WELL, there you have it, folks – the SNP have more than 70,000 members. Still more members than all the other major political parties in Scotland combined. Commentators and conspiracy theorists alike will no doubt attribute this loss to whatever suits their agenda, but during a cost of living crisis, and through a global pandemic, every political party will have lost members. Many members of the SNP come from working-class households and at this time perhaps membership of a political party doesn’t come at the top of folk’s priorities when they face skyrocketing food and energy bills.

From my own experience of travelling around SNP branches, I have unfortunately seen too many occasions where some new, young party member attends a branch meeting full of hope and ideas only to have that enthusiasm knocked out of them by more “experienced” members. Unfortunate examples of the “old guard” and “new SNP” members having failed to gel as well as they should have.

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Let me be clear, we would not be where we are had it not been for the tireless work of the generations before us, but as with most things in life, a balance is required. In order to build on the success we have achieved, we have to be able to move with the times and listen to the next generation of campaigners. Every member of the SNP is equal but at times I see new members being discarded with comments like “I’ve done this for 40 years” or “you don’t know what it was like when we lost elections all the time”. All that sort of sentiment does is grate on someone keen to make a difference.

In my experience, most “new SNP” members are respectful of the past and understand fully that it wasn’t always big conferences in the SECC. Any membership decline should bring into focus that unless we want to go back to small conferences in Perth where everyone knew each other and their dog, then you need to let new members get involved and understand that sometimes they may well have the answer that no one has thought of yet. Fresh perspective is supposed to be the beauty of being a big party.

Ballots arrived on Monday for members of the SNP to vote for our new leader. What followed was outlandish conspiracy theories and claims of wrongdoing by the SNP from SNP politicians who should know better. Arguably, party headquarters could have avoided a stooshie by simply releasing the number of members when asked – but the hysteria that followed was just bizarre.

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People who are often not even members of the SNP touting claims of a rigged ballot should know that the SNP have used the Mi-Voice system for years. A system that is long established and used by trade unions and numerous other organisations alike. A system that has been used in every internal election in the last 10 years – before Nicola Sturgeon was even FM.

To question the integrity of a democratic election without any basis to do so is straight out of the Donald Trump playbook. The decision by both Kate Forbes and Ash Regan’s campaigns to bring the validity of the voting system into disrepute debases the whole party and has done nothing but hand opponents of independence more weapons to batter us over the head with. I am all for transparency, rigorous debate and making sure this process comes to a democratic conclusion, but the self-harm that has transpired this week, and the lack of judgement shown by some of our potential future first ministers, is embarrassing.

I have already made my position clear; I have voted for Humza Yousaf to be the next leader because he is the only candidate that has committed to build on our vision for an independent and progressive Scotland. Independence is not about any one person and never will be. Support for independence has held steady despite Nicola’s resignation. The next first minister will be no different in that regard. Independence is about raising the confidence of people in Scotland to demand better; to prepare people to take the leap to Scotland having the full powers of a normal independent country. We have made independence a mainstream idea in Scotland. There is a reason the vast majority of young people support independence, and that reason is that they see the progressiveness, dignity and fairness it empowers us to bring about. That vision has engaged them with the political process. Take that incentive away, and you destroy independence being the norm for future generations.

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It is suggested that we should vote for the next leader based on who is popular with non-SNP voters. That may seem sensible at first, but upon further inspection, it doesn’t hold. I can tell you who I’d want as Conservative or Labour leader, but that preference may not be driven by any desire to ever vote for them. We rightly lambast the Labour Party for becoming a pale imitation of the Tories in an attempt to win Tory votes and for abandoning their principles and shifting further to the right to gain power for the sake of power. It would be rank hypocrisy for us to do the same.

You cannot force people to support independence and nor can you impose it upon them – you have to convince them. Convincing happens by the content of what we say, not by who’s saying it. That requires long-term planning and strategic thinking. Building upon what has come before us whilst adapting to the circumstances of the day. Anyone selling you a shortcut to independence is conning you and themselves.