No-one can say I didn’t approach the concept of a de facto referendum with an open mind or that I was anything other than willing to explore whether it could be made to work. I did try, but I warned that it would require genuine good faith from the SNP leadership. The inevitability with which that good faith evaporated over the course of just a few weeks is depressing.
What is now on the table is farcical – as in scripted by Armando Iannucci farcical. There will be a de facto referendum but it will be exactly like a General Election in every possible way (the by-product of which would be lots of money for the SNP and its payroll). If that doesn’t work there will probably be another one. That’s it. That’s the next five years described in its totality.
No-one thinks this will work because it won’t. Or rather no-one thinks this will deliver independence (or frankly move us any further forward towards independence) because it won’t. What it will work to do is to create a figleaf of a reason why anyone should vote SNP. That’s what it’s for, right?
I want to go through this reasonably carefully to demonstrate that what I am writing is not hyperbole, but before I do I will make an honest disclosure for clarity. I think using a general election (Scottish or UK) to substitute for a referendum is a bad idea. I think that the rush to present this as a good idea is desperation passing for strategy.
I’ve gone over the problems in substantial detail (for Westminster) – the franchise is bad, we don’t control the timing, the main UK news will be focussed on Starmer vs. Sunak, the entire campaign will be very short cutting out most civic involvement, we won’t get the turnout, we’re a long way from guaranteed a majority, we place a political party above the cause of independence and so on.
But I think the problems in using a Holyrood election are almost as great – in particular, no matter what you do you’re eliding the SNP’s poor domestic performance with the cause of independence. Advocates of the Scottish Parliament election as a trigger mechanism refuse to believe that this could hit either turnout or result. That is pure confirmation bias.
That said, what is now proposed isn’t either of these, and most certainly isn’t a ‘plebiscite election that is to all intents and purposes as close to a referendum as we can get’. It is important to pick apart why that is the case.
At the weekend the SNP’s National Executive Committee (stuffed with place people who are either on the payroll or want to be) drafted a motion to the ‘special conference’ in March (you thought you were getting an open discussion did you?). It’s all over the place
Absolutely nothing will be done to mark this election out as being special or different from any other election other than the SNP’s say so
First, the position as it stands is that a majority of seats won (not votes cast) in a Holyrood election is a mandate for a referendum, i.e. the existing position. There is then a gap because it asks the SNP to make all reasonable efforts to secure a Section 30 Order but doesn’t explain what those are.
Then we jump to ‘if Westminster says no’. In that case the SNP will go into a UK General Election on the platform of a manifesto for how it would govern if it was in power (at least that’s how I read it) to show “the inextricable link between [independence] and the issues that will be central to the election”.
Let me help you with that. The SNP Westminster Group has been making clear from the First Minister’s ‘de facto‘ announcement onwards that it intends to stand on a manifesto for it to be an opposition party at Westminster. Of course it does – that is really the only way they can each get a personal mandate and so have a legitimate way they can take their seats and their salaries.
This means instantly that the opposition will be able to argue that people who voted SNP may have voted for the manifesto, not independence, and that people were only asked to elect MPs to go to Westminster, with a shopping list, like always. They will argue that because basically it’s true.
Absolutely nothing will be done to mark this election out as being special or different from any other election other than the SNP’s say so. No-one will pay attention. It’s like telling people your apple is a de facto pear. Nothing whatsoever will be done to give this the appearance of a single-issue plebiscite except spin.
Here it is going to be a majority of votes cast (not seats) that will be the test of success. But would it surprise you to discover that the SNP and the SNP alone will decide which votes count. There is no mention of how that will be marked on a ballot paper, so presumably people will need to be presented with a list of approved (and unapproved) candidates to work out which votes count and which ones don’t.
I can’t be bothered wasting any more time explaining how this isn’t a ‘de facto referendum’ in any sense whatsoever. It is a General Election at which some people are standing on a manifesto which will say (among other things) ‘we want independence’. Spot the difference.
So what if it is lost? If it’s a de facto referendum we would graciously accept defeat if we don’t get that majority? Nope. Nope we would not. Or at least the motion makes no mention of this. In fact it is a dual option – this fakery or wait until 2026 for some fakery. It isn’t clear if these are mutually exclusive. Indeed it rather reads like we can just keep doing this indefinitely.
But what if either of these are won? It would be a ‘mandate’ to ‘start negotiations’. I think we can be reasonably sure that that will involve asking for a Section 30 Order. Which is to say that this is more or less identical to the position in 2019. And there it is, the absolute end of the road of the SNP’s plans for independence.
Just to summarise, the SNP will stand in an election and (probably) ask for a referendum if they get enough votes. Full stop.
As of 16 January 2023 there is no party whom the people of Scotland can vote for which has a chance of forming a government which is capable of delivering independence
In the meantime we will be expected to keep our mouths shut about everything, such as the SNP’s disgusting Freeports (yes, I know you voted against them SNP but your leaders made them happen anyway so they’re yours). We’ll be fed the same old line about how they must get a free pass for another indeterminate period until they ‘deliver’.
Why? Because ‘it’s the only political vehicle for independence’. But as we can see quite clearly from the above, it’s not a political vehicle for independence, it’s currently an extended vote-gathering Ponzi scheme.
And to the dribs and drabs of loyalists left, what have you got for me? I’m thinking in particular about a personal friend here whom I told in 2017 there wouldn’t be a referendum in 2018. She told me I was wrong. I told her it again before the 2019 election. She told me I was wrong. I told her it again in the middle of last year. She told me I was wrong.
Throughout I told her the SNP leadership had no strategy. She told me they did and that it was brilliant, but that it was a secret. Well it’s not a secret any more, it’s not brilliant and it has zero chance of working. I’m fascinated to learn what I’m wrong about now.
It is time to wake up to the fact that Scotland does not have a political vehicle for independence, it has a political vehicle for its payroll and the promise of independence is just a tool to secure that payroll’s income.
I’ve heard people say that yes, a de facto referendum is a bad idea but it is our only option left. That is equally untrue – we have cupboards full of options. Sadly none of the other options protect Nicola Sturgeon’s fading career. (For the record, I’ve got many, many suggestions of much better ways to progress the cause of independence than this farce and as soon as there is a credible debate on the way forward I will share them.)
The heartbreak in all of this is that support for independence should be easy to manufacture just now but we’re not doing it – and we’re not even trying. What happened to the independence movement to create a situation where only a small minority of us seem now to place any emphasis on the importance of campaigning to convince voters without waiting for something else to happen before we do?
The independence movement risks becoming contemptuous of Scotland’s voters. We’re consumed by a seemingly never-ended cycle of talking about ourselves to ourselves. We’re lost up our own arses scrabbling around for evermore tenuous theories about how to achieve independence without preparing or campaigning or doing any proper work.
This is 100 per cent the fault of the SNP leadership. They have been leading you on with their false promises of effortless victory round the corner and this whole daft pretence has gone so far they’ve got nowhere left to turn. They trained the movement not to work but to wait, wait for a shortcut, wait for a miracle, wait for a moment of brilliance by great leaders.
I’m done with this now. There is little reason to take the SNP seriously. It’s loyalists’ delusions about the quality of the SNP leadership is silly. They didn’t have a clue, they don’t have a clue, they won’t have a clue. But they’re happy to bring us down with them.
Right now Scotland does not have a political vehicle for independence. I want to spell that out. As of 16 January 2023 there is no party whom the people of Scotland can vote for which has a chance of forming a government which is capable of delivering independence.
This leaves a single conclusion and a single conclusion only – unless we can manufacture a civic vehicle to progress independence, we should all go and find something else more productive to do with our lives for the next five years, or until the SNP leadership changes.