‘DEVOLUTION will kill nationalism stone dead. Thus spoke George Robertson in 1995 as the plans to form a Scottish Parliament went ahead.

It was a frank and startling statement of the intent behind its creation. Holyrood was to be a lightning rod to draw off the increasing energy of the independence movement, the D’Hondt system of voting put in place to ensure that no-one would get a majority, especially those supporting independence. Scottish nationalism would fester in a pond of endless squabbles in Holyrood while Westminster would reserve the real powers to itself and get on with what it did best – divide and rule.

It is a mark of how accepting we are of Westminster rule that, even in the face of that statement, the D’Hondt system has never been challenged. Even when we were told in such bald terms that system was intended to destroy our aspirations, even when we were told that the playing field had been tilted against us, we accepted it. Those with the temerity to question it were told we had to play nice, even as Westminster gamed the referendum with the outrageous Vow and then dragged us out of the EU against our will.

The SNP has done remarkably well under those circumstances and has even managed to gain narrow majorities in Holyrood. They have coped with increasing budget restrictions from Westminster and have acted to alleviate the effect of that on the poorest. But it’s not enough. Sooner, rather than later, this is going to break down. And at some point the SNP is going to be called to account on what it has actually done on what is the main reason for people voting for it – independence.

That brings me to Pete Wishart’s article on our new independence party and his general observations on alternative indy voices.

It is natural to be suspicious of anything new, particularly when it involves politics. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and we understand that we are going to be under intense scrutiny. Indeed the deluge of DMs and enquiries that we have had to field in the past 24 hours is testimony to that. Nonetheless, Wishart’s article is illustrative in how risk-averse and hidebound the SNP have become. The first point that he makes is that an alternative party would have to have a more aggressive approach to Westminster and independence. Is that a bad thing? What exactly is the approach that the SNP is using just now actually achieving? Does anyone in the independence movement still believe that we are going to get a Section 30 order from Westminster? Why are we still asking their permission?

The National:

READ MORE: Pete Wishart: New parties could cost us an indy majority at Holyrood

Secondly, Wishart opines that other indy parties may differ from the SNP on policies other than indy and therefore they should not receive the second votes of SNP voters. He cites the reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) as an example. I’ll leave aside the GRA debate itself, which is another topic, but one is bound to ask: what does Wishart think the main reason is that people are voting for the SNP? And why is it a bad thing for different parties to have different policies, as long as they agree on indy? Isn’t independence the raison d’etre of the SNP and the whole Yes movement? Other parties in other democracies manage to have disagreements on policy and work together in government. Why couldn’t we?

Finally, Wishart points to previous examples of alternative indy parties falling flat and the danger that they might not succeed, but take vital votes away from indy candidates. Interestingly, he points to the Greens as a possible option for votes on the list. All of this is valid comment, but it ignores the reason that these parties are unable to succeed and why the Greens have never broken out of single figures for MSPs. Quite simply, it is because the SNP have at each election instructed their voters to vote SNP one and two and their voters have taken them at their word. More than a million votes that might have gone to an indy candidate have instead been consigned to the dustbin. That is why the dregs of dying Unionism still manage to sit on the benches of Holyrood.

Underlying all of this is the assumption that things are going to stay the same politically and that the Scottish Parliament will continue undisturbed. Yet the ground is shifting under our feet. The coronavirus pandemic has brought not just chaos but also cover for Boris Johnson and the Tories to do a smash-and-grab raid on our constitutional rights and take control of levers of power previously unavailable to them. We only have to look across at Stormont to understand that Westminster can bestow and revoke powers to Scotland at will – but only if we give their twisted playground legitimacy.

Please, open your eyes and look from the point of an outsider. There are tens of thousands of people dead in a pandemic because of incompetent government – that on top of a public health emergency that has been going on under the guise of austerity. And we are just about to hit the buffers of Brexit. That, combined with the aftermath of the coronavirus, is going to ensure the biggest economic crash in Britain since the Great Depression. While Boris Johnson gibbers about staying alert, our people sit in the havoc wreaked by the Bullingdon Club writ large. And still we stand on the shores of uncertainty, counselling caution and saying “not yet”.

If this is not the time to be bold, then when? And if we do not act, what will be visited on us next? Our party offers the chance for Holyrood to break out of the straitjacket of D’Hondt and start running. Scotland desperately needs independence and her own governance to survive what is going to come after Brexit. We need to do this. Now.