Just like individuals, no organisation is ever perfect. This has consequences. It means we should never rest on our laurels, never take anything for granted and always strive to improve. We have not been doing enough striving to improve in the SNP of late.
There are parallels here to other aspects of political life. Warning bells should ring if people ever feel entitled to their positions. The gross entitlement culture manifested by Labour MPs of the past (think 1980s here) played its part in the party’s slow and then sudden decline. That’s why I have no regrets in creating a contest for the nomination in Kirkcaldy. Even if I lose, giving members a stake in who represents them, giving them a choice, is fundamentally important to prevent the gathering of an entitlement culture.
But back to the SNP and my idea of Team SNP. Although I will explain at another time exactly why we need a Team SNP approach at constituency level, I feel no less strongly of the need at national level too. Let me start with reflections on my time as an SNP MP.
When I was elected as one of the 56, and met the talent in the group, I too was optimistic about the part we could play in supporting Scotland and working towards independence. Here was a group that could make a real difference.
But very soon it seemed to me there was a problem. There was a complete lack of engagement between MPs and MSPs in terms of collective political action (different for some at constituency level, but not all). There was a lack of strategic policy discussions at group meetings.
Many of these problems were being overcome by the sheer effort being put in by the vast majority of MPs ploughing their own furrow. To take myself as an example, I promoted a private members bill on taxation treaties, I held a Westminster Hall debate on children being used as suicide bombers, I promoted a ten minute rule bill on forensic linguistic standards, I led an adjournment debate on The Chilcott Inquiry issues, and of course I ran a long running campaign on cleaning up the financial system and Scottish Limited Partnerships. Like others, this was not part of any strategic plan. In its absence we just got on with it.
It shouldn’t be like this. We need to marshall all our talents at all levels including MSPs MPs and councillors. Indeed I would go further. We need to mobilise the talents in the party and movement as a whole. For example, I am hugely indebted to the likes of Derek Pretswell and Ron Greer in relation to environmental issues. They are not in elected posts, but have more expertise than any elected member I know (myself included obviously) in their own field of expertise.
All this reflects of course my own preferences regarding leadership. I don't think it is the role of elected representatives or party members to serve the interests of a very few. Leadership should be collegiate. It should be engaging. It should call upon all the talents. We should all feel part of the same team and all with a part to play.
In the various positions I have held in my working life, I have always sought to surround myself with people more talented than me. That’s why if I become an MSP I will seek out people to help me with greater expertise than myself. That’s why I was so pleased to work with the remarkable Richard Smith in my campaign on Scottish Limited Partnerships.
Given the need to mobilise all our talents, I would be championing an expertise and ideas audit for the next intake of MSPs. Indeed, if prospective MSPs at present don't have clear ideas to contribute to policy development, time to get their thinking caps on.
There is another pressing reason for doing much more. It is called Scottish Independence.
It is not possible to build the full range of policies we need, to make all the preparations we need, and to mobilise all the necessary talents we need, from within the ranks of the Scottish Government and Parliament alone. There is not anyone to blame for this, it is for very clear reasons.
First, the members of the Scottish Government and the SNP MSPs have a prime focus on devolved matters. Similarly with the support they get from the civil service and special advisors. The list is long of matters not devolved. They include major and complex areas such as foreign affairs, defence and most aspects of economic and fiscal policy. But come independence we need to have the structures in place, a clear strategic vision, and sets of policies to be able to hit the ground running. In my view there is not enough work being done. We need to work better together mobilising all the talents at our disposal wherever they may be.
Second, even in devolved areas we need to maximize our involvement of all the talents. Take the example of justice issues. I simply don't believe some of the problems over the Hate Crime Bill would have been faced if we had mobilised some of the outstanding members of the legal profession who are supporters of independence and MPs such as Joanna Cherry and Stuart McDonald. In particular, I don't believe some aspects of freedom of speech would have been so poorly addressed at the outset. I recognise some amendments are now being made, but too little too late from a political point of view.
So, if I were an MSP I’d be shouting from the rooftops to have much stronger engagement with the expertise amongst our party members, amongst our councillors, and amongst our MPs.
Finally, there are also profound questions to be asked about why the party machinery is not working in a more focused way to support the broader membership, ensure proper and sustained policy debate in the party and ensure Scottish Independence is forever centre stage in our work. I will say no more on that for the present, other than to welcome very much indeed the grassroots movement that is underway to constructively improve matters. It is wonderful to see such purposeful bottom up leadership.
Team SNP. For independence. Building for independence. Working together for independence. Prioritising independence. Is it too much to ask?