What next for the SNP?

Marco Biagi

This is the third blog in the series ‘What next for…’ following the UK General Election 2017.  The author was SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central, 2011-16 and served as Minister for Local Government and Communities, 2014-16.  He is currently completing a political science PhD at Yale University.

In any other election 35 MPs would have been a magnificent result for the Scottish National Party. Until two years their greatest haul of seats been 11 – and that was in 1974, to which only the longer political memories stretch. It is the unprecedented, unexpected success of 2015’s landslide that makes this victory – for a victory it still was – so bittersweet. SNP leaders and strategists will now turn their minds to ensuring that this is result is a setback and not a turning-point – especially with the likelihood of a UK minority government giving way to another early election.

One concern for the SNP would be that June’s result is a return to starkly multi-level politics. From the advent of devolution until the 2015 UK elections a significant portion of the Scottish electorate showed a marked tendency to vote for the SNP for Holyrood and other parties – principally Labour – for Westminster. Having gained a prominent place in the UK Parliament as well as Holyrood the party will be loath to surrender their new-found status.

Another concern is the connection with their support base. The nationalists lack the class loyalty of traditional social democratic and conservative parties, even if modern politics is marked by a greater volatility of support than in the heyday of party loyalty in the 1960s and 1970s. Partisan dealignment giveth and partisan dealignment taketh away. The greater weakness of attachment to political parties allowed the SNP to rise by drawing supporters from other parties – at its zenith the 2015 landslide – but also means these supporters may not put down roots in their new political home. The closeness of the SNP’s social democratic position and Labour’s also means these voters do not have far to jump.

Positioning on the three key political dimensions – left-right, Brexit, independence – will therefore be crucially important. A rightward shift to regain the lost rural constituencies would be implausible given the inclinations of the party membership, who are taking to social media en masse to demand a shift in the opposite direction. Yet the question is open as to whether a leftward shift will be a net benefit in regaining voters who returned to Labour, since Labour too are now further to the left than they have been in decades.

On the issue du jour of Brexit, the SNP are the most vocally opposed to implementation – despite one-third of their support base voting to Leave. The question of whether this group disproportionately departed the party in the election remains to be answered conclusively, but that they did so would seem to be a very strong hypothesis. In their hearts SNP elites are far more pro-European than their voters as a whole – changing this stance is unlikely, so a new way of presenting it must be found.

Even more sensitive is the question of independence, the cause around which the party is founded. Support for the second referendum announced by the First Minister in March has stayed markedly tepid among the general public while opposition is emotive. Blocking a vote was the sole clear policy position of the Scottish Conservative party as they surged to an almost doubling of their share of the vote. What to do here is easily the biggest strategic question for the SNP. Is it though as much of a trade-off as the others? Openly delaying the desired referendum is one option, but the opposite is unclear. Does Holyrood have the power to hold a referendum without Westminster authorisation? This has never been conclusively answered. If so the SNP could choose to go ahead all guns blazing, or to seek to test the question in court. If not there is no other option, and indeed delaying becomes the only way forward.

Elections are not won purely on the basis of policy however. Leaders are generally thought to matter too. Nicola Sturgeon polled personal approval ratings as First Minister higher than any of the other Scottish or UK leaders during the campaign – but her disapproval ratings have also grown markedly. Pre-eminent in her government and loved by the rank-and-file her position is safe, but she will seek to address this Marmite image, as her often similarly-viewed predecessor Alex Salmond several times successfully achieved when political situations demanded. Doing so may involve an attempt to reinvent and revivify the SNP Government at Holyrood. Whether that can be done if all of the political oxygen of media airtime and public attention is being monopolised by the question of a second independence referendum remains to be seen.

 

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What next for the Scottish Tories?

ALAN CONVERY, Politics and International Relations, Edinburgh University

Tories should celebrate and then think of the Union

The Scottish Conservatives have exceeded expectations by winning 13 seats in Scotland. This is the party’s best result in Scotland since 1983. It surpasses their previous tally of 11 MPs in 1992. Like in the Scottish Parliament and local elections, they fought a disciplined campaign on their key messages and were particularly adept at highlighting problems in the SNP’s domestic record.

 

The party’s new group of MPs presents a great opportunity. However, the party’s MPs will want to reflect on their predecessors’ experience. One of the most toxic legacies of the 1990s was the impression among some Scots that Scottish Conservative MPs put the Government’s interest before the Scottish interest. New Scottish Conservative MPs need to be seen to be standing up for Scotland. They are in a good position to influence government policy and the party already appears to be throwing its weight around. However, tougher tests will come. One of the problems for the territorial branches of statewide parties is that they end up having to take the flak for decisions they did not make (see, for instance, the recent Scottish Conservative troubles in the Scottish Parliament about UK Government welfare changes). The 13 Scottish Conservatives will need to decide what issues to prioritise and what they will need to compromise on in order to sustain Theresa May’s majority.

 

Second, the party’s new MPs have an opportunity to think about the Union. The intellectual case for the Union took a battering at the Supreme Court last year when the UK Government’s lawyer reasserted a Diceyan interpretation of Westminster’s constitutional position. Most notably, he argued that the Sewel Convention could be ignored at will. The Scottish Conservatives now have a chance to make the case for a more plural interpretation of the constitution and to push the UK Government to engage more constructively with last year’s House of Lords Constitution Committee report on the territorial constitution. Intergovernmental relations, for instance, are ripe for reform and new MPs might usefully promote some incremental ideas in this area (for instance, from their own Adam Tomkins). What does the Union look like when Scottish Conservatives get the chance to shape it? If the answer is ‘no different from now’, then they might find it much harder to defend in future.

 

Finally, the idea of a separate party in Scotland need not necessarily be dismissed following this result. Scottish conservatism already looks different from English conservatism and this divergence may increase over the coming years as Scottish Conservatives turn their thoughts to how they might govern Scotland. Ruth Davidson has already implemented most of Murdo Fraser’s ideas from his 2011 leadership campaign and it would not be out of place to effect this final change. If the Scottish Conservatives are going to be pursuing a distinctively Scottish agenda at Westminster, then they might as well take full credit for it. In doing so, they might also demonstrate how a looser Union can still work in everyone’s favour.

 

Conservatives can enjoy this success, but they must also be mindful of how things went wrong the last time the party had more than 11 MPs. Independence may be off the agenda for the moment, but the issue has not gone away. Scottish Conservatives may therefore regret not using this opportunity to fix the Union’s roof while the weather is at least overcast.

 

 

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What next for evidence-based political debate?

Lindsay Paterson, Professor of Education Policy, School of Social and Political Science, Edinburgh University

This is the first in a series of blogs reflecting on the UK General Election 2017 under the theme of ‘What next….?’  These blogs will focus on public policy, parties and the constitution.  This important opening blog reflects on evidence-based political debate.

The last three months – and three years – have been a policy fantasy. Utopian claims and dystopian allegations are everywhere. Project Fear and La La Land have become the abiding metaphors. Referendums encourage that. Each side in an artificially dichotomous battle has to claim supreme virtue, and that the other side will lead us uniquely to perdition. But the 2017 general election to the UK parliament took this ignoring of evidence to new depths.

The UK manifestoes of the Conservative and Labour parties were quite remarkable in their refusal to engage with counter arguments. The Conservative one was probably, on balance, the worse of the two, failing even to offer an attempt at costing the plans. In the polite words of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, ‘compared to a typical Budget their manifesto is extremely light on tax and spending proposals’. We were expected to trust them to continue on the path which they were already on. That – in the chaotic outcome of the election – gives us no empirical guide at all.

The Conservatives failed even to understand the implications of their own proposals for social policy, most spectacularly over paying the cost of care for old people. They could not estimate how the proposed changes would affect different income groups, nor how it would relate to medical care. So far as it was possible to judge, the policy would actually have been redistributive (from wealthy to poor) and would not have cost anyone anything more for medical care. But if the resulting mess could nevertheless be labelled the ‘dementia tax’ they had only themselves to blame for their empirical ineptitude.

Labour’s attempt at invoking evidence was a nod in the direction of credibility, but was so ignorant about the ways in which the fiscal system works as to show a disturbing distance from economic reality. Concentrating their entire revenue-raising proposals on the top 2% of earners and on corporation tax ignored abundant evidence about the cleverness of perfectly legal tax avoidance and – more worryingly – the job-destroying potential of changes in business taxes. The party’s rhetorical claim to be for ‘the many not the few’ sat rather uneasily with the massively regressive implications of abolishing university tuition fees in England, and with the almost complete silence on the Conservative government’s freezing of benefits for people in work.

The IFS verdict on these two is a summing up also of their disconnection from reality: ‘the shame of the two big parties’ manifestos is that neither sets out an honest set of choices’.

The SNP and the Liberal Democrats seemed on the surface to pay more attention to evidence. The Liberal Democrats took costing more seriously than either Labour or the Tories, and notably unlike Labour proposed to end large parts of the freeze of benefits. But even here the attention to evidence often took second place to easy point-scoring (such as in objections to fracking and the obscurity of how they would actually get out of their infamous hole on student fees).

Watching Nicola Sturgeon being interviewed by Andrew Neil on the BBC, one could not help being impressed by her attention to detail, in sharp contrast to the UK party leaders (May, Corbyn, Farron and Nuttall) who waffled vacuously. And the SNP could not escape evidence because they have been in government for ten years, with not very impressive results in education, health, transport and the economy. But lying in the background of every SNP pronouncement this time was the massive gap of evidence relating to independence. The party implicitly recognised this by setting up a commission on the financial basis of independence, chaired by their former MSP Andrew Wilson. But they thought they had several years to work on this, and so they still had nothing to offer to the 2017 debate. That utopian absence, and the mediocre record in government, presented a ready target for the Scottish Conservatives, who thus achieved a rare unambiguous triumph on 8th June.

The overall retreat of the British political system from evidence was summed up in two quotations the day after. One was Theresa May’s announcing ‘a government that can provide certainty and lead Britain forward at this critical time for our country’, a claim so obviously at variance with her minority position as to lead many commentators to doubt if she was fully in touch with reality. The other meaningless claim was Jeremy Corbyn’s: ‘people voted for hope’. No doubt, but neither hope nor specious ‘certainty’ will get Britain through the extraordinarily difficult reality that lies ahead.

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Unravelling continues for Scottish Labour

 

James Mitchell

 

Scottish Labour has issued its list of candidates for the June 8th general election.  This is striking for three reasons:

  • it has done so with remarkable efficiency, given the lack of warning that an election was pending;
  • only one of the defeated MPs from two years ago is standing again;
  • and it has achieved 50/50 gender balance.

In introducing the second reading of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, 2011, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was clear, ‘The Bill has a single, clear purpose: to introduce fixed-term Parliaments to the United Kingdom to remove the right of a Prime Minister to seek the Dissolution of Parliament for pure political gain.’  The Act, combined with Prime Minister May’s repeatedly insistence that she had no intention of calling an early election, meant that opposition parties were caught off guard when an election was called.

There is an inbuilt inverse relationship between existing levels of Parliamentary representation and preparedness.  Constituencies with incumbent MPs seeking re-election would at least not have to seek candidates and are more likely to have a better organisation ready to fight an election.  This meant that Scottish Labour was particularly vulnerable.  Over the last decade, Labour has lost support and associated infrastructure.  The 2015 general election which saw it lose all but one of its 41 MPs was followed a year later with a loss of 13 of its previous 38 Members of the Scottish Parliament.  And Scottish Labour has been bracing itself for significant losses in Scottish local government elections.

Finding candidates in a short space of time would have been difficult enough but the party is still struggling to come to terms with the psychological blows of losing not only its place as Scotland’s largest – indeed dominant – party until a decade ago to becoming Scotland’s third party – behind the Tories – at last year’s Holyrood elections.

Few of those who have stepped forward can have any illusions about the task ahead.  Some younger party members may see this as a kind of right of passage – the ‘ritual blooding of fighting so-called unwinnable seats’ referred to in Tory circles.  There are prominent English Tory MPs with huge majorities who experienced this blooding at the hands of the Scottish electorate, including Bernard Jenkin, Chair of the Commons Public Administration and Constitution Committee in the last Parliament, and Jacob Rees Mogg who were bloodied in Scottish seats by Labour MPs with massive majorities similar to those these Tories now enjoy many hundreds of miles of south.  Jenkin stood in Glasgow Central in 1987, to ‘illustrate that people in the South-East haven’t forgotten about Scotland’.  A similar stiff upper lip will be required amongst many Labour candidates going into this election with the hope that they too might in time sit on the Commons’ green benches with similar majorities some time in the future.

Eight of the 41 Scottish Labour MPs returned in 2010 retired two years ago.  And no doubt had the remainder been returned some of these would have chosen to stand down at this election.  But only one of the group of former Labour MPs wants to be a ‘retread’.  Ian Davidson, MP for Glasgow Govan 1992-2015, is standing in Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, Scotland’s most marginal seat.  But this is a straight fight between the incumbent SNP and the renaissant Tories where Labour was in fourth place and lost its deposit tow years ago.  Neither Douglas Alexander nor Jim Murphy (both aged 49), former Labour Cabinet Ministers, have come forward.

Scottish Labour has highlighted the 50:50 gender split in candidates.  Scottish Labour’s record on gender balance has been second to none in modern times.  As was demonstrated at the foundation of the Scottish Parliament, 50:50 was easier to achieve when starting with a clean slate.  The process of achieving 50:50 is very slow process when waiting for incumbent male MPs to retire and even then there may be a battle to ensure a woman is nominated.

However, the rush to get candidates in place appears to have overlooked at least one crucial matter.  Being a candidate does not guarantee becoming an MP.  Women and ethnic minorities not only face a glass ceiling but also a glass cliff.  They may be selected to contest unwinnable seats.  Scottish Labour is reportedly targeting only three Scottish seats: Edinburgh South which was the only seat Labour held in 2015; East Renfrewshire; and East Lothian.  The Labour candidates in each are men.  The unravelling continues for Scottish Labour.

 

James Mitchell

Academy of Government

University of Edinburgh

@ProfJMitchell

 

 

 

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Simmering, not boiling

 

James Mitchell

Academy of Government, University of Edinburgh

@ProfJMitchell

Where are we at the end of a period described by some as the start of the second independence referendum?

We are, in fact, not much further forward than before First Minister Sturgeon announced over a week ago that she would seek Parliamentary support for an independence referendum.  The Prime Minister rejected this overture but implicitly conceded that a referendum would be held, emphasising, ‘Now is not the time’.

Few expected the Prime Minister would emulate Wendy Alexander, past Scottish Labour leader, with her ‘bring it on’ response to the SNP demand for a referendum.  A referendum any time soon would be a major gamble, especially when the Prime Minister is dealing with Brexit, a phenomenally complex public policy challenge.  The First Minster and Prime Minister came to office following predecessors who had gambled unsuccessfully on referendums.  But ‘now is not the time’ involved a concession or, perhaps more accurately, an acceptance in the Prime Minister’s response that another independence referendum would occur at some point in the next few years.

The Conservatives have argued strongly against independence and might have been expected to rule out a second referendum altogether.  Opposition to independence has been a major theme in the Tories’ local election campaign.  At times, the Tories have come closest to being a one-issue party in Holyrood.

There is a logic in the Conservatives keeping the Scottish Question simmering, but also a danger.  The Conservatives replaced Labour in share of the regional list and seats in Holyrood last year (though Labour edged the Tories in share of the constituency vote) by presenting themselves as a ‘strong opposition’.  They have consolidated that position by emphasizing their opposition to independence.  In previous decades the Tories were electorally damaged by being the unionist party par excellence but no longer.

The Tories are very comfortable opposing independence robustly.  It unites the party as few issues can.  Having spent the early years of devolution trying to live down their anti-devolution past, the Tories have found a stance that suits them.  The Tories can garner in anti-independence votes, extending beyond the support they would have if the Scottish Question had been buried in 2014.

Oppositional politics allow parties to avoid facing the hard grind of policy development and delivery, as was witnessed amongst the Tories’ opponents during much of the 18 years when the Conservatives were in power until 1997.  The Tories are using the Scottish Question in ways reminiscent of Scottish politics in the 1980s, except that the boot is on the other foot.

Focus on the Scottish Question also avoids more troubling agendas for the Tories.  Brexit presents problems for Ruth Davidson given her previous vehement support for Remain and the challenges that Brexit will involve.  She does not want to be reminded of her clash with Boris Johnson and fellow Tories against whom she used her trademark aggressive debating style.  If the agenda shifted from the Scottish to the European Question, she would have to defend a policy which she recently described in the most negative terms.

Additionally, Scottish Tories want to avoid other aspects of the UK Government policy.  It would not help them if the agenda shifted to welfare reforms.

In the early years of devolution, Scottish Labour basked in the reflected glory of the Blair Government during its long honeymoon years.  When the shine came off the New Labour, Scottish Labour struggled to distance themselves from their colleagues in London.  The Scottish Tories have happened upon a strategy to avoid association with the Conservatives in London.  For the moment, keeping the issue of Scottish independence simmering away works for the Tories.

But an issue that has been simmering can easily come to the boil.  There is a danger, as David Cameron discovered to his personal cost, in stoking the fires to keep an issue simmering.  Just as Margaret Thatcher was the midwife of devolution, so might Ruth Davidson be the midwife of independence

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Simmering, not boiling: where are we now with the independence referendum?

James Mitchell

Academy of Government, University of Edinburgh

@ProfJMitchell

Where are we at the end of a period described by some as the start of the second independence referendum?

We are, in fact, not much further forward than before First Minister Sturgeon announced over a week ago that she would seek Parliamentary support for an independence referendum.  The Prime Minister rejected this overture but implicitly conceded that a referendum would be held, emphasising, ‘Now is not the time’.

Few expected the Prime Minister would emulate Wendy Alexander, past Scottish Labour leader, with her ‘bring it on’ response to the SNP demand for a referendum.  A referendum any time soon would be a major gamble, especially when the Prime Minister is dealing with Brexit, a phenomenally complex public policy challenge.  The First Minster and Prime Minister came to office following predecessors who had gambled unsuccessfully on referendums.  But ‘now is not the time’ involved a concession or, perhaps more accurately, an acceptance in the Prime Minister’s response that another independence referendum would occur at some point in the next few years.

The Conservatives have argued strongly against independence and might have been expected to rule out a second referendum altogether.  Opposition to independence has been a major theme in the Tories’ local election campaign.  At times, the Tories have come closest to being a one-issue party in Holyrood.

There is a logic in the Conservatives keeping the Scottish Question simmering, but also a danger.  The Conservatives replaced Labour in share of the regional list and seats in Holyrood last year (though Labour edged the Tories in share of the constituency vote) by presenting themselves as a ‘strong opposition’.  They have consolidated that position by emphasizing their opposition to independence.  In previous decades the Tories were electorally damaged by being the unionist party par excellence but no longer.

The Tories are very comfortable opposing independence robustly.  It unites the party as few issues can.  Having spent the early years of devolution trying to live down their anti-devolution past, the Tories have found a stance that suits them.  The Tories can garner in anti-independence votes, extending beyond the support they would have if the Scottish Question had been buried in 2014.

Oppositional politics allow parties to avoid facing the hard grind of policy development and delivery, as was witnessed amongst the Tories’ opponents during much of the 18 years when the Conservatives were in power until 1997.  The Tories are using the Scottish Question in ways reminiscent of Scottish politics in the 1980s, except that the boot is on the other foot.

Focus on the Scottish Question also avoids more troubling agendas for the Tories.  Brexit presents problems for Ruth Davidson given her previous vehement support for Remain and the challenges that Brexit will involve.  She does not want to be reminded of her clash with Boris Johnson and fellow Tories against whom she used her trademark aggressive debating style.  If the agenda shifted from the Scottish to the European Question, she would have to defend a policy which she recently described in the most negative terms.

Additionally, Scottish Tories want to avoid other aspects of the UK Government policy.  It would not help them if the agenda shifted to welfare reforms

In the early years of devolution, Scottish Labour basked in the reflected glory of the Blair Government during its long honeymoon years.  When the shine came off the New Labour, Scottish Labour struggled to distance themselves from their colleagues in London.  The Scottish Tories have happened upon a strategy to avoid association with the Conservatives in London.  For the moment, keeping the issue of Scottish independence simmering away works for the Tories.

But an issue that has been simmering can easily come to the boil.  There is a danger, as David Cameron discovered to his personal cost, in stoking the fires to keep an issue simmering.  Just as Margaret Thatcher was the midwife of devolution, so might Ruth Davidson be the midwife o

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NICOLA’S ARMY

James Mitchell

Academy of Government, University of Edinburgh

@ProfJMitchell

The SNP meets once more in the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, one of only two conference venues biggest enough to hold an SNP.  The cavernous venue is not favoured by delegates, especially the old guard who fondly remember the intimacy of conferences when most faces were familiar and the atmosphere was more like a holiday camp, including the odd heated argument, than a corporate convention.  This conference is likely to be remembered most for its timing: the postponement of the Prime Minister’s decision to invoke Article 50 formally starting the process of Brexit and the First Minister’s decision on the timing of Indyref2.

Following the independence referendum, there was much speculation that the SNP would be transformed with its fivefold increase in members.   A number of commentators have suggested that there is an appetite for red meat from Nicola Sturgeon this week.  Evidence suggests that this demand comes more from commentators keen on an exciting story than from the wider membership.  The First Minister’s announcement on Monday was not one she was forced into by pressure from her new party members.

Preliminary research shows that the new members are slightly more working class.  They are younger and a higher proportion are women though these younger members seem to prefer to channel their activities into a referendum than party politics.  These new members may see themselves as more left-wing than older members but this may be more perception than reality (Johns and Mitchell 2016: 237-245).

Few organisations can grow so much and so quickly without causing disruption. There have been some assertions that the SNP had moved to the left, become more hardline and that the leadership would be challenged.  The evidence we have suggests that the new members are far from the trouble-makers some imagine.  Inevitably there have been clashes but not on the scale that might have been expected given the numbers involved.  All parties of any reasonable size will face local internal squabbles.  What is remarkable is that there have been so few.

 

‘I bitterly regret the day I compromised the unity of my party by admitting a second member.’ Oliver Brown, quoted in Mitchell 1990: 49.

 

The reason is probably quite simple.  For some at least, the intensity of the referendum campaign brought the SNP into sharp relief as never before.  Those who joined did so because they agreed with the message articulated by the SNP’s leadership during the referendum. This was no entryist coup.  These new members joined to support Nicola Sturgeon, not to undermine her.  In the words of one senior SNP figure interviewed, the new members are ‘Nicola’s army’.  She is likely to get at least as much support from these members as from those who joined before 2014.

Nicola Sturgeon dominates her party as no other leader of any other party in the UK.  She is trusted and respected to an extent that none of her predecessors ever experienced at this stage in their leadership.  It should be easy to find someone in the SNP demanding that she names a date for Indref2 but those impatient with her cautious approach are scarce.

Of course, the vast majority of new, as older, members are inactive.  While the membership may have increased fivefold, the active membership has grown less significant.  Many SNP branches required larger venues in the immediate aftermath of the referendum but attendance declined when new members found branch meetings dull but in most places these meetings still attract more memebrs than before the referendum.  Listening to local branch office bearers’ reports does not have the same appeal as Nicola Sturgeon addressing a meeting in Glasgow’s Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre.  The excitement of the referendum campaign does not translate into a local branch meetings.

The type of activities engaged may distinguish post- and pre-referendum members.  The number of new members at the SNP’s Aberdeen conference will outweigh those who had attended conferences before the referendum.  There will be some members at the conference – not as delegates but as ordinary party observers – who rarely attend branch meetings and have been far less active since 2014 than the old guard.  There are people who were active during the referendum, joined afterwards but have been inactive since.  The expectation is that Indyref2 will reawaken these sleepers who are awaiting the call.

In the past, it was common to distinguish between the national movement and the national party with the latter seen as a subset of the former.  There were always people who supported independence outside the SNP but there was little sense of a national movement.  The movement/party distinction always seemed more theoretical than real. The referendum created a national movement as an ‘imagined community’ in the sense that that members feel affinity with each other, even if they have never met.

Heberle’s classic definition of a social movement  – ‘a commotion, a stirring among the people, an unrest, a collective attempt to reach a visualized goal, especially a change in certain social institutions’  (Heberle 1951) – comes to mind it viewing the Yes movement that encompassed but extended beyond the SNP.  These included people keen to contribute but wary of conventional party politics.

A large part of this movement may have joined the SNP but many are not necessarily willing to engage in conventional party politics – attending branch meetings, leafleting, door knocking.  They may be willing to be or are politically active but only in a referendum or on their own terms.  Being active in social media appears to be a key part of the repertoire of this wider political movement, often dismissed by old hands who view knocking on doors and face-to-face door engagement as the essence of real activism.  It is difficult to know the impact of social movement activity as compared with traditional campaigning.

While they may not have disrupted the party or sought to alter it, the SNP’s new members  are happy to contribute money and vote for the party, likely to openly support the SNP but draw back from any other activities, at least until Indyref2 is called.  The referendum created a realignment in Scottish politics allowing the SNP to fulfil its long-standing ambition of replacing Labour.  But it may also signal a change in the nature of political activity.  That may be put to the test in the next couple of years.

Research for this blog was conducted as part of ESRC study, Recruited by Referendum: party membership energised, ESRC ES/NO10590/1

Rudolf Heberle (1951), Social Movements, New York, Appleton-Century-Croft.

Rob Johns and James Mitchell (2016), Takeover: explaining the extraordinary rise of the SNP, London, Biteback.

James Mitchell, ‘Factions, Tendencies and consensus in the SNP in the 1980s’, Scottish Government Yearbook 1990, pp.49-61.

 

 

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