Lessons for SNP and Yes movement from Westminster chaos plain to see

  • First published in : Visit Website
  • First published on: 21st Oct 2022

Writing a column with the current government in charge feels a bit like those times on ‘Have I Got News For You’ where the panellists speak directly to the TV audience and tell them that by the time the programme goes out the politician who is the butt of their jokes will have resigned.  

On Wednesday it was a case of another one gone, another one gone and another bites the dust. Not the UK Prime Minister yet, just one of her more dreadful ministers, Suella Braverman, and then the Tory Chief Whip and her deputy. But then apparently, they hadn’t resigned at all. Yes, it’s very hard to keep up!

By Wednesday evening mass hysteria was sweeping the commons with reports of Tory Whips blocking the entrance to the No Lobby, Jacob Rees-Mogg shouting at his fellow Tory MPs, them swearing back and wannabe Tory rebels being dragged and pushed into voting with the Government. In the Tory party there aren’t many who feel they are better together these days. We can point and laugh of course, and scoff at what a bourach they are making of it all. But is this mess any bigger or all that different from Boris Johnson or Theresa May’s time in Government? The Tories have been sliding towards oblivion since they helped deliver Brexit on the back of a pack of lies and now, we are truly in the end game.

The chaotic scenes on Wednesday were the symptoms of a party which has lost its way and ended up with a leader who has had to perform the most incredible series of u-turns on her promised policy platform and seems wholly unsuited for high office.

I didn’t witness any of the manhandling or swearing in which Tories engaged but I felt the atmosphere which was one of total confusion and chaos. A friend compared it to the last days of Ancient Rome.

Anyone who tells you that bullying doesn’t take place within parliamentary political parties is wrong. I know. I have seen it at first hand. It tends to take place when leaders are unsure of themselves and cannot command confidence in their leadership. There will always be willing henchman to do the dirty work. We all remember that from our schooldays. Thanks to the Labour MP, Chris Bryant, self-appointed guardian of the Westminster parliament’s good name, the Speaker will investigate what happened on Wednesday evening, but I don’t think many of us hold out much hope of a resolution from that quarter.

I was reminded of those great lines from W.B .Yeats poem, The Second Coming; 
  
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…… 
The best lack all conviction, while the worst    
Are full of passionate intensity.”

MPs in tears and scenes reminiscent of the parliaments of banana republics are hardly reassuring to our constituents who, because of the cost-of-living crisis, are suffering in a way which would have seemed unimaginable a year ago. And what must international observers think now of the mother of all parliaments? There really could not be a better time for Scotland to be planning her departure from this union.

On Monday the Scottish Government published the third paper in the Building a New Scotland series – ‘A stronger economy with independence’.  The paper sets out how new powers, combined with existing strengths, would give Scotland the opportunity to build a better future for everyone who lives here. It describes how proposals for an independent Scotland would improve access to flexible working and strengthen workplace rights, how we could use our extraordinary energy resources to build an economy based on low-cost, renewable energy and how we could invest in infrastructure through the Building a New Scotland Fund.  The paper also includes information for the people of Scotland on currency, borders and re-joining the EU.

In this last respect it is the start of answering the three questions which I believe are key to winning the next independence vote.  However, and this is important, the paper is quite nonprescriptive.  It is designed to open rather than close down conversation on the policy matters it discusses. Indeed, in the foreword, the FM says; “This publication is far from the last word on the matter... And we welcome all contributions to the debate on how we can build a better country for everyone who lives here.”

Inevitably, contributions to the debate followed aplenty.  The paper’s views on borders and the EU were favourably received by some expert commentators but, predictably, the most controversial commentary focused on the issue of the currency. The indy supporting economist Richard Murphy set out his concerns in detail in a column in this newspaper yesterday. He said he considered it his duty to do so.  So, let’s see the authors of the paper address them.  
The challenge for the SNP is to live up to the FM’s words by welcoming and utilising contributions to the debate. Yes, some unionist commentators will never be happy, but we cannot ignore the concerns of No voters because we need to win some of them over to win our independence and the more we win over the better start our new state will have. So, we need to address some of the unionist arguments, but we also need to address the arguments from people on our own side. Yes, some of them were rather trenchantly expressed but, as Lesley Riddoch explained in her column yesterday, this is because some of these people feel they have been ignored and cut out of pro-independence policy development for years, despite their expertise.

We need to get these people back inside the tent and to have an open dialogue in early course. Fortunately, we have the ideal forum in which to do so.  A new series of National Assemblies will be announced soon. I am sure one will be held to discuss this paper. the timing of which meant it could not be discussed at our conference. We should invite Richard Murphy, Tim Rideout and Robin McAlpine along to debate their concerns about the currency with the authors of the paper and representatives of the SNP leadership. You only get to introduce a new currency once. We need to get it right. Caution is wise but we also need to give the arguments for moving more quicky the careful attention they deserve.

The lessons for the SNP and the wider Yes movement from the mess at Westminster are plain to see. In the words of WB Yeats, we need conviction, but we should avoid passionate intensity.  We need to keep a calm sooch, and focus on what is needed to win our prize.  Conviction comes from being sure of the ground on which you stand. As we have seen played out in gory detail at Westminster over the last few weeks, the ground on which a political party stands is its policy programme. If it is not strong ground, then you are done for.  Policy is best developed collaboratively with everyone who wishes to contribute inside the tent.  So, let’s start by bringing the critics of the SNP’s currency plans who share our vision of independence to the table to thrash out their concerns. It can only help not hinder our progress.  

Joanna Cherry KC MP

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