I was really interested to read the report from the Electoral Reform Society’s Democracy Max inquiry, which was published this week. It coincides with the ongoing debate around independence for Scotland but doesn’t come down on either side of the argument. Some of the ideas brought forward in the report could begin today but I personally feel though that there’s very little opportunity for radical change should the Union continue; independence is the chance to bring real change at all levels of society and the report is an excellent starting point.
Sovereignty of the people – as enshrined in the claim of right – is a key recommendation of the report. I just can’t see that chiming well with the ever-expanding unelected and unrepresentative House of Lords, or indeed with the distant and increasingly out of touch House of Commons. A jury-style Citizen’s Assembly suggested in the report could be a radical alternative to that old fashioned way of doing democracy. The Scottish Parliament and our Councils aren’t perfect by any means and still have a lot to do to connect meaningfully with ordinary people and give them a say in matters which affect them. There’s an important principle about having control over your own life, your own community that sits within this notion. Sir Harry Burns, Chief Medical Officer, also talks about the effect this sense of control has on the health and wellbeing of communities. Could giving power to ordinary citizens change our whole direction as a nation?
In Glasgow, there’s often a feeling that ‘the Corporation’ will take care of everything from refuse collection to housing, in a way that hasn’t actually been the case for quite some time. Decisions are made by folk in other rooms without proper regard to the effect those decisions will have, regardless of how hard people try to influence the process. School, nursery and learning disability day centre closures in Glasgow have been particular recent examples. This leads to people feeling that they have no control over their lives, and a quite understandable scunner factor sets in.
Even at electoral ward level, communities have little say over how things happen in their areas; my inner city ward is more like a collection of wee villages rather than the amorphous urban sprawl outsiders expect. Giving these communities real power would make a significant difference about how people feel about their local area: in my ward residents have started to be involved in setting the agenda for their area, picking priorities. It’s good for transparency and openness, and it can make sure money is being spent wisely. The Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill is a further opportunity, but I believe independence gives us the blank page to fully consider and redefine the powers local communities have.
Those involved in the discussions which created the report also asserted their belief that politicians should be fully accountable for their actions. It’s a timely reminder in the week that MSP Bill Walker was found guilty of a number of domestic abuse charges that while we might want to hold our politicians to account, the rules by which we can do so are not always the most effective. There are rules and sanctions which can be handed down by the Parliament, but this does not include removal of MSPs. As with the whole constitutional debate, there are too many powers held by Westminster which should belong the Scottish Parliament and ultimately the Scottish people.
There’s so much in the report I couldn’t possibly do it justice in this article, but it’s definitely worth a read.
Jimmy Halliday’s contributions to the Cause
To put matters into context, in 1955 the SNP contested only two Parliamentary seats in Scotland; Dr Robert McIntyre fought Perth and East Perthshire, and Jimmy Halliday fought Stirling and Falkirk Burghs. Jimmy then became the youngest ever SNP Chairman and served 1956 – 60; in 1956 the entire SNP Conference delegates were photographed on the steps of the Allan Water Hotel, Bridge of Allan.
We are 13 months from a Referendum on Scottish Independence, which was unthinkable in 1955; Jimmy died on 3rd January 2013 at the age of 85. We intend to publish all Jimmy’s articles in the Scots Independent from August 2004 up to 2011, all the ones we have electronic input for. It is anticipated we will publish a book on Jimmy’s contributions over many years, but this will have to wait until after the Referendum.
Ginger groups and disloyalty – April 2005
SOMETIMES members of an organisation feel that they are toiling with no prospect of success and they wonder why this is so. Do they see their leaders as bereft of ideas, and lacking the capacity to inspire their fellow members? Do they feel that these leaders are too easily satisfied, content merely to survive? When such doubts arise ‘ginger groups’ can be expected to appear. A ginger group isn’t devised to enforce a change of direction but rather to speed up the journey to the desired goal. Errors, blunders or pursuit of undesirable aims by the leaders require a more fundamental remedy.
In the 1960s the SNP was doing rather well, Arthur Donaldson’s country-wide campaigning attracting audiences and consequently members, the Executive enjoying monthly reports of membership and branch numbers doubling and redoubling. Excellent by-election results were achieved in Bridgeton and West Lothian, and the Party improved spectacularly upon all previous performances in the General Elections of 1964 and 1966. In 1967 an impressive result in Pollok was shortly followed by Winnie Ewing’s victory in Hamilton, the crowning glory of this period in the Party’s history. Sweeping gains in municipal elections, especially in Glasgow, seemed to confirm the Party‘s status as a major political force.
Yet now a ginger group appeared at the precise moment when it was least required. John Herdman in his Poets, Pubs, Polls and Pillar-boxes (1999) gives us something of the background. “The 1320 Club,” he writes, “had been formed as a militant pressure group – to challenge the moderation of the SNP and provide a counter-balance to its pre-occupation with economics.” This sounds quite respectable and defensible. Some members may indeed have sought to stimulate the Party but some wished to harm it and others aspired to control it. Persons of ill will often use the ginger group label as cover for their true motives. The 1320 Society was the latest refuge for nationalists who found co-operation with, or participation in, the SNP intolerable. Several were adherents of the old Nationalist Party, still a throbbing seat of infection within the nationalist body. Some, perhaps driven by their own over-wrought temperament, invited support for the belief that a ginger group is by definition conceited, catering for those enjoying notions of superiority of intellect and judgement over the inadequate currently in office.
It became apparent that a campaign was afoot to foment divisions within the Party. The campaign revealed itself most openly in Dundee where an elected national official was working to secure constitutional recognition for alleged branches, in which the chairman of one was secretary of a second, organiser of a third and so on. At some meetings informality was such that the four or five persons constituting the branch felt no need even to sit down.
NEC members knew little of Dundee and felt little need to learn. With culpable laziness they refused to consider repeated warnings, seeing no need to distinguish ‘Downfield’ from ‘Camperdown’, even finding something comic in the common syllable. We were all punished when the spokesman for the intrigue set out successfully to provoke Arthur Donaldson into public dispute. This spokesman later contested, as ‘Scottish Labour Party’ candidate, the Dundee by-election of 1973 when his votes very probably denied victory to Gordon Wilson.
Arthur Donaldson did not deserve to have the rewarding years of his leadership besmirched by this needless and ridiculous conspiracy. He had not made mistakes. He had presided over great progress and needed no ginger group to offer him guidance. He and we suffered for our real weakness – not stupid mistakes by our leaders but recurring bouts of disloyalty from our members.