By Jim Slaven
There really should be a question mark after that headline but we’re doing so well with our predictions we didn’t bother with it. Following the SNP’s election victory earlier this year I made the somewhat bold (many thought deranged) prediction that Paul McBride would join the SNP. The thinking went something like the following. Paul McBride likes himself, actually he likes himself very much indeed. Let us remember he left the Labour Party because his talents were just not recognised ie he didn’t get a job, a really big job. He then joined the Tories and was for a time happy to make up party policy on Newsnight Scotland as the Tory ‘Justice Advisor’. But really, that title was never going to satisfy this genius and following the Tories abysmal election result it seemed logical he would look for an exit.
Fast forward a few months and many media appearances later and McBride leaves the Tories. What is instructive is the issue he chose to leave over. McBride claims to be leaving the Tories because they will not back the SNP’s Offensive Behaviour Bill or as he says “This was a party whose whole cabinet was almost destroyed by the IRA and they are refusing to criminalise people singing songs celebrating the IRA”. Now this is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly McBride says what the SNP have alluded to but refused to come out and say, that this bill is targeted at people singing Irish political songs. It has nothing to do with religious bigotry and everything to do with the state trying to criminalise certain expressions of Irishness and/ or political expressions. And let us be clear once the state labels Irish songs of resistance as criminal what’s next? Whatever the SNP or the Police find ‘offensive’ that’s what.
Secondly it is interesting because this Bill is a disaster and no opposition party is supporting it. So McBride’s high profile (is he ever anything but?) resignation has been designed to assist the SNP politically as well as making his exit from the Tories seem political rather than personal. However we all know that McBride only acts in the interests of McBride. Not long ago I asked someone who works with McBride what motivates him (publicity aside), given he had left Labour for the Tories I was interested to understand where he was heading politically. The answer was instructive, his colleague smiled and rubbed his thumb and index finger together and said ‘Money’. I found this hard to believe and pointed out he must already have plenty of that and he clearly had some political ambition. The conversation that followed confirmed he had no allegiance to any particular politics and we have already established he has no loyalty to any political party.
Having backed a rival, Jackson Carlow, in the leadership campaign and continued to make up his own policies as he went along the writing was on the wall. His latest policy idea is for potential jurors to be forced to divulge their backgrounds, including their employment history. How about we do the same with QC’s and we start with McBride’s financial dealings? He also wants people excluded if they can’t read or write to a standard he finds acceptable and wants their grasp of the English language tested too. Underpinning this rubbish is a deep prejudice exposed when he attempted to justify his plans by claiming “It is supposed to be a jury of peers but you tend to find that most are unemployed or retired because employed people often get out of jury duty It is not a jury of peers”.
So could this chancer really end up with a position in the SNP government? The answer is absolutely. Two months ago McBride announced to the world that sectarianism would be worse in an independent Scotland. This struck me as being the type of thing a Tory and a unionist would say. However days after this story broke I was talking to an SNP official and asked them what they made of it. To my surprise they said McBride had phoned Alex Salmond’s office to say that was not what he meant and he did not think sectarianism would be worse in an independent Scotland. Over this summer he has also supported the SNP over various unpopular justice reforms including getting rid of double jeopardy to allow the state to prosecute people again (and again) if they are acquitted. He was also happy to join the SNP in backing the Scottish legal establishment over the Lockerbie case and reject calls for an inquiry. And he is obviously very keen on the draconian measures in the Offensive Behaviour Bill.
So he is not as hostile to the Nats as many imagine and lets face it the Nats are not as hostile to his politics as they should be. The SNP leadership seem to be moving towards inclusion of some sort of second, British state question in the independence referendum. The SNP have already abandoned plans for a post independence referendum on the monarchy and come out as pro monarchist. And of course they are rabidly pro-British militarism.
I don’t think McBride would be that out of place in the SNP and let’s face it he is running out of parties. The Labour party in Scotland are a shambles but surely they wouldn’t take him back or would they….
A CAN’T of a man. Greedy and selfish traitor. His undoing will be inevitable and fun to watch. Not one of Us.
When were plans abandoned to become pro-monarchy?
I think it is still party policy to have a referendum…
Ross, This was quietly leaked over the summer but thankfully was picked up in a few places. See for example Salmond’s biographer David Torrance:
The link to the SoS story is down for some reason but the quotes are in the above link. The SNP now have no plans for a monarchy referendum, the monarch will be head of state. If of course it is left up to them and not the people.
It didn’t come up at Conference but I’ll check that one out from the horses mouth (phonecall to HQ).
I think it’d be wise to have the Queen remain, as the risk is the applecart is being upset too much for the floating voters and they’ll just vote “no”. And for those who do not wish to have her remain, then Independence would be a step toward that. If Independence comes before a new head of state then, like Australia are planning, that’d be time for the Republican’s to start banging their drums.
The SNP are a monarchist party .and always have been.
There are certainly republicans within her ranks as is also the case in Labour .
Scottish National Party policy is retention of the monarchy.
This does not mean that we cannot pursue a referendum on retention of the monarchy if demand exists after independence of course.
The party position is AS IT ALWAYS HAS BEEN
INDEPENDENCE but retention of the monarchy.
Scotland cannot become a republic until Scotland has the authority to ask this question,and that means a sovereign parliament which is not answerable to LONDON in any shape or form.
It could happen but it is NOT SNP policy.
It may be desired by a majority of her membership however.(moi for a kick off)
I’m not commenting on whether it is monarchist or not. I believe party policy is still to have a referendum, this was not raised at Conference this year. It might come up at National Council but I don’t know.
Ross, quite right. We are not claiming they were republican, only that the leadership have subverted party policy (agreed by a previous conference) and ditched plans for a second, post independence, referendum asking the Scottish people if they want to keep the monarchy or not. Please keep us updated on your internal inquiries as we would be as pleased as you if it turns out D Torrance and the SoS are wrong.
A right royal test of Salmond’s power
AH, THOSE were the days. Excuse me while I get a tad misty-eyed while recalling a enjoyable weekend in Rothesay in September 1997, when the SNP conference and assorted hangers-on like myself rolled into town. It sticks in my mind for two reasons. The first is a moment when a friend, now an upright member of the establishment, almost fell off the pier at three o’clock in the morning while somewhat the worse for wear. And the second is a cracker of a conference debate in Rothesay’s art deco Pavilion about the SNP’s attitude to the British monarchy.
It was a classic political stand-off: on one side, passion and gut instinct; on the other, cool heads and pragmatism. Leading the republicans was Roseanna Cunningham, glamorous and charismatic and at that time the darling of the Left of the party. The press called her Republican Rose, and she pressed all the party’s anti-establishment buttons. To cacophonous applause she argued that a decision on keeping the Queen as head of state should be made by the people of an independent Scotland in a referendum.
The party leadership was appalled. Remarkably, Salmond himself spoke in the debate – a most unusual step for a party leader – urging the activists to take a more realistic position that wouldn’t alienate the many Scots who held the royal family in high regard. Antagonising them would jeopardise the SNP’s chances of achieving its ultimate goal. “Remember not to travel hopefully, but to arrive,’’ he told his party.
Salmond lost the argument. The vote went against him, and SNP policy became that “within the term of office of the first independent parliament of Scotland a referendum will be held on the question of whether or not to retain the monarch as head of state for Scotland”. A chastened leader admitted defeat with as much grace as he could muster. “The leadership will respect the view of the party,’’ Salmond told an excited gaggle of political journalists.
The question now is simple. Will Salmond be true to his word? Will he respect the view of his party? On Friday I listened to his speech at Holyrood, where the Queen was formally opening the new session of the Scottish Parliament. The First Minister painted a picture of an independent Scotland that retained the British monarch as head of state, presenting this arrangement as a sign that Scotland and England would remain “firm friends and equal partners” after the split.
And I was struck by how important the continued royal rule over Scotland has become to Salmond’s plans to win a historic referendum on independence in this parliamentary term. It has become the cornerstone of the “social union” idea that he believes will reassure many of those who currently oppose the break-up of the UK.
But what about party policy? Salmond’s cuddling up to the royals won’t reassure anyone if the SNP plan is to allow Scots to ditch the Windsors the moment Scotland gains its freedom.
Yesterday I asked the party if the September 1997 conference decision was still the SNP’s extant policy on the monarchy. I was a little taken aback by the response, which I reproduce here in full: “Since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, what we now propose is a referendum on our proposal for an independent Scotland, to be held towards the end of this parliament, which will include the long-standing policy for the Queen and her successors to be head of state.”
What long-standing policy might that be, I asked? When was it formulated, and by whom? The response came back that “the policy to retain the monarchy dates back to the founding of the SNP in 1934”.
So, it seems that democratic conference decision in Rothesay, along with Salmond’s promise to respect the will of the party, was all a Bobby Ewing style dream. Alternatively, Alex Salmond has decided that SNP party policy is inconvenient to his chosen strategy. So he has simply chosen to ignore it. He has done so in the belief that his power over the party is so absolute, no-one will dare challenge him about it.
He may be right. Maybe the SNP is just a Salmond cult, a party incapable of doing anything other than what it’s told. Or maybe Salmond is wrong to take his party for granted in this way. Maybe there are people in the SNP so appalled at the prospect of an independent Scotland being thirled to the British monarchy that they will make their voice heard. Maybe there are people so appalled at Salmond’s apparent contempt for the SNP’s grass roots that they feel it is necessary to speak up for the integrity of the party’s democratic processes.
People often comment on how disciplined the SNP is these days. That’s true, but the party’s discipline has not really been tested in recent years. It certainly hasn’t been tested on something as contentious as the monarchy or membership of Nato, both touchstone issues for many.
These are exciting times for Scottish Nationalists. But they are also uncertain times. The mood music about “independence lite”, and the possibility that a 21st-century version of a nation state might include sharing sovereignty with both London and Brussels, is disconcerting to some, and an outrage to others.
I’m told the deadline for motions to be debated at this year’s SNP party conference is only days away. I imagine SNP activists may have a number of questions, not just about the monarchy but about defence and welfare and currency in an independent Scotland. They may also have questions about whether their views will be taken into account as the party formulates its plans. Will these questions be asked, and answered? We’ll see.