The big loser of today’s no confidence vote

As expected the Scottish Government has survived the Labour vote of no-confidence brought forward by Anas Sarwar seeking to opportunistically capitalise on the collapse of the Bute House Agreement between the SNP with the Greens. The Greens had already signalled that their beef was with Humza Yousaf and had been mollified by his resignation on Monday and had said that they were not going to bring down a pro-independence government, this decision rendered the outcome of today’s vote a foregone conclusion. The other vote of no confidence scheduled for this week was the Scottish Tory vote of no confidence in Humza Yousaf, that vote was rendered moot by his decision to resign on Monday and on Tuesday it was announced that the Tory motion of no confidence would not go ahead.

This blog has always maintained a policy of not criticising other pro-independence parties, we have an entire Scottish media which is dedicated to little else apart from attacking the parties and prospects of Scottish independence, however I cannot allow the decision of Ash Regan, Alba’s sole MSP, who was herself elected on an SNP ticket, to vote alongside Labour and the Tories pass unremarked.

Alba supporters will claim that Ash Regan was making a symbolic protest vote in the full knowledge that her vote was not going to risk bringing down a pro independence Scottish government, and so it was safe for her to vote the way she did in the hope that it might have served as a wake up call to the SNP. But politics is about much more than the arithmetic of parliamentary votes, it’s also about how things look. Those Alba apologists for Ash Regan voting alongside Douglas Ross and Anas Sarwar need to ask themselves whether making a symbolic and ineffectual protest vote was really worth the dreadful optics of an independence party voting together with the Better Together parties to bring down a pro-independence government primarily over an issue which has nothing to do with independence.

Already on social media Alba is being castigated as the latest addition to the Bitter Together coalition. That’s a dreadful look for a party which has always claimed that it centres itself on the pursuit of independence in a way which it asserts that the SNP and the Scottish Greens do not.

Alba and its supporters have always accused the SNP and the Greens of prioritising, indeed being ‘obsessed with’ issues other than achieving independence. Ash Regan just did exactly that, she demonstrated an obsession with issues other than independence. It would have been perfectly understandable for her to say that she could not in good conscience have voted to support a government and party which she herself had resigned from. Her vote was not going to make a difference anyway given the decision of the Scottish Greens to vote along with the SNP. If she had merely wished to register a symbolic protest she could have abstained, and not be seen to have actively sought to bring down a pro-independence Scottish Government. That would have allowed her to demonstrate her lack of support for the policies of the Scottish Government in a principled way without anyone casting aspersions on her undoubted commitment to Scottish independence and without being castigated for actually doing something that Alex Salmond was recently castigating the Greens for threatening to do in a “fit of pique”, voting with the Tories.

However Ash Regan didn’t merely abstain, she actively voted alongside the Better Together parties, two of which have views on the social issues she cares so deeply about which are far more similar to those of the SNP and the Greens than they are to her own or Alba’s. That begs the question – just what point was she trying to make? The optics of her vote was that she made herself look as though Alba is primarily motivated by a hatred of the other pro independence parties, that is absolutely not how to go about building bridges and healing the divisions in the wider independence movement.

Voting with the British nationalist parties which deny Scottish democracy is not a move which is going to do Alba any favours amongst the SNP supporters whose votes the party must attract if it is ever to escape the doldrums of registering in low single figures in opinion polls and to actually have a chance of getting one of its candidates elected on their own merits under the Alba banner. Today’s vote has made that prospect more remote. The already slim chances of Alba negotiating an electoral pact or understanding with the other pro independence parties have now evaporated completely. Alba stands revealed as a party whose hatred of the SNP and the Scottish Greens trumps all other considerations.

What makes her vote even less comprehensible is that Humza Yousaf could very well be replaced as First Minister by Kate Forbes, a woman whose views on controversial social issues are far more closely aligned with Ash Regan’s.

The SNP has had a torrid time over the last few weeks but today the big loser is the Alba party. It had an opportunity to exert some real influence with a magnanimous gesture last week when Humza Yousaf was scrabbling about for support in the votes of no confidence. The SNP leadership and hierarchy might not have reciprocated, but ordinary SNP members and the wider independence movement would have taken grateful note of Ash Regan’s support and that would have given Alba a much needed boost in the estimation of the ordinary independence supporters whose votes Alba must court.

Instead Alba massively overplayed its hand, ended up with nothing, and now it has severely damaged its already battered reputation amongst grass roots SNP supporters, some of whom are already taking to social media to say that they cannot in good conscience give their second preference vote to a party which voted alongside Labour and the Scottish Tories to bring down a pro independence Scottish Government. Alba was the big loser of today’s no confidence vote.


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