‘Don’t wobble’: Independence figures respond to the #GE2017 setback for SNP


Campaigners urge need to learn lessons of success for Corbyn’s radical politics

THE GENERAL ELECTION has been a disaster for Theresa May and the Conservatives, and seen Labour under Jeremy Corbyn grow its strength considerably.

But it also saw the SNP lose 21 seats, losing ground to both the Scottish Tories and Labour.

Leading activists and thinkers from the 2014 independence movement offered CommonSpace their thoughts on what lessons can be learned.

Scottish Green co-leader Maggie Chapman

“The SNO did win, and that point is worth making. They won most, more than half, of the seats.

“But they have lost seats, and that’s potentially an indication of a few things.

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP never articulated a really clear message about independence. So there wasn’t a galvanising of the independence vote around the SNP like there was two years ago. Two years ago that memory was still very clear – of the defeat and the lies that had been told by the Better Together campaign.

“What the SNP has failed to do in the last couple of years is articulate a clear left vision for Scotland, and Corbyn was doing that. He was presenting ideas and policies that, certainly the Greens have been talking about for a long time. Nationalising utilities cancelling student debt, that sort of thing.

“These ideas haven’t been well articulated in the national debate in Scotland since the independence referendum.”

Common Weal Director Robin McAlpine

“The indy movement must not wobble over this. This is not about independence.

“A big chunk of what happened here is that precisely the group who gave the SNP its big majority in 2015, have been looking for that indyref spirit and failing to find it in the SNP, have found it in Corbyn.

“Another chunk of the indy vote has simply not been motivated by the SNP. We can be pretty sure the Tories have sewn up the hardcore unionist vote. There’s still some in Labour, but I think if you were to chip underneath, you’d find that Labour has shed unionist votes to the Tories, and gained votes from the SNP, among the working class who want change.

“There are two crucial points to be made about this.

“Number one: independence referendum is two words. We’ve only talked about one of them. We’ve new spent a year talking constantly and terminably about a referendum and about referenda. They aren’t popular or interesting.

“We haven’t talked about independence. If we don’t talk about independence nobody will want it.

“Secondly, this isn’t a good result, but I’m sanguine about it, because I can absolutely see positive outcomes.

“People will be able to see that we will not take another step towards independence, until we can separate independence from party politics. The SNP has done little or nothing to build an independence movement beyond its own borders.

“We are going to need a mass, extra-parliamentary, national campaign to win independence.”

Historian and writer Gerry Hassan

“This has been a terrible SNP campaign. Directionless. Clueless. Without any kind of key messages and strategy and bereft of political intelligence and in particular how to speak to non-SNP Scotland. This belies a wider failure. The SNP never openly assessed how the 2014 indyref lost and fell short as an offer. They then never fully understood Peak SNP, but embraced the politics of hubris and majoritarianism, without ever offering a politics of substance or any boldness.

“The SNP have oversold the mythology that they are a centre-left and social democratic party: one which has been too critically bought into by SNP and indy cheerleaders. The SNP’s record has had many positives, but more and more as it has become comfortable in office, the negatives have come to the fore: the SNP leadership as the new class and insiders of Scotland saying and doing nothing on domestic policy such as education and health, beyond excusing their own failures and weaknesses.”

“This was the first ever post-neo-liberal UK election. This is to be welcomed and Corbyn’s Labour rode a wave of anger which was waiting to find a champion. The SNP big tent of the 2014 indyref of invoking social democracy while advancing the orthodoxies of neo-liberalism are over. Alex Salmond embodied this; Nicola Sturgeon promised to be more centre-left, but has delivered little.

“The whole project of independence needs rethinking. It isn’t just about the SNP and cannot be left to them. We need to address what a post-neo-liberal independence would look like: one which isn’t about the claptrap of finance capital, economic determinism and crony capitalism. And it has to offer a more pluralist, humane and humble politics: one which allows for more dialogue and spaces. That will be a big challenge to the SNP but change they have to – otherwise the only way is down.”

Radical Independence Campaign co-founder Jonathon Shafi

The radicalism of Corbyn’s manifesto has caught much of the same mood that powered the 2014 independence referendum, across the UK and in Scotland.

The Labour vote was absolutely not a vote for the union or the status quo, and many new Labour voters are independence supporters.

But this reality not only gives the lie to Kezia Dugdale’s claims that Labour votes are votes for the union. As an opponent of Corbynism she has to say this.

It’s also calls for a profound reassessment of the vision of the independence movement.

The left of the movement has always maintained that support for independence is fundamentally about the desire for radical social and political change. It is not about independence for its own sake.

For independence to remain relevant and realisable in coming years, it will need to re-connect with the spirit of rebellion of the 2014 referendum and with those inspired to vote for Corbyn. It will need to become a serious force for change in the here and now.

We must all now take responsibility for this reassessment.

The vote for radical politics that hit the SNP should at the same time give confidence to the SNP left to take bold action. Let’s turn everything to the left. That is only way to combat the Scottish Tories, around whom the unionist vote is re-organising

And that is how we can exploit the weakness of Westminster to advance anti austerity and radical demands.

Musician and writer Pat Kane

There was an explicit public campaign coordination between Unionist parties in Scotland to maximise the anti-independence vote – and the SNP explicitly ran away from the challenge, downgrading its own previous commitment in this election.

 In a way, the surge towards Corbyn it confirms the long-standing SNP strategy of moving their tanks onto Labour’s lawn by outflanking them on the left. Is it a surprise that if Labour puts its tanks (mostly) back on that lawn, that some left-oriented SNP voters may well come back to the fold?

What maybe should be a casualty of this election for the SNP is a kind of top-down managerialism and message-control of the movement – symbolised by the departure of Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond. It was the youth turnout and social media that won a battle against Dacre and Murdoch on a UK national level for Corbyn – that was the same vitality that powered the Yes movement. Haven’t we lost some of that?

I think the most interesting aspect of this is the fact that Corbyn has made a ‘Lexit’ advance – that is, they’ve used the freedom from EU regulation and competition rules to add up the budget numbers in a quite different way, moving to the left of where the SNP has positioned themselves on some socio-economic issues (though on Trident, SNP still holds the moral high ground). I’ve thought for a while that SNP should have expended a lot more effort on articulating a ‘remain and reform’ position on the EU a lot more clearly. It may be too late for that now – soft Brexit is now the territory opening up. All kudos to Sturgeon for having her ‘differentiated’ Brexit option ready to dust off and offer to the process. But the old ‘independence in Europe’ position – for the moment – will have to be stood down (which I rather bitterly regret). We’re not heading for Denmark, on our own, any time soon. But we should try to get to Norway, in the UK context, at least.

CommonWeal head of policy Ben Wray

“We all need to learn in Scotland from the astonishing success of Corbyn’s campaign. Visionary, radical ideas can inspire people, and can win. Areas like Coatbridge and Springburn are among the poorest in Scotland; they were inspired to vote Yes in 2014 and they have been inspired to swing back to Corbyn’s Labour now. That isn’t a turn against independence, as Kezia Dugdale would have you believe. It is a turn in favour of a manifesto that was the most radical Labour has stood on for many decades, and in Corbyn a politician who they know is serious about changing things.

“Nicola Sturgeon will be making a big mistake if she responds to this poor result by doing what Dugdale and Ruth Davidson want: kicking independence into the long grass. The SNP performed poorly because they over-estimated how Europhile Scots are and she underestimated the need to motivate and mobilise working class yes voters in 2014 with a radical agenda and inspiring vision. Voting Corbyn isn’t voting against independence – it’s vital the independence movement understands the difference.”

Pictures courtesy of Documenting Yes, CommonSpace, Twitter

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