YOU will have noted that the Scotland team manager loaded the maximum number of players allowed on the plane to Spain. Over twice as many as will start on the park when the Euros begin in earnest. Because in the modern game the subs bench is crucial too.
I am proposing Team Indy follows suit. When the First Minister announced her new line-up, the leader of the tiniest party in Holyrood opined the Cabsecs had been recycled rather than refreshed. He might like to reflect that he doesn’t have enough MSP’s to fill a cupboard never mind a cabinet these days. Yet there is an underlying truth to his casual insult.
When a government has been in power for a long time, there is little room for surprise when it has a reshuffle. You can change portfolios which hopefully brings fresh thinking, but there’s limited scope to change personnel. Yet as we enter what all indy supporters hope will be a seminal term, you could argue that we are trying to win with only half the available players actually on the pitch.
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A lot of the SNP’s big hitters are still parked on the green, green benches of the Commons, where they are routinely ignored, barracked, or both. Sometimes they post their speeches on social media in the hope that some of the Scottish electorate might tune in if they happen to be scrolling.
We know that when we first sent a sizable squad to Westminster it was as surprising to some of the victors as anyone else. They got caught up in the post indyref tartan tsunami which swept so many of the Unionist candidates from their berths.
From the point of view of fighting the good fight for independence, I’d argue that victory could turn out to be pyrrhic unless and until we can harness our southern talent on the side of the border where the real battles over independence will take place.
We need them up here adding to the cohort of MSP’s and grassroots players like Believe in Scotland, the Yes hubs, Voices For Scotland, the Scottish Independence Foundation and all the other folks who have been beavering away. There is no shortage of enthusiasts for independence, but the overall picture is currently too fragmented, and too often ignored.
The Westminster brigade would be better deployed as auxiliary ambassadors here at home than howling into a hostile void down by. I’m not daft enough to think this would be an easy gain. The sorry saga over Angus Robertson and Joanna Cherry battling for the same seat gave us an unsavoury insight into how much backstage manoeuvring comes into play when personal histories and clashing egos trump common sense. That episode, and the hasty rewriting of the rules, lost us the opportunity for several high profile performers to join Holyrood.
It was compounded by Ian Blackford’s subsequent decision to chuck Cherry off his front bench team altogether, a pretty classic example of surgically removing your nose to spite your face. The next independence campaign hasn’t a prayer if the broad Yes movement and the SNP’s NEC can’t manage to get beyond personality politics and put the basic cause front and centre.
There is a lot of talent languishing on the SNP benches in London, conversant with a whole range of issues including health, justice, social policy, broadcasting, finance, education and much more. There are a lot of great campaigning voices, bonny fechters, strong, articulate communicators and at the moment they are a largely wasted asset outside of their constituency work.
Among them, let’s be honest, are some who have also become way too comfortable in their Westminster clothes. There are some of the nationalist troops who have gone native over the years, convincing themselves that popping up in Commons committees or debates matters a row of beans in terms of progressing independence. It’s always counter productive when your sense of self importance overwhelms your memory of why you got elected in the first place.
We are kidding ourselves if we think a UK Government with an unassailable majority is suddenly going to pay attention to what the SNP Commons contingent is saying. We are kidding ourselves if that is going to materially change at the next election given that Keir Starmer appears to have as much chance of becoming the next PM as I have winning next month’s euromillions. Especially as I don’t buy a ticket.
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The Scottish Government is also kidding itself if it thinks the pro-indy natives are not going to get ever more restless. This week I read a stack of posts from Alba supporters saying they planned to undermine the SNP leadership at every turn from here on in.
As it happens I don’t think Alba is going anywhere any time soon. And I never believed another party was likely to be anything other than divisive. Equally, whilst some Alba members’ hostility to the SNP’s strategic planning may not be widespread, their impatience is echoed in many quarters.
THE Scotgov mantra is that horses must not be frightened, undecided voters must only be gently wooed, and those of a Unionist persuasion must on no account be made to feel mistaken. All Jock Tamson’s bairns must pledge undying tolerance. For the government is persuaded that only this softly, softly catchee voter policy has moved the dial to a regular 50 plus percentage in favour of decoupling from number 10’s serial chaos.
Some of that I can happily sign up to. Belligerence and hostility are poor weapons of choice in any debate. Yet gentle persuasion will only work when we become properly serious about giving those waverers enough hard facts and honest modelling to let them make informed choices.
There’s just not enough evidence that the government has had the appetite or bandwith to tackle this crucial research. Which is precisely why it has to be open to all the other players in the game who have been doing that work, but often finding their efforts ignored rather than taken on board for examination. We have the brains and capacity and talent to shape the arguments; we’re just not utilising it all, or being sufficiently welcoming of the available contributors.
If this last week has taught as anything at all, it’s that the UK Government has an even more slender grasp of reality than we feared. Taught us too that the dodgier its ministers behave, the more it seems to rise in the polling. You don’t have to like Dom Cummings – guilty as charged – to believe that the portrait he painted of an alarmingly dysfunctional PM with a hand to mouth, headline driven, handle on policy is all too accurate.
Last week Max Hastings, former Telegraph editor, former Johnson boss, and nobody’s idea of a raging lefty, wrote an excoriating piece reminding readers what a piece of shameless work Johnson is. He was scarcely less flattering of the current cabinet. Robert Jenrick and Gavin Williamson, he suggested, would be lucky to make the short leet for dogcatcher in a normal world.
YET it seems it’s not enough for some folks to know that the UK is being run by a bunch of second raters and strangers to the truth. It’s not enough to know that the chances of a change of UK Government four years down the road are minimal, regardless of how Scotland votes. And if it’s not enough to discredit a seriously shoddy crew, we have to make a solid case for why, and how, and with whom and what Scotland can do better. We have to ensure that team Scotland is a team of all the available talents.
Otherwise it’s not just game one of the Euros which will cause this fan to have anxiety attacks.