The news today in the Scottish press is dominated by Stu Campell’s proposal for a new pro-independence party. Apparently the musings of a pro-indy blogger are the most important thing to happen in Scotland today. Well who knew? Perhaps the BBC might even start interviewing pro-indy bloggers now. Or maybe not.
The first I knew about this idea was when it was published in his interview with Kenny Farquharson in The Times. As far as I am aware it’s not a concrete proposal, but more a solo kite flying exercise on Stu’s part. It’s simply an idea he has thrown out there for discussion.
Yet even as a kite flying exercise, the proposal has of course produced the entirely predictable slew of headlines in the anti-independence press about splits in the Yes movement. Because a half-articulated notion – it’s not even well formed enough to count as a plan – from a single politics blogger is far more important than the melt-down in the Labour party, the irrelevance into which Ruth Davidson’s Vote Ruth Davidson For More Ruth Davidson Party has been consigned by Boris Johnson, or the ever increasing mutual contempt which characterises the relationship between Scotland and the Conservative Government. So just today in the Herald we have a Tom Gordon hit job story entitled Wings over Scotland blogger attacks SNP and Greens in Yes movement split, and the anti-independence columnist Mark Smith opining How a Wings Over Scotland party could turn Yes to No. Meanwhile over in The Scotsman we have Wings Over Scotland: New pro-independence party could challenge ‘far left’ Scottish Greens.
Unfortunately this chorus line of headlines is not an indication of the true political influence of Stu Campbell, it’s more an indication of the desperation of the overwhelmingly anti-independence media in Scotland to find a distraction from the mess into which the UK has got itself, and the growing attraction of independence amongst Scottish voters as their disenchantment with Westminster grows. All that has happened here in practical terms is that the Scottish press has seized an opportunity to depict the Yes movement as being riven by division and dissent, precisely at the time when the real news story is death of Labour in Scotland, the impending doom of Brexit, and machinations within the Conservative party in Westminster to frustrate their own government. It’s a perfect example of “Oh look a squirrel.” It’s entirely predictable that the Scottish press would have reacted in this manner.
So here we are, discussing Stu Campbell’s proposal for a new party, and not the implosion of the Labour party in Scotland and with it any political force which can claim to both oppose the Tories and independence. That’s a hugely significant development, but we’ve been distracted from it.
Apparently some people have been suggesting my name as a possible candidate for this new party. Well sorry, but no. That’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen because I would rather poke my eyes out with rusty knitting needles than stand for election for any party, whether that’s Stu’s proposed Wings party, the SNP, the Greens, or the Vote Wee Ginger Dug For More Clapping Of Dugs Party. There’s a reason I didn’t join the SNP in 2014 in the aftermath of the independence referendum, and that reason is because I don’t think it’s healthy for someone whose job is writing commentary and opinion to be tied to the manifesto of a particular political party – irrespective of what that party is.
In any event, this idea for a putative new party is premature. In that assessment I agree with James Kelly of Scot Goes Pop. We are nowhere near needing to set up a new political party for Yes voters. That’s a decision which doesn’t have to be taken until other avenues to an independence referendum have been exhausted. There’s still quite a road to travel there. Yes, I understand the frustration with the caution and small-c conservatism of the SNP leadership. They are frustrations which I share. But I believe that the way to counter them is to redouble our efforts to campaign, to persuade, to spread information, and to demonstrate the strength of pro-independence feeling on the ground. It’s only by doing so that we can provide the SNP leadership with the political confidence it needs to press ahead with demands for a referendum.
It could certainly be argued that the recent opinion poll showing majority support for independence is a vindication of the ‘steady as she goes’ strategy of Nicola Sturgeon. It was always expected that Brexit and a Boris Johnson government would produce a boost in support for independence in Scotland. Only one of those events has actually come to pass. It is entirely likely that when Brexit does happen, there will be a further boost in support for independence in the polls. A series of opinion polls showing increasing support for independence and demand for a referendum will make the current refusal of the anti-independence parties to countenance a referendum politically untenable.
The current SNP plan is to hold an independence referendum in 2020. That’s the preference of Nicola Sturgeon, and over the weekend deputy leader Keith Brown announced that the party plans to ramp up its preparations for a referendum. If that referendum does indeed come to pass, then any plans for a new Yes party in 2021 are entirely moot. While the Westminster parties are united in their refusal to concede another independence referendum at the moment, denying the mandate that the Scottish Government currently possesses and denying that the Scottish Parliament has already voted in favour of another referendum, that refusal may not be able to survive the political fallout from a snap Westminster election in which the SNP perform strongly and increase the number of Westminster seats that they hold.
This is especially the case if a snap General Election produces a minority government with the SNP holding the balance of power. Either the Labour party may seek a confidence and supply deal with the SNP in return for a Section 30 order, or a minority Boris Johnson administration may agree to a Section 30 order as a way of getting rid of those troublesome Scots and increasing his majority in Westminster. Those are just two possible scenarios. There is also the political reality that a strong showing from the SNP in that election will destroy the arguments currently deployed against a referendum by the anti-independence parties, and increase the pressure on them to respect the democratic will of the people of Scotland.
There’s no guarantee that the election is going to take place of course, but all observers agree that it’s looking increasingly likely. Just today, Monday, the Guardian is reporting that a group of rebel Tory MPs, including former Chancellor Philip Hammond, are planning a move in the second week of September in order to prevent a no-deal Brexit. If they are successful, Boris Johnson will have no choice but to call an election in order to change parliamentary arithmetic so that he can get his way.
It is this early UK general election which Yes campaigners ought to be focussing on just now, not the elections of 2021. In that UK general election – sorry Greens – it’s going to be the SNP which is the only pro-independence party which has any chance at all of getting seats. That’s the nature of the first past the post system so beloved of Westminster. So we need to concentrate our efforts on ensuring that we maximise the SNP vote in the elections which are most likely to come first. That should be our current priority, not thinking about setting up a new party.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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