SNP: Why have factions and cliques been permitted to develop behind closed doors?

Why I’ve quit the SNP

By Martin Hannan

Politics is like history. If you don’t learn from mistakes, you’re condemned to repeat them.
I have resigned from the SNP after nearly two decades of membership. I did not do so on a whim. I have become increasingly disillusioned and left because the SNP of 2021 is not the same party that I joined almost 20 years ago. Put simply, entryism by cliques and factions, who have forgotten the party’s raison d’être – to regain Scotland’s independence – have come to dominate the party, and that is a huge mistake.
When I joined the SNP I found a genuinely democratic organisation where debates and discussions took place largely without rancour.
I am not saying the people I knew in the party were all saints. Far from it, but when I reached the giddy heights of the convenership of Edinburgh Eastern constituency party, I was always impressed by how people said their piece and then listened to the rest.
I was also aware that there was none of the entryism that periodically disrupts and emasculates the Labour Party – the various CND waves, Militant Tendency, Momentum – and occasionally, and more recently, the Conservatives who have been hijacked by the far right and the ERG.
The greatest schism in the SNP was the emergence of the left wing 79 Group, unceremoniously booted out in 1982 but allowed back in. Just as well as its leading figures included Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill.
Leader at the time Gordon Wilson got the party conference to ban all organised political groupings within the party. Now I can understand allowing Out for Independence and Young Scots for Independence but why have clearly organised groups of trans rights campaigners and the Common Weal group been allowed? Why have other factions and cliques been permitted to develop with much of their activity behind closed doors? Big lesson not learned.
Other reasons to leave? I count myself a friend of Alex Salmond and have been a great admirer of Nicola Sturgeon, pictured right.. I am not permitted by law to tell all that I know about their ongoing contretemps, which will only end when the whole truth comes out, and it will, despite the Scottish Government’s outrageous suppression of evidence. It is not the main reason I left. I would say however, that very serious allegations have been made against senior figures in the SNP and I am still awaiting news of suspensions while the party follows its own rules and carries out its own internal investigation into the matter – quis custodes ipsos custodiet, and all that. As for who messaged who – if people have nothing to fear then why not publish them?
More and more the SNP resembles a cult, one with an agenda that has self-preservation and not independence as its chief aim. The faction fighting is utterly anti-democratic and quite disgraceful and it’s largely the consequence of poor leadership. I know the First Minister has quite rightly devoted almost all her energies to the pandemic, but it’s the broader leadership which is it at fault.
I knew Joanna Cherry and Tommy Sheppard would get emptied off the front bench at Westminster, Joanna because of tall poppy syndrome and her refusal to compromise on firmly held views.
Tommy signed his P45 in this very newspaper in November when he queried the decision to stop proper debate at the party conference. He wrote back then: “That’s not really what a conference is for. Of course, the aim is unity. But unity through resolving differences, not ignoring or suppressing them. SNP members are united by the over-arching aim of achieving independence. But on how we get there – and what we do with it – there will be differences along the way. And that’s healthy
“I know some think disagreement is dangerous. It makes us look weak. Gives our opponents ammunition. Diminishes our standing in the eyes of the electorate. Well, only if it’s badly handled.
Done well, the resolving of differences can be a route to strength. There is no argument that cannot be made stronger by critical examination.”
I have known Tommy a long time, and he has never spoken a truer word. I entirely concur. It’s the stifling of open and honest debate, the inability to listen to other viewpoints, the lack of inclusiveness, the tolerance of deeply disturbing trolling on social media, all of it a morass tacitly or openly approved by the leadership who have badly handled it. And above all one piece of total insanity which has made me tear up my card.
The party’s National Executive Committee passed on the casting vote – funny, I thought casting votes were usually given for the status quo – a new policy on candidates for the regional lists that is so anti-democratic it literally made me roar with anger.
The proposal was that four BAME candidates will automatically go top of the party’s list for four regions, and four disabled candidates will automatically go top in the other four. Senior Counsel Jonathan Mitchell QC, who I happen to know is probably Scotland’s top lawyer on these issues, advised that the proposal was “of very dubious legality and is likely to be struck down by the courts if challenged.” The NEC was warned that a legal challenge could cost the party a six figure sum or maybe more, and that might even bankrupt the SNP.
Joanna Cherry QC – tall poppy syndrome and refusal to compromise on firmly held views.
BAME and disabled candidates would be trusted to self-identify. What a can of worms that would open. The policy could cost somebody like Joan McAlpine her job, and it’s also hugely insulting to BAME and disabled people, telling them that they are not being selected for the job because they are the best for it, but because of the colour of their skin or their physical and mental state. One simple example to show how insane this policy is: what happens if you’re disabled and the best candidate in a region but it has been set aside for a BAME candidate at the top? Or the other way around?
To encourage diversity you support BAME and disabled people to succeed from the outset so that they can be the best person for the job, not some sort of politically correct window dressing. It’s also telling the membership your vote doesn’t count unless you vote for the person we are putting top – now that IS Stalinist. And to adopt this policy three months before the most important Holyrood election ever is the very definition of madness.
I’m told I should wheesht for indy. Well awa’ and bile yer heid on that one. Wheesht just means cover up, and political history shows that it’s always a mistake – for it’s never the deceit that gets you but the cover up. And better to get all of this into the open and sorted NOW because the latest poll shows that the cause of independence is NOT moving forward.
I know very well that the SNP is not the Yes movement – far from it. However the party needs to fix itself ASAP for what will the Unionist parties do with a disrupted SNP during the election campaign? What if the SNP reveals itself to be just as bad and nasty as other parties? What do you mean it already has?
I will vote for the SNP because I believe utterly in the cause of independence, but I can no longer be a member of a party which does not tolerate dissent, whose NEC votes for illegality and in which the leadership’s hard wiring to the Scottish electorate has atrophied.
I will continue to work for independence and be a part of the Yes movement. My parting advice to the party is to let its respected President Mike Russell set up some sort of truth and reconciliation process. The problem with that, however, is that there can be no reconciliation without truth, and I and other journalists and party members are banned from telling you a lot of the truth which, believe me, is utterly shocking and which some very senior people in the Government and the party will continue to do everything they can to prevent the people from knowing that truth.
No truth, no reconciliation. No reconciliation, no win in May. Or ever again.

* Martin Hannan is an award-winning journalist and author who formerly worked at the Lennox Herald in Dumbarton.


  1. Could not disagree with a word that Martin Hannan has said.

    The SNP, or at least a controlling part of it, is now a rotten vicious cult. No one, and I mean no one, should be under any illusion that the SNP’s coterie of control conspired to viciously destroy an innocent man and send him to jail. Despite every effort to muzzle the truth, and that is clear from the repeated endeavours by the Scottish Government to withhold and suppress the release of information, the evidence is now crystal clear. There was a vicious attempt to destroy Alex Salmond.

    But it didn’t stop there. Journalists like Craig Murray and Mark Hirst were similarly pursued by a corrupted police unit and Crown Office to have them jailed too.

    And all of the while, the once democratic party pursued a policy of extinguishing any member involvement. Conference, once the supreme policy making body stripped back to a floor show where all real debate excluded and where branches could not even put forward conference motions.

    And an NEC stuffed with trans activists focused on gender issues and utterly lite on independence. And candidate selection committees stuffed with partisan place men, or more particularly place women who would deny women same safe areas. Or even constitutional rule changes made by secret voting.

    All run from a rotten clique at Centre it is no wonder whatsoever that folks like Martin, a twenty year member have left the SNP have left. But he is not alone. Some 60,000 members have now left, and that tells you something.

    But things could change. There is a fight back. Decent ordinary members want to take back control, restore democracy, and gain the independence that we need from a thoroughly rotten Westminster. That is the big picture.

    We have the most right wing Westminster Government ever. Hostile to Europe, hostile to Scotland, it serves to look after the interests of the select few at the expense of the many.

    Independence is therefore too Important to be left in the hands of a rotten cabal who say one thing but do another. We cannot therefore leave things as they are and that is a big question for many of the candidates who just in it for the pay and perks. Not for them any concerns about how the party is now run. Just keep the head down, wait for the votes to roll in, and get another five years gravy.

  2. There is little doubt tha the SNP have let down their members with their lack of progress on a referendum. However they have been letting the whole population down with their poor record in power. No need to list their costly failures, just look across the Clyde when you travel to Cardross and Helensburgh for the most visible.
    But Martin, do us all a favour and cast your vote elsewhere. If you want change, it won’t come if you vote SNP. No matter how many articles you write criticising them, if you vote for the SNP they will claim your vote as an endorsement of THEIR policies and manifesto.

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