Having been a longtime SNP member and activist, the rocky road I have come was made smoother by the stout hearts and selflessness of others. It is deference to those as much as to the cause of independence itself that kept me out and active in every local and national election for two decades.
Keeping the heid after disappointments like 1992 and 2003 was one thing; working steadily as if we were already living in the early days of a better country was harder. But being engaged in campaigning at the national level for the last decade and playing a role in candidate vetting has given me more insight into the national picture than any amount of work across my local patch alone could have done.
There was a time when potential candidates were heavily draw from either the stolid (and aging) loyalists who had never wavered though those dark days of the eighties and felt dedication alone had ‘earned’ them candidacy, or from ‘Young Turks’ overbrimming with enthusiasm but so short on pragmatism they wanted eternal confrontation. With so few councils under SNP control, vetting council candidates for 1999 and 2003 was a constant struggle to find competent candidates who would be a credit to us in running their council.
Thankfully, though many a staunch activist was disappointed, the vetting teams stuck to their guns. Their vindication came in 2007 when a dozen councils fell to the SNP and our councillor numbers doubled. Despite most being brand new and some being under severe financial or media pressure from the off, none wavered; none disgraced the party. 2007-11 was not just when the SNP came of age at Holyrood, it was when, from Aberdeen to Ayrshire, from Dumbarton to Dunbar, they showed others how to run councils—and in tough times too.
I am just back from a full weekend vetting council candidates where a team of two dozen senior party members—not those in the media spotlight but the stalwarts who make the unseen engine rooms function, the ones who actually make the party work. First of all, I was reminded why I got involved in the first place: because their good-natured, collegiate dedication is what makes the SNP the real force in Scottish politics today. This has all but disappeared from other parties.
Secondly, for all my experience on vetting teams, I was astonished by the quality of candidates—new people to most of us veteran vetters—that indicates a depth of talent and width of experience to make any jibe about ‘narrow nationalists’ seem hilariously misguided. These men and women would be a credit to any organisation. I had feared that, because so many of our stalwarts were swept into office in May we would now toil to find their replacements: anything but.
But, thirdly, and what I found most encouraging, there were among them a group who had, at one time, all been active in other parties. These people were not failures; they had been candidates and councillors but had left to find what one of them described as “something to believe in”. Their biggest beef? A lack of leadership or vision, of any sense of purpose beyond retaining what they had. If this is the quality of people now abandoning other parties in Scotland, the SNP’s dark days are behind it and the future full of promise.
Such evidence points to next May’s local elections being not, in Churchill’s description of Alamein, ‘The End of the Beginning’; if that wasn’t devolution in 1999, then it was this May’s SNP landslide at Holyrood. What next May will be even pathologically thrawn ‘Desperate Dan’ Alexander, fulminating from the Lib-Dem podium in Birmingham today, may come accept: it looks increasingly like ‘The Beginning of the End’.