The SNP should nurture and support others in the Yes movement

The SNP depute contest is now official. Nominations closed on Friday and we have four candidates, with four strong and distinct propositions. I regret that no woman came forward, but nonetheless it will be a good debate – as good-natured as it will be passionate – and will I’m sure reflect well on the party.

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First published in The National, 19 July 2016

I’m pleased The National is giving each of us the opportunity to raise and discuss ideas in the pages of Scotland’s only pro-independence daily newspaper. The best source of support for the independence movement is us, the independence movement. My favourite phrase to describe the SNP comes from Jim Mather, our enterprise minister in the 2007 government: We’re a team game. So is Scotland.

And that is my point in today’s column. We in the SNP owe a duty of care to the wider Yes movement, and we need to do more to nurture the ecosystem around us. In the post-indyref political landscape the SNP no longer has the monopoly on independence, but there can be surely no dispute we lead the movement.

That brings responsibilities and we need to step up.

With the post-indyref upheavals we saw a surge in membership for all the Yes parties, but the SNP was, obviously, the main beneficiary. This rising tide floated all boats. Sadly, we then also saw a few regrettable elements of tribalism during the Holyrood elections, where former Yes comrades found themselves in competing camps, arguing over votes.

Let’s be clear. It is a strength that different political parties have different visions of an independent Scotland and it is entirely legitimate that each party stands to present its prospectus, and then the citizens choose. 

There should also be space for case-by-case local arrangements, for example in Edinburgh Central where the numbers do shout from the rooftops and the splitting of the Yes vote let Ruth Davidson win.

However, each party has the right to do its thing and nobody should seek to control or denigrate that. When the referendum comes into focus we’ll all be able to unite on what genuinely unites us; we should not force that process or pretend differences don’t exist.

But in the meantime I think a distinction can be made between other pro-Yes political parties and non-political organisations or groups, even those as yet unformed.

The SNP should do more to support the organisations and groups. We should have a Yes Hotline to a single point of contact at party headquarters tasked with sharing our experience with the Yes movement.

With one in 38 of the adult population of Scotland an SNP member, we in the party have a responsibility to nurture the Yes movement. Many of the folk we’re dealing with are party members anyway, so it helps us for the Yes movement to be well resourced and professional, and it will help other, new organisations to learn from our experience.

We already support our branches and members, and have tried and tested on internal governance. Having been convener of the disputes committee for years I know discipline can be tough and not every organisation will want to replicate how the SNP does things, but we have a lot to share.

The support will be horses for courses and demand-led. Different organisations need different support, and it is not for the SNP to tell any group how to run itself. But we can share our experience, and knowing that a call for guidance to the SNP will be met with a sympathetic and helpful response will, I think, go a long way to cohering the Yes movement.

As depute leader I would certainly view that outreach as a vital part of my role, as I explained to Yes East Kilbride last week. Often it would simply be a case of putting people in touch.

An organisation might need help to draft a press release, or produce a list of contacts, or help with governance, or finding a printer to do a load of leaflets, or a designer to knock them up, who knows?

Financial management can be especially tricky (which is why I’ve done every role at branch level but treasurer – in my view it needs experts). The various Yes groups might well not feel the need of advice, grand so. But we should stand ready to lend a hand. We are not short of expertise and we can facilitate a conversation to everyone’s benefit.

The fact that parts of the Yes movement do not want to be part of the party is a strength, not a weakness. We’re on the same side. And where we can voluntarily co-operate with other political parties where we agree, but otherwise let them do their thing, I think we have a duty to assist the non-political groups to be as effective as they can be. It will save us all effort, will get us back to a spirit of helping each other, and save things going wrong which are too often used to discredit us all anyway.

The SNP assisting an organisation does not mean it is an SNP front, nor that the SNP is responsible for it. It means the SNP is the driving force of independence and we should nurture and support those we lead while celebrating the Yes movement’s diversity. That way we all win.