Alex Bell is a former BBC reporter and presenter, a newspaper columnist and co-founder of allmediascotland.com. He was also Head of Policy to Alex Salmond, the former Scottish First Minister (2010-13). Since last September, Bell is editor at Rattle magazine (www.rattle.scot)
Anna Balcells - In your article “SNP Independence is dead-start again or shut up” (http://rattle.scot/snp-independence-is-dead-start-again-or-shut-up), you point out a shift in the SNP's purpose "from independence to being Scotland's party". Why is that? Has SNP's leadership realised that an independent Scotland wouldn't be economically viable? Or has it realised it is not strong enough to persuade more people to vote for independence?
Alex Bell - The SNP has won a lot of arguments about Scotland in the UK - that is, it has raised Scotland’s profile, driven the argument over the devolved parliament and then additional powers for that parliament-. But this speaks to a dark truth: the SNP is essentially a British party. It’s critique is of the UK, it enjoys office in the UK, it likes the influence of the UK (the SNP absolutely enjoys arguments over foreign policy and global influence). The referendum exposed the fact that the SNP doesn’t really have a critique of Scotland, but rather a sense of how Scotland has fared in the UK. The referendum also highlighted how the SNP argument has relied on the promise of a wealthy Scotland - its policy platform assumes there will be no cuts, no higher taxes and no greater borrowing-. This may prove to be a mistake. Supporters are deaf to the risk that Scotland will be worse off, when this is very likely. To be clear, Scotland won’t be poor and will still be among the rich nations, but just not as wealthy as within the union. The leadership know this, but have neither the courage nor the means to tell the supporters. Thus the leadership are aiming for the best possible devolution deal.
A.B. - If independence is not the main aim anymore, what are the SNP's new narrative and tactics, both in Westminster and in the next Scottish Parliament?
A.B. - The story is still the same: Scotland is poorly treated by London. This sense must be kept alive to justify the existence of the SNP. So now the SNP is the only defence against cuts from London -when in fact this isn’t true (Scotland could raise taxes but chooses not to)-. The tactics are to keep the sense of injustice alive, to govern conservatively in Scotland (keeping a broad swathe of voters happy), and to oppose the Tories in London by sounding left wing. Given the terrible state of the opposition parties, the SNP is likely to remain popular for a long time.
A.B. - After all the energies and debates of the 2014 referendum and after the unionist victory, what is the general mood in the Scottish public opinion? Do you guess some fatigue about the debate on sovereignty?
A.B. - There is tiredness. It’s as if people have tried to keep a really good party going, long after the fun stopped. Strangely, national debate almost stopped the day after the vote - there SNP has provided no new ideas, papers or speeches on the topic-. Starved of substance, Scottish politics are slipping into a coma.
A.B. - What future do you foresee for the independentist movement in Scotland?
A.B. - If you want independence, you have to answer some essential economic questions: what is the currency, what are likely borrowing limits, what then can we afford. Until the SNP finds someone brave enough to tackle this, the argument is stuck. In fact, the fear is a popular movement will demand independence when the leadership have done nothing to tackle the hard questions.