Exclusive: ex-chair of Scottish Independence Convention says SNP "needs all the help it can get"

Murray Ritchie, former chair of the Scottish Independence Convention, tells CommonSpace that Nicola Sturgeon is “going to have to be a bit more cooperative” with other pro-independence groups

MURRAY RITCHIE, the former chair of the pro-independence umbrella group the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) and former Scottish political editor of the Herald, has said that closer cooperation between the SIC and the SNP is desirable, but that Nicola Sturgeon needs to “open up and bring people into the tent”.

Following last week’s meeting between the first minister and the SIC at the SNP’s Edinburgh headquarters, both the SNP and SIC did not divulge any details of what an SNP spokesperson described to the National as a “constructive meeting”. An SIC statement echoed this, calling the meeting “positive and productive”.

Ritchie, speaking exclusively to CommonSpace yesterday, gave his opinion on the possibility of a closer working relationship between the SNP and SIC: “I think it’s desirable, and I think the SNP are coming round to seeing the benefit of a bit of collaboration.”

“I think the SNP are coming round to seeing the benefit of a bit of collaboration.” Murray Ritchie

Describing his time as chair of the SIC, Ritchie said: “I only lasted there a couple of years and was succeeded by Elaine C. Smith. Things have changed a lot since my day. Once my term of office was over, I backed away. By that time, I was retired and I had health problems, so I took a back seat and have remained in the back seat ever since.

“But I know, from what I hear, there’s a suggestion that the SNP are very jealous of the situation, of their control of the independence movement. But they’re now having to face the fact they need all the help they can get. I think Nicola (Sturgeon) is going to have to be a bit more cooperative with other forces that want the same objective.”

Responding to Alex Salmond’s recent suggestion that the SNP should contribute direct funding to the SIC, Ritchie was positive: “Anything that strengthens the force, anything that gives the independence movement a bit more influence and impact is all for the good. If they can find the money and spend it wisely and productively, that’s well and good.

“There are all sorts of disparate groups who want independence, but the SNP seem to see themselves as the self-appointed leaders – and they are, and always will be the main driving force. But it’s as well that they bring in the other groups with them.”

“Nobody knows what they [the SNP] want at the moment. She [Nicola Sturgeon] needs to open up and bring people into the tent, and the independence convention has a role to play,” Murray Ritchie

Describing the SNP’s current position on independence, Ritchie said: “Nobody knows what they [the SNP] want at the moment. She [Nicola Sturgeon] needs to open up and bring people into the tent, and the independence convention has a role to play, but it’s not a defined role. They organise events, they offer advice and aspirations, but they don’t have a specific role as yet.

“It would good if the SNP could get them to do something constructive, like organising rallies. But so far they’re not getting a lot of encouragement from the party, I think.”

Ritchie also noted that the relationship between the SNP and SIC has not always been untroubled. When Murray first joined the Independence Convention as its chair, “we set about trying to get organised and set ourselves some objectives,” he explains. 

“The main objective was to get the SNP government to go for a referendum. And while we were in the middle of doing that, the SNP government decided to do it. So we were shoving at an open door. At that point, the momentum ended up with Alex Salmond. The Convention got what it wanted without having to fight for it, and lost a bit of momentum.

“It’s never been the case that they [the SIC] wanted a high profile, they just wanted results. And if they could work away in the background and get results, then well and good.

“There are some people in it – real footsoldiers like Isobel Lindsay or David McCann and people like that - who worked tirelessly, but they were never looking for their name in the papers. And I think sometimes the SNP were maybe a wee bit ungrateful. Because at that time [when Ritchie was chair], they still thought they had a monopoly on independence.

“If the parliament loses its majority for independence, then the game’s a bogey until such time as it can get a majority back, and that won’t be easy.” Murray Ritchie

“The main thing about the convention is, it just wants to help. And I think for a while, it felt that the SNP thought they could tell it what to do, and the Convention weren’t about to fall into line.

“They just want the SNP to get on with the job of getting independence – not to fall out with them, but not to be their lapdog either. And I think Nicola has now got to face the fact that things aren’t exactly going swimmingly. If the parliament loses its majority for independence, then the game’s a bogey until such time as it can get a majority back, and that won’t be easy.”

Picture courtesy of the First Minister of Scotland

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