Angus MacNeil’s attempt to hold the SNP to ransom on the matter of independence has played out both predictably and rather entertainingly. After the SNP MP was suspended for a week over an unseemly public spat with Chief Whip Brendan O’Hara, MacNeil announced he would not consider seeking readmission to SNP ranks until October. Once the party’s autumn conference has taken place, MacNeil said that he will then decide whether the party has, to his satisfaction, redoubled its efforts to achieve independence.
MacNeil has taken a hostage. The only problem is that the hostage is himself — and party leader Humza Yousaf has no desire to pay the ransom. A vocal critic of the party’s leadership for years, MacNeil could send bits of himself in Jiffy bags to SNP HQ for weeks and Yousaf would remain unmoved. And anyway, his plan has already backfired. Instead of offering up assurances about the party’s dedication to the independence cause, the SNP revealed on Friday that the MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (the Western Isles) has been suspended from the party for refusing to rejoin the party’s Westminster group.
In most cases, one would see this as a straightforward case of an impatient nationalist martyring himself — though perhaps MacNeil genuinely thought the threat that he would withhold his talents from the SNP was a grave one. But has anything been achieved by this display of petulance?
What remains the case is that there is a small but vocal faction in the Scottish nationalist movement that cannot accept there is no quick and easy way to independence. These activists believe that there must be ways around the law that keeps the power to hold referendums with the UK government.