Alex Salmond interview: Labour can learn from SNP’s “grassroots” politics

Former first minister suggests SNP success due to stronger connection with activist base

FORMER First Minister Alex Salmond has suggested that the SNP offers an example of a "grassroots" politics from which the Labour Party can take lessons as it seeks to pursue a "politics of hope".

In an exclusive interview with Alex Salmond for CommonSpace and Novara Media, the former first minister was asked about why Labour’s Remain campaign failed in England. He said: “If you assume that Jeremy Corbyn was sincere in his advice on the EU referendum then you saw a disconnect in England – that element of natural labour party supporters were not persuaded to vote for Europe.”

He contrasted this with the result in Scotland: “I’ve been trying to work out if there’s been any other pro-immigration party that commands 50 per cent of the vote in western Europe. I don’t think there is one.”

“I suspect not many people, even in the Corbynista collective, believe that they’re going to see the sort of socialist system that they advocate achieved anytime soon.” Alex Salmond

The intervention comes after a series of historic set-backs for the Labour Party, with the party losing 40 of its 41 MPs at the General Election , coming second to the Tories in Holyrood this year, and continuing to trail the Tories in UK-wide opinion polls.

Salmond attributed the difference in England and Scotland to the promise that he thinks his party holds out for people: “It’s possible for political leaders to retain trust if they retain a connection. For people who voted Yes in Scottish referendum of 2014, many in the category of people looking for signs of hope and belief in the political system. The SNP provides an example of how it’s possible to pursue a goal which is a radical goal of course and still connect with the grassroots.”

Reflecting on the disconnect between the Parliamentary Labour Party and its membership, he said: “Tensions between a parliamentary party and a party in the country are not unusual. [But] I’ve never seen a position [with] a leader connected with the activist base and somewhere uncomfortably in the middle are the parliamentary party. I’ve never seen this kind of sandwich effect before.”

The grassroots membership group, Momentum, was set up following Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership campaign last summer. The group’s stated aim is to “build on the energy and enthusiasm from the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader Campaign to Labour become the transformative governing party of the 21st century”. Critics in the Parliamentary Labour Party, however, have denounced it for bullying.

He added that such a situation would be unlikely in the SNP, because elected representatives are more closely connected to the grassroots: “Although a number of the SNP parliamentarians at Westminster are new to party politics, the vast majority have spent time out campaigning, so there’s much more of a connection between the parliamentary party and the activist base.”

The former first minister suggested that the “very defined” goal of Scottish independence contributed to SNP unity: “The other great advantage the SNP has, unlike people in the Labour Party, is that the SNP has a very defined goal of Scottish independence, a principle, that the vast bulk of people in the party believe can be achieved. I suspect not many people, even in the Corbynista collective, believe that they’re going to see the sort of socialist system that they advocate achieved anytime soon.”

Read more: Chilcot, Corbyn and Britain's constitutional crisis - Alex Salmond in conversation

Read more: Alex Salmond interview: Cameron's EU referendum policy was 'disastrous'

Picture courtesy of: Flickr / Ciaran Norris

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