My political views have always tended to be fairly left-wing, but I have long been wary of the more radical left-wing parties. It is not that I necessarily disagree with their aims; it is their effectiveness that I doubt. I have never been a member of any political party other than the SNP; my view of the more radical parties is that of an outsider.
The more radical parties, being towards an end of the political spectrum, are inevitably smaller than the more centrist parties. It seems likely that they will attract people with very strong views on various matters, and strong views may lead to a clash of opinions. This often leads to these parties splitting, as satirised in ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’. There is a Communist Party of Britain, a Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee), a Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist–Leninist), and a Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist–Leninist). My impression is that this tendency affects far right-wing parties as well (British National Party, National Front, Britain First, English Defence League).
Another issue which affects radical left-wing parties is that of idealism. Of course idealism is good; it is essential for any left-leaning party. The problem arises when idealism becomes a quasi-religious zeal which leaves little room for pragmatism. Religious zealots sometimes become obsessed with details of religious rituals and obscure points of theology, and bitter disputes have arisen over differences which seem trivial to outsiders.
Apart from causing fissiparous tendencies, excessive idealism can leave little room for pragmatism, creating a mindset where no compromise is acceptable. The goals of the movement must all be achieved, and they must be reached in an ideologically pure way; otherwise, it is better for the struggle to continue forever. It is this mindset which leads to the assertion by some on the left that Scotland should show ‘solidarity’ with English people by continuing to suffer with them under Westminster governments which they have chosen.
In my view, a political movement should blend idealism with pragmatism. On the right, pragmatism outweighs idealism, leaving a moral vacuum which selfish creeds like Thatcherism to thrive. On the left, it is too often the case that pragmatism is in short supply, making left-wing parties worthy but ineffective.
This is why I am delighted that Tommy Sheridan has shown that he can combine pragmatism with his undoubted idealism by asking his supporters to vote for the SNP in the meantime.  He does not agree with many SNP policies, of course, but he recognises that independence would move Scotland closer to being the kind of society which he passionately advocates, and believes that achieving it must be given a very high priority.
Tommy Sheppard, former assistant general secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, has joined the SNP and has written an article on Bella Caledonia about reasons for doing so.  Both Tommies campaigned for a Yes vote, and are determined to continue the struggle for independence. One will be within the SNP, the other will be alongside it.
Remembering how the SNP faltered after the unsuccessful 1979 devolution referendum, the unionists probably hoped that a No vote, however it was obtained, would damage the SNP and rob the independence movement of its momentum and its passion. It is imperative that we prove them wrong, and keep up the pressure. In my view, the message to Westminster should be “Give us the powers that people were led to expect after a No vote, or give us another referendum – and whichever it is, deliver it soon.”
If Westminster does actually deliver significant, useable new powers to the Scottish Parliament, over and above those which have come out of the Calman Commission, then the referendum will have achieved something. Every power transferred from Westminster to Holyrood is a step in the right direction.
However, even if the UK Government is willing to deliver extra powers – something which is doubtful, to say the least – it may well be politically impossible to do so, because of opposition from a significant part of the English electorate, both to the very idea of more devolution and to the constitutional changes needed to make it work properly. Failure to deliver because of opposition from within the rest of the UK would not be an excuse; if the leaders of the unionist parties were unaware of the potential problems when they made their ‘pledge’, then they must be too politically incompetent to be fit to run a country.
The bargain offered at the last minute was extensive new powers, in return for a referendum outcome which would rule out independence for perhaps a couple of decades. If the unionists renege on their side of the bargain, they should not expect us to be bound by it. Already there are No voters who are realising that they have been misled by unionist ‘pledges’ that are unlikely to be met. They are angry, and that anger should be channelled in the right direction.
There are some people who are understandably weary and emotionally drained by the intensity of the referendum campaign and the disappointment of the outcome; they believe that the independence movement should drop any talk of a further referendum for the time being, and concentrate instead on arguing the case for further powers. However, Andrew Neil, himself a unionist, said some time ago that the only reason there was any talk from the unionist side of possible further devolution was the possibility of independence.
If the SNP and others who support independence were to rule out the possibility of another attempt at independence for a ‘political lifetime’, we would not be settling for the extra powers promised, but for nothing, or maybe even less than nothing, because we will have given away the only real bargaining counter we have. In the worst case scenario, this will be perceived as weakness and encourage the unionists to change the UK constitution to deny Scotland any right to self-determination, as has been proposed by Jack Straw.