I had thought that the corruption of the Sturgeon age was over. I was sorely wrong. Two days ago I was filled to the brim with hope and magnanimity. We had a moment where there was a chance for a fresh start, a new beginning for the cause of independence.
As I assumed everyone else would act in good faith and allow that new beginning to emerge naturally from its bud, I was willing to share that good faith. Very willing. Extremely willing. Positively fucking desperate to share that good will.
And now I see the voting rules for the new era. They are contemptuous of democracy, contemptuous of Scotland and utterly contemptuous of the membership. The anti-democratic little clique which has been assembled in the SNP’s NEC, effectively run by Peter Murrell, has just rigged the election of Sturgeon’s successor.
The party rules are absolutely clear. There is meant to be a process of a bit over four months to elect a new leader. That is the constitution of the SNP. It gives time for candidates to assemble, to build their pitch to party members, for hustings to be held so that the members can see and test the candidates.
But perhaps above all it allows (for the first time in many years) the party itself to consider a debate about big ideas and strategy. I know of many, many people in the party who now want to vote at least in part on the basis of a vision for how to move the cause of independence forward. They want to hear different candidates propose their own approaches to how to do that.
And (deep breath) they want to vote according to what they hear. I don’t doubt that some party members will be content to vote on the basis of whose face looks shiny enough for the TV. Some people just like a man (or woman) who wears a suit well. But others want a chance to assess the substance of the candidates. They’re being denied that.
The party constitution allows for that four month (and a little bit) process to be contracted in emergency circumstances where there is a sudden vacancy, for example if the current leader had a heart attack and died and there was a sudden power vacuum.
This is corruption. There is no other word for it. It is outright, barefaced corruption at the expense of the members of the SNP
That is not what is happening here. Nicola Sturgeon has made clear she is staying on until the election of the new leader, so there is no vacancy, there is no legitimate reason why the constitution should be overturned. This is as close to a nail-home case of ‘these are the rules, now implement them’ as you get in party democracy.
No! This cabal (remember, a majority of these people were not elected by the party) just got together and decided that they would rewrite the rules. Just because. This is a meeting managed by the husband of the current leader. It is as nail-home an example as there has ever been of a moment when people should have been recusing themselves from a meeting.
What are we getting? It’s going to be over in four weeks. Totally over. In fact voting is going to open in two weeks time. How is any candidate meant to connect or persuade voters in two weeks from a cold start? There is absolutely zero chance of a debate about policy, or strategy, or the issues of how to heal the damage of the last few years.
Even simple questions like is every candidate getting a mailshot to all members are unclear in this timescale. Just as a reminder, I do this kind of thing for a living and believe me, expecting candidates to pull together their entire ‘manifesto’, have it designed and prepared for dissemination, all from a cold start, all in probably about a week? Very difficult.
What other chance do people have to hear from candidates? The National? Down south the Tories had televised hustings. Clearly that’s not happening. How are people meant to get the information they need to make a decision? If an SNP member has booked a fortnight of ‘late winter sun’, they could miss the whole thing. It’s unbelievable.
Please do not mistake what has just happened. Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell have cancelled the leadership election and replaced it with a beauty pageant where all that is going to matter is name recognition.
It is not actually terribly helpful to a maternity-leave Kate Forbes. It seems custom designed to marginalise Ash Regan. It is yet another attempt to hand the SNP to Angus Robertson, the one candidate you can be sure has been plotting his candidacy for years (he’s certainly not been focussing on his day job of getting a census run competently).
And if all that wasn’t enough, guess who is counting the votes? Yup, Peter Murrell.
Call emergency meetings of your branches and pass an immediate vote of no confidence in the NEC and demand that this unconstitutional decision is reversed
I am still desperate for that fresh start, to begin again. If this is what it looks like, if this is what Sturgeon thinks ‘getting out of the way and letting the party find its own direction’ looks like, then I despair, because we’re not getting a chance for a fresh start.
This is corruption. There is no other word for it. It is outright, barefaced corruption at the expense of the members of the SNP. It is the coup de grace of nearly a decade of Sturgeon and Murrell eviscerating party democracy, one more flagrant disregard for the rules, seemingly to catapult in the one candidate who previously stood on an anti-democracy platform. (Literally, when Angus Robertson stood against Tommy Sheppard for deputy.)
But this is still (by a baw hair) the party of its members. They can still do something about this. One option is to call emergency meetings of your branches and pass an immediate vote of no confidence in the NEC and demand that this unconstitutional decision is reversed and that the party should get time to have a proper debate about its new leader and its new direction.
Another option is (if any of you have money) to raise a legal injunction on this. Constitutions are legally binding and this is a matter of law. A legal action to demand an immediate scrapping of this unconstitutional decision should have a very good chance of preventing it going ahead.
Barring that the only sliver of an option you have is to vote for whichever candidate stands on the strongest ‘redemocratisation’ ticket. It is a sorry day if you need to vote to find a candidate who will reform your party before you select a candidate to pursue the party’s main objective. But that is what Sturgeon and Murrell have left behind, one last act of total disregard for rules.
Any affiliated group that is a member of the NEC should very visibly, very noisily resign. Any individual member of the NEC who does not resign in disgust at this should be voted out at the October conference. (Please note, the SNP has managed to evade the constitution one more time and will not now be holding a spring conference as it is mandated to.)
Do not make any mistake here. What happened last night reflects exactly how Putin runs Russia. There are elections, there are candidates – but those are just words, because the spirit of democracy has been stripped out of them.
The spirit of democracy has been stripped from the SNP a long time ago. This was its chance to get it back. This is stomach-churning and cannot be tolerated.
There must be a rebellion or I very seriously fear for the future of the SNP.
A short addendum
I’ve been contacted by a lawyer who has been checking the SNP constitution this morning. And here’s the problem – in an earlier round of abandoning SNP democracy the constitution was amended to enable the NEC to rewrite the constitution at will. It is hard to tell from the current mess of constitution what is actually legal or not – but then it doesn’t make much difference because the NEC can just change it until it says what they want it to say. That may mean that legal routes (such as an interdict) will fail, making it even more important there is a mass outcry. And to my many friends in the SNP, understand this – if the NEC of an organisation can rewrite the constitution at will, you don’t have a constitution, you become an entity wholly governed by your NEC. In that world nothing is ever against the rules unless the NEC wants it to be against the rules. It turns out that even I forgot how bad SNP ‘democracy’ had become.