Monday, 9 July 2018

MARGO AND PARTY SENSITIVITIES.


Political parties commonly spend some time with infighting over various policies.
Some parties are particularly sensitive to dissent and internal criticism.Smaller parties
often are more sensitive, and as minority pressure group, have the luxury of wasting
effort and ridding themselves of offending members without subtlety.


Margo MacDonald was an iconic Scottish Nationalist Politician whose career was
 notable  for her outspoken opinions and attempts by her own party to restrict her 
power and influence.

In the Scotsman, fellow nationalist and journalist George Kerevan described her
 popularity in her obituary in 2014. 


"During the 2010 Westminster election and the 2011 Holyrood election, I knocked
on thousands of doors in Edinburgh. I discovered there was one politician that
absolutely everyone knew and frequently mentioned. She was simply “Margo”.
Margo the Scottish nationalist. Margo who always said what she thought. Margo
 who spoke the language of ordinary voters and never down to them."
Margo was a socialist and critical of those who did not seem to share her views
 In 1979, as SNP senior vice chair, she criticised the party's 11 MPs who brought
 down the Callaghan Labour Government. When the left wing "79 Group" which
 she had joined. was expelled from the SNP in 1982, she resigned. She was troublesome
 but popular, and returned to the party, eventually to successfully become one of the
 first intake of  SNP MSPs in the 1999 Scottish Parliament Elections.

A CUNNING PLAN BACKFIRES

By 2003, after only one term, she had ruffled enough feathers to be demoted down
 the regional SNP candidate list to a place she could not win from. She resigned from
 the SNP and stood as an Independent candidate successfully, winning a further 3 times
 and remaining an MSP until her death. In 2007 the SNP minority government  had to
 bury the hatchet and negotiate her support. The attempt to silence Margo failed.
She never warmed to the centralist and business friendly economic policies that
Alex Salmond favoured in his administrations.

WASTED ENERGY IN  INTERNAL STRIFE

Perhaps Celtic separatist political parties often spend a great deal of time fighting
 people in their own camp who generally support their aims, but differ on some points?
An argument on policy or interpretation of general aims becomes a battle against the
 person, not the opinion. How dare they question or criticise? This leads to unpleasant
 hostility, attempts to deselect candidates and sometimes alienating whole groups of people.

 RADICAL CHANGES FOLLOWED  2014 REFERENDUM

The Independence Referendum has changed the SNP . It has the same aims but was
changed by the experience of the campaign and massive recruitment that followed.  .

The SNP  have been through a transformation since the Margo experience. In the
 Independence Referendum the SNP wisely did not try to closely control the YES
 campaign. It was disappointing to lose but there was elation as to how well it went.
 YES, given freedom of action,  became a diverse movement of  groups and individuals
 of all.backgrounds.
THE YES EFFECT

Firstly, the Yes campaigners, many of.whom were not  involved in mainstream politics, 
could see the absolute commitment and dedication of many SNP activists and working
 side by side in this common cause produced positive friendships and admiration
between people who would probably never otherwise have met each other. 

Secondly, the SNP activists worked collaboratively with a large number of YES volunteers
 who previously they would ever have thought of recruiting. They were people of many
 persuasions and driven primarily by the hope of a better, fairer country, irrespective of
 personal politics. This gave the SNP a different insight. In the very successful
2015 General Election the SNP was open to give  new members a chance, producing MPs
 originally from Women for Independence, Business for Scotland, and even
 from the Labour Party.

Thirdly, the campaign itself produced an atmosphere and momentum which I cannot 
explain but certainly experienced. In the final days, in the face of defeat. the mood was
 upbeat and the workers had a deep sense of achievement. In Contrast the 
BETTER TOGETHER workers acted like it couldn't end soon enough!
 No fun for them.. 

 In Alex Salmond's book " The Dream Shall Never Die", a description of the last 
100 days of the campaign, he sums up the atmosphere well in the Prologue.

" It was the best of times. It was the best of times.

For many people the Scottish referendum campaign was the best time of their lives,
 a far too brief period when suddenly everything seemed possible and the opportunity
 beckoned for the "Sma' folk" to make a big impact."

..."Once people have had a taste for power they are unlikely to give it up. 
The process of referendum has changed the country. Many people felt politically
 significant for the first time in their lives. 

It has made them a different people, a better people."

I know it sounds ridiculous, but believe me, it was something special and thousands
of activists just can't wait to do it again. 

The first action of the SNP after defeat was to recruit the from the YES campaign and so
  many joined that  they became the majority of party members. Today around half of party 
activists and many elected members and candidates are those who joined since
 September 2014.  The pro-independence Scottish Green Party has expanded too.

DIVERGENCE OF THE "SISTER" PARTIES

 The Independence Referendum has changed politics in Scotland.
 Here is Wales we have not yet seen the like and are stuck in the old ways. 

Plaid Cymru is the only Welsh Nationalist Party at the moment. It' s rhetoric is low
 on  Independence and high on Jobs and Culture but its political stance and attitude
 to internal dissent is off putting in the least. 
Plaid , I think, would be more popular if  it was less sympathetic to the Labour Party
 and less fearful of using the "I" word.
 In many things it apes the SNP and it is ironic that it is never tempted to ape the
 SNP by regularly discussing Independence. 
Small parties who crave total loyalty from their members, impose strict discipline
 and severely punish dissent are likely to become smaller and weaker.

 The SNP  today, have over 120,000 members, a similar number to the UK Conservatives.
Arguably They are the second largest party in the UK. Plaid membership is about 8,000.

 The SNP had always been an umbrella group for  nationalists. In the past open criticism
 of the party leadership has been punished in the way of smaller, incestuous political
parties of all colours.

 After  their experience with the '79 group, with Margo personally and others, where
"imposed unity" damaged the party and  the massive recruitment post referendum,
the SNP have become less sensitive. Success breeds confidence.
From "Tartan Tories", their initial nickname,to a "left of centre" openly separatist party. 
The Independence Referendum of 2014, which was lost, produced a much larger party 
which is still hungry for Independence. In fact the major arguments within the party
 seem to be those around the timing of a second referendum. The most difficult issue
 for the leadership is the unrelenting  pressure of many members to have Indyref 2.
SNP Conference 2017 at SEC , Glasgow  the only venue able to accommodate 15,000   

Plaid, in contrast, are not changing, and perhaps the coming leadership election  
will give the party members options for the direction of the party. 

During the 2014 Referendum Alex Salmond often asked the question 

"Are we too wee, too poor and too stupid to be independent ?" 

In Wales, I often feel the Plaid Leadership would, in the welsh context, 
agree with some or all of that statement. 


Siân Caiach

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