Elephants in rooms

Over the past couple of weeks, there’s been a new line from the anti-independence parties. David Mundell, and certain figures in the Labour party, appear now to be conceding that a mandate for another independence referendum is indeed produced by the result of a Holyrood election. It’s just that they’re insisting that the mandate can only come from a pro-independence majority in the Holyrood elections in 2021. They still refuse to concede the indisputable fact that there is already a pro-independence majority in Holyrood, that the SNP already has a mandate for another referendum, and that Holyrood has already voted in favour of one.

It’s noticeable that the anti-independence parties are not saying that a win for the SNP in a snap Westminster General Election would produce a mandate for another referendum – even though arguably a win for the SNP in Scotland in a Westminster election would produce a stronger mandate. After all, as we are constantly being reminded, the constitution is a power reserved to Westminster. So if Scotland votes for a large majority of SNP MPs elected to Westminster on a manifesto of support for another referendum, there’s an unchallengeable mandate for one.

But no, according to the likes of the discredited Mundell, it has to be a Holyrood election in 2021.  How Scotland votes in elections to the parliament which actually does have the power to alter the constitution doesn’t seem to count.  It’s not hard to see the reason why, and it’s breathtakingly cynical even by the standards of Scotland’s anti-independence parties. It’s the elephant in the room.  They are hoping that the trial of Alex Salmond, which is due to be held next year, will cause the SNP to implode. They are hoping it is going to be all their SNP bad Christmasses come at once.

Clearly, the trial of a man who was and is a towering figure in the SNP is not going to do the party any favours. The matter is of course sub-judice, so we cannot discuss the nature of the allegations against him, nor speculate about his guilt or innocence – except to note that all those charged with a crime are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

However I do not believe that the trial will have the substantial impact on support for independence that the Tories, Labour, and the Lib Dems are clearly praying for. The reason is the same reason that support for independence has never yet been dented by the constant barrage of SNP bad stories which fill the Scottish press on a daily basis. And that’s because the desire for independence is not primarily driven by belief in the SNP, but rather by a deep dissatisfaction with and alienation from Westminster politics amongst the people of Scotland. No amount of SNP bad stories in the press are going to make the Tories or Labour treat Scotland’s needs and interests with any more respect than they have done to date.  It’s Brexit and that manifest lack of respect for Scotland which are driving the rise in support for independence.  That won’t change irrespective of the Salmond trial.

I also suspect that the political fallout for the SNP produced by the trial will be considerably more limited than the anti-independence parties are hoping for. The closest parallel is the trial and acquittal of Jeremy Thorpe, the former leader of the Liberal party, in 1979. He was tried on charges of conspiring to murder his ex-lover Norman Scott – although until his death in 2014 Thorpe denied he had had a sexual relationship with Scott. Thorpe was forced to resign from the leadership of the Liberals in May 1976 after a series of increasingly lurid newspaper investigations into his relationship with Scott following the shooting of Scott’s dog in October 1975. In May 1979, just a few days after that year’s General Election which saw Margaret Thatcher enter Number 10, Thorpe was put on trial along with three others for conspiracy to murder. Thorpe was acquitted on all charges, although he never succeeded in restoring his reputation.

Thorpe had been a successful and popular leader of the Liberal party, which all through the 1960s had been a minor force in British politics, languishing in single figures in the polls and with a derisory share of the vote in General Elections. The party’s nadir came in the general election of 1970, when Jeremy Thorpe was newly elected as the Liberal leader. In that election the Liberals lost half of the 12 seats they had previously held and were left with just 6.

However once established as leader, Thorpe managed to oversee a revival of the party’s fortunes in the two General Elections of 1974. In the February election, the Liberals won 14 seats, a gain of 8.  This election was characterised by widespread public dissatisfaction with the three day week and the economic management of the UK by Edward Heath.  Under Thorpe, the Liberals were able to reap the benefit and increased their support, largely at the expense of the Tories.  That election produced a hung parliament, there was another General Election in October that year, in which the Liberals lost two MPs but gained one, leaving them with 13.

Despite a looming trial and previous months of sensational newspaper stories about Thorpe’s alleged relationship with Scott and the shooting of Scott’s dog, the Liberals still managed to pick up 11 seats in the General Election of 1979 even though Thorpe himself lost his North Devon seat to the Conservatives. The party lost three seats overall, but gained one. It is arguable that there was a “Thorpe effect”, but it seems to have been very limited in scope. The party had held around 12 or 13 seats throughout most of the 1960s and 70s, and continued to hold that number all the way through the period when the Thorpe Affair dominated the press – although before the matter had come to trial. The party pretty much held steady in opinion polling during that period. There was no collapse in Liberal support either before the trial or after it.

The first general election after the Thorpe trial is not directly comparable because the Liberals did not fight it as a single party, but rather as part of the Alliance with the newly formed SDP. The SDP was a breakaway faction of centrist Labour MPs who were dissatisfied with the leadership of the left wing Michael Foot. The Alliance doubled the number of seats previously held by the Liberals, gaining 12 and ending up with 23 MPs.

However this result does prove that the trial and its aftermath had not damaged the Liberals as a political brand.  That’s the case even though many people continued to believe that Thorpe was guilty despite his acquittal. There was a very strong lingering perception that Thorpe had behaved extremely poorly, and had not adequately explained himself. The trial was felt by many to be heavily slanted in favour of Thorpe, with the British establishment looking after its own, and the judge’s summing up – heavily biased in Thorpe’s favour – was the subject of a scathing parody by the comedian and satirist Peter Cooke.

Voters are grown ups. They are capable of distinguishing between the individual actions of a politician in a private capacity and the overall goals, aims, and philosophy of the political party to which he or she belongs. They are capable of looking at the wider political context when they cast their votes. And so they rejected Jeremy Thorpe as a politician, but they did not reject his party.

Jeremy Thorpe’s behaviour in private was not a reflection of the political ideals of the Liberal party, the public saw that. They will also see that whatever happens in the Salmond trial, it is not a reflection of the political goal of Scottish independence. The anti-independence parties may be hoping that the Salmond trial will prevent independence happening. They’re in for a big disappointment.

It’s not the Salmond trial which has the capacity to cause serious electoral damage to the SNP in 2021.  What has the capacity to cause the party serious electoral damage is if they fail to deliver on their manifesto commitment to push forward for an independence referendum during the lifetime of this Holyrood Parliament. That’s where the potential for damage lies, not the Salmond trial.  That’s the real elephant in the room for the SNP leadership.

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23 comments on “Elephants in rooms

  1. […] Wee Ginger Dug Elephants in rooms Over the past couple of weeks, there’s been a new line from the anti-independence […]

  2. Bob Lamont says:

    Superbly put – There is no doubt Thorpe got shafted by the establishment, this is their MO when the target refuses to buckle, and homosexuality was such a taboo then..
    The Salmond business has parallels yet is entirely different.. Even were they to attempt a stitch-up of Sturgeon it would not dent resolve for independence, and frankly they know it, their problem is how to disturb the psyche of the entire UK whilst specifically creating some form of Indy implosion. It is undoubtedly an entree to the media savagery to come, and we should not forget that London is not only weak but desperate to survive, their parasitic world is collapsing..
    Subsidy junkies arise…..

    • Alasdair Macdonald says:


      On the contrary, the ‘establishment’ saved Thorpe from being found guilty as he ought to have been. The trial judge’s summing up was a disgrace and his comments about Norman Scott and others on the prosecution side were character assassination.

      Mr Salmond certainly cannot expect any such of protection from the presiding judge – nor should he. The trial has to proceed and be conducted in a properly, transparent manner. The media will, of course, seek to whip up antipathy towards him and use the case to try to damn the cause of independence. However, I think that the public is pretty savvy and can separate the ’cause’ (independence) from the man who has done so much to advance it.

      • Bob Lamont says:

        I suspect you misunderstood, the”establishment” may have saved him in the legal sense but simultaneously ended any rising political credibility, innocence or guilt is irrelevant to such people…
        Salmond ultimately is a creative diversion in the fan/shit/stick games WM play, their problem is that nobody really cares, and it will change the minds of none re Indy2.

  3. Robert Innes says:

    I believe in Independence for Scotland, but Alex Salmond might turn out to be a sex pest. Well then, I’m now all for the Queen and Union. Eh? Does not compute.

  4. poppers4272 says:

    Genuine question, do you think it will be different (to the Thorpe trial) because of the social media aspect of modern society and the way any trial will be played out there??

  5. Jan Cowan says:

    I agree, Paul. We must have an independence referendum before the 2021 election……and Ms Evans must come clean and resign.

  6. If Salmond is acquitted, remember Scotland has a not proven verdict, who is going to be sued. The Scottish government or the people who instigated the law case.

  7. DaveyM says:

    Right on the money, Paul. The SNP is the biggest danger to the movement right now. This post echoes Kevin McKenna’s column in today’s National in some ways.

  8. This is yet another reason why having another Independence Party in the form of Wings over Scotland, is such a good idea. Starting as of now, the number of squirrels and dead cats on the table that the Reverend Stu would produce, could be stunning as well as distracting for the MSM. He could have much of the Yoon media’s attention focused on him and his new party, instead of so much on the Alex Salmond trial coming up and on SNP bad generally. Policies and high profile candidates would keep the unionist media busy and give the SNP some respite to regroup and focus on when to end this toxic Union, instead of wasting time and energy trying to keep England in the EU. Unlike the SNP, Wings doesn’t mind confrontation, in fact thrives on it.
    The once secure lickspittle and deadbeat unionist lying politicians are running around like a flock of chickens after a ferocious wolf has jumped into their coup. They are no longer certain of slithering in the back door of Holyrood on the D’Hondt list in the next Scottish General Election (SGE), and this is sending them into a frenzy.
    Voting for the SNP twice in the SGE clearly didn’t work, as examination of the numbers show. Giving another Independence Party our second vote can take advantage of this system and clean up. Thereby, dispensing with the good-for-nothing unionist MSP’s who we thought might be impossible to shift. James Kelly, Murdo Fraser, Tompkins, Annie Wells, Iain Gray, Miles Briggs, Jamie Greene, Jenny Marra, Liz Smyth and all the other bench warmers who do nothing for Scotland except run her down at every opportunity, can now be booted out and replaced by people who only want the very best for an Independent Scotland.
    There is no doubt that Nicola Sturgeon is a very competent and much admired politician, but what we need also, is someone to take on the unionist establishment and who isn’t afraid to upset a few apple carts, who makes attack the best form of defence, who isn’t nice, and also puts the fear of God into the Yoon politicians.
    Passion, disgust and outrage at Westminster and Westminster’s contempt for Scotland and her representatives is required. It reminds me of the of the Godfather movie when the gangland war started. Tom Hayden was not thought to have the necessary qualities for a wartime consigneri and was therefore replaced. Though good for Mafia business, Tom was much too restrained and respectful for the sort of wartime decisions and actions necessary.
    I am not suggesting we unpack the Thompson sub-machine guns, but contempt and derision for the red, blue and yellow Tories in Holyrood is much needed as most of the yoons questions at FMQs are so pathetic the response required should be more in the form of scorn at this time of a No Deal Brexit disaster that the yoons are intent foisting on us. The yoons should be afraid to ask these questions in the Chamber, because of the hail of abuse that they should be guaranteed to receive. The SNP is failing in this task. I’m afraid Nicola doesn’t scare the yoons. Her policy of appeasement isn’t working. Showing respect to these politicians who are in favour of a Brexit policy which will destroy thousands of jobs and also the fabric of our society is self defeating. It allows these right wing maniacs, who are out to destroy our country with an apocalyptic No Deal Brexit, to appear normal and respectable.
    The BBC? If not for BBC Scotland would have won the Independence in 2014 and if the SNP don’t take them on, then they may still ruin indyref2 for us. A Wings party wouldn’t let them get away with anything and would go for their jugular. The SNP is far to cosy with the unionist media. Why do they keep being surprised by the media’s hostility to them? Why do the keep falling into the media’s traps, which can be seen from miles away? Why do they follow the Unionist interviewer’s agenda, instead of attacking their bias? The SNP must have a folder of evidence a metre thick packed full of BBC bias against Scotland, Independence and the SNP.
    Finally, the pressure of even the possibility of a Wings party hoovering up those 2nd votes of SNP supporters, thereby delivering a Parliament with a large Independence majority, must make some of these unionist politicians take stock. They may finally see the writing on the wall, see the end of their employment prospects and refocus on a different path.

  9. Macart says:

    They’re playing for time and hoping for that perfect storm of essenpee badness right enough. They need the gatekeepers to take a hit before the population gives them the keys to that gate. Anything really. Anything at all that will keep them in power and keep people from remembering.

    Remembering that successive governments of the UK have legislated appallingly against their own populations. Their narratives and their actions have fractured the society in their care, undermined trust in our institutions, condemned countless numbers to despair and misery. Members of their howf have broken economies, misled and manipulated populations, and do we really need to revisit every dirty headline scandal, accounts of backstabbery and general venality of the past couple of decades alone?

    Whatever may be leveled at the Scottish government? At the political and societal aspirations of the wider YES movement? None of it, (NONE – OF – IT), comes anywhere near close to the appalling actions of the Westminster political class and their practice of politics.

    • Tol says:

      …”They’re playing for time “…

      That is only stage 1.

      More importantly they need a scare story to fill the press in England. It has to create the case for Westminster intervening in Scotland. How far they ramp it up will be the first true indication of how far Westminster are planning to go. Is it just curtailing Holyrood or will it be further and we will see a creeping NI level response?

  10. velofello says:

    I consider that the SNP are doing a fine job of administering Scotland, with their left of centre policies. The key word being an administration.

    For independence we need a political force that calls out the Unionists for their negativity, their wilful obstruction of SNP policies. We need a… bouncer party? A party willing to be a bit more assertive towards the media, towards whoever would remain of the list Tories at Holyrood.

    Regards Alex Salmond, a bouncer party would have Ms Evans out on her ear. £510K to Alex Salmond due to complaints raised by adult persons, years after the alleged events? Who are these persons? Why are they afforded privacy?
    Epstein, Assange, McCrae, etc etc etc. Pull the other one.

    Finally, the BBC… “the Prime Minister”, The what? Boris Johnson! Get me out of here, please.

  11. John Muir says:

    Here’s the Peter Cook sketch Paul mentioned in his post. First I’ve seen it. Absolute class!

    I’m too young to know any of the particulars of the trial, but no need when Cook is on the case.

  12. Tol says:


    You are missing the bigger picture. YES continues to get sucked into endless skirmishes – and can’t get out of them because it doesn’t tackle the real strategy the Union is playing.

    Holyrood incompetence is not about SNP votes….Now its about justifying the end of devolution…How brutally is still unclear. My guess is watch out – they will act to force angry responses that give them justification for any and all measures. (They have a well used rule book).

    YES are spending all their energy fighting symptoms – only to be blind sided by the disease.

  13. Imagine a pocket dictionary which defined an ‘elephant’ as a ‘pachyderm’, and a ‘pachyderm’ as ‘an elephant’.
    Like a sheet of paper with nothing but ‘PTO’ written at the foot of the page on both sides, the Better Together manipulators have nothing left but to attempt to herd us down blind alley after blind alley, wasting precious time and oxygen discussing and defending everything and anything other than keep our eyes on the prize, Self Determination.
    Magically Kezia Dugdale gets Free Exposure in the Herald and Scotsman, with photies, babbling on about how hopeless Corbyn is.
    This woman has landed a nice little (six figure? Anybody know?) sinecure with John Smith’s widow’s Be Nice To Politicians Think Tank.
    She was a political failure and liability, but has access to the public through her mates in the media to be ‘impolite’ to Corbyn.
    Her opinion on the Brexit crisis is of no interest to anyone. She isn’t a ‘Has Been’. She is a ‘Never Was’.
    Grant at the Herald and Davidson at the Scotsman must be great mates, fellow residents of Dugdale’s mythical ‘village’.

    WE attack when the hacks of the Dead Tree Scrolls use the Salmond Case to undermine our march to Self Determination.

    There are dozens of Brit Nat Sex scandals which can be resurrected when the grubby wee troughers of the MSM begin their assassination of Salmond.

    Let’s not forget that there are complainants who seek justice too.
    Will they ever get a fair hearing when the ugly wee hacks get to warp the whole affair into SNP Badness?

    But it should not take our eyes off the ball.

    There can be no Project Fear II.

    They have nothing left with which to threaten or bully us.

    Their lies and false promises have been exposed in the passage of time since 2014.

    Soon Davidson, Rennie, and Lovejoy will be on their feet at FMQs, demanding that NS do something about the loose door handle on the first floor Ladies’ loo, and what about the mattress and old sofa cluttering up the pavement in Govanhill?

    It is coming soon.

    There will be no need for a WoS Regional Party or concern over Salmond’s Kafka-esque Trial next year. (See me over on Bella)

    IT is all kicking off now.

    It is inconceivable that the SNP and the vast Yes AUOB Movement would let October 31st come and go without storming the Bastille.

    Get ready, set, go.

    We, like the pachyderms, are thick skinned enough to cope with smears and slurs.

    Aux armes, citoyens!

  14. Grafter says:

    Hope to see you all at the march for independence in Aberdeen this Saturday 17th August. Starts Albyn Place 1.30pm. Many thousands are expected. People of Aberdeen have had enough of Barney Crocket and his dysfunctional Labour/Tory administration. Their days are numbered along with the Union Jack which he flies from our Townhouse tower.

  15. wm says:

    Another first class post Paul, and I enjoy most of the comments, I note that your reference to the parties of the union, as the anti-indedendance parties and think maybe we should all start replacing (“the parties of the union” with the anti-independance parties) Parties that think Scotland’s people are not capable of running Scotland’s business. Regarding a previous post Paul where it was suggested that when we are free from WM, that you should stand for the Scottish parliament, I think we need you where you are for kicking arse’s.

  16. Algernon Pondlife says:

    Perhaps Mundell knows of a plan for there not to be a 2021 election to Holyrood. So he is rubbishing the mandate until it becomes redundant.

  17. Petra says:

    If Alex Salmond wins his case it’ll backfire on the Union big time and if he doesn’t (hopefully not) I doubt it’ll make much of an impact on Scottish voters who are determined to dissolve the Union. That leaves us with the prior no voters / sitting on the fencers who I reckon will be swayed by the economic argument and the threat of our NHS ultimately being privatised rather than the outcome of the Salmond case.

    And on the subject of the Lib-dems. What are they playing at now?

    ”Tonight the Lib Dems are clear. They refuse to vote against Boris Johnson in a motion of No Confidence. There you have it folks. This was a sick game for these chameleons all along.”


    The latter post contained in Nana Smith’s excellent site. Well worth checking out.


  18. Luigi says:

    I think the LibDems have quickly forgotten their current popularity is nothing more than a stop Brexit vote. Soon as the issue is settled (one way or the other), this new support of theirs will disappear faster than sna off a dyke. Same goes for the Brexit party. Don’t get too cocky, Jo. The MSM will happily build you up and enjoy watching you crash. You aint really in with a shout for PM, Y’know!. 🙂

  19. Petra says:

    You can see where they are going Luigi. Think they are with. The LibDems will never achieve a majority on their own. Another wee coalition at Westminster with the Tories and here in Scotland too? Shame that Ruth Davidson is out favour now, if she ever was ”in” that is, and has scuppered their plans.

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