The SNP’s membership base is the largest of any of the Scottish political parties and, by head of population, the largest in the UK overall.
That’s an incredible position to be in, and it came largely in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum. At the time, Nicola Sturgeon said of the five-fold surge in the party’s membership:
“[This is] a massive opportunity to transform how we do politics and to connect with the people of our country in a way that none of our opponents can match.
“… Where that takes us will not be dictated by politicians, it will be driven in the words of the US constitution by “We the people”. Make no mistake, I know where I want that change to lead: To Scotland being an independent nation.”
Since then, it’s become assumed by many insiders that members actually joined as a badge of identity, to make a point, or give money. But at their core, I believe most people joined the SNP to make a difference. The reality of membership for too many of them however hasn’t met their high expectations. Most haven’t found a foothold in party activity.
We can see the result around us now. Widespread grumbling about HQ, NEC and others in the party hierarchy reflect a disengagement between the political class and the grassroots. The atmosphere is febrile. Many find more fulfilling activity inside other independence groups.
This is a shame for both members and politicians alike. The gap between parliament and the street is currently too wide. We live in an era of people power – Me Too, Greta Thunberg, Black Lives Matter, Belarus et al. People benefit from proximity to politicians, but politicians should also be utilising and allying with people power in order to achieve big objectives. In the next few years we want to create a new state and have a ‘war time’ mobilisation to defeat climate change.
In today’s world, people want to be more involved than allowed by the politics of the past. In that old model, a problem arose, and the parliamentarian would ask a serious question in the chamber or fire off a letter to somebody important. They’d then report back on the response they got and explain they tried their best. Occasionally they’d get a victory.
As the dominant optics, this is seen as more performative than participative, and as such is not fulfilling. Politics should not be a spectator sport. Our role is not just to follow the news and comment about stuff on social media. This road leads to much of the online anger and argumentation that we see today instead of productive activity.
The pandemic gave us a glimpse of what community solidarity and acting for each other could look like in the 2020s. Party politics should help fuel this on an ongoing basis.
Given I’m running for office myself, it would be remiss of me not to give undertakings regarding how I’d change things. My commitment is to work with members and constituents to set clear targets and priorities for the constituency. This could include things to do with ferries, housing, or jobs in the area. It could involve solving problems for individuals where appropriate, as well as national and global matters. We would agree what we want to do.
We would then work out – together – what our tactical plan is for achieving these things. There would be regular and transparent report backs. We will win more by working this way. Our members are the SNP’s superpower. It’s time to unleash them.
SNP members are right now in a powerful position. They will shortly select the Holyrood candidates for their constituency. They should think carefully about what kind of relationship they want with their candidate and MSP.
For my part, I’m not just asking for their votes. If they select me, it is the start of a partnership between us.
We won’t just stuff envelopes or deliver leaflets, though we will do a lot of that. We will work together to rekindle the fire in the bellies of our people and to connect their hearts in solidarity. We will do in politics as in the rest of life – work as if we are in the early days of a better nation.
First published in The National