by Colin Campbell
FROM cult HQ to the Highlands, the ferrets in a sack party is riven by the most venomous feuding since the referendum.
Exactly six years on from that crushing defeat, the friction inside that bulging sack is so intense it threatens to burst wide open.
And this in a party that’s supposed to be riding high in a few dubious opinion polls. It’s hard to imagine what things would be like if they were doing very badly.
The malcontent mood of the moment is typified by what’s going on within the SNP group on Highland Council. Two members who were suspended for different reasons – one committed the cardinal sin of criticising The Party – have now been returned to the fold. Normally you might expect them to be welcomed back with cordial handshakes, or the social distancing equivalent thereof. But this is the SNP we’re talking about, where the most cordial form of reconciliation is a handshake round the throat.
Three others, including SNP group leader Maxine Smith, have now stormed out in protest at the return of the formerly out of favour trio.
They have quit and formed what they’re calling the “independents for independence” group.
What they hope to achieve by bonding into a no-hoper splinter group with a childishly stupid name is unclear. But it seems they can’t bear to be in the same room as enemies and rivals.
Where is the all-singing, all-dancing face-painted harmony of six years ago now?
But this is of course small beer compared with what’s going on at national level at Cult Supreme Command.
Last week came the explosive revelation that party chief executive Peter Murrell had sent a message to a senior party official saying “it was a good time to be pressuring the police” to pursue Alex Salmond after his first court appearance on charges of committing sexual offences against a number of women. He was, of course subsequently cleared of all charges.
Peter Murrell just happens to be Nicola Sturgeon’s husband.
The online fury directed at Murrell by many nationalists who revere Salmond for delivering the 2014 referendum and still consider him a far more effective leader than Sturgeon is awash with bitterness and rancour. What Sturgeon herself makes of all this is unclear. But it must, at the very least, be a distraction from preparation for her reinstated daily BBC TV show.
But all will be forgotten and forgiven if the SNP does well in the upcoming Holyrood elections and Boris Johnson tamely succumbs to demands for indyref2, won’t it. In the event of an SNP victory, Johnson’s continued refusal to grant a Section 30 order for a legal independence referendum would be “untenable and unsustainable”, or so we have repeatedly been told by SNP politicians from Sturgeon down. Except, of course that claim is a falsehood intended to string supporters along and one which the more clear thinking nationalists can see through from a mile away.
Last week one of their most influential online commentators, Stuart Campbell, repeated an offer he’s previously made. He wrote: Our previous offer remains open: we’ll take any bet of any size from anyone against the proposition “Boris Johnson will never grant Nicola Sturgeon a Section 30 order in the absence of some sort of court judgement legally compelling him to”.
So far he’s had no takers. You do have to wonder why.
Deeply unhappy elements of “the base” are also marking the six year anniversary with an outpouring of frustration as to how firmly committed their MPs and MSPs enjoying all the fine perks and privileges of office actually are to indyref2 and the cause of independence.
You don’t have to look very far to see justification for scepticism on that front.
How keen is Ross MP and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford to give up all he’s achieved for his noble party service? Last year he was the second highest expenses claimant at Westminster under a system he claims he wants to destroy. How eager is this money grubbing chancer to give up annual expenses in excess of £240,000, topped up by his big fat MP’s salary?
The same question might be asked of Inverness MP and Westminster socialite Drew Hendry, basking in the perks and prestige of being a paid up member of the Mother of Parliaments. How much does he really enjoy his current lifestyle, compared with his former existence as a humdrum local councillor circling Glenurquhart Road HQ trying to find a space in the council car park? Is he keen to risk going back to that? In his election material I saw last November Hendry didn’t mention independence once, not even once.
And what about perennial Inverness MSP Fergus Ewing? He did recently mention independence, saying it was “a priority”. But that wasn’t surprising. He always brings up the independence issue at the start of his campaign for re-election to Holyrood, and this will be his sixth such campaign, which he’ll inevitably win. But once he’s comfortably back in office that’s pretty much the last you hear about independence from him. He’s been at Holyrood as an MSP since 1999, a tenure which hardly suggests he’s exactly worn down with the frustration of not achieving “the dream”.
But nationalists, still turn out in droves to vote for these people, in the misguided belief that “next time they’ll deliver”.
But they haven’t done so far and there’s absolutely no evidence that’s going to change.
So far there’s been no penalty for failure but the “independence now” frenzy in some quarters is building up to such a degree that failure “to deliver” after next year’s election – when Boris Johnson will again refuse a section 30 order – could finally be a tipping point for many.
They don’t know what they’ll do about it, and the rest of us don’t know what they’ll do about it either, but it could undeniably lead to a volatile situation. But if the feuding intensifies that’s their problem. Why should those of us who don’t want to see the UK torn apart and Scotland become an impoverished basket case run by the likes of Sturgeon, Blackford, transgender rights fanatic Mhairi Black and Hate Crimes Humza worry about it, at least for now.
From the Highlands to cult HQ, these are troubled times for the SNP. Harbouring a sense of grievance and injustice is almost a requirement for party membership these days, and that’s not something that’s easy to turn on and off. If they’re not fighting the Tories or whoever they’re almost programmed to start fighting among themselves.
The best advice to the ferrets in a sack party, for now, might just be to prepare for more ructions ahead by buying a bigger sack.