26 October 2014

Angela Constance: "the SNP has to be large-hearted..."

And last but not least, after blogs from Keith Brown and Stewart Hosie earlier in the week, Angela Constance has composed this third and final peaty pitch for the SNP depute leadership position, on her ideas and vision for the party's post #indyref future. Here's what Angela has to say. For SNP members and interested observers both, I hope all three pieces have opened an interesting and constructive additional window into the three would-be deputies to Nicola Sturgeon. 

Much of the focus during the campaign to elect the SNP Depute Leader has been on how we should approach the 2015 election. I’m delighted to be offered this opportunity to explain my view more fully.

The first question to answer is: who is the ‘we’ in “how we should approach the 2015 election”?

For me this is fundamental. Politics in Scotland has been transformed from a minority sport, led by a small number of parties with, to varying degrees, centralised policy-making processes, to a mass participation sport, being driven forward by self-motivated, and until after the Referendum, largely unaffiliated people. 

Although many of those people have joined a political party in the aftermath, it would be a mistake for any of them to expect new members to simply fit into the style of politics they have traditionally pursued. These new members have been inspired by the Yes movement and its approach to politics and they are looking for a way to progress that movement. It would be a huge lost opportunity if, in welcoming these new members, the SNP did not change some of its practices to meet their aspirations.

So my vision of the SNP – my definition of ‘we’, if you like – is a mass membership party, which I intend to help mould into a mass participation party, whose conscience is the wider Yes movement.

The SNP must now think more in terms of leading a wider movement than monopolising it; it must consider the aspirations of a much wider community than it has previously. That wider Yes movement wants the co-operation and spirit of the Referendum campaign to be maintained. There is much to be considered for the longer term (seewww.angelafordeputy.scot for more) but in the immediate term, I believe the 2015 Westminster election gives us the perfect opportunity to do just that.

It would be very easy to be seduced by current UK poll subsamples showing the SNP comfortably ahead of Labour in Scotland. But we have been in a similar position many times in advance of Westminster elections. The Labour Party in Scotland excels at winning Westminster seats; their leadership travails demonstrate just how ruthlessly they pursue this; nothing, absolutely nothing, matters more to Labour than gaining power in London. If we do not somehow decouple the election in Scotland from the rest of the UK, our vote will be squeezed, as it always has been in the past, as the contest becomes a choice of which London party would be least worst in Government.

While I believe the SNP could win the popular vote in Scotland by ploughing a lone furrow, I have doubts that the margin of victory would result in any transformative shift in the relative number of MPs Labour and the SNP win. We have to think much more creatively.

By standing as part of a ‘Yes Alliance’ we will be making a bold statement that this election is not business as usual in Scotland. It will be a statement that this election is, for Scotland, about something greater than party politics and who forms a London Government. It gives a platform upon which the decoupling of the elections in Scotland and the rest of the UK can occur.

While the term ‘Yes Alliance’ is firmly embedded in our consciousness it is not entirely helpful. It accurately describes the long-term, strategic objective of keeping the Yes movement together and sustaining what has been built in the last two years. But it also gives the impression that we are simply attempting a re-run of the Referendum and that perception will be used (and is already being used) as artillery against us.

This can be countered by arguing that the tactical objective of ‘Yes Alliance’ MPs will be to secure the best possible settlement from Westminster. After all, who should the Scottish people trust to deliver for them; Unionist MPs bound to their London Whips and therefore compromised when a coalition agreement with UKIP requires Scotland’s aspirations to be set aside? Or ‘Yes Alliance’ MPs, with no allegiance to any potential party of Government in London and therefore able under whatever circumstances arise to press Scotland’s case to the fullest.

But there should be no stepping off the gas in the fight for Independence. Firstly, of course, because that is our purpose. But secondly because we know that if there is no real prospect of Independence then there will be absolutely no motivation for Westminster to devolve anything to Holyrood. If we can articulate this case, which was proved beyond any doubt by the final panic-ridden days of the Referendum, then we will have established the platform to continue to present the case for Independence while also acting as guarantors of the vow made to Scotland.

But this needs to be done properly. If we stand divided we will fall. If we start divided, we won’t get to our feet in the first place. In my view, any candidate that stands as part of the ‘Yes Alliance’ must stand under the same banner. This means sacrificing the primacy of the SNP, Green, SSP or whatever other label on the ballot paper. In my view ‘Yes Alliance’ may be the wrong identity for that banner. This can wait for another day though; the important thing is to get the various parties and individuals making up the Yes movement to sign up in principal.

The SNP has a huge responsibility in creating this alliance. Being by far the largest partner, we have a duty to lead. But this should not be confused with a mandate to monopolise. All partners and their members must be involved in determining the practicalities of how this alliance will work, such as the selection of candidates. But what a great problem to have; ensuring the involvement of so many committed Independence supporters.

It is clear to me that Westminster, in the context of a Scottish Parliament, can never be more than a tactical tool for the Independence movement. And our tactic for next year must be to drive as much power as we can from Westminster to Holyrood.

To do that we must unseat as many Unionist MPs from Scotland as possible and replace them with MPs who will not compromise their aspirations for Scotland, regardless of what Government emerges.

To do that we must decouple the Scottish element of the 2015 election from the election in the rest of the UK and press the argument that only ‘Yes Alliance’ candidates can be trusted to deliver maximum powers to Scotland.

To do that we have to establish a completely different premise to the standard party politics which will dominate the debate south of the border and which, if we don’t, will drown out anything that happens in Scotland.

To do that we have to field a single slate of candidates, calling on all the talents of the Yes movement and representing all demographics as equitably as possible.

To do that we have to embrace the new political reality of post-Referendum Scotland; the SNP has to be large-hearted enough to put short-term, narrow party interest to the side for the sake of what is best for Scotland in the immediate term and what is best for our cause in the long term.

Angela Constance MSP


  1. As one of those new members previously unaligned, I agree. At the same time, 45% is static, and though YES resonates with that 45%, it may not in itself attract many of the 55%, that is something that Devo-Max can do in two way. One in achieving it, to gain the support of that 27% who voted NO for more powers. And two, with Devo-Max working for Scotland, to allay many of the fears of the 47% who voted NO because of concerns, to increase confidence and trust in Scotland to deliver.

    The actual naming of the party of the candidates in 2015 is important. Should it be for example, "SNP - YES Alliance", or "SNP - Devo-Max and beyond"? Similarly with e.g. "SSP - YES Alliance"? Personally I don't think it should just be "YES Alliance", as the SNP is still a recognised brand!

  2. Thank you Ms Constance. A come-in-peace view from a No hillock -

    Ms Constance: 'It would be a huge lost opportunity if, in welcoming these new members, the SNP did not change some of its practices to meet their aspirations.'

    Perhaps, but turning aspiration into policies - rather than practices, however they may be defined - is what your new members doubtless want, and what the new members want may well not be what the electorate wants, as the cold-eyed strategists will already know.

    Ms Constance: 'the tactical objective of ‘Yes Alliance’ MPs'

    It is just possible that Scotland may have the courage to follow England and elect at least one Scottish Green MP next year, and it seems to me that such an alliance would be like the US army enlisting Grenada as an 'ally' in a military alliance - or an alliance between a battle cruiser and the (doubtless solar-powered) Vital Spark of the Greens - not forgetting the pedalo of the SSP.

    The Green Party can certainly share some objectives with the SNP, but Patrick Harvie has already signalled the way forward for the Greens as he sees it - move on, reach out to the Nos and ditch the dreary 45 mythos. I will very likely be voting Green but I have no wish for an independent Scotland.

  3. Having been to hustings, it's now defo Angela Constance for me. What needs to be done is to look at the near 60,000 new members including me, and ask - why - did we join? The answer is simple. To keep the momentum going for Independence, and the "threat" of another referendum not 10 years away, not 5, but in your face.

    To reach out to the 60,000 members, many like me previously unaffiliated, but also to the wider YES movement. But without scaring off the NOes! So it's General Election 7/5/15, push for Devo-Max, fine, but with the end goal always there. And for me, as the first step of securing the most pro-indy candidates that Hosie can use in Westminster, it's Constance will I think, do the best job - especially not being Deputy First Minster at the same time to split the time and attention.

    I guess simply put, the party actually needs a deputy leader whose duties as a politician don't detract from that role.