I have been puzzling over this column or some time. Trying to work out what happens next with the SNP and the wider Yes movement. I was at the SNP convention on independence at the Caird Hall, Dundee, at the end of June, I listened to the first minister and subsequently I’ve talked to several people in the SNP including an elected representative, a staffer and a member who would like us to go for indy next week. The chat with the latter individual was fun but if we declared independence next week, do you think it would work?
No, neither do I.
The rather wishy-washy conclusion coming out of all this is that – planned events and stated intentions excepted – no one precisely knows what happens next. Not yet, anyway.
There is a tendency among bloggers and columnists to adopt an assured point of view and argue the case, presenting themselves as an authority. I did as much myself with my first article on Untribal about a section 30 order. Right now though, there are too many political variables and too much time before Scotland goes to the polls in a UK general election, probably 15 months, for anything definite.
That said, Humza was pretty clear in Dundee that the next SNP manifesto would say, “…page one, line one – I am proposing that we put a simple powerful statement to the people, 'Vote SNP for Scotland to become an independent country.’”
He added, “And if the SNP does win this election then the people will have spoken. We will seek negotiations with the UK government on how we give democratic effect to Scotland becoming an independent nation.”
How we define a win – and what happens afterwards if Starmer, or even Sunak, sticks their fingers their ears and shouts, “La la la, I can’t hear you” – is moot. Tactical withdrawal of MPs on certain days of the week? Regional conventions? Something more radical? That is what we all need to work out.
Given the current state of the SNP, after all the issues about Nicola going, and the £600,000, there is a danger that the party will get nowhere near anything that could be legitimately described as a big win anyway. If that turns out to be the case then unionists will simply ignore the polls showing support for independence and the newspaper headlines will read that Scotland’s flirtation with the silly idea of self-determination is over. If that happens, independence is off the agenda for years and years.
Even if Humza does pull off something that could be described in common sense terms as a win, the British government is in charge of constitutional issues and could just claim that the SNP having 7 or 8 per cent of the seats in the Commons, following a UK election, means nothing. We’re back to, “You lost in 2014,” “Once in a generation,” and “No mandate.”
It’s a depressing landscape. It’s also asymmetrical. In trying to write what I might optimistically describe as ‘a proper article’ I did look up some figures and rediscovered that the SNP’s performance at major elections in Scotland since 2014, in constituency terms, has blown British governments out of the water. The worst SNP performance in recent years was 59 per cent of MPs at the 2017 UK election; otherwise the wins have ranged from 81 to 95 per cent of constituency seats for both Holyrood and Westminster. In comparison, Boris Johnson’s UK election win in December 2019 got him 56 per cent of the seats in the Commons and was described by Sky News as a “huge election victory”.
It’s their stadium, their referee, their ball, their commentators and their rules. It does make me ask myself, what’s our leverage? How do we force it? I admit that at this point I don’t know. All the Yessers joining Scottish Labour, however, and turning it into a pro-indy party would be impractical but very funny. No, that’s not a serious suggestion.
There are bright spots in the landscape however: pro-indy polling is holding up as mentioned, SNP activists are out on the doorsteps over the summer, there will be a rally in Edinburgh on 2 September in support of an independent Scotland in the EU, and the SNP conference in Aberdeen in October should answer some questions at the very least.
Just to add, the Edinburgh rally is in liaison with Believe in Scotland which is managed by Business for Scotland (businessforscotland.com) who are doing some pretty good work. Check them out. I’d also say that the Business for Scotland chief executive, Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, has raised the possibility of a living pension in this country, post-indy, as opposed to the miserly UK state pension. That would be a stone-cold winner on the doorsteps in any campaign.
Meanwhile, the SNP has over a year to get its act together, Alba will continue to snipe and provide good copy – I’m beginning to think that media are using Salmond as a clickbait these days in the same way they used Farage during the Brexit campaign – the unionists will keep up their concerted campaign of negativity but the variables will eventually resolve themselves into something more concrete. The how and why of what comes next seems to be up for grabs so, as ever, it’s down to people who make the effort and participate.
It’s always comforting to have the emotional bulwark of certainty in your life but for the time being I’m just coming to terms with this temporary political uncertainty. It’s unsettling but inevitable. It also makes it daft to write articles proclaiming, “We must, we shall, we should,” like you’re in sole possession of the secret formula for indy.
In local terms, what’s on the agenda in our corner of the North East is getting rid of David ‘Sea of Opportunity’ Duguid MP who currently holds Banff and Buchan for the Conservatives – or whoever the Tories pick to contest next year’s election. This is somewhat complicated by the Boundary Commission changes and the current candidate selection bun fight in all parties over who gets to stand where. Most of Banff and Buchan and a chunk of Moray will form the new Aberdeenshire North and Moray East constituency for example; the rest of Banff and Buchan is being shuffled into another new constituency called Gordon and Buchan. If you’re feeling geeky, you can check out all the Scottish changes here, https://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/bdy2023_scot_summary.html
Do emails have conclusions? Let’s try for one. It seems to me that the first indy referendum was rather neat and tidy. Scotland elected a majority pro-indy government, David Cameron bowed to the gods of democracy on the grounds that we would lose and so we did. It was legal, consensual and the result was binding. What happens next time won’t be neat and tidy as there almost certainly won’t be permission to hold a referendum. It’s not just a random man in the North East saying this – the thought has been hovering in the aether for some time, waiting to be expressed, and it was explicitly acknowledged by the SNP hierarchy on the Caird Hall stage last month. Everyone is getting to grips with this new environment – that’s where we’re at.