Former Scottish Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Keith Brown, who recently became the SNP’s Depute Leader has been moved to a full time role which will focus on getting the SNP “campaign ready”. Make no mistake about it, this announcement means Keith Brown has just been appointed the Minister for Independence in all but name.
In the SNP press release covering the move, it stated he would become the “Standing campaign director for the SNP – with responsibility for policy development, preparation for future elections and building the case for Scotland to become an independent country”.
That’s all fairly clear then, and I wouldn’t normally quote from an SNP press release but it seems some journalists, even when having it spelt out for them, just don’t seem to be able to comprehend the reality. The World Cup puts me in the mood for a footballing analogy – 2014 was just the first leg and despite the Union taking a 1-0 lead, they have since scored half a dozen embarrassing own goals, and the independence team looks likely to take a significant tactical advantage into the second leg, and win.
Keith’s move is a promotion not a demotion, as anyone who has a basic understanding of the independence movement and the motivations of those of us that dedicate our lives to the project would know.
On form, Tom Gordon was the first to get it totally wrong when he wrote “Keith Brown first casualty of Sturgeon reshuffle”. The Herald’s “anti-independence editor” has tried to frame the move as a demotion but that is the wishful thinking on behalf of a bitter political writer who seems to descend into little more than a Unionist pamphleteer at times.
Chris Green, Scottish Editor of “The i” did much better. In an article titled “Keith Brown leaves post to focus on independence” he quoted Nicola Sturgeon: “Keith’s decision to be a dedicated Depute Leader will enable him to steer the party’s policy development, engage and motivate our expanded membership, get us ready for future elections, and develop the case for independence.” Simple.
Mark Hendry and Chris Musson also got it right in the Sun – “Nicola Sturgeon has moved Depute Leader Keith Brown to campaign director tasked with ‘building a case’ for Scottish independence.” This is the news story but some have wilfully missed it.
I checked to see if The Scotsman was still going (only half joking) and found Tom Peterkin also called it a demotion. That said, he did change a quote from me recently that “BfS were redoubling our push for independence” to “redoubling our push for separatism” – so such negative framing is also just par for the course.
The justification for attempting to frame Keith’s move (to what is probably his dream job) is justified by the fact that to begin with, when he announced his candidacy for Depute Leader, he did suggest he could do both jobs. However, since then Westminster’s Brexit omni-shambles and blatant power grab have moved independence back up the SNP’s agenda.
The fact that the FM and Keith have agreed that he has to work full time on campaigns is the clearest signal yet that the SNP is seriously planning on using their triple mandate to call a new independence referendum before the next Scottish election.
Sure, he will be able to work on getting his party ready for a snap general election if need be, but such a contest looks unlikely as no-one really benefits from a snap general election. Someone needs to think they will win to seek to defeat the UK Government and force a general election and no-one really wants to replace May till Brexit is done. May herself knows she will not get a majority and it would destroy the Brexit timeline.
So the focus of Brown’s role is twofold: 1) To hone the case for independence and heighten the SNP’s organisational and campaigning capacity. 2) To improve membership engagement which has been a problem since the membership soared in 2014.
I am not an SNP member but from the outside looking in I think Brown’s closest competitor for Depute Leader (Julie Hepburn who won 45% of the votes) had a big say in the SNP refocussing the role and generating more of a sense of urgency around independence.
Julie’s simple message that they need to lay the foundations for the next independence campaign now struck a powerful cord with the SNP’s grassroots, certainly helped reset the agenda with in the SNP and they would be well advised to find a meaty role for her in the process.
Brown will now manage the national roadshow engaging people, trade unions and business organisations to refine (or should we say cherry pick) the Sustainable Growth Commission report (SGC), add the wider policy platform to it and significantly strengthen the case for independence in comparison to the post-Brexit British nationalist alternative.
The SGC has made independence more acceptable to conservatively minded “potential yes voters”. However, Brown has a tough balancing act to perform between showing the more timid that that they have nothing to fear as a cautious economic approach will be in play, and satisfying the aspirations of those independence supporters who are more radical – old-fashioned socialists, or modern pluralists like myself.
Brown will have considerable assets at his disposal as in 2017 the SNP set up an Indyref 2 fundraiser, which was taken down in the face of the snap general election having raised almost half its target of £1m.
So Keith will inherit a war chest of £482,000 that has been ring fenced and earmarked for fighting the next independence referendum. Now the SNP can spend that money as they see fit.
So preparing an updated case for independence, voter engagement (pre-referendum), and contributing to help create a network of paid non party local Yes group organisers would very much be valid expenditure, especially as it wasn’t just SNP members but many from the wider movement that contributed to the size of that war chest.