Campaigns Democracy Eilidh McIntosh Left Politics SNP

A New Social Contract – Reforming the SNP into a Genuine Peoples Party

by Eilidh E. McIntosh, SNP.

I think it would be helpful for Independence and the promise of a more egalitarian Scotland if a certain archetype of SNP member took their blinkers off for a minute and had a deep think about what is going to make our party electable and popular.

For this reason, this article is primarily directed at the ‘centre loyalists’ of the SNP, a group I will define in a moment.

With Humza Yousaf gone, we are faced with two upcoming leadership elections.

The first, for a caretaker leader of the party who will attempt to stabilise the things, keep us in government at Holyrood, and stop the electoral bleeding.

I have very little doubt in my mind that should he choose to run – that the natural winner of this contest will be John Swinney – a man of the SNP old guard, who many regard as a ‘steady hand on the tiller’.

Many MSPs who have leadership ambitions do not wish to inherit the mantle of SNP leader at this moment in time, as their premiership would be mired in scandal and falling polling figures. Better to leave this landmine in the hands of a unity candidate who is aware of his limitations and doesn’t want the job long term.

It is however the second leadership election that will decide the heart and soul of our party. John Swinney has been quite clear that his leadership would not be a permenant arrangement, and how popular we will be among the Scottish electorate as the years wear on is dependent on who succeeds Swinney.

With that in mind, we have three key interest groups to consider moving forward.

The SNP – C. The Conservative wing of the party. Think low tax, low spend, and a rolling back of party promises on bodily autonomy, and taking aim at the rights of LGBT citizens.

They may not necessarily all agree on these issues, but they more than certainly form a voting bloc that has a great deal of power within the governing institutions of the SNP and among MSPs – albeit less influence with grassroots members. They are – for the moment – very much ‘Alba curious’, despite knowing how badly it would damage the SNPs reputation.

They are happy to speak out against the party platform and other party members without consequence given the levels of influence they hold in the party’s institutions.

Crucially, despite their rhetoric, they skew gradualist on the Independence question. I would frankly question their dedication at this point – as for all their rhetoric, they seem to only be interested in maintaining their careers or focusing on their own political pet projects.

Notable people include: Kate Forbes, Ivan McKee, Joanna Cherry, and Fergus Ewing.

The SNP – Loyalists. The centre of the SNP. The old guard. The historic compromise between the Conservative and Progressive wings of the party – absolutely loyal to whoever is leader at a given moment. They are concerned with the unity of the party and our ability to win elections, and in time, a future independence referendum.

This group make up a governing plurality of members, and skew approximately 60/40 in favour of a fundamentalist strategy towards Independence – largely as a heuristic towards maintaining party unity at all costs.

Ideologically, they are by-and-large Social Liberals, adopting policies from both the Progressive and Conservative wings of the party – though moreso from the Progressive wing since the days of Billy Wolfe, and even moreso given the recent heights achieved under Nicola Sturgeon. They take a red line on voting against socially progressive policies directed at women and minorities.

Notable people include: John Swinney, Keith Brown, Steven Flynn, Humza Yousaf, and Nicola Sturgeon (later in her term).

The SNP NP – What I like to call the ‘National Progressive’ wing of the party. An alliance of Progressives, Democratic Socialists, Nationalist Greens, Social Democrats, and Centrist members who are tired of seeing the SNPs Conservatives getting away with failing to adhere to the party’s manifesto.

They tend to vote in favour of any progressive, left-of-centre legislation that crosses their desk. I would make the argument that it is this group that resonate most strongly with not only the Scottish public, but also our Pro-Independence allies in parliament. Especially in Scotland’s central belt – the urban core of our country where most of the electorate reside.

They do not score many points with social Conservatives or the Scottish commentariat however – as the recent scraps over Gender Recognition and the Hate Crime Bill have shown.

This group make up the second largest faction in the grassroots of the SNP, and are the weakest of the cliques within the Scottish Parliament – though this is changing following the progressive legacy of Nicola Sturgeon and some of the SNP MSPs elected during her tenure.

With the exception of ardent Scottish Socialist Republicans, this group tend to skew gradualist in their approach to Independence – preferring to maximise devolution to its outer limits in order to build up Scotland’s institutions and come up with a foolproof plan and a well-prepared country for when the time comes.

Notable people include: Mhari Black, Nicola Sturgeon (early in her term), Jennifer Gilruth, Neil Gray, and Màiri MacAllan.

Any deals with Alba will see a mass exodus of the National Progressive faction to the Greens or (worse yet) into total apathy – disengaging with Scottish politics and the Independence debate all-together.

The party would begin rapidly shedding the urban former Labour voters and campaigners that we gained after the progressive and egaltiarian vision of 2014. This is especially concerning given that Labour are going to be our primary opposition moving forward.

Things have been a disorganised and factional mess ever since Nicola Sturgeon resigned – However, I would make the argument that the seeds of the current disunity were sown during her premiership – an unfortunate failing on an otherwise unimpeachable character. Had she cracked down on dissent from the right wing of the party while she had the political capital, we may not have found ourselves in this mess.

The Former First Minister cannot have been ignorant to the tartan Tory wing of our party creeping unchallenged, and now we see the results of that indecision as clear as day – they’re not popular, they’re toxic to our reputation, and most importantly, they routinely spit on the manifesto they were elected on, much to the irritation of the SNPs grassroots, agitating both the Loyal Centre and the National Progressive camp.

That is to say, those members who understand that Independence is only worth it if the outcome is a better, fairer, and more equal country after the fact. The reality is some in our party have forgotten what we stand for beyond ‘Independence’ – and the voters have noticed, and I believe the grassroots of our party are starting to as well.

When we allow the worst excesses of our party to dominate in the media, retain the whip, and continue to stand as SNP candidates – we show the Scottish people that we are either powerless or unwilling to stop them. At that point, the question has to be asked:

‘Why would the public vote for a party that can’t even take their own bins out?’

Scottish Nationalist fundamentalism just isn’t popular during times of economic hardship and crisis – and the Scottish people want to see some competency that we are still the right people to steer the ship towards brighter horizons.

We replaced ‘Old Labour’ for a reason, and we must to return to our broadly left wing, populist roots if we wish to curry favour with the Scottish public.

By allowing the right wing of our party to dominate, we are abandoning our manifesto and replacing it with vague Tory-lite ideals that consistent polling shows that the Scottish people are not in favour of. They will justly punish us if we keep this up.

We are not entitled to their votes. We have to earn them through bold policy, unflinching resolve, backbone, and sticking to our principles.

This is something that may prove painful for members in the ‘Loyal Centre’ of the SNP to accept, along with the fantasy of fundamentalism and Independence ‘being within touching distance’. The reality is that there is much to be done.

Our tailspin will only stop when we radically democratise party structures, empower the grassroots in a meaningful way, and lead the way in laying the groundwork for creating the more progressive country that the majority of Scots wish Scotland to be.

Any upcoming elections need to be fought on the cost of living crisis, preparing Scotland’s institutions for Independence, and drawing up a new social contract between us (Scotland’s NATIONAL Party) and the people of Scotland.

It is time for us to repeat the feat that, at our peak, saw 1 in 50 Scots as paid up members – something that allowed us to be independent of big donors, and live up to our promise as a true Citizens Movement for the people of Scotland.

Those that chap the doors, work the stalls, and paint the Yes Stones are those people who make our party a success – they ought to be further empowered as much as is feasibly possible.

If we care at all about our Scottish National Party making a comeback as a genuinely popular people’s party – as it once was, we ought to empower our ordinary party members and reform the party to be fit for the challenges of governing in the 21st century. Scottish Democracy on the whole will be far stronger and more mature for us having done so.

Only then will we enjoy the kind of popularity that can lead our country into Independence.

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