I am in complete agreement with Nicola Sturgeon – she is right that her best contribution to the cause of independence now is to step aside. That offers us all a fairly short window in which that cause can be helped back on track. What happens during that window will be important.
So the first thing I want to call for is an amnesty, a collective ‘keys!’ in the fractious game of blame-tig that has been rattling around the independence movement for at least three years now. I’ve spent nine years on the end of some very unpleasant briefing coming out the Sturgeon clique and it would be very pleasant for me to gloat now or point out the series of ‘told you sos’ I’m entitled to.
But to what end? How does that help? Yesterday (by complete coincidence) I was pointing out that when we move into a new political era the most important thing is not the charisma levels of the new leader but their willingness to open out to a wider movement and engage positively (this applies inside government policy-making as well).
For me the single most important thing we can all do is to whatever we can to increase the possibility of a new leader opening out and engaging positively. Picking fights right now is just going to push everyone into positions which make that harder.
If you were a massive Sturgeon fan you’re going to have a few days in which you’ll need to come to terms with the fact that she’s gone and isn’t coming back. You can wish her well, but you need to recognise that you can’t place your faith in her to deliver any more. You need to start to think about a different path.
And if you do you’ll realise that, like it or not, this is going to require us to achieve greater unity, not greater friction and fragmentation. I totally understand how hard this will be. You’ll be absolutely furious with some people. But if the cause is more important to you than any single politician, you need to think about what offers the best chance of the cause regaining momentum.
On the other hand, if you were a massive Sturgeon critic you’ll be feeling vindicated and no doubt a bit smug. But you wanted her to leave because you saw her as a barrier to making proper progress, right? So don’t become that barrier yourself.
If those who are critics of Sturgeon use this moment to gloat then it’s just going to create conditions which make it harder for the next leader to be the kind of leader you want them to be. If they come into an even more split and divided movement, the chances of them closing down and relying on a small clique are increased. That’s bad for you.
There are none of the likely candidates for leader whom I will not approach with an open mind and all the good will I can summon
None of this means not being clear-headed in our analysis of where we are. There are real problems for the cause of independence just now and they are the result of decisions. In my role at Common Weal I’m still wrestling with the a load of bad legislation and that still requires a clear, analytical approach.
I would go further. I’d argue that there is quite widespread harm to what I’d call the democratic health of Scotland which has come from the way things have been run for the last few years and I inevitably want to consider what way forward we as a nation can take on that issue too.
So it’s not about suppressing critical analysis or painting on a panglossian smile. It’s more simple. Does the thing you are going to do make the next steps easier or harder? Even more, is the tone of the thing your going to do likely to make the next steps easier or harder?
I doubt that we’re going to get a full rapprochement between the SNP and Alba, but it should be perfectly possible now to put the guns away. During this window there is nothing fundamental standing between the two parties. I suspect we’re now unlikely to see fast action on divisive policy issues and there is no reason to believe that the next leader is going to be one you can’t support.
In the movement we have been kicking each other around based on strategy – what’s the best way to get things done. Well there is obviously nothing going to happen in the next few months and so we can put that all on hold and just focus on the need for some unity.
(On that front I can see no legitimate way that the March ‘special conference’ can go ahead. It’s just not conceivable that there is a discussion and a strategy set which binds the party but into which the incoming leader has not had input. That needs to be paused.)
Let me state this as clearly as I possibly can; I am now fully behind a collective attempt to build a unified movement again. Other than Angus Robertson there are none of the likely (or even more unlikely) candidates for leader whom I will not approach with an open mind and all the good will I can summon.
After all, that’s how I approached the Sturgeon administration. When my friends in the independence movement told me they were planning to start what became Rise I cautioned against it. There are moments when people earn the right to have a shot at doing the right thing. I didn’t think the SNP had a particularly good referendum but they did enough to earn the right to follow through.
Work as if you are living in the early days of a better parliament – it may just turn out to be true
So I’m quite clearly offering no blank cheque for anyone. I expect to see change. I expect to see real open government. I expect to see the wall-to-wall mess of government policy tackled competently. I expect to see reform of a Scotland run on patronage, with outsourcing stopped and the revolving door in government closed. I expect proper engagement with the broad movement.
And I’m sure I’ll not have all these expectations met. Such is life in and around politics. But I will certainly not be doing anything between now and then to make failure more likely. I want government to work. I want the SNP to deliver independence. I want to see real progress on that greener, fairer Scotland I keep hearing about.
That is my plea to everyone else. There will be a new SNP leader in place by June. It will not be another massively dominant figure who is able to dictate to the rest of the party. Whoever it is will need to negotiate and compromise and engage beyond a tiny clique of trusted advisers. Whatever happens next it will be a different era, a different political culture.
I am willing that change to be genuine, positive, hopeful change. I believe it can be. I believe that the vast majority of the independence movement will share my hopes for our destination. I believe that, come June, when there is a new leader, that destination opens up to us.
So let’s think really carefully about how to make all of that happen. Neither gloating nor recriminating will help. Let’s just straightforwardly give peace a chance. If you believe in independence you owe that cause the good grace of neither prosecuting old battles not starting new ones.
And you certainly can’t will failure in advance by assuming it is inevitable. Work as if you are living in the early days of a better parliament. It may just turn out to be true.