Thursday, February 16, 2006

Scotland needs a united SNP

Although not an active supporter (nor ardent opponent) of the Scottish Nationalist Party, I was saddened though by no means surprised by the tone of this report in today’s Herald newspaper concerning the selection battle that has waged in the west of Scotland over the SNP nomination for the Argyll and Bute seat ahead of next years’ Scottish Parliamentary elections. The contest was fought between two extremely bright individuals – Jim Mather (currently MSP) and Mike Russell (currently not). Surely only a political party that was simply brimming with talent wouldn’t move mountains to find a realistic electoral slot on their candidate roster for both. But not the SNP. Instead, as Douglas Fraser reports, Mike Russell has been a victim of “vicious SNP infighting…”, this by way of explanation both for his failure to be re-selected at anything approaching a winnable position on the SNP regional list ahead of the 2003 election (after having completed a stint as SNP MSP in the inaugural Holyrood sitting), and by way of prophesising that his future electoral prospects don’t necessarily look any brighter. Personally, I have enormous respect for both men, although I hold no particular candle for either.

But, and maybe in common with many other non-aligned voters in Scotland (I’ve never managed to ‘float’), I might actually campaign for the SNP were it able to demonstrate a unity of purpose and commitment to bettering Scotland’s future by, among other things, calling on all the available talent at its disposal. To my mind, this is emphatically not being done in this case. My ire is raise because the SNP Russell-spat raises questions beyond petty internal party squabbles. It also raises questions about the urgent need for a high quality of debate - and debaters - in our still-new Parliament. Notwithstanding the rather strange (and – post-Dunfermline – getting stranger) position of the LibDems in Scottish Politics, the best description I can find for Scotland’s political firmament is that it is effectively a one-party state. All sorts of political clichés spring to mind – most of which I will spare you. But the one that can’t be avoided is the old adage that the Government is only as good as the Opposition requires it to be. And in Scotland – with the SNP as the official opposition – the Government is very, very bad indeed: ergo, so is the opposition. The latest outrage – the truly awful and increasingly sinister Shirley McKie fingerprint case and the thundering silence thereon by our Justice Minister – simply reeks of non-accountability and political arrogance. And all the while the fiddlers fiddle and Rome – or in this case Scotland’s once respected criminal justice system – burns. The tragedy for Scots is that this Government simply is allowed to get away with this (and much more) without being held properly to account.

So, for everyone’s sake we need (and we deserve) a serious political opposition in Scotland and, at least for the foreseeable future (maybe), that has to be the primary responsibility of the SNP. And if the SNP is to achieve this then it has to become a broad church and it has to find a place for all of its talent – including failed leadership contenders. This is the art of leadership – just as much as is kissing babies and shaking hands. C’mon Alex – lead for goodness sake! You’re big enough!

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