This blog has a long standing policy of not attacking or criticising other pro-independence groups, blogs, or organisations. I’m not in the business of doing the anti-independence media’s job for them. For the same reason, that’s why I always ask that people who comment on this blog refrain from using it as a platform to criticise or attack other pro-independence campaigners, although this does not imply that I endorse what those other campaigners have been saying. It is just that I feel strongly, and have always felt, that when the independence movement turns on itself, the only beneficiaries are those who oppose independence.
Right now we are facing the likelihood of an early Westminster General Election. This is the first and most immediate electoral challenge that the independence movement is going to face. A Westminster General Election could take place as early as the end of next month. Even if it is delayed for a short while longer, it is most certainly going to happen before any other elections take place in Scotland, and before there’s any vote on independence itself. Sensible politics demands that the independence movement should focus on the electoral challenge which is most immediate. That’s the next Westminster General Election.
Due to the nature of Westminster’s first past the post system, the only pro-independence party which has any chance at all of taking seats in the Westminster General Election is the SNP. I might have considerable sympathies for some of the policies of the Greens or the Scottish Socialists, but they’re not going to win any seats in this election. Only the SNP can do that.
This coming election is vital. Before we can make any choices about the best route to an independence referendum, we have to cross the General Election bridge. All routes to an independence referendum, irrespective of what they are, pass first over the bridge of a Westminster General Election in the coming months. If we fail to cross the bridge successfully and in style, if we fail to bring about a resounding and unquestionable victory for the SNP in that election, there will be no point at all in arguing about different strategies for bringing about a referendum, or debating the merits or demerits of another pro-indy party for the list vote in Holyrood. We will already have lost independence.
There are many people within the independence movement who have deep reservations about the strategy of the SNP leadership for achieving another independence referendum. However the risk here is that constant carping about the SNP, the attacks on Nicola Sturgeon because of disagreements with her strategy for bringing about a second independence referendum, will only succeed in reducing the overall level of support for the SNP in the coming General Election. It risks alienating those who are open to persuasion about independence but who are not quite there yet. It risks alienating and discouraging some long standing supporters of independence. It risks turning some SNP supporters off from getting out and campaigning for the party in the General Election, and that in turn can reduce turnout and vote share for the party. It risks making the independence movement seem divided, confused, and obsessed with in-fighting, and that’s going to discourage soft yes voters from making sure they vote for the party, just as they were discouraged in 2017 by the SNP’s apparent lack-lustre enthusiasm for independence in the General Election that year.
Yet there is nothing to replace the SNP in the General Election to come. There is no other party which can hoover up the votes of those independence supporters who have been alienated by a seemingly over cautious SNP leadership. All that the independence movement will have achieved with its criticisms will be to have punched itself in the face and to have reduced the total number of people in Scotland who get up off their backsides and get out and vote for the only pro-independence party in this country which has any chance at all of taking seats in a Westminster General Election. The only people who benefit will be the anti-independence parties. When we as a movement attack one another, it’s anti-independence politicians and journalists who rub their hands in glee.
We all know what the British media is like. The British media being what it is, if the SNP do not perform well in the coming General Election, this will not be seen as a reflection of the independence movement’s difference of opinion with Nicola Sturgeon about achieving an independence referendum. The BBC will not be telling us that it means that people would prefer to vote for another pro-independence party in the list vote for Holyrood. It won’t be portrayed simply as a defeat for the SNP leadership’s strategy or even for the SNP as a whole. It will be painted as a defeat for the entire independence movement. It will be taken as a reflection of a lack of support in Scotland for independence. That’s how the British media will portray it.
If the SNP do not perform as predicted, and fails to pick up a significantly larger amount of votes and Westminster seats, the constant carping message from the British media will be that Scotland has lost interest in the idea of independence, that Scotland doesn’t want independence any more, that the steam has gone out of the independence drive. That’s going to make it even harder to achieve a referendum or to pursue any alternative strategy – whether there’s a new pro-indy party or not.
Judging from Nicola Sturgeon’s speech to the SNP party conference in Aberdeen yesterday (Tuesday), it appears that the party leadership has indeed learned the lesson of the 2017 General Election campaign. The question of independence, the question of ensuring that it’s the people of Scotland who have the absolute right to decide the future path that Scotland takes, will be front and foremost in the SNP’s General Election campaign. This General Election in Scotland will be dominated by the question of independence as Scotland’s route out of the mess and chaos of Brexit.
It is always a good thing to ensure that political leaders, of any party, are held to account. But right now the priority for the independence movement must be to work our socks off to ensure that we get as many votes for the SNP and as many new MPs for the SNP as we possibly can in the coming General Election. A resounding victory for the SNP in the General Election to come will drastically alter the political landscape in Scotland and make it far harder for the anti-independence parties to resist a demand for another referendum. A continued refusal from Westminster under those circumstances will make it easier for the independence movement to bring soft yes voters and undecideds with us if the need arises to pursue another strategy to bring about an indyref. A large increase in the number of SNP MPs will ensure that the UK media pays attention and will make it far more difficult for them to peddle the false narrative that Scotland doesn’t want a referendum. It will immensely strengthen the hand of the First Minister in her demand for a referendum. There is no downside for the independence movement in ensuring that the SNP does extremely well in this coming General Election. There are potentially severe consequences for independence if our infighting means that the party doesn’t do well.
There may very well come a time when we need to pursue another strategy for getting to an independence referendum. That time could be soon, but we can say with absolute certainty that it’s going to be after this approaching Westminster General Election. The crucial task for the independence movement is to ensure that if the need arises for us to debate a Plan B, or C, or D, for getting an independence referendum, that we are doing so from a position of strength. That’s only going to happen if the sole pro-independence political party which can win Westminster seats achieves a resounding victory in the Westminster General Election that’s ahead of us and is able to argue for that independence referendum with the wind in its sails and the votes of the people behind it.
Let’s work to make that happen. Let’s argue for independence from a position of strength.
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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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