Scottish independence: SNP are risking an Ally's Army-style disaster in 2021 – Kenny MacAskill

With the Scottish football team playing tonight, it’s a far cry from 1978 in Argentina and not just the absence of a crowd. They were heady days as Ally’s Tartan Army sallied forth to the World Cup and I confess to having enjoyed the journey; even though I ended up grieving along with the rest of the nation.

Thursday, 8th October 2020, 7:00 am
A triumphal send-off for Ally MacLeod and the 1978 Scotland team was not matched by the homecoming, despite a glorious victory over the Netherlands
A triumphal send-off for Ally MacLeod and the 1978 Scotland team was not matched by the homecoming, despite a glorious victory over the Netherlands

Ally MacLeod was a good manager and Scotland had a good team. They could have done well and certainly should have done better, even if winning the competition was, perhaps, always fanciful. Their undoing wasn’t a lack of ability or talent but lack of preparation. Numerous books I’ve read or stories I’ve since been told seem to have confirmed that.

It wasn’t just minor oversights, such as booking poor hotel accommodation for the travelling party, but major failings like failing to watch Peru play. In truth, the major fault was believing the hype and failing to plan properly.

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It’s because of what I suffered watching the fitba all those years ago that I’m worried about the current attitude of some in the SNP.

Polls have been good for the party for both the coming Holyrood election and in another Indy referendum – 50 per cent and even 60 per cent support for a party of government is truly remarkable and much is down to the First Minister’s excellent communication skills.

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A consistent lead for Yes in recent months is also heartening, though, truth be told, I’d have preferred the independence vote to be higher but when you’ve not being arguing for it, that’s hardly surprising.

But nothing can or should be taken for granted. In Quebec, the Yes vote in the second referendum had a seven to 14 per cent lead in the final two weeks but they lost by 55,000 votes. Other than death or taxes, nothing in life, let alone football or politics, is certain.

There lies the warning. Party preparation has been slack. Candidates are only now being selected when that should have been done months ago. Much policy is still to be devised and critical aspects for a future referendum have been left on the backburner.

Of course, tackling coronavirus has to be the priority but it’s a party that we’re talking about here and one which has huge numbers and resources. These aren’t fripperies or luxuries but the basics for winning an election and vital for another referendum.

Some have taken umbrage at criticism. “Wheesht for Indy” some have dubbed it. Just shut up, say nothing, don’t rock the boat and it’ll all come right on the night. So rather than the groundwork being laid, it’s selection battles being fought. Maneuvering for the SNP nomination, even crowdfunding to try and get it, rather than preparing for the real electoral contest, never mind the referendum we want to follow it.

That’s just not good enough and cannot be allowed to continue as the stakes are too high. So, as with Argentina, whilst welcoming the possibilities let’s not celebrate beforehand. Instead ensure that the preparation and planning that should have been done in 1978 are actually done for 2021.

Kenny MacAskill is the SNP MP for East Lothian

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