According to The National, later this week the First Minister is expected to announce her plans for a second independence referendum when she unveils her programme for government to the Scottish Parliament next week. The programme should have been revealed this week, but was postponed to September 7 pending the finalisation of the cooperation deal between the SNP and the Scottish Greens.
A commitment to hold an independence referendum within the first half of the current Parliamentary term of five years was front and foremost in the co-operation agreement between the SNP and the Greens.
The deal states: that the Scottish Government will secure a referendum on Scottish independence after the Covid crisis. This would be within the current parliamentary session on a specific date to be determined by the Scottish Parliament. If the Covid crisis has passed, our intention is for the referendum to be within the first half of the five-year parliamentary session.
Note that this specifies “after the covid crisis” and not “after the recovery from the covid crisis”. That means that the referendum will be held once case numbers have been brought under control and there is no threat of the NHS collapsing under the strain. Both the SNP and the Greens believe that independence is necessary in order for Scotland to make a recovery from the pandemic. Right now case numbers are rising at an alarming rate and there is also a rise in hospitalisations. Clearly we are not yet out of the crisis phase. As we approach winter the strain on the NHS will only increase.
However the vaccination programme continues to be successful and there are hopes that next spring or summer could see Scotland definitively exit the crisis. There is every reason to believe that the referendum can indeed be held within the first half of this Parliament’s five year term.
There are those who claim that we were able to have an election in May and therefore there’s no reason why we can’t have a referendum right now. However there’s a significant difference between the election and a referendum. The election was a legal obligation, the referendum is a political obligation on the part of the SNP and the Scottish Greens, it is not a legal obligation on the part of all participating parties. Should the referendum campaign be linked to any increase in covid infections or deaths, the anti-independence parties and the media in which they predominate would ceaselessly push the narrative that Nicola Sturgeon’s “obsession” with an independence referendum was costing lives. That’s a narrative that they could not promote during the Holyrood election because Labour, the Tories, and the Lib Dems had an equal interest to the pro-independence parties in ensuring that the election went ahead.
Perhaps more importantly, winning the referendum will entail far more face to face contact, local “town hall” style events and in person canvassing than we saw during the recent election. Although I live in a constituency where the outcome was very far from being a foregone conclusion, not a single representative from any party knocked on my door during the campaign in order to canvass my vote. However in person and face to face campaigning will be vital during the referendum campaign in order to counteract the massive advantage that opponents of independence have in the traditional media. The London based media in particular will not approach the next referendum with the same arrogant complacency which characterised their coverage during the early phases of the 2014 referendum campaign when it lazily assumed that a victory for No was a foregone conclusion. They will start the next campaign in the knowledge that a Yes victory is a very real prospect and will subject Scotland to a barrage of scaremongering and threats similar to those which we saw in the last fevered week of the 2014 when a single poll gave the Yes campaign the narrowest of leads.
It should never be forgotten that the point of the exercise here is not to get a referendum, the point is to win it. It’s going to be a lot harder to win it if we rush into a referendum which forces us to campaign without the tactics and strategies which were so successful at boosting Yes support in 2014. You don’t win when you insist on fighting with one hand tied behind your back.
Equally we are not going to win it if the wider Yes movement concentrates its energies on sitting on social media and snarking at other parts of the independence movement over strategy and tactics or about issues which are not themselves directly related to independence. That’s not going to persuade anyone to vote yes.
Thankfully there are welcome signs that the grassroots movement is once again starting to develop the campaign to persuade soft noes and undecided voters of the necessity for independence and taking steps to re-energise a campaign that has exhausted itself on internal wrangling and has beendemotivated by the stresses and strains of lockdown.
On 18 September this year Believe in Scotland together with The National, the Scottish Independence Foundation and the National Yes Network, are organising a national Day of Action for Independence. The day will see see a series of events being staged throughout the country, including street stalls and coffee mornings as well as food bank drives and musical events. More than 80 local Yes groups across Scotland have already signed up to participate and have committed to delivering over 150,000 leaflets through doors on the day. Every Yes group that registers to participate in the Day of Action will receive a free campaign and fundraising pack worth between £125 and £250, depending on the size of the group.
The Day of Action will not be a single one-off event, the idea is that it will “fire the starting gun on a major co-ordinated grassroots independence campaign” that is to run until the second independence referendum takes place. As organiser and founder of Believe in Scotland Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp says, “It’s time to stop complaining and start campaigning.
Local Yes groups can still join the grassroots-supporting organisation by emailing Believe in Scotland, or getting in touch via their representative to the National Yes Network.
Individuals can pledge their support for the organisation at www.believeinscotland.org/pledge
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