The current debate among Scottish nationalists appears to be about whether or not it might be best for the SNP to lose next year’s Scottish elections, leaving the Labour Party to take the blame for implementing London’s impending budget cuts.
The argument appears to be that if the SNP wins the May 2011 elections, they will be forced to pass on Westminster’s promised budget cuts, and the Scottish press will paint the SNP as willing Vichy partners in the Tory devastation of Scottish society.
So if the SNP were to lose this election, so the argument goes, it wouldn’t really matter. Labour would get the blame for the subsequent cuts, and Scots would remember they were offered an alternative, and avoid making the same mistake in 2015.
At first sight, this argument appears to have merit. For a moment I started to believe it myself. After careful consideration, however, I now see there are huge flaws with this strategy. One is that it relies on Scots coming to blame Labour for the Tory cuts, when for four years the Unionist press in Scotland would be singing in perfect harmony that it is not Labour’s fault, but the Tories.
But there is a bigger problem. This strategy would lead many in the SNP to conclude that it’s better simply to give up now without a fight, to stop campaigning and take a break.
The Labour Party, not to mention the British Establishment, would like nothing better.
Consider this: if Labour knows that savage cuts are coming in Scotland, why on earth do they want to win this election so badly? Because they know that an SNP victory will probably mean more SNP seats in Holyrood. Which will be one step nearer a majority, and Scotland will be one step nearer a referendum and independence.
But if the SNP were to lose, everything that has been achieved in the past three years will be swept away as if it never happened. A massive opportunity will have been missed. Momentum will be lost. Scottish independence will be taken off the political agenda for four more years, possibly longer.
That is what is at stake here. That is why the SNP and its activists must do their utmost to win this election, fighting tooth and nail, down to the wire.
Whatever happens, the SNP must hold Holyrood, and Labour must never be allowed into power in Scotland again.
The question is, though, how to achieve this? How to fire up the troops, especially with so much self-doubt in the air, after deciding not even to demand a referendum?
On the referendum, let me say that Alex Salmond was absolutely right to take it off the table for now.
First, this move has caught the Unionist parties off guard. Their printing presses were already set to say ‘Waste Of Money At Such Hard Times’, and ‘Salmond’s Vanity Project All In Vain,’ etc. They thought they knew what was next, and they were wrong.
Second, it has made the SNP rank and file wake up. Many were quite happy to sit back for the next eight months and ‘leave it to Alex’. The rigmarole of the voted-down referendum would fire up Scotland to vote the SNP back in. Sure. That’s all it would take. And all the voted down legislation for the past three years has had exactly the same effect. Scots are simply livid about Unionist obstruction on a minimum pricing for alcohol. They are marching in the streets for more borrowing rights for the Scottish Government. Can’t you feel it in the air?
What is called for now is a series of bold, dramatic, game-changing political moves that seize the initiative once more, energizing the SNP activists to make this election about Scottish independence. And then to win it.
At very least, the SNP should do the following:
1. Stop complaining about the Unionist media in Scotland. Bypass it. Issue press releases, policy statements and interviews exclusively to Newsnet Scotland and STV. Nurture them as alternatives to the BBC and the Unionist dead tree press. Foreign-based contributions are restricted to political parties, but not to media organisations. Advise your cashed-up non-dom supporters to tip their millions into Newsnet Scotland.
2. Start thinking like a radical NGO. NGOs take a hostile and indifferent press for granted. Learn their tactics. Hire creative people with this background to plan media campaigns. Get them to teach your members how to form activist cells. Pull off a breathtaking and ever-building series of spectacular media stunts that exposes the true exploitative nature of the UK presence in Scotland and, by extension, teaches Scots how much better their lives could be in an independent nation.
3. Unleash the party activists to start using the tactics of creative disobedience and nonviolent protest against London rule. Turn Scottish independence into a moral issue. Get activists to study and adopt the creative protest tactics of Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi and Saul Alinsky. These tactics work. They are unstoppable.
4. Label the BBC a foreign news agency and that as such non-payment of the BBC licence fee will not be prosecuted. Boycotts are a core strategy of nonviolent protest. The people of Scotland will rally to the cause. It will politicise Scots of all backgrounds, especially the unemployed. The courts would be powerless to handle the number of cases. Those that feel guilty can regain the moral high ground by donating their licence fees to charity. Or to Newsnet Scotland. I’m sure it could find a use for £300 million a year.
5. Win Glasgow’s heart. Take a leaf from Old Labour’s book: create a powerful emotional bond between the people of Glasgow and the SNP as their protectors. The SNP is the only major political party that is prepared to defend Scotland against London’s cuts. Hold two or three meet-the-people cabinet meetings every year in the heart of Glasgow. Forget persuading the long-term unemployed – they don’t vote. They will gain from Scottish independence by getting jobs, but most won’t thank you for it. It’s the working and middle class who vote New Labour. Talk to them. Recruit for the party amongst their community leaders. And then win Glasgow Council.
6. Get Scottish teenagers engaged in politics. Get MSPs to visit schools to talk to students like adults. Recruit more students to the party. Get them to help with by-elections. Build a grassroots organisation that grows organically. Play the long game.
7. Go on the information offensive. Work with Newsnet Scotland to hit Whitehall and the BBC with a hailstorm of freedom of information requests. What exactly did the Scotland Office spend its £7.2 million a year on under Jim Murphy? What directives have BBC management given to IT staff on censorship of nationalist comments on BBC blogs? What is the true nature of MI5 Operations in Scotland? Which political activists in Scotland are under surveillance? Publish the findings on Newsnet Scotland.
8. Walk away from Westminster. Announce that the SNP will no longer contest Westminster seats. This will resonate powerfully with Scots and will be the first stage of Scotland ending its association with London. Explain why – that Westminster is a waste of time and resources and that the SNP can achieve nothing there, even if they win every single Scottish seat. Leave Westminster to the New Labour piggies as their path to peerage. This handful of Scottish seats is a potent symbol of the slavish incorporation of our political class into a greater political establishment. England has refused to accept it in Europe. Why should we in Britain?
9. Fix the message. Ruthlessly, relentlessly and repeatedly push the following positive and negative messages in front of every offered microphone:
A. Independence is the only way to stop the proposed cuts to Scotland's pocket money. The cuts stop the moment we become independent.
B. The Tories have no respect for Scotland. They never did. They never will.
C. New Labour is not the answer to the Tories. The SNP is the only major party with Scotland’s interests in mind. The SNP = Scotland.
D. The Labour Party that gave us the National Health Service is dead. New Labour is the party of Tony Blair, greed, corruption and illegal wars.
E. New Labour corruption is killing Glasgow.
F. New Labour is a British party, not a Scottish one. New Labour is keeping Scotland in the UK for its own political ends. New Labour is a self-serving UK political party whose only goal is power for power’s sake. Joining the Labour Party is a career move. Most people in it have never had a real job.
G. New Labour's policies are the root cause of Britain’s financial woes. New Labour must never be trusted with power again – in London or Edinburgh.
H. New Labour let in the Tories, walking away from forming a perfectly viable UK government, just to keep out the SNP.
I. The UK is having a referendum on its voting system. Wales will get a referendum too. Where is Scotland's referendum? What is London afraid of?
J. Norway is our model. Same population size. Same landscape. Same climate. Same economy. Forget Ireland. Forget Iceland. Forget Australia. NORWAY.
That's only a start. There is so much more.
If for no other reason, these steps will give a good boost for party morale, which will be sorely tested in the times to come. You don’t win wars by ignoring your enemy. We are not children or saints: counter-punches have their place. As does creative attack.
The SNP is now fighting for the very soul of Scotland.
It’s time to get radical.