11 November 2014

Abortion: the limits of conscientious objection?

An interesting and tricky Scottish case has come up for decision in the UK Supreme Court this morning. Back in 2012, two midwives employed by Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board - Mary Teresa Doogan and Concepta Wood - brought a judicial review petition against the health board, arguing that they were being forced to "participate" in abortions, despite their conscientious objections, as devout Catholics, to the practice.

Section 4 of the Abortion Act 1967 recognises the right to "conscientious objection to participation in treatment," providing that "no person shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection."

Neither Doogan nor Wood were obliged to participate in the medical procedures producing abortions in the Southern General, but the pair were responsible for delegating, supervising and supporting other healthcare professionals in the treatment of patients undergoing termination of pregnancy. They argued that the conscientious objection provisions in the Abortion Act extended not only to participating in abortion procedures, but should also exempt them from responsibility for timetabling and supervising the practices they object to.

At first instance in the Court of Session, Lady Smith rejected this argument, holding that the Abortion Act's right of conscientious objection did not extend to the midwives' case-management responsibilities, as they didn't amount to "participating in treatment." Counsel for the health board argued that the logic of the midwives' argument could very well extend to the ward cleaner, whose scrubbing - in some sense - facilitates abortion in the hospital. Could, should they be able to argue that their mopping representing "participating" in abortions, and to decline to participate on religious grounds? Lady Smith thought not, and rejected Doogan and Wood's argument. 

The Inner House of the Court of Session had other ideas. The midwives appealed, successfully. Lady Dorrian held that Lady Smith's approach was too narrow, and the conscientious objection enshrined in the Abortion Act should be taken to extend - not just to direct participation in abortion procedures - but much more widely, to encompass the kinds of activities the midwives were being obliged to undertake in the Southern General. The Inner House held that:

As Lord Diplock observed in the RCN case, it is a matter on which many people have strong moral and religious convictions, and the right of conscientious objection is given out of respect for those convictions and not for any other reason. It is in keeping with the reason for the exemption that the wide interpretation which we favour should be given to it. It is consistent with the reasoning which allowed such an objection in the first place that it should extend to any involvement in the process of treatment, the object of which is to terminate a pregnancy. This is also consistent with our conclusion that the only circumstance of sections 1(1)(a) to (d) to which the exemption does not apply is section 1(1)(b), and that the only circumstance when the objection cannot prevail should be when the termination is necessary to save life or prevent grave permanent injury, because in such a situation the real purpose is not to effect a termination but to save life or prevent serious permanent injury.

Today, the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board ask the UK Supreme Court to reverse this decision, and to endorse a more limited conception of the right to conscientious objection to abortions. So, "does s.4(1) of the Abortion Act 1967, which provides that "no person shall be under any duty to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection", entitle a Labour Ward Co-ordinator to refuse to delegate to, supervise and/or support midwives providing care to patients undergoing termination procedures?" 

That's for Lady Hale and Lords Reed, Hodge, Wilson and Hughes to decide.

6 November 2014

Let Glasgow flourish?

Some muddled thinking has been creeping - and yesterday marched boldly  - into the devolution debate. "Power over housing benefit should be devolved." This way of talking about and conceiving of devolution - as a box of tricks for distribution - is often a useful shorthand, but sometimes it leads us into deep confusion. 

So it is this morning, with reports that the Labour leader of Glasgow City Council, Gordon Matheson, thinks the city needs "more devolution" of its own, and has petitioned the Smith Commission to this effect. The Commission, argue cooncil chiefs, must apply itself not just to devolution within the UK, but also to "devolution" within Scotland. In the Daily Record, Matheson argues that while he shares:

"... the widespread consensus that more powers should be devolved to Scotland, this cannot just be pass-the-parcel between Westminster and Holyrood. Simply moving powers from one centralising parliament to another isn't true devolution."

Precedent for conceptualising greater local authority power in terms of "devolution" is to be found in Labour's Devolution Commission report, which is chock full of references to o'erleaping the Scottish Parliament, and investing civic authorities with additional "devolved" authority. You may or may not agree with Matheson's point about the importance of greater local control over political decision-making. But conceptualising this argument in terms of "devolution," and calling on Lord Smith and his colleagues to give effect to it in a new Scotland Bill in Westminster, entirely misunderstands the legal basis for devolution and - indirectly - calls for the UK parliament to be reinvested with sovereign sway over the shape of Scottish municipal and local government. A funny sort of outcome, for a proposal passing itself off as "true" devolution. Let's take it through in stages.

The bottom line is this: the debate about Scottish devolution is about the powers which Holyrood cannot exercise, what the Parliament cannot change, and which Westminster decisions are to be treated as set in stone. That's the framework which the Scotland Act gives us. It doesn't list powers devolved, but only powers retained. The rest, it commends to the Scottish Parliament's collective judgement.

In law, there is no such thing as a "devolved" power, only a reserved one. And the difference between the two is critical - and totally missed in Matheson's intervention. As things stand, Holyrood cannot introduce its own social security schemes, nor can it modify or repeal the Human Rights Act. What it can do, however, is shape, reshape or even abolish local government in Scotland. MSPs may decide to invest local forms of government with greater and lesser powers, or to diminish their powers in devolved areas. That's their purview. 

Against that legal background, Matheson's idea of "city" devolution is simply incoherent. The only feasible way in which additional powers could be "devolved" to cities by a Scotland Bill is to add local government to the list of things Holyrood can't legislate for under schedules 4 and 5 of the Scotland Act. That's the form of devolution Donald Dewar and his colleagues bequeathed to us in the 1990s, in framing the parliament's founding statute. It's logic is inescapable. What Matheson is - essentially - calling for is for local government to be re-reserved, and for Westminster to determine what form of local government is appropriate for Scotland, immunising Glasgow and its sister councils from unwelcome Holyrood interference. 

We're seriously at risk of conflating two different lines of thinking here. Is it desirable that Scottish local government should enjoy greater autonomy in some areas? Perhaps. There are certainly compelling arguments to be made. Interestingly, this is one of the few themes which Nicola Sturgeon has consistently referenced in her public remarks since the referendum result. Presaging what? Who knows? But it is not, I think, an insignificant choice of topic for the incoming First Minister to expend breath on. 

But the idea that powers should be "devolved" from Holyrood to local authorities by Westminster is a red herring. This could only be achieved by clawing back powers which the UK parliament willingly devolved when Holyrood was founded. It is one thing to agitate in the Scottish Parliament, and to remonstrate with the Scottish Government, for a different vision of local democracy in Scotland to be realised through ordinary legislation. It is quite another to ask for this aspiration to be inscribed, unalterably, in the Scotland Act by Members of Parliament in Westminster. But logically, that's what Glasgow civic leaders are pushing for. 

Is it "true devolution" to have the form and powers of Scottish local government decided by a faraway parliament in the imperial capital, depriving Holyrood of powers it has enjoyed since 1998 and for the foreseeable future? Pardon me, Mr Matheson, but colour me skeptical. 

3 November 2014

From beyond the grave...

Pack up your ghouls and your bogles, your Angry Salmond costumes and your terrifying Jim Murphy masks: Halloween, it is passed - but something else stirs from beyond the grave. It took its last breath at the end of June 2014 - but after being buried in the #indyref interregnum - the For A' That podcast is back on its feet and clawing through the clod, crying "brains, brains." 

For episode 46, I joined Michael Greenwell - as ever - and a brace of frumious Aberdonian cybernats in Gillian Martin and Doug Daniel - to chew the grey matter and and ponder the post-indyref zombie apocalypse, more than a month on from the fateful day, under its low sky

On today's menu, the surge in memberships of independence supporting parties: what does it presage? Is a Yes Alliance, a dominating part of the SNP deputy leadership pitches, a viable, desirable or effective political strategy? And which of the three candidates - Constance, Hosie or Brown - is to be preferred? Do we want a balanced ticket? Would it be helpful, in the coming conflict to have a Westminster-based deputy? Or would it send a powerful and desirable message to have two women leading the SNP? 

Over on the red benches, what are we to make of the tribal conflict in Scottish Labour, and which of the three would-be chieftains will drub their opponents and come out on top? And is Murphy really the credible, winning figure much of the press has painted him out to be? You can lend the show your lugs here.

Alternatively, you can download the show directly here, listen to it online at its web page or subscribe via iTunes.

31 October 2014

Ca' canny...

As Massie says, the results of yesterday's Ipsos-MORI poll are remarkable, with Labour polling at a grisly 23% to the SNP's 52% going into the General Election. The Tories languish on 10%, and the Liberals, 6%. Grim tidings for the beleaguered Liberal Democrats, hoping to hold on to some of their eleven Scottish seats. Worse for Ed Miliband, who can ill afford to lose bastions on its northward front. 

The poll doubtless has some significance. The next General Election campaign certainly represents an opportunity for the Nationalists to make gains, particularly if we see a differential rise in activism and enthusiasm and turnout amongst the disappointed minority who voted Yes on the 18th of September. But if your attention is fixed on Holyrood, it is easy to forget just how badly the SNP has done in recent Westminster general elections. But here are a few sobering facts we shouldn't allow ourselves to forget in the current ferment. 

The SNP hit its high watermark in Westminster support in the October election of 1974, winning 11 seats. Since, it has never exceeded six MPs. In 2005 and 2010, the SNP were the third party in Scotland,  in terms of seats won, We pipped the Liberal Democrats in the popular vote in 1997, 2001 and 2010 but lagged behind in seats. God bless first past the post. But that was more than a decade ago. The two most recent UK polls put the Nationalists in the vice, squeezed between Labour, the Liberals and the Tories. 

Despite BBC documentaries, asking why Scotland didn't vote for the Tories, in 2010 the SNP polled just 78,500 more votes nationally than David Cameron's party. Labour members were returned to Westminster with thumping majorities, but so were many Liberal Democrats in their enclaves. Take a few big names. Michael Moore won Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk with 45.5% of the vote, some 5,675 ahead of his nearest, Conservative competitor. Wee Danny Alexander took Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey with over 19,000 votes.

But what should disturb the attentive Nationalist more is how we far down the pecking order we fall - even in areas in which we are in contention for, and even win, in Holyrood elections.  The Scottish and UK parliamentary orders do not nearly graft onto one another. The constituency boundaries have, in many cases, diverged. But a few examples from the Liberal Democratic periphery should hammer home the point. Take Danny Alexander, up in the Highlands. The Liberal Democrats may have won the day with 40% of the vote - but in 2010, his nearest competitor was not the SNP, but the Labour Party, who won 10,407 votes to the Nationalists' 8,803. The point is made even more brutally by considering the constituency in which I grew up: Argyll and Bute.

A Liberal seat throughout my childhood, represented by the late Ray Michie and now by the near-invisible Alan Reid, after a 1997 surge, the SNP actually came fourth in the constituency in 2001, 2005, and 2010, behind the Liberals, the Tories and Labour. Compare and contrast with the constituency's preferences in recent Holyrood elections. Lib Dem George Lyon was turfed out by the SNP's Jim Mather in 2007. Mike Russell held it in 2011 with over 50% of the vote. The divergence in voting behaviour is striking, and in general elections, not to our advantage. 

Are these challenges insuperable? Most certainly not. But they are formidable, and should be treated and understood as formidable. The Labour wipe-out promised by yesterday's poll is unlikely to appear. There are gains to be made, and constituencies to fight -- but matching or narrowly exceeding the party's all-time high of eleven seats in 1974 would be a great result. We shouldn't lose sight of that, and the low base - both in terms of votes and seats - from which we spring.

It is essential that the SNP begins to clamp down on the overrunning expectations of sweeping Labour from its Scottish constituencies and running the map after 2015. Take this morning's bad headlines for Ed Miliband, enjoy a partisan chortle, but don't believe the hype. There's a gathering risk here of mismanaging expectations to the extent that even a good result for the SNP in the general election looks like a failure, or worse, a public reckoning for Nationalist hubris.

That's not a story Nicola will want to foster at this early stage in her leadership. We should learn the lesson of the over-spun local election campaign in Glasgow in 2012. While the leadership was telling the press that Labour's grip on the city looked precarious, on the ground, Labour were working like mad - in the last ditch - and the Nationalist campaign never had the same level of resources, focus, or enthusiasm. The results speak for themselves. Labour retained its majority in the city chambers, and justly gloated about the over-inflated expectations which had been stoked up. "SNP juggernaut grinds to halt." Etcetera, etcetera. We saw similar missteps in managing expectations in the 2008 Glenrothes by-election. It is a temptation which must be resisted going into 2015 too. 

Keep the heid. Consider the data. Ca' canny.

30 October 2014

Murphy expects: Ritual disembowelment?

Just a short and grubby blog today. With the news that Jim Murphy intends to enter the Scottish Labour leadership fray comes the intelligence that, according to the Guardian:
"Some senior colleagues believe that a Labour MSP who plans to retire in May 2016 from a safe Labour seat could be persuaded to stand down earlier and allow a byelection to take place on the same day as the general election in 2015."
Other newscasters are also reporting that Murphy himself seems to have raised the idea of a 2015 by-election in a Holyrood constituency in launching his campaign. The expection, presumably, that one of his more lumpen and loyal colleagues will helpfully commit political harakiri, sweeping the lugubrious Jim to Scottish office and allowing him to put questions to Nicola Sturgeon every Thursday going into the 2016 election. 

All I can say is: good luck with that one, Jim. Under Schedule 2 of the Scottish Parliamentary Pensions Act 2009, MSPs demitting office are entitled to substantial resettlement grants if they serve as sitting MSPs at parliament's dissolution but are not returned by the grateful electoral. And here's the nasty snag. If you demit office before your term as MSP is through, you forgo this payment. You "resettle" yourself through resignation, and must fend for yourself financially. Bill Walker won't have got a penny. 

And we're not talking about small beans, here. The rate of an MSP's grant is at least half their salary - and more if they've put in long service, where the formula is their years of service in the parliament divided by twelve and multiplied by 100 (up to a maximum of twelve years in hock). To pluck one example entirely at random, take Ken MacIntosh.

First elected in 1999, MacIntosh will have sat in Holyrood for 17 years by the end of the parliament's 2016 term. If the Eastwood MSP prostrated himself on Murphy's altar, and took one for the team, he'd be forgoing 100% of his annual MSP's salary in a generous payoff - about, what? - £58.000? Even the meanest Labour numpty, despatched to the Scottish Parliament accidentally in 2011, is entitled at least £29,000 - but only if they go into the 2016 Holyrood election still in office. What a wizard scheme. What noble sacrifice. 

So the question is this. Which Labour MSP is daft or loyal enough to let Jim Murphy pick their pocket of several thousand pounds for an early by-election?

Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his resettlement grant for his leader, as they say...

27 October 2014

Lost: Labour's love

I can understand those of you who feel a significant measure of cynicism about the Smith Commission process and its capacity to deliver meaningful new autonomy for Scottish institutions. I'm cultivating pessimism of the intellect, but optimism of the will. There are real gains to be secured here, but they will only be won by the deft application of political pressure, exploitation of our opponents' anxieties, and some cold-hearted lawyering.

It won't be an uplifting process. It can't really be participative. Given the tight timetable, the body is doomed to be dominated by the political parties, and in particular, by the aftermath of the Better Together coalition. That coalition is committed to delivering devosomething only, and nothing like the maximalist vision of autonomy articulated in the Scottish Government's submission to it.

The trick will be bridging that gap - to the advantage of the vision articulated by Nicola Sturgeon. The signs are not without promise on this score. The Vow stoked higher expectations, and seemed to suggest a commitment to more thoroughgoing change. The Tories have since characterised their proposals as a "floor not a ceiling." The Liberal Democrats have historically wanted to further than their allies, towards a federal Britain. Labour ... well, we'll come onto Labour in a minute.

These are green shoots, to be cultivated. But I can understand also why many folk approach that task without enthusiasm. The vernacular dominated many people's experiences of the referendum campaign. Folk got involved, felt emboldened. It was accessible, engaging, even exciting. Technical discussions about how Schedule 4 of the Scotland Act might be amended to extend Holyrood's social security authority while preserving Westminster's reserved prerogatives -- well, they light no bonfires in the soul.

The devolution debate can seem a colourless, lifeless thing by contrast to the lively days of late September. But the detail of what the Commission agrees will be of profound significance for how this country is governed, and what the Scottish Government and Parliament can and cannot do. If the case for independence was about achieving powers for a purpose, we cannot, credibly, be indifferent to an opportunity to redistribute those powers across the United Kingdom. If the case for self-government was rooted in a desire for greater self-government, we cannot treat an opportunity to achieve greater self-government like a sideshow. We may fail to secure what we want, but we cannot afford to be or to seem to be indifferent to the difficult questions which will animate Lord Smith and his fellow commissioners from the SNP, Labour, Green, Tory and Liberal Democrat parties.

If the wheeze is going to go anywhere, and achieve anything, it needs constructive suggestions from those of us who agitated in favour of independence before the 18th of September.  To that end, and with my academic hat on, today I sent this submission to Lord Smith, focussing on two areas which have already been highlighted on the blog: (a) securing greater autonomy for Holyrood in the field of social security and (b) giving permanent recognition in the Scotland Bill to the basic democratic principles, expressed in the referendum process, and accepted by the UK government.

This submission focuses more on the doable than the desirable, and offers a few detailed ideas about how these proposals could be realised in a new Scotland Bill. I caution you now. It isn't interesting, or uplifting. Ian Smart was complimentary earlier, in describing it as "very boring and very interesting at the same time." I hope so. It is practical-minded, narrow, focussed. There is no great rhetoric in it, or a smouldering first-principles case for maximum autonomy. The Scottish Government has already made that case effectively. Hopefully these more limited, and more achievable plans, can contribute usefully towards the discussion.

Heaven knows, the Commission could do with a helping hand. This weekend's developments shuffled another wild card into Lord Smith of Kelvin's deck. Behind the Brownite waffle, the "home rule" rhetoric and and the invocation of federalism, Labour are in a directionless mess. Nimble as ever, the party decided to submit their widely derided and watered-down proposals to the Commission entirely unamended last month. No updates, no restatement of more ambitious plans, zip.

While there are noises off, encouraging the party to embrace a more substantial platform of powers, it is far from clear who is calling the shots, or is to be persuaded, if Labour is to be coaxed into a bolder offer over the next thirty days. With the implosion of what might politely be described as Johann Lamont's "leadership" of the Scottish party, and the outbreak of internal factionalism, denials, turf wars and recrimination in Labour's ranks, it is far from clear who might be coordinating the party's response, or who is giving the party's two delegates to Smith - Iain Gray MSP and Gregg McClymont MP - their marching orders.  Nobody seems terrifically sure.

Labour hope to appoint a new leader by the 13th of December. The interregnum continues till then, under that hefty visionary and elder statesman, Anas Sarwar. On the current timetable, the Smith Commission hopes to cut a deal by the end of November: two weeks before the next chieftain takes over the stone bonnet and the flogging stool.

Perhaps the Eds hold the whip hand till then, as usual. Perhaps Sarwar. Perhaps any number of competing grey eminences, scheming for influence and power, behind the scenes, Will any of these people feel emboldened - or even entitled - to depart from or to elaborate on the party's lukewarm offer of last year? It is an open question. If the party looked vulnerable to stumbling blindly into a bear trap before Johann's ill-tempered departure, now without a leader, and without a plan, in their headless disarray, the pitch of the Labour Party's engagement with the Smith Commission is anybody's guess.

Will they retrench, stubborn and oppositional, clinging onto Westminster's welfare prerogatives for grim death? Will the nasty surprise of Lamont's departure focus minds on a more fundamental rethink? Can those of us advocating a more substantial level of autonomy be able to take advantage of their bewilderment, to railroad the reluctant?

There are everywhere snares and pitfalls -- and opportunities all too easily missed in the melee. I imagine it is difficult to focus on the detail of radical constitutional change when your footsoldiers are busy forming a circular firing squad. It is difficult to be strategic when your leadership decapitates itself, without even a credible puppet dauphin to plonk on the throne. Worse, in the very midst of a politically sensitive, time-pressured and internally fraught process. Every crisis is also an opportunity, as they say. But it remains to be seen which of Labour's warring tribes - the one keen on more devolution, the other deeply sceptical - owns that opportunity.

But Johann has lobbed a primed grenade - plop - straight into the septic tank. Take cover, comrades. The blowback won't be pretty.

26 October 2014

Angela Constance: "the SNP has to be large-hearted..."

And last but not least, after blogs from Keith Brown and Stewart Hosie earlier in the week, Angela Constance has composed this third and final peaty pitch for the SNP depute leadership position, on her ideas and vision for the party's post #indyref future. Here's what Angela has to say. For SNP members and interested observers both, I hope all three pieces have opened an interesting and constructive additional window into the three would-be deputies to Nicola Sturgeon. 

Much of the focus during the campaign to elect the SNP Depute Leader has been on how we should approach the 2015 election. I’m delighted to be offered this opportunity to explain my view more fully.

The first question to answer is: who is the ‘we’ in “how we should approach the 2015 election”?

For me this is fundamental. Politics in Scotland has been transformed from a minority sport, led by a small number of parties with, to varying degrees, centralised policy-making processes, to a mass participation sport, being driven forward by self-motivated, and until after the Referendum, largely unaffiliated people. 

Although many of those people have joined a political party in the aftermath, it would be a mistake for any of them to expect new members to simply fit into the style of politics they have traditionally pursued. These new members have been inspired by the Yes movement and its approach to politics and they are looking for a way to progress that movement. It would be a huge lost opportunity if, in welcoming these new members, the SNP did not change some of its practices to meet their aspirations.

So my vision of the SNP – my definition of ‘we’, if you like – is a mass membership party, which I intend to help mould into a mass participation party, whose conscience is the wider Yes movement.

The SNP must now think more in terms of leading a wider movement than monopolising it; it must consider the aspirations of a much wider community than it has previously. That wider Yes movement wants the co-operation and spirit of the Referendum campaign to be maintained. There is much to be considered for the longer term (seewww.angelafordeputy.scot for more) but in the immediate term, I believe the 2015 Westminster election gives us the perfect opportunity to do just that.

It would be very easy to be seduced by current UK poll subsamples showing the SNP comfortably ahead of Labour in Scotland. But we have been in a similar position many times in advance of Westminster elections. The Labour Party in Scotland excels at winning Westminster seats; their leadership travails demonstrate just how ruthlessly they pursue this; nothing, absolutely nothing, matters more to Labour than gaining power in London. If we do not somehow decouple the election in Scotland from the rest of the UK, our vote will be squeezed, as it always has been in the past, as the contest becomes a choice of which London party would be least worst in Government.

While I believe the SNP could win the popular vote in Scotland by ploughing a lone furrow, I have doubts that the margin of victory would result in any transformative shift in the relative number of MPs Labour and the SNP win. We have to think much more creatively.

By standing as part of a ‘Yes Alliance’ we will be making a bold statement that this election is not business as usual in Scotland. It will be a statement that this election is, for Scotland, about something greater than party politics and who forms a London Government. It gives a platform upon which the decoupling of the elections in Scotland and the rest of the UK can occur.

While the term ‘Yes Alliance’ is firmly embedded in our consciousness it is not entirely helpful. It accurately describes the long-term, strategic objective of keeping the Yes movement together and sustaining what has been built in the last two years. But it also gives the impression that we are simply attempting a re-run of the Referendum and that perception will be used (and is already being used) as artillery against us.

This can be countered by arguing that the tactical objective of ‘Yes Alliance’ MPs will be to secure the best possible settlement from Westminster. After all, who should the Scottish people trust to deliver for them; Unionist MPs bound to their London Whips and therefore compromised when a coalition agreement with UKIP requires Scotland’s aspirations to be set aside? Or ‘Yes Alliance’ MPs, with no allegiance to any potential party of Government in London and therefore able under whatever circumstances arise to press Scotland’s case to the fullest.

But there should be no stepping off the gas in the fight for Independence. Firstly, of course, because that is our purpose. But secondly because we know that if there is no real prospect of Independence then there will be absolutely no motivation for Westminster to devolve anything to Holyrood. If we can articulate this case, which was proved beyond any doubt by the final panic-ridden days of the Referendum, then we will have established the platform to continue to present the case for Independence while also acting as guarantors of the vow made to Scotland.

But this needs to be done properly. If we stand divided we will fall. If we start divided, we won’t get to our feet in the first place. In my view, any candidate that stands as part of the ‘Yes Alliance’ must stand under the same banner. This means sacrificing the primacy of the SNP, Green, SSP or whatever other label on the ballot paper. In my view ‘Yes Alliance’ may be the wrong identity for that banner. This can wait for another day though; the important thing is to get the various parties and individuals making up the Yes movement to sign up in principal.

The SNP has a huge responsibility in creating this alliance. Being by far the largest partner, we have a duty to lead. But this should not be confused with a mandate to monopolise. All partners and their members must be involved in determining the practicalities of how this alliance will work, such as the selection of candidates. But what a great problem to have; ensuring the involvement of so many committed Independence supporters.

It is clear to me that Westminster, in the context of a Scottish Parliament, can never be more than a tactical tool for the Independence movement. And our tactic for next year must be to drive as much power as we can from Westminster to Holyrood.

To do that we must unseat as many Unionist MPs from Scotland as possible and replace them with MPs who will not compromise their aspirations for Scotland, regardless of what Government emerges.

To do that we must decouple the Scottish element of the 2015 election from the election in the rest of the UK and press the argument that only ‘Yes Alliance’ candidates can be trusted to deliver maximum powers to Scotland.

To do that we have to establish a completely different premise to the standard party politics which will dominate the debate south of the border and which, if we don’t, will drown out anything that happens in Scotland.

To do that we have to field a single slate of candidates, calling on all the talents of the Yes movement and representing all demographics as equitably as possible.

To do that we have to embrace the new political reality of post-Referendum Scotland; the SNP has to be large-hearted enough to put short-term, narrow party interest to the side for the sake of what is best for Scotland in the immediate term and what is best for our cause in the long term.

Angela Constance MSP