The freedom that comes from being a small party like ALBA
THERE is one big advantage in chairing a small political party – a sense of freedom. The second Alba conference meets this weekend in the Albert Halls, Stirling, undaunted by the lack, thus far, of electoral success – after all, it took the infant SNP 13 years (and a world war) to chalk up their first parliamentary breakthrough.
The freedom comes from being able to encourage genuine policy-making debate, unencumbered by the compromises of office or trying to look ultra-respectable as an opposition.
Take our position on the monarchy, for example. It was good politics and, frankly, good manners, when the hugely respected and much-loved late Queen was alive to let the matter slide. But what about now?
How many Scottish nationalists, hand on heart, truly believe we should celebrate the birth of a new egalitarian and free Scotland by entrenching the pinnacle of the British class system? Are we seriously going to sit down to draft our brand-new, modern, pristine constitution and then provide within it for the succession of King Billy to replace King Charles? Not according to Alba.
Then there is taxation, where it is time to think well outside the box. The brazen Tory attempt at a hedge fund tax dodge for top earners came unstuck in record quick time courtesy of the markets they claim to understand, but the substantial point remains that it is time to devise different forms of progressive tax to meet the digital age.
At a moment when working families are struggling to meet the bare essentials, is it not time to return to a luxury goods tax to allow Ferrari drivers to contribute a bit more to the public purse?
What should be the role of transaction charges on online activity or land value tax in an independent Scotland?
It will all make for an interesting debate for Alba at the Saturday conference.
But aren’t Alba debates so much hot air? Well, they are, and they aren’t. They are in the sense that Alba is a long way from Government. They aren’t in the sense that there is a premium on innovative ideas to take Scotland forward – to plan for a better future.
At our inaugural conference last year, Alba spelled out how a Scottish public energy company could be built out of the generational opportunity of Scotland’s renewables. When a small country possesses one-quarter of the cheapest big-energy resource of all of Europe, then the potential is mind-blowing. It can deliver clean, green and affordable power to the people and lever the Scottish industry into a golden age of competitive green power.
Since Alba first developed the idea, what has happened? First, Sir Keir Starmer made it the centrepiece of his otherwise dull-as-ditchwater Labour conference speech, except, of course, for “Union Jack” Starmer, it was to be “Great British” Energy.
Now, the SNP have suddenly rediscovered the transformative potential of Scotland’s renewables, having previously ditched the manifesto commitment to a public energy company. The trouble is that the Scottish Government have poor form on this. They have already given away a large chunk of the offshore resource for comparative peanuts in the disgracefully botched ScotWind auction. That piece of monumental incompetence needs to be reversed immediately for any credibility to be regained on the issue.
So ideas matter, but there is no bigger idea which matters more than developing a viable independence strategy as an alternative to the First Minister’s approach.
For the last quarter century, the national movement developed a strategy based on the Scottish Parliament being the democratic stepping stone to independence. That strategy has taken us a very long way.
Now, the continuing viability of that parliamentary route to freedom is to be offered up on a plate to the tender mercies of the UK Supreme Court currently meeting in Middlesex Guildhall, two minutes stroll across from the Palace of Westminster – and the First Minister has prior committed herself to accept the judgment!
Why exactly (to use the Lord Advocate’s own words) should we want the matter of the Scottish Parliament’s ability to conduct a referendum “finally resolved” by the Supreme Court as opposed to by the Scottish people?
It is the wrong move at the wrong time.
Instead, Alba argues for a combination of parliamentary intervention, popular demonstration and diplomatic initiative to raise the independence stakes – and a Constitutional Convention of Scotland’s elected representatives to progress Scotland’s new Claim of Right not in the domestic courts but in the international ones.
Just an idea, of course, from a small party – but don’t underrate that this could be another Alba initiative whose time is coming. It is the confidence that comes from having a developed strategy which allows Alba to offer the hand of friendship, and a platform, to speakers across the national movement, including the SNP, at our own conference.
Article originally appeared in The National, 12 October 2022