James Kelly makes a vitally important point in his blog post on Wednesday. https://scotgoespop.blogspot.com/2021/03/the-time-to-decide-how-were-going-to.html He asks an important question of those independence supporters who are vocal in their criticisms of the SNP on social media and who loudly proclaim their lack of trust in Nicola Sturgeon, saying that while they remain committed to independence, they are not going to vote SNP in the Holyrood elections which are just a couple of months away. When you point out to them that as independence supporters we cannot cease making the case for independence, that we must be unstinting in our efforts to formulate arguments that will appeal to undecideds and soft-no voters, some respond with vitriolic anger that they’re not going to wheesht for indy. Well you are not being asked to wheesht for indy. You are rather being asked a quite different question, one to which neither I nor James Kelly have yet to see any sort of answer – to paraphrase somewhat – what is your plan B? Or indeed the plan A?
The SNP’s critics are exceptionally vociferous in their demands that the SNP formulate a plan B to cover the eventuality that the Johnson Government refuses to agree to a section 30 order. Well the rest of us are entitled to ask such critics what is their plan if their incessant and unceasing attacks on the SNP in general and Nicola Sturgeon in particular only succeed in reducing the SNP’s vote share to the extent that the party goes into reverse at the Holyrood election and loses seats, allowing the British nationalists to deprive the pro-independence parties of a majority? Then there will be no chance at all of a referendum during the next five years.
Frighteningly this will mean that there will be nothing at all to prevent the Tories from gutting the Scottish Parliament of meaningful powers and taking legislative steps at Westminster to prevent any future Scottish Parliament from holding another referendum without the express consent of Downing Street. Right now the only thing that is keeping the Johnson administration in check is the fear that it might have to formulate a case for the continuation of Westminster rule in a future referendum. Once deprived of that fear there will be absolutely nothing to prevent them from neutering Holyrood and ensuring that they will never again have to fear another independence referendum. They could introduce legislation to make future independence referendums or even plebiscite elections unlawful and put Scotland into a Catalan style trap. After doing that they will pander to the English nationalists in their ranks and abolish the Barnett formula in the name of so-called “fairness”. Scotland will see massive and swingeing cuts to public services and will be powerless to resist.
The current critics of the SNP are not being asked to wheesht for indy – they have not shut up with their criticisms and attacks. They are being asked to speak up and speak out to explain how they propose to deliver independence within the next five years and how they are going to defend Scotland from a vindictive Conservative party which will not hesitate to put the boot in once the immediate threat of another referendum has been lifted. And if you are worried that the SNP leadership is authoritarian and undemocratic, just wait and see what Johnson Gove and the Conservatives are capable of. Their destruction of public services, health and social care, and employment rights represent a serious threat to the rights of everyone up to and including the right to life itself. It has already been claimed that the Tories’s ideologically driven austerity has been responsible for 130,000 avoidable deaths. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jun/01/perfect-storm-austerity-behind-130000-deaths-uk-ippr-report They will be responsible for many thousands more before they are done.
Many of the critics of the SNP claim that Nicola Sturgeon has no intention of delivering another independence referendum. Her supporters vehemently disagree. It seems that certain opponents of the current SNP leadership are determined to replace the possibility that there will not be another referendum within the next five years with the absolute certainty that there won’t be. They are hell-bent on burning down the SNP with no sign of a credible vehicle to replace it. Their a scorched earth policy will force us to live, or rather die , with the consequences of Conservative rule.
It is not a fact that Nicola Sturgeon will not deliver another referendum in the next five years should the SNP win a majority in May, it is an opinion, and a contested opinion at that. However it is a fact that if there is no pro-independence majority in Holyrood in May we can be absolutely certain that there will be no second independence referedum before 2026, by which time we will have a neutered Scottish Parliament and quite possibly no lawful routes to an independence vote left open to us. Replacing the possibility that you won’t get the outcome you desire with the absolute certainty that you won’t get the outcome you desire is not a logical or a sensible political strategy.
So far the only strategy approaching a plan from the SNP’s critics are calls to vote for a minor party on the list. The only hope for success with such a strategy is to have a single pro-indy list party led by a person of political stature who is well known to the wider public. Additionally that party needs to stand on the single issue of independence and not to muddy the waters by taking a partisan stand on divisive issues which are not directly related to independence. A far more coordinated, better publicised, and better organised, campaign for a different pro-indy party on the list – RISE, failed dismally in 2016. The current attempts will far no better, for all the noise some of their supporters make on Twitter.
We currently have two minor pro-indy parties, Action for Independence and the ISP, neither of which enjoys a high public profile and which have both failed even to register in opinion polling. The ISP is most notable for taking a strong stance against the GRA, meaning that it will fail to gain any traction amongst independence supporters who have no issue with the measure – a not inconsiderable constituency. Even worse these two parties have even been unable to agree not to stand against one another and so are most likely to fail to attract enough support to gain any MSPs and to succeed only in splitting the pro-indy vote on the list , and allowing an opponent of independence to sneak in under the wire.
As has been pointed out numerous times by James Kelly, you can only hope to game the d’Hondt system successfully if you know in advance what the result is going to be in the constituency vote. It follows then that it is only worthwhile to vote for one of these new pro-indy parties on the list if you can be absolutely certain that the SNP will not pick up any seats on the list in your region. In most of Scotland no such certainty exists. As things stand the only pro-independence parties with any realistic chances of winning seats are the SNP in the constituency vote and the list, and the Greens on the list.
Others demand that May’s election needs to be a plebiscite election, making it a vote directly on independence itself and doing away with the need for a referendum if we win. There are a number of problems with this idea. The first is that there is already a recognised route for Scotland to exercise its right to achieve independence, and that is via a referendum following an agreement with the British government. If we try to short cut that route by going immediately for a plebiscite vote, the outcome is highly unlikely to be recognised by the international community, and without international pressure the British government will not agree to negotiate, claiming that the constitution is a reserved matter and Holyrood is acting unlawfully outside its competence. That’s a position which would no doubt be supported by the UK Supreme court.
The second problem is that we have not had a Holyrood election since 2016. People have a democratic right to cast their votes on the basis of all the other issues that affect us as a society. There is no guarantee that the 30 to 40% of Labour voters who are sympathetic to independence would switch their votes to the SNP if a few weeks out from the election the vote was declared to be a plebiscite. We would be depriving ourselves of vital pro-independence votes.
If we try and short circuit the process we risk reducing the pro-indy vote and additionally finding ourselves in a similar position to Catalonia after its referendum in 2016. You may have noticed that Catalonia is still not independent. I’ve always been in favour of a plebiscite vote, but for it to succeed in its aims the timing is crucial.
We will only get the international community and above all the EU to accept the result of a plebiscite independence election if the British government has been seen to have blocked the existing route to an independence referendum for no other reason than its fear that it’s going to lose. Under such circumstances the EU and the international community is likely to see things very differently, and would act to pressurise Downing Street to negotiate with Scotland’s new pro-independence government. If Downing Street refuses a referendum despite a pro-indy majority in Holyrood elected on an unconditional mandate for another referendum, the Scottish Government would be justified in precipitating a snap election as a plebiscite on independence because the British government will be seen to have frustrated the democratic will of the people of Scotland. It would also then be far more likely that under such circumstances pro-indy Labour supporters would switch to a pro-indy party.
We can either have a plebiscite election as a futile gesture or we can maximise its chances of producing the desired result. Demanding a plebiscite election this May runs an unacceptably high risk of turning it into a futile gesture. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by waiting a few more months when we’d have a better chance of both maximising the pro-indy vote and of achieving international recognition. We are only going to get one chance at an independence vote and we must not squander it on a lost cause.
So the question for the pro-indy critics of the SNP remains. What is your credible strategy for bringing about a referendum within the next five years? Don’t tell us how much you distrust Nicola Sturgeon or the SNP. Don’t tell us how much you dislike certain policies which are not themselves directly related to independence. We’ve heard you already. For months now you have banged on about little else. What we want to know is what your plan is for delivering independence within the next five years bearing in mind that we have a crucial election looming in a few short weeks time and if we don’t secure a pro indy majority we are well and truly screwed and may never get another chance. The only credible plan entails voting for the SNP in sufficient numbers in May that we return an SNP majority government.
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