There has been a bit of talk about the formation of a new independence party on social media.
People frustrated in what they see as ‘wasted’ SNP votes and angry at observing unionist politicians securing ‘unelected’ places on Scottish Parliament seats. They believe that the list can be ‘gamed’ and that all these ‘wasted’ SNP votes could find themselves going to independence candidates swelling the numbers of independence MSPs and helping deliver that killer blow to the union.
They have recently been joined by a small but vociferous group on social media who are impatient that no independence referendum has yet taken place, and frustrated at what they see as a lack of commitment from Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP leadership. To them it is necessary to have a new party to pursue the independence agenda more aggressively and keep the SNP ‘honest’.
The obvious electoral risks of pursuing that objective is outweighed in what they see as electoral opportunities. The fact that we already have an indy majority and have had since 2011 doesn’t seem to reassure them and the fact that the Greens already exist as an established independence list party ignored. Instead the ‘right’ type of party/parties are required to maximise the independence vote.
And so far there seems no end of possible vehicles for this potential new party. Early contenders are Wings Over Scotland, the newly formed ‘People’s Alliance’, the more obscure Scottish Independence Referendum Party and most recently a group called the Independence for Scotland Party has been approved by the Electoral Commission. Add to that the more established Yes parties including Solidarity and possibly SSP/RISE, and together with the Greens, we begin to see a never ending bounty for the discerning indy list party seeker.
Given the plethora of possible parties some arrangement would be an absolute essential for any of them to have even the remotest chance of success. But in classic Judean Popular Front style some of the personalities involved with these nascent parties have issues with each other just as much as they have concerns with the the leadership of the SNP itself. For example, the one party most likely to emerge is a Wings Over Scotland Party, and its main figure, Stuart Campbell, has been toying with the Yes movement for some time as to his intentions. Loved by his supporters, Campbell remains at best a marmite figure even amongst those on Twitter less obliging towards Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. Consumed with an obsessive crusade against the already shelved Gender Reform Act one would have to presume that if he did reach for the rosette he would not exactly be a ‘unifying’ figure to those impatient with current arrangements.
And that brings us to what platform would this/these parties stand on? Where there have been conditional ‘assurances’ that they would exist to support the SNP a number of agendas inevitably have started to appear. For example, a more aggressive approach to independence would be an absolute priority. Anything from UDI to legal challenges, to directly confronting Westminster will surely feature on any leaflet. The first test of any hope of success will rest on whether the general Scottish public is in tune with the impatience and frustration observed on parts of Twitter.
The second main platform (perhaps bizarrely for those who see independence as an exclusive priority) would be an apparent firm opposition to any sort of gender reform. This would have to be an absolute minimum if Stuart Campbell is to be involved. Economic issues are also unlikely to go unnoticed and there will be an obvious interest in Foreign policy. It is therefore possible that this would bring these list parties into conflict with the SNP. Instead of ‘assisting’ the SNP they could find themselves in opposition, perhaps even siding with unionists to stop the SNP getting their way on things they don’t like.
But perhaps we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves here because we have to ask if there is any real appetite for a new party beyond the fringes of social media? In the last opinion poll the SNP secured 54% for Holyrood with satisfaction ratings of 71%. The Scottish people seem to like what the SNP are doing just now and particularly approve of our First Minster. For the list, 45% indicated that they would vote SNP with 8% for the Greens. Any new and unknown party would have to campaign hard against established, popular indy parties just to get noticed in a Scotland relatively content in how it is governed. We only have to look at the example of RISE at the last election when they secured a paltry 0.5% of the vote.
But it is the damage that all this could do to the wider independence cause that is the main issue of concern. Just as we are winning new recruits to independence with support nudging into the majority along could come several parties campaigning against each other and risking all sorts of division. For all the clever theories about ‘gaming’ a PR system the real risk is that instead of increasing independence representation new parties fighting the SNP and the Greens for list votes could deny us that indy majority. And it might just be me, but I’m not particularly sure the public will be all that comfortable with an overt attempt to ‘game’ a Parliamentary election. Our proportional Parliament is by no means perfect but it is so much better than first past the post Westminster. In Holyrood elections most parties come close to securing the actual votes cast in total for each party. I remember when Labour were dominant and suggested standing as ‘co-operative’ candidates to increase their number. I recall the outrage that was expressed by us, and others, to that quickly shelved proposal. Lastly, if these parties did manage to depress the SNP overall vote this would be grasped as a ‘victory’ for the unionists who exclusively view SNP votes as independence votes.
In the last 2 elections we secured an independence majority so why would we want to risk it all as we prepare for an election which could be critical to our prospects of securing independence? We have an indy majority just now. Let’s not do anything that risks losing it.