Sometimes political parties emerge from mass movements - the party is created to serve the mass movement, e.g. The Labour Party.
Sometimes a mass movement appears within a political party, for example. Trumpism within Republicanism.
Sometimes politicians create a mass movement and call the result a party – e.g. Farage and UKIP.
Some political parties have never been mass movements, but were created by a motivated minority to serve their core political and policy objectives.
I’m not a political analyst or historian, so there are doubtless many other categories – and some may challenge those above and the examples offered.
But my point is this in relation to Scottish Indy politics, autumn 2016: the SNP did not create the YES Movement but, to a significant degree, the YES Movement created the SNP’s staggering electoral success and mass membership from late September 2014 and the position it holds now.
The reality is that the SNP created over decades the climate for YES, created its precarious minority government in 2007, and by its boldness - Alex Salmond’s boldness – gave form, meaning and hope to an inchoate desire for independence among many hitherto non-politicised Scots, and a focus and direction to the egalitarian, republican aims of the smaller socialist parties and to many activists within the other parties.
To a very large degree, the exponential growth of YES after May 2007, culminating in the SNP’s landslide victory in May 2011 was a pleasant surprise to the party, and its growth and diversity during the 2013/2014 Referendum Campaign a source of delight, tempered by some apprehension and not a little confusion, both manifesting themselves in YES Scotland’s difficulties and successes.
The explosion of YES and SNP membership after September 18th 2014 astonished the SNP and owed little to SNP HQ and everything to the spontaneous reaction of the Scottish YES electorate to defeat. The SNP were unprepared for it – they capitalised rapidly on the popularity of the new Leader, Nicola Sturgeon by mass rallies and Conferences and by the 2015 Election Manifesto launch for the 2015 General election but were totally unprepared for the impact of mass membership on the branch structures, failed, and are still failing to capitalise on that unique opportunity.
Despite reaping the huge benefits of May 2015 and May 2016 electoral success, the Party shows little signs centrally of understanding the twin phenomena that have so dramatically elevated their profile and standing in UK politics: the election of a truly exceptional leader with a new and unique kind of political charisma, Nicola Sturgeon – and the acquisition of a new kind of member/ follower – the True Believer.
Unless SNP HQ and the party managers reach a better understanding of how to deal with this unique mass movement, improve their communications through the lynchpins of branch structures with them, and acknowledge the debt they owe to the non-party organisations and social media activists and groups that do know how to communicate with them, the Party will experience another very auld Scottish phenomenon – the melting of snaw aff dykes.
Promulgating a grand narrative of caution, long-term gradualism and adaptation to existing constitutional power structures, however politically justified, to a mass movement consisting significantly of impatient true believers in a time of rampant UK, European and global uncertainty and near-chaos runs very obvious risks.
Maybe more tomorrow …