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.