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by Liam Kirkaldy
11 July 2014
Are the SNP holding back Scottish independence?

Are the SNP holding back Scottish independence?

We are repeatedly reminded that a vote for independence is not a vote for the SNP, because it is a constitutional issue – not one defined, or constrained, by party politics.

And despite attempts by Better Together to use any blunder by the SNP as an argument against independence, the Yes camp have done a pretty good job at delineating themselves from the party.

But the SNP is still by far the biggest organisation in the pro-independence camp. They have campaigned on the issue for 80 years.

It is fairly natural that, despite the party’s protests, people will look to them as the movement’s focal point, and to Alex Salmond as its leader.

In fact given that it was the SNP’s majority that brought the referendum in the first place, it would perhaps make sense to leave them to it. They got the campaign this far, after all.

With this in mind, it may sound ridiculous to question what the SNP brings to the independence movement. But try it.

The Yes campaign is an amorphous, grassroots one, while the SNP machine is tightly regimented – leak proof and centralised.

A strength to this is that the party is invariably on message.

The downside is that its media savviness can often make it appear a more fitting successor to New Labour than either David Cameron (famously described as the heir to Blair), or Johann Lamont’s Labour (Neo-New-Labour? Old-New-Labour?).

Groups like the National Collective must have shuddered upon hearing allegations of SNP spinners leaning on business to stay out of the independence debate, while the revelation that Salmond had written to Rupert Murdoch, addressing him as ‘Sir Rupert’, did him no favours.

The party has been criticised for trying to be all things to all people – cosying up to business with plans to cut corporation tax, while also claiming that it can bring the sort of progressive welfare policies that are currently looking so endangered in Westminster.

It is seen as having learned from Blair style spin – something that many socialists in the Yes camp will abhor.

Of course it perhaps should be expected that the SNP approach diverges from the Yes movement – they are not a grassroots movement of everyday people. They are a political party – the governing party – and it is natural that they should appear as the establishment side of the campaign.

And to be fair, even Nick Clegg would probably agree they have certainly done a better job of representing change while in government than the Lib Dems.

But it is hard not to imagine what the Yes camp would look like with a less forceful and less centralised SNP taking up less space. It might have been leading in the polls by now.

The SNP got the independence movement this far, but there may come a time when those on the progressive side of Yes come to wish the party would take a back seat.

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