It’s crucial for independence that the SNP change course
ALEX Salmond was right at the weekend when he said watching the SNP throw away its lead in Scottish politics is like witnessing a car crash in slow motion.
Growing up in the 1990s, I lived through the slow process that saw many stalwarts of the independence movement toil for a quarter of a century to end Labour’s dominance in Scotland and I can only imagine the disbelief they must be feeling as it is being handed back to them on a plate with a staggering display of political ineptitude.
Alex Salmond spent all that time building a broad church because he understood that without bringing together as wide a coalition of people as possible, from the whole political spectrum and from every section of society, you couldn’t achieve a majority in support of independence. I joined the SNP because it seemed to me like Alex had put in place a reasonable and credible strategy to deliver independence.
First, he made the SNP a credible force that people in Scotland could put their trust in to replace a Labour Party they had simply had enough of. Then he got to work on building up support for independence by getting on with the job of governing competently.
Some 10,000 extra police were put on the street that helped bring crime to 40-year lows. A social covenant was established that formed the basis of Scotland’s progressive tax system.
We have education for all; the over-60s bus pass – which not only got more people out of cars before climate change was in vogue but also provided a boost to maintaining social integration of those who had given decades of their lives to working in Scotland; Salmond scrapped bridge tolls and prescription charges, built the new Queensferry Crossing and the Aberdeen Bypass and completed the M74 which the UK Government didn’t bother with for 40 years.
All of this meant that by 2011 the people of Scotland had even more trust in his government and that returned a majority which was the mandate for the first independence referendum.
We didn’t win the referendum in 2014 but the strategy should not have changed. With every extra power the people of Scotland extracted from Westminster we should have got on with the job of delivering competently and showing that the Scottish Parliament makes better decisions than Westminster.
We did this with a few successes. The Scottish Child Payment is a first-class policy that helps protect children from Westminster-inflicted poverty.
But instead of building on popular policies such as this, the Scottish Government has spent the past few years focused on its priorities – which no longer align with the people’s policies. Gender reforms, attacks on fishing communities and a shambolic bottle return scheme are but a few.
Ironically, the Scottish Government seems to understand that the cost of living crisis is the top priority for all Scots. How utterly bizarre then that it wants to inflict astronomical hikes to council tax on one in four Scottish households.
It’s because the SNP no longer represent the priorities of the people of Scotland and can no longer be trusted to look after the money in your pocket that many Scots have turned away from them.
But for independence supporters the answer cannot be to return to the tired old Unionist parties of Labour and Tory.
If Humza Yousaf wants to do three simple things to show that he wishes to lead a competent government and show that there is a different regime in charge then he should do the following: scrap proposals to increase council tax and take a page out of Alex Salmond’s book and freeze it next year; intervene immediately and use the resources of the Scottish Parliament to scrap the two-child benefits cap in Scotland; and give councils the funding so they can hire night time cleaning squads to tidy and clean town and city centres every single night.
They may not seem like the biggest of policies but it would be a perfect visual example of the difference his government is starting to make to address the decline and failures under his predecessor which are there for all to see.
There is general sympathy just now for Humza Yousaf’s family circumstances and rightly and understandably so. But he is First Minister and leader of the independence movement. This SNP conference represents the last chance to avoid a coming disaster at next year’s election.
The writing was on the wall in Rutherglen. It was clear to me from one conversation in a barber’s shop in Cambuslang that the SNP vote had collapsed, so for the life of me I don’t understand how they didn’t see it coming themselves.
If he continues his “go-it-alone” stance for the SNP then he will lose at least half of his MPs at the election. Indeed it could be even worse.
In polling released yesterday, the idea of fighting the election on a Scotland United for Independence platform was shown to be backed by a majority of SNP voters. It is also supported overwhelmingly across the Yes movement.
With strong action in that direction combined with kicking the daft Greens out of government Humza could re-unite his fractured party, bring the Yes movement back together and set a strategy to fight the election on the principle of Scottish independence – not on the recent track record of the Scottish Government.
That would be the way to re-establish momentum in the independence campaign.
Humza was left a total mess by Nicola Sturgeon. However, that is no reason to steer the SNP slowly towards an iceberg and to bring about the greatest setback to the independence movement in living memory. It is time to change course. How many elections will it take before they realise that continuity won’t cut it?
(First published in the National on 16/10/23)