Sunday, 9 November 2008

What does the Glenrothes result mean for the SNP?

Twenty years ago tomorrow, Jim Sillars won the Glasgow Govan By-Election for the SNP. It was my first election and the excitement of being part of it and particularly of winning, is hard to describe but it's something that will always be with me. From then on in I was sucked into the party and I've never managed to break free since! Never really wanted to and there's a reason for that which I'll come onto.

The following June saw a by-election in my own constituency of Glasgow Central. Alex Neil was the candidate and again, it was a real buzz of a campaign. But we failed to take it and Labour held on despite us going up by 20 percentage points and Labour going down by 9. We made the most progress but we lost. I was devastated.

At the 1992 general election, despite the people of Govan almost hero worshipping Jim Sillars, we lost the seat (due, not 'almost' entirely but ENTIRELY to *Labour lies). I wondered if the party would ever recover. I was certain that I would not.

These two events however, were probably the making of me as an SNP activist.

It sounds odd to say it, but failure and disappointment gave me the strength to fight what I then realised would be a long, hard fight. I couldn't have known that 20 years later we would still not be Independent but I certainly woke up to the fact that one swallow a summer did not maketh and one by-election, a free Scotland would not bringeth :-)

There are many relatively new members of the SNP who have only ever experienced success and will now, post Glenrothes, be feeling as I was feeling in 1989 and moreso in 1992. One or two of them may decide politics is not for them and who can blame them? It's a tough old life. But for others, this will be a positive. They will grow from this experience.

They will surprise themselves by turning up next week at their branch meeting and getting enthusiastic about the next campaign, they'll throw themselves into canvassing, leafletting and the usual round of SNP fundraisers. They'll join in the post by-election analysis and figure out how we do it better next time. And before they know it, the hurt will have gone and it will be onto the next opportunity to move forward towards Independence.

The reason they will do that is because they know, with unswerving certainty, that what they are doing is right. Independence may be a normal state of affairs for most countries but for Scotland, it's something we've had to fight for since the demeaning Act of Union in 1707.

It's about restoring pride and dignity among our people, about taking our place in the world and building on OUR international reputation, not being tarnished by someone else's. And it's about refusing to allow the people of Scotland (regardless of the complicity of some of them in all of this) to be treated like voting fodder any longer.

Right now, many of our newer members will be, like the rest of us, utterly exhausted. And they may be wondering why on earth they used up their annual leave, fell out with their partners, let down their families, missed visits to the gym, skipped important lectures, got into bother at work etc etc. It would all be worth it in the end, they no doubt thought. And they were right. What they got wrong was the end date. It wasn't 6 November. It was some day in the future, we know not when but it's called Independence Day.

It's like everything else in life - if you get an easy run, you become complacent, you care less about the cause you're fighting for. I wish, with all my heart that we'd won on Thursday - for the people of Glenrothes and for Peter Grant who is a really good guy and would have been a million times better than Lindsay Roy who doesn't even know what a Post Office Card Account is when it's a massive issue for folk who aren't in the headmaster class! I wish we'd won but we didn't and so we must take what we can from the result.

We went up by 13 percentage points. Good - we're getting MORE popular. We didn't win. Bad - we need to look at why. But I would say to anyone who is feeling damaged by this, please don't. The feelings I described in 1989 and 1992 were not just mine. Nicola Sturgeon was there, feeling exactly the same. Fiona Hyslop, Shona Robison and many many more of our people who could not have foretold that one day they would be, eg, Deputy First Minister of our country in a parliament we never knew we'd have. We didn't know HOW we would get our Independence, we just knew that we would. And we will. Look how far we've come since then.

Had it not been for the resilience and steely determination of the people I've just mentioned and many hundreds more, we'd not have a parliament, we'd not be in power now and we'd not have the opportunity to put Independence to the test in a referendum of the people.

If someone had told me in 1988 that I'd still be doing this in 20 years time, I'd probably have given up. I'm glad I didn't. I don't think it will take another 20 years, the tough part's over and we're on the final strait with just a few hurdles to get over. But I can honestly say if I thought it would take the rest of my life, I would do it. I might not do it to the exclusion of everything else (as many of us have been doing on and off for a while) but I'm in it for the long haul.

And in time, I think our newer members who are hurting so much right now, will gain a great deal of personal strength from learning the lessons of the unpredictability of politics. I know many members who don't enjoy being beaten but secretly love the hardy reputations they've gained from getting up after a fall, getting out and getting right back at 'em - maybe I'm one of them ... secretly!

In the scheme of things this is nothing more than a minor setback and the opportunity for the party and for the individual activists to reflect, renew and review. Better it happen now than in 2010.

*Labour lies in 1992 - I'll explain in more detail tomorrow.


Grogipher said...

A really good post Anne.

We were discussing exactly the same issues in the office on Friday, with some of the people you name-check!

For someone like me, who only joined in 2003 (silly rules meaning I had to be 16 :P), the only way was up! The first election, we took my Holyrood seat (Dundee East 03). Then we took my Westminster seat (Dundee East 05). Then the neighbouring seat at the Government (Dundee West 07), as well as being the biggest group on the council.

I'm one of these "young ones" that has never had this set back. Everyone else in the office was thinking back to the dark, dark times of 1997 or whatever, and were used to it, whereas me and my mates are unnacostomed to this, to say the least.

But you're right, for the vast, vast majority of folk who did their first work for the party in Glenrothes or Glasgow East, this will only spur them on more. To fight back with our positive messages, to build confidence in our nation. There will be a few who are dejected, and will leave the fold either for a small while, or on a more permanent basis.

I agree with what Jim said on the tele too - we need too learn our lessons. We took this for granted. Now we know that the next elections we have to get our head right down. It might be a General Election, it might be Europe - but the fight starts now.

MekQuarrie said...

Spot on Anne.
My first proper election was while I was in London Branch and we spent a few long weekends riding up the motorway in the back of a mini-bus fully expecting to 're-elect' Jim Sillars in Govan. So along with Major's astonishing rabbit-from-the-hat victory and Jim's crash-and-burn loss, we got a rude awakening and a good lesson that the most deserving candidates don't always win.
The worst thing to have learned from an SNP victory at Glenrothes would have been to sit back and ride the unpopularity of UK parties. So we go forward. I think there is a local by-election in Ayrshire coming up and (non-newsflash) there might be a big ole General Election coming sooner than we all thought if London Labour start to believe there own Bounce-iness... Q

Anonymous said...

I joined the party in 1974 as young man, well after Winnie's sensational victory in Hamilton and not that long after Margo's win in Govan and I looked at all the old codgers (some of them were in their 50's and 60's for God's sake) in my constituency branch - I did not live in Rutherglen then but it was a no hope Glasgow constituency if ever there was one, and wondered "What keeps these old folks going? They have not come close to even winning a council seat never mind independence, yet some of them seem to have been at it for thirty years or more."

For years we battered away, sometimes at considerable personal cost, for seemingly little or no advance and yet all the time the tide was slowly turning. So slowly that we could not see it, and yet it was so.

What kept them going? I know now that it was faith. Faith that eventually the Scots would see how the British state worked against them. Faith that some day the concept would not seem hilarious that Scotland should have her own parliament, raise her own taxes, have her own army, navy and air force and take her place among the sovereign nations of the world. That the abomination of nuclear weapons would be removed from our soil and that our youngsters should be able to advance here in accordance with their abilities like any normal country without having to emigrate or move to England to do so, unless they wanted to.

And yes, anger. Don't forget anger. Anger, that we should be governed by such unprincipled lickspittles, prepared always and in the first instance to ditch our interest for those of "Britain". For "Britain", read "their own".

Eddie George, past governor of the Bank of England, let the cat out of the bag. "Unemployment in the North is a price worth paying for low inflation". Do you think for one second that if the costs of low inflation were to be paid by London and the South East for the benefit of the rest of Britain, that this would have been the preferred policy of successive "British" governments?

I rest my case.

Keep the faith.

We will prevail eventually because our cause is just.

Grogipher said...

Fascinating stuff Rab!

It's partly that reason I don't attend my own branch meetings too often - I'd much rather play about in the YSI and the FSN with folk my age!

Anonymous said...

Hey Grogipher, all of 21, don't think your too old to be spanked! Though I'm now old(er) looking on the outside, it doesn't mean I don't think and feel like a youngster inside.

Some of the old codgers used to amaze me at the rate they could leaflet the tenements. If it came to a leafleting challenge I'll bet ..... well no I wouldn't. You'd beat me hands down.

Seriously though, keep up the good work whether the forum is YSI, FSN or as in my case conversations in the post office.