6 Questions on the Yes Alliance

There’s been a lot of talk about the potential of pro-independence candidates standing on a joint ‘Yes Alliance’ platform in next May’s General Election – the idea being that the 45% who voted Yes, and in particular the Yes majority in Labour heartlands such as Glasgow, could deliver the largest possible team of pro-independence MPs.

It’s likely that, without party instruction, a great deal of independence supporters will be minded to vote tactically to ensure the best result for pro-independence candidates. And it is entirely feasible that pro-independence candidates may strategically decide not to stand against each other in certain seats. But the Yes Alliance proposal goes further – suggesting that the Yes parties should drop, or at least dilute, their individual identities to stand on a common platform.

Much of the enthusiasm for this idea seems to have developed from the experience of working across political divides during the referendum. And no wonder – the non-partisan nature of the campaign was not only highly enjoyable for activists but hugely attractive to the public. I strongly believe that many of the relationships built during the campaign will endure, and delivering first devo-max and later independence will require us to continue to work as a united movement.

But there’s a huge difference between fighting for a common cause and fighting parliamentary elections on a joint platform. Would a Yes Alliance actually work?

1. Who chooses the candidates?
The immediate issue any electoral alliance would face is choosing candidates. If we assume that the six sitting SNP MPs would stand again, then we’d have to select 53 candidates for an election happening next year.

The time frame is important here. If energies hadn’t been focused on the referendum, then we can assume that the SNP would have a full slate of candidates by now and that the ground campaign would already have begun. The earliest a Yes Alliance could presumably be agreed would be SNP Conference in mid-November. To devise and operate an entirely new process of candidate selection could take two to three months. That’s getting dangerously close to the election itself.

But even if a time-frame were to be agreed, who would actually choose the candidates? For the Yes Alliance to capture the movement it would have to extend beyond the SNP, Greens and SSP and include the other campaign groups and non-aligned Yes volunteers. But these other groups are not formal membership organisations in the way a political party is and establishing a secret ballot among a group that may be no more than an e-mail list would be extraordinarily difficult – and would still exclude the thousands of volunteers who simply turned up at stalls and canvass sessions without ever formally joining any group. And what of multiple memberships? Would someone who was a member of the Greens, RIC, National Collective and Women for Independence get 4 votes or 1? How would this be controlled?

2. Would voters just vote as they’re told?

The central assumption of the Yes Alliance proposal is that Yes voters would back a joint pro-independence platform in greater numbers than if the parties stood individually.

It’s entirely feasible that, were the pro-independence parties to stand against each other, there could be seats where their combined vote share would have been enough to push the leading party over the edge. But the Greens only stand in a minority of seats and its unlikely that the SSP, or any other pro-independence left group, will stand. Party competition isn’t a particular threat in the Westminster elections.

The electorate will often behave in strange ways. Not all Yes voters will be minded to vote for a pro-independence candidate – there will be a not insignificant number who vote Labour next year, if not in 2016, and there will even be some who go back to voting Conservative, Lib Dem, UKIP or not voting at all. Meanwhile there are significant numbers of anti-independence voters who will happily vote SNP but might baulk at the thought of voting for a Yes Alliance. I’ve written before on behaviour of Green voters, as has Jonathan Mackie, and the idea that they would universally vote for an SNP or other pro-independence candidate simply because the Greens endorsed them is unconvincing. And speaking personally, I wouldn’t vote for just any candidate simply because they supported independence if their other views were incompatible with my own principles.

3. What happens once they’re elected?

Part of the reason we can’t expect voters to put aside their own political opinions is simple – our candidates might win.

When a voter selects a candidate they do so understanding that they’ll be accountable not just to the electorate but to a party and its manifesto. The voter may not agree with every policy a party has, but they can make a judgement based on the party’s record and platform and vote accordingly.

If a Yes Alliance candidate without party allegiance was to be elected then what would they actually do in their position? Yes, we’d expect any Yes MPs to argue for the best possible devolution settlement and to articulate the argument for independence in the long-term. But the next parliament will not be defined solely by further devolution. Scottish MPs will still be required to represent their constituents interests on issues of welfare, citizenship, employment and consumer rights, defence and more.

What happens if the enthusiastic, non-aligned small business owner turns out to support welfare reform and vigorously campaigns against employment protections? What if the peace campaigner is elected only to oppose any MoD investment in Scotland? What if the hard-working activist from the local campaign turns out to be a zealous advocate of depriving criminal suspects of their civil liberties?

These things aren’t likely, but they’re not impossible. We can’t assume that everybody who supports independence has a consistent world-view. And the working-class SNP voter might choose to vote Labour rather than for a Business for Scotland candidate just as the middle-class Yes supporter might find it impossible to vote for an SSP activist.

4. Wouldn’t it destroy what made Yes work?

A conflict in our beliefs didn’t matter during the referendum because of the binary nature of the question being asked us. You either believe that Scotland should be independent or you didn’t.

As a whole the Yes movement found lots of common ground. At least on principle. We were mainly on the left, and we talked about internationalism and social justice and equality, but we did so knowing that after the vote we’d often end up on different sides of the argument again. Even if our objectives sounded similar we had different routes of getting there.

That diversity was a strength. But in a parliamentary election, it could be become a weakness.

5. Wouldn’t it entrench us in the 45?

If we want Scotland to become independent in our lifetimes then in all likelihood we will need to convince hundreds of thousands of people who voted No this time round to change their minds.

There are plenty of No voters who can be won round. There are even more who can be won round immediately to the idea that we need an extensive and radical devolution of powers. And many of them will be willing to vote for a pro-independence candidate in future elections if they feel that this will deliver them devo-max.

My biggest fear about a Yes Alliance is that these soft No voters are confronted with ‘Yes’ on their next ballot paper and vote for anybody else in frustration. We need to win these people over and to do that we have to demonstrate that we accept the referendum result and will, at least for now, strive to make devolution work. A Yes Alliance could permanently divide Scottish politics along referendum lines and entrench two camps in their beliefs. The problem for us is that we’re the smaller of those two camps.

6. Where would it actually be of benefit?

But let’s say that all of this can be overcome. Let’s say that we devise a workable way of selecting candidates, that we can put together a credible platform that makes us electable while maintaining our diversity, and that we carry Yes voters with us without permanently alienating the 55% of No voters. Where would this approach actually benefit us?

I’m an SNP activist and my political instinct is shaped by that. But the SNP are by far the largest political party of the Yes movement and, without a Yes Alliance, the only party with any credible chance of electing any MPs.

I’ve tried to think of a single parliamentary constituency where nominating a non-SNP figure would make it more likely that we win. I can’t think of one.

Dan Paris


There are 17 comments

  1. Craig Cockburn

    Given the reality of the situation, where the parties are in the polls and the state of the various seats in Scotland, the only realistic yes alliance in time for GE2015 is for all pro independence supporters to vote SNP. For the Scottish elections the following year then there is a better opportunity to vote for variety of pro-Yes parties and independent candidates.

  2. hatfinch

    “I’ve tried to think of a single parliamentary constituency where nominating a non-SNP figure would make it more likely that we win. I can’t think of one.”

    Win the battle for the seat? What you say is true.

    Win the war for independence? Much more likely through political plurality.

  3. Colin Dunn

    “I’ve tried to think of a single parliamentary constituency where nominating a non-SNP figure would make it more likely that we win. I can’t think of one.”

    What if people like Leslie Riddoch stand, though? In some constituencies the only potential way to upset an ingrained majority (i.e. Charles Kennedy in Ross, Skye and Lochaber) is to put forward a pro-Yes ‘personality’.

  4. markyftw

    “What happens if the enthusiastic, non-aligned small business owner turns out to support welfare reform and vigorously campaigns against employment protections?”

    Exactly how I didnae hink yes wis a progressive movement like everycunt telt me it wis. Utter bourgeois pish.

  5. DougDaniel

    I think even if you put aside all the other issues (there could be a broad “manifesto” drawn up that everyone can sign up to, that essentially says the alliance candidates are there specifically to maximise the amount of devolution we get, for example), the timing one is the main problem. You can pretty much write off from now until mid-February in terms of campaigning, due to Christmas, weather and the dark nights, but more importantly, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to put together an alliance, decide who’ll do what and so on.

    As a former councillor said at a meeting I was at recently, if it happens, it’ll be a backroom deal that none of us actually know about officially, and is more likely to be a case of, for example, the SNP and Greens both putting up a candidate, but the activists for one party “coincidentally” all working in the neighbouring constituency, while the other party’s activists do the opposite.

    Anyway, it sounds like the Greens might be putting all their effort into ensuring Caroline Lucas retains her seat.

  6. Angus Rae

    Shetland and Orkney Islands were and Indy candidate would given a clear field have a good chance against the Lib-Dems Possible a Green in Edinburgh and Glasgow SSP Glasgow as well the problem as pointed out is this needs to be done on a short time scale and needs all involved to agree the seats and place there efforts there.

  7. Mel Spence

    I can see the attraction, but to be fair to the Greens and the SSP, both parties have genuine policy differences with the SNP, on issues that really matter to their members.

    I can see real problems in getting it passed by the Green membership, especially given the divisions in the party over Indy.

    Given the short time scale, I am struggling to see how any proposed alliance could be put in place, and the organisation on the ground created, joint manifestos hammered out etc.

    However, maybe a more informal “alliance” is possible, where the Greens and SSP concentrate on the seats where they feel they genuinely have a chance, and simply don’t field even paper candidates elsewhere. Still a big ask for local Green & SSP parties, as their members are every bit as committed to their beliefs as SNP members are.

  8. Erik Smith

    I’m one of the new crop of Green Party members. Unfortunately, due to the First Past the Post nature of Westminster elections, I understand that the chances of a Green candidate being elected to Westminster in the coming GE are zero. Therefore, instead of wasting my vote, I will be voting SNP and I will be campaigning for all my fellow Greens to vote SNP. As I live in Shetland, this means my vote will be wasted anyway as Carmichael is well entrenched, but at least I hope we can give him a good scare.

  9. David Houldsworth

    ‘And speaking personally, I wouldn’t vote for just any candidate simply because they supported independence if their other views were incompatible with my own principles’ – Good grief, do you think the men women and kids going to foodbanks right now can afford the ‘principles’ you hold so dear ? do you think that the folk having to jump through hoops at job centres to get a measly £70 a week (or risk sanctions) can afford ‘principles’, or the homeless ?. So you are saying you would possibly sacrifice independence (and the afore mentioned people’s chance at having a life instead of an existence) for a personal principle ?. Me, I don’t give a toss – eg if the Tories (I detest everything they stand for) signed agreements/guarantees with Salmond,Sturgeon and whoever else to deliver full Devo Max if they got in again, I would vote Tory knowing that this would ultimately bring the powers we need to help everyone in Scotland (I know how unlikely this is). The writer of this piece can maybe afford to have principles but those other poor folks can’t and he would potentially bin their chance at a future because of his own particular like or dislike of something. If the cost of ending foodbanks and child poverty in Scotland was me losing a few ‘principles’ I would have no hesitation. Let’s get independence and then argue the toss.

  10. David Mckeever

    Disagreed. TL:DR You are fear mongering and your fears are based on fantasy and fiction.

    Show me the pro-cuts small business owner who is also pro yes, pro-yes alliance, electable and has been suggested. This person does not exist. This is fantasy. Nobody is talking about standing such a candidate. They are talking about (a) existing SNP, Green and SSP candidates and (b) people like Elaine C Smith or Alan Bisset that punters have heard of and might vote for. I’ll let you in on a secret: anybody who would cut welfare like mad given the chance voted no.

    Yes Alliance is a great way forward. It keeps independence on the agenda. Some of the 55% need to be one over but not right now. Not at the election. At the election we need to make sure that Scotland and Independence will not disappear. Yes alliance does that. Then when we get our second referendum we can work on winning over the required 6%. Please stop misleading saying we need to win 55% and making it sound impossible. 45% plus 6% is 51%. We have a head start.

  11. James D

    The NO voting unionists are just as likely to vote tactically. A Tory voter who voted SNP last time to stop Labour getting in will now probably vote Labour to stop those Indy-minded SNP types from getting ideas.

  12. Craig B

    That’s an interesting discussion. I think it’s right to vote SNP in any constituency where they’ve got the least chance of winning, and that Greens and SSP should not stand candidates in these areas. But where the SNP have no chance then they should not oppose the Greens or the SSP. I don’t think that at the next WM election the Yes parties should oppose each other. If the Greens and SSP have no realistic chance anywhere of doing better than the SNP, they shouldn’t stand anywhere. Once we get a Scottish parliament they can seek election for their own MSPs and argue for whatever policies they like.

  13. rosiehopkins

    The conflicting issues seem to be about more than parties and principles. The bigger issues are bringing in the No’s and forming an inclusive group of candidates. That could mean dropping the Yes part of Alliance. How about Scotland Alliance? That would cover all parties and non-parties.

  14. sparraneil

    As an advocate of th.e opposite position, I commend this as an excellent exposition of the case for separate candidates. However I feel it is self defeating.

    The idea that some Green voters would refuse to vote SNP for an agreed Alliance candidate is valid, but balanced by the fact that some people will only vote for SNP candidates if they are standing on an agreed alliance manifesto. Otherwise why would CND supporters vote for s party that supposed NATO membership for example.

    Similarly it is true that YES Alliance candidates might get elected. That is the point after all. Voting for a candidate not in your party will be difficult. It will require mutual trust. But the key word is mutual. We all need to consider how much we will compromise. It’s give & take.

    SNP will no doubt win more seats given the growth in their membership & popular support. But that support could drop sharply if they are seen to be in conflict with the rest of the Alliance, especially after Tommy Sheridan’s fine altruistic position. Membership of 80,000 or so is a reason for celebration. The other parties and groups have all grown too. Most of the 1.6m Yessers are still in no party. Some are still in the Labour Party The SNP might be well advised to ca’ canny until they figure out internally how they now relate to Scotland’s people post indyref.

    The time to stand against each other will be the (PR) Holyrood elections in 2016. That will ironically be the best way to get the biggest number of YES MSPs. In the (first past the post) GE, a common slate gets the biggest number of YES MPs.

    It is indeed a short timescale. Especially with a common manifesto. But we don’t need to agree everything – just the absolute red lines. Not impossible. Don’t the people of Scotland deserve that effort from those who want to give leadership to a new kind of democracy? What would happen in a future situation where decisions have to be made fast, like the threat of a war? Remember the slogan that promised YES – WE CAN. Even though we nicked it from Obama it’s not a reference to a small container for Irn Bru. We promised. ow it’s time to do the ‘new democracy’ thing & actually deliver what we said.

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