HAVING just cast my vote to elect the seventh different party leader since joining the SNP 58 years ago in the days of Arthur Donaldson, and since yesterday on my 75th birthday I informed my family of my decision to stand back from an activist role in party politics, I thought some might be interested in what has influenced me to vote for Kate Forbes.

I want to achieve Scottish independence as soon as possible, and ideally I want to live to see it. I don't get overly concerned about short term fluctuations in support, but I do get deeply concerned about our cause and the type of party we should be.

In all my years a cornerstone has been a belief in a democratic route to independence and to a healthy democracy within. The party has always had robust debate about policies and strategy and rightly so. Rigorous debate and challenge are how effective policies and strategies emerge. Holding office bearers to account at national councils as well as conference was always an important part of party governance. It never needed to be said that the members of the party were sovereign and that their role in policy development was critical. We had a shared responsibility.

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The National:

We have made great strides. But I have been dismayed by some of the developments in recent times. I have never known a time of such intolerance in the party, of people substituting ad hominem attacks for robust debate, of a lack of respect for the members who need to do the hard yards of campaigning, of a belief that only one view should be allowed to prevail and be respected. Whichever side of the argument your opinions may lie, I defy anyone to say we had a healthy, open and robust debate over the recent gender recognition legislation. And it’s not the only topic where there has been a lack of effective debate and where a few believe they are the font of all wisdom.

The rise of so-called identity politics bringing with it all the traits of authoritarianism is of course not unique to Scotland. But it needs to be resisted. There is nothing progressive about authoritarian approaches. We need to have open democratic debate, where amongst other things free speech is treasured. Free speech of course means we need to value the contribution of opposing opinions, not close them down let alone the obscenity of threatening expulsion.

The National: Kate Forbes

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The strength of character and openness of Kate Forbes after the most vicious abuse, at times bordering on sectarian attitudes, has won my admiration. However that of course is far from enough to be someone who can lead us to independence.

For years, I have long argued that if we truly believe in independence we should be preparing for it. It’s what I learned working in newly independent countries. In many cases many years were spent building up the capabilities and capacity for independence. We need to be devising plans for a Scottish civil service, to create financial and environmental regulatory frameworks, to reform our tax system, ensure effective land reform, and making our public sector bodies ready for independence. We need to change and be more ambitious.

I have always seen devolution as a stepping-stone to independence, never an end in itself. We need to be more ambitious in how we use devolution to make the case for independence, to serve the people well, but at the same time raise their eyes up and see the better future we could create together.

I also want us to face a harsh reality. We are not going to dream our way to independence. We have yet to win the economic argument amongst those who are not yet supporters of independence, but are persuadable. We have been talking to each other (in too many instances abusing each other) too much and not engaging with our fellow citizens who are yet to be persuaded. We wont persuade anyone by lazy thinking or glib promises let alone abusive language. That’s another reason I like what Kate Forbes has been offering. She doesn’t want to insult those with a different view but rather to engage and persuade. It’s how we have made progress over the years.

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But she won’t do it alone. I know she is committed to bringing in all the talents in the party to help prepare for independence. We should have been doing it ever since we were forming a government at Holyrood, but as the saying goes, it’s never too late.

I also want to see us practice what we preach. As a party we rightly demand of other organisations that they have the highest standards of governance - we should be no less demanding on ourselves. When I was on the NEC a couple of years ago, I failed to win the case for openness, transparency, reform and good governance. But because I lost then does not mean I don't think we can do it. I think the basic standards of decency and openness displayed by Kate Forbes, together with the authority that comes with being elected leader, gives us every chance of bringing much better governance to the party.

Others are entitled to their choice of leader of course, and as in the past I will respect the choice of the members. My choice however has become increasing clear over recent weeks which is why I voted for Kate Forbes.