IT is almost impossible for me to describe the events of the last few weeks. The shock, confusion and hurt is echoed by almost every member and supporter I’ve met. Members of 50 years, and members of five months are united by confusion as to what is happening. Every few days, a new revelation renews the sense of astonishment.

The impact is reverberating through the party. I spoke to one local member, who told me she’d sacrificially donated to the party for decades as part of her contribution to independence. Another branch officer argued he’d always followed due process so as never to bring the party into disrepute. Both feel a sense of loss and bewilderment.

Whatever unfolds in the coming weeks, discussion must quickly turn to how we move forward as a party and as a movement. That is what I wish to focus on here.

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To do that, firstly we must see decisive and immediate action on internal matters. That could start with a report into the auditors’ resignation, followed by other actions to boost transparency. After all, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Secondly, we must recall that the party achieved historic success on the strength and trust of our members.

And, finally, we must govern in such a way as demonstrates that the party’s core purpose of independence is bigger than any individual, including the leader. I want to explore each of these three steps in this week’s column.

The National: The former SNP chief executive has been arrested (Jane Barlow/PA)

I still remember the first time I campaigned for the SNP. It was a chilly evening in 2007. As I shoved a crumpled leaflet through another unyielding letterbox, I confess to regretting how easily I’d been persuaded by local activists to help with a leaflet run. I was 17 years old.

I’d decided to attend my local SNP branch the week before, for the first time. I was greeted by a small, weary band of elderly members, in a damp, fusty side room of the local village hall.

Somewhat surprised by the improbability of fame, glory, or success in such a setting, I settled down to listen. If my enthusiasm was eroded by the dull agenda that night, the opposite was true for these local branch members. They were ecstatic to see somebody new.

And so, before I left that evening, I was issued with a bundle of leaflets, a list of addresses and a strict deadline by which they must be delivered. And that is how I found myself trudging around a small town on a chilly evening – and not for the last time.

Since those days, our party has come far, propelled to power through the hard work of activists, and the faith and trust of the Scottish people. We won multiple elections, with majorities in council chambers, the Scottish Parliament and Scottish seats at Westminster. Our membership ballooned. We earned the right to a referendum and maintained the trust of the Scottish people.

I remember seeing friends and family members, who’d previously dismissed the SNP as irrelevant, choosing to vote for local SNP representatives for the first time. That choice was an act of faith – faith in a party and trust in its mission to do right by the Scottish people. We campaigned on our record in government, our competent team, and our vision of a better future. Record, team, vision. A heady combination, and a recipe for success.

SNP branches have always largely comprised of a few hardy souls who lived in hope and worked their socks off. They knew failure, and setbacks, and broken dreams. But the only thing that was worn out was their shoe leather. There was no glory, little fame, and minimal success in the early days – but they paved the way for everything that followed. That was how we won historic success, and it is how we will win again.

And so my plea to fellow members is this: Stay the course. As gale-force winds batter the ship, this is a call for all hands on deck. If you are a party member thinking of resigning, please don’t. If you’re scunnered at what’s unfolding, please stay. If you’ve recently left the party, as 50,000 people reportedly have in recent years, think of re-joining.

If we want to win independence, we need you

Not because we want to make the SNP great, or to bask in electoral success, or because recent events are irrelevant. No, it is because this party’s historic success was secured by ordinary members doing extraordinary things in every part of the country. And the most extraordinary thing of them all must be to win independence. To do that, we need you.

Even with all hands on deck, we need a ship that is strong enough to withstand the stormiest of weathers. That means getting the internal structures right, and sorting out our problems fast. To say that good governance is critical seems like the understatement of the century. Recent events leave that in no doubt. For the public to have faith and trust in the SNP, as they’ve had for over 16 years, our party’s structures need to be built on transparency, integrity and truth.

During the recent leadership contest, I wrote an open letter to SNP members. I said that a prerequisite for effective change is trust. Restoring trust and transparency in the way that the SNP carries out its internal business and restoring the confidence of people in Scotland are two sides of the same coin. 

We need further action on transparency

I promised, at the very least, independent auditing of the party’s membership numbers and finances to give confidence and assurance to members. That is exactly what we need as an absolute minimum, and it is important that Humza Yousaf pledged to do this within a few days of becoming leader. But as more news has emerged, so further action is essential.

Transparency should be the hallmark of our party. We have plenty of talented and willing members, able to rebuild the party’s internal governance. Indeed, I believe many of them offered to help in the past few years but now their offers must be welcomed.

As a party we know that our opponents are desperate to see us fail. They want to sink us and, with us, all dreams of independence. We have enough to contend with, without falling victim to unforced errors. We must act impeccably, at every level of governance and every layer of government. Integrity must govern all our actions and reactions. There must be nothing with which our opponents can legitimately use to call into question our integrity.

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My last comment is that this party is not the preserve of a single individual. This party belongs to every member, and it does not exist to merely further individuals’ political careers or enhance their reputations. Instead, this party, as the Scottish National Party, exists to serve all the people of our country and lead our nation to better days.

Our cause is not electoral success, in the same way as other parties might define their goals. Our mission should be bigger than that – it is our nation’s independence, as a means to end poverty, inequality and injustice. Decades ago, SNP activists paved the way to bring us to this point, in fusty village halls, on cold wintry nights. I firmly believe that with all hands on deck, with governance structures built on integrity and with our focus firmly on our goals, we can emerge stronger.