Monday, 7 January 2013

End of the Party Line: Political Parties after Independence

In December Yes campaign strategist Stephen Noon put forward his own view of Scottish Politics post Independence. The host newspaper for Stephen's thoughtful essay 'Scotland on Sunday' ran a companion piece headlined 'SNP could disband after Independence' that distorted his article and to quote Mr Noon probably had people 'spluttering into their porridge'. I include myself as a member of the spluttering classes. That was, though, before I read his words.
Stephen was using his essay to explore was the possibilities available for political realignment post a Yes vote in 2014. Using personal illustration he painted a picture of his ability to vote for other parties - he'd done this as a democrat living in England.
I expect Stephen has been asked what becomes of the SNP if there is a Yes vote in 2014. I've certainly been asked that by a whole range of people over the years since the SNP first formed the Scottish Government in 2007. Sure the SNP will change following the creation of an Independent Scotland. It's changed a lot in the years since I joined in 1986. For a start it's become electable right across the country. It's become credible and competent in government. It is also has the biggest membership of any Scottish party in recent times. For these reasons I would be extremely surprised if the SNP were to depart from the Scottish political scene. As a proven party of government if successful in winning the Yes vote it would seem inconceivable that the SNP wouldn't be returned as the government of a newly independent Scotland. Perhaps in coalition, perhaps not.
It's the other major parties that face the biggest challenge following a Yes vote. They and their leaders will have come off on the losing side in the referendum into which they'll have thrown their all in defence of the Union. They will be discredited their leaders vanquished. Their reinvention will need to be quick and ruthless. Politics is often the art of survival and reinvention plays a large part in that so it is a possibility that one or more of the established UK parties could reform as an attractive alternative government of an independent Scotland. All three of the 'British' parties have long and strong Scottish roots and history so the scope for the imaginative among them to rethink their party for a new Scottish  politics is theirs to form.
Obviously on the radical wing of current Scottish politics the Scottish Greens have both a Parliamentary and Council presence that should position them well in a post independence Scotland. The SSP is still there and may revive. Both may gain from the growth of the Radical Independence Conference  coalitions. In fact some green/socialist group of parties could play a progressive and significant role in an Independent Scotland. The Radical Independence Conference has potential to provide a forum for a broad left green platform around which this type of coalition could germinate.
It is what happens in the centre of the Scottish political field which will be equally interesting. Will the Tories take the Murdo Fraser line and disband to reform with a new name and new centre right mission? Will the Liberals drop the 'Democrats' addendum and bounce back as the mainstream party of localism? Will Labour in Scotland finally find its way again or will it succumb to factionalism and navel gazing for a generation? Will new parties form - two new centre or centre right parties already exist in the Scottish Democratic Alliance and the Scottish Progressives - to take advantage of the climate of change following the referendum?
Finally will the referendum campaign throw up new talent, new voices, new leadership and new ideas for an newly independent Scotland?  All of these are possibilities. First though there's a referendum campaign to be fought.