Scotland’s future. Scotland rejected independence, but we must ensure that we continue to take our country forward with the fullest range of powers available to the Scottish people.
I am also still uncertain about what is on offer from the UK parties. Their offers seem to range from the most limited tinkering of tax powers to talk of full ‘devo max’. Created in a panic, they are now falling out with each other about how to proceed. The Tory Government is now determined to include issues to do with powers for England and the voting rights of Scottish MPs. Cameron introduced these English proposals immediately after the referendum was concluded to placate his own MPs and get any ‘more powers’ settlement through a hostile House of Commons that has just about had enough of Scottish constitutional debate. Labour, sensitive to their own self preservation issues, have rejected this inclusion- leaving the two main UK protagonists in something approaching a deadlock.
That is why it now up to us to take the lead and define what is required to take Scotland forward. Whilst we should continue to press the UK parties to honour the commitments made for Scotland, we should also start to define what Scotland actually needs to make a difference. Let’s start with the definition of devo max. ’Devo max’ is maximum devolution and it is everything devolved other than defence and foreign affairs. We should now be shaping up as to how this can be delivered and start to advocate for this quickly according to the timetable set down by the No parties. We can do this under a full ‘Home Rule for Scotland’ banner and unite all the Yes groups and those who voted No seeking the fullest range of more powers for Scotland.
We are ready for this new leadership role and with tens of thousands of new recruits, we have the energy and the will to continue to shape our country. If Westminster fails to respond we must have the right to review our status within the UK again. Meanwhile, let’s prepare for the General Election in eight short months time. This is where this new movement can start to flex its muscles and return a large group of Home Rule Devo Maxers. This isn’t finished yet and we still have a pivotal role to make our country a better place, and ensure it can be all it can be.
Something remarkable is happening in this wonderful nation of ours.
You can almost touch it, you can almost feel it in the air. This is a nation on the move. A nation that is not prepared to settle for what it currently has. A nation that wants to do something different, something better, that is considering the type of community it wants to secure for its future generations.
This is a nation that is becoming emboldened. That believes in the multitude of possibilities that is open to it. A nation that won’t be ‘telt’ by others over what it can get or what we may be allowed. Which refuses to believe that it is not good enough, that utterly rejects that it would uniquely fail. That now shouts down those who would even hint that we are somehow ‘too wee, too poor or too stupid’ to succeed as an independent nation. This is a nation that is ready to assume that responsibility and to blame no-one else for the setbacks we will undoubtedly encounter. To secure that national self respect and dignity that all other normal, self governing nations have.
A nation ready to make its own peaceful contribution to world affairs. That rejects the notion of cavalier military interventions. That is appalled at illegal wars that were fought on the basis of a lie and weapons of mass destruction that defile our beautiful country.
This is a nation that wants the Government that it always votes for. That is increasingly uneasy of Conservative Governments we did not support, pursing agendas we disapprove off and which we can’t remove. A nation that instead wants its own Government reflecting our sense of community, pursuing policies that we as a nation have collectively agreed.
This is a nation that is engaged in the most amazing transformative process. That has this incredible opportunity to dramatically change our nation for the better. This is a Scotland that is highly motivated, engaged, informed. A nation where conversations are taking place in every household and every meeting place. A nation that, the more it finds out about the possibilities of its independence, is increasingly attracted to the idea. A nation that won’t accept the ridiculous scare stories and will not have its confidence sapped.
Next Thursday we can change our nation for the better by taking responsibility for it. This is a once in a lifetime chance to secure a better Scotland. Let’s take it.