Iain Lawson is a man with a fulsome history of the SNP, someone worth listening to for an hour’s chin wag if you met him in a pub for the first time. With his gravel laden voice adding weight to his presence, a heavy duty tractor gouging furrows in a fresh field, the listener is soon beguiled by his tales of Scotland’s bewildering capacity to spoil the crop before it has ripened.
He was an SNP member many years, serving on the SNP’s national council for twelve years, something of a record in the context of the NEC’s recent troubled times where new members come and go through revolving doors. Lately, thoroughly disillusioned with Scotland’s politics as advanced by the leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon, he switched to the ALBA party after considerable inner debate.
This site receives a fair number of unsolicited requests to publish articles of others, sometimes I do the contacting. Not having an opinion on everything, I am happy to offer space to people with something relevant and informative to say about Scotland’s political malaise, particularly if they speak from the heart as well as the head. Here, Iain Lawson gives an honest account about the rise of the SNP and the conflicts that tore him apart, so to speak, and why he believes he wants Scotland’s independence reinstated far more than the SNP.
WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?
by Iain Lawson
I was so proud when my generation delivered the Scottish Parliament back in the 1990’s. At a stroke we had become a success. We had advanced the fight for full Independence a country mile. We had provided a platform where Scottish politics could for flourish and focus minds on what matters to our people. Unlike generations before we had concrete evidence of progress. Not for us a lifetime’s effort and little or nothing to show for it. Watch us go now we thought.
Initially progress was cautious Scottish Government’s formed by coalition between Labour and the Liberals kept things running as before. Yes there are more nationalists there but the electoral system, thus far, had operated as intended and there was no sign the system would ever let the SNP into Government. The Parliament was awash with funding, so much so Jack McConnell thought it easier to return many millions to the Treasury in London rather than come up with constructive ideas on how to spend it in Scotland. Quite astonishing! The housing crisis must have been solved, just nobody knew or had noticed.
Then came 2007 and the SNP shocked Scotland through becoming the biggest Party in the election. By one seat. They had no majority mind but that maverick Alex Salmond claimed victory in the election and announced he intended to run a minority Government. The Unionists, still stunned by this SNP advance only offered a confused opposition and before anyone could do anything Alex Salmond became First Minister.
Now this is where the genius emerged, Alex recognised that the numbers left him vulnerable all the time so he had to come up with a defence. It was brilliant, he decided Scotland would have an innovative, active, popular Government and with machine gun speed introduced a host of popular policies.
After years of Lab/Lib Lethargy here was a very positive contrast that the people could get behind. All of a sudden all talk of overthrowing the SNP government disappeared, the more so after the Tories, at the time led by the astute Annabel Goldie, recognised an opportunity, particularly at budget time, to advance funding for some Tory priorities. As these often related to law and order or education, they were largely non contentious so it rarely proved a problem. The effect of this however was to remove the Lib Dems from their last role of significance in Holyrood. While in coalition with Labour they always enjoyed a few weeks of prominence when budget time came along and they could do a deal to win some concessions from Labour. Now they were out the loop entirely, an irrelevance!
No wind in their sails
Labour were in the doldrums, not quite believing they were out of power for the first time, they were fraught with internal conflict as they tried to overcome the shock. In the public mind neither the Labour or Liberals looked Government material so no alternative to Salmond’s Government remained. He had successfully overcome his vulnerability but it still remained crucial his Government governed well and remain popular at all times. He would dare the opposition to try and topple him and exact a terrible price if they did.
These were the golden years of the new Scottish Parliament. How proud we all were of this great success. Many found it unbelievable, a successful Scottish Government. It couldn’t get any better than this, but it could and did.
Beating a loaded system
In the 2011 election the SNP received the accolade their years of good government deserved and they overturned the electoral system that was specifically designed to ensure no single Party could win a majority and they managed a one seat majority, thanks to a verging on miraculous combination of circumstances that delivered an always thought impossible overall majority of one seat.
With Alex Salmond as First Minister he knew we must make the most of this opportunity and he instantly put in process the events which led to the first Independence Referendum which was held in September 2014. During an imaginative campaign support from Independence soared from 28% to 45% and we were on the point of victory until the last minute “vow” saved the day for the Union. It was heartbreak for many but also a pride that we had run such an excellent campaign.
That pride reached new levels when the reaction of the Scottish people emerged. Beaten? Never! Membership of the SNP doubled and then trebled, and then quadrupled, continuing to climb to over 120,000 people.
The best of inheritances
That is the inheritance Nicola Sturgeon enjoyed as she stepped onto the stage at the crowded Hydro Hotel. Confidence was at record levels now we can finish the job. The 2015 General Election came quickly with the SNP sweeping all before them winning an astonishing 56 out of 59 seats. Now we will see action. When do independence discussions start?
Alas, this turned out to be the high point for our hopes.
Gradually Nicola changed the personnel introducing her friends, mainly female to cabinet. Independence slipped off the radar as did most new ideas, it became a managerial emphasis rather than new policies. Government slowed down. The 2017 General Election was a huge disappointment, ignoring the wishes of the membership Independence did not feature in the campaign at all. The core Independence support found it all very underwhelming and 500,000 stayed at home leading to a big loss of seats.
Shortly thereafter the Brexit crisis was well underway as Nicola sought to save England from their folly. Brave fighting words and promises about not tolerating Scotland being dragged out the Single Market against our wishes. You would see, when that became inevitable Nicola had a “Secret plan” that would kick in and we would soon be free. Do you remember these days? The condemnation anyone attracted who suggested the “secret plan” was a fallacy?. Trust Nicola, that is all it took and with one bound we would be free.
Of course we know now there was no secret plan, there had never been one. What we had just witnessed was a bit of classic delay politics. Just you wait indeed!
Neverending road blocks and tolls
We have waited through the Brexit marathon, followed by Covid being over, more recently extended to the “effects of Covid being over” all the time the British Government are reducing the powers of Scotland, closing down our options, introducing. Plans to sideline Holyrood by financing Councils and projects directly. One sided waiting carries big penalties I am afraid.
Opportunities are missed daily, no confrontation over closing borders, no fight to stop powers being stripped while introducing hugely controversial and downright dangerous laws like GRA and the very dangerous Hate Crime Bill that attacks the very tenets of Freedom of Speech, alongside malicious prosecution of political rivals and opponents, squandering huge amounts of taxpayers cash following personal vendettas.
SNP lost their way? For sure. On a very wrong and dangerous path? Without doubt. Unlike Alex Salmond, our First Minister has created a Government of pals, some, most would say most, of dubious ability and it is increasingly becoming very obvious.
Jobs for the boys, but mostly the girls
Covid out of control, education in the hands of a particularly poor minister, likewise moving the disaster that is Humza from Justice where he presided in our Justice System plummeting to a lower reputation than any thought possible before, with evil and wrong prosecutions resulting in huge compensation being paid to the victims, and with more to come, promotion to Health does not auger well for that Department either.
So many mistakes, such evil manipulation of power, such irresponsible squandering of taxpayers cash trying to settle personal jealousies has created the situation where a man like myself who was publishing loyal fulsome praise about Nicola Sturgeon urging people to be patient and give her the opportunity to honour her word as recently as at the start of 2019 now finds that trust betrayed, praying for the day when she and her entourage are gone and have been replaced by people who stay true to the goal of full Independence.
Who can replace the shame I feel for trusting her for so long and not recognising earlier that she has no intention of ever taking Independence forward if it risks her current power base. Too comfortable by half I regret to say.
I wanted to believe but it is madness to ignore the evidence. She shows no inclination never mind urgency, her Government and Party have ignored the need for preparation and progressing the Independence message. A series of internal moves has wrested control of the Party from the members and handed it over to a totally incompetent and misguided clique that controls the NEC who have removed any ability for members of branches to influence any event. The planned loss of National Council has effectively removed any ability for members to hold the elite clique to account. As money is raised until false pretences and spent on items not outlined in the financial appeal, the Party faces big credibility issues when next additional funds are required.
There is no vigour, no direction or vision, or planning. Activists are leaderless and mystified at the lack of campaigning materials or organised events. They know the Party now has an army of full time paid professionals, some with big salaries but all they see is the division between the payroll members and the volunteer membership widening by the day.
We should have all been more vigilant about this, it should never have been allowed to develop as it did but we wanted to trust, to believe. We found it hard to believe that our colleagues had a different agenda to progressing Independence.
We know now and for that error in judgement I am very sorry. I must confess to considerable anger that having being handed such a golden inheritance it has been allowed to be squandered as it has. I now doubt I will see Independence in my lifetime and that is a bitter pill to swallow. It will however not stop me trying, politics can change swiftly and nobody knows the future.
All we can do is hope and that has become a full time job for me these days.
Iain Lawson worked in banking and sales administration before creating his own pest control business in Scotland in 1979. It grew to become the biggest Scottish owned pest control company in the country. It then took over the state controlled pest control department in Estonia and a few years later also expanded into Cyprus. Iain sold these businesses in the last few years in advance of his full retirement in 2018. He also acted as the Development Director in both the Baltic’s, the UK and Ireland on a consultancy basis for Rentokil plc for six years.
He was in the Conservative Party before he joined the SNP in 1986, being the Chairman of the Conservative Party Parliamentary Candidates Association. He left in 1986, one of the nine men who walked from Gartcosh to London in defence of Scottish Steel. He has contested two by elections, Garscadden in 1978 for the Tories and Paisley South in 1990 for the SNP. He contested General Elections in Garscadden 1979, Dumbarton 1983, Stirling 1987 and Paisley South 1992. In every case, irrespective of Party, he improved his party’s standing.
He joined the SNP IN 1986 and after being member for about eighteen months was elected to the NEC. He was also the Executive Vice Convener in charge of Administration and Fundraising. He has held numerous posts including being spokesperson for Steel, Trade and Industry, Transport and served on the NEC for almost twelve years. He left politics in Scotland after he invested his life savings in Estonia and shortly afterwards he was appointed as the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Estonia in Scotland, a post he held for fifteen years until his retirement in 2018. He now comments on Scottish politics through his blog Yours for Scotland. He lives in Paisley, Scotland, with his wife Celia, who is a former Provost of Renfrewshire.