My interest was caught by Peter A Bell's blogpost the other day about Green MSP Ross Greer's comments on Indyref 2, and not for the first time I find myself half-agreeing with Peter and half-disagreeing. I certainly agree that Greer, in arguing that a Section 30 order is essential before a referendum can go ahead, is a siren voice who could potentially lead us onto the rocks - not ideologically or philosophically, but simply in strategic terms. Greer suggests that we should forget all about holding a referendum without Westminster's consent and instead concentrate on "creating the political leverage to get the Section 30 order we need" - but the obvious point he's overlooked is that embarking on a process that could lead to a non-Westminster-approved referendum is in itself the sort of leverage that could actually produce a Section 30 order. It's arguably very unlikely that anything else would even be capable of creating sufficient leverage (with the possible exception of an early general election in which the SNP make net gains - but of course the triggering of an early election is not in the gift of anyone on the pro-indy side). There's no point in calling for the creation of leverage if in the same breath you're arguing that we should throw the best chance of leverage we have into the bin.
Greer says: "The idea of us being in a situation where we had to attempt independence with the absolute resistance of the UK government, I don’t think, would make independence actually possible." Does he not understand that this stance, if maintained, would give the UK government a very simple method by which they can make independence "impossible"? All they'd have to do is just keep saying "no" to a referendum. Job done. Scotland would have no leverage at all.
Think back to the first indyref. Why did the UK government grant a Section 30 order for that one? They didn't do it out of the goodness of their hearts, that's for sure. They did it because the SNP initially took the view that a Section 30 order wasn't needed and were talking seriously about going ahead without one. That was dangerous for the UK government, who risked losing any say over the format of the vote (for example whether there would be a Devo Max option), and also risked being faced with a dilemma over whether to take legal action to stop the referendum - which might or might not have succeeded, but would have been politically damaging either way. A credible threat of an "unapproved" referendum would generate a similar set of risks for London now.
In many ways, the strategic logic is similar to that of the Continuity Bill. The Scottish Government would much prefer a deal with London to protect devolution, but paradoxically by preparing the ground for exploiting a no-deal scenario, you make a deal far more likely to happen. But of course there's always just a chance that London will still prove intransigent, in which case you have to fall back on the Continuity Bill - in that sense it's an each-way bet. Perhaps that's what scares people about using the same tactic to extract a Section 30 order - if it didn't work, we'd actually have to press ahead with an "unapproved" referendum. But would that really be so awful? If a referendum bill was passed without a Section 30 order and the Supreme Court subsequently upheld it, it would become the law of the land and the "fears" of a unionist boycott would probably recede. If the Supreme Court didn't uphold it, the vote wouldn't happen anyway, but at least we'd then have political and legal clarity which would lead us inexorably towards using a Holyrood election to seek an outright mandate for independence.
Greer raises a specific concern about unionist-controlled local authorities refusing to cooperate with a referendum held without a Section 30 order. I'm obviously not a legal expert, so I'm willing to be corrected on this, but it seems intuitively likely that there are ways to deal with that problem. It's surely of some significance that powers over local government are devolved to Scotland.
Incidentally, I'd also suggest it's rather important that Labour and the Liberal Democrats (with the eccentric exception of Mike Rumbles) have created a precedent by voting in favour of the Continuity Bill, in spite of the Presiding Officer's opinion that it exceeds the parliament's powers. That will make it harder for either party to credibly argue that the SNP are doing something terribly wrong by passing a referendum bill over which there is some legal doubt. I don't say that in any sort of triumphalist "gotcha" way - I think Labour and the Lib Dems have done absolutely the right thing over the Continuity Bill, and they may even have done it for the right reasons. But it's created new facts on the ground, just the same.
Where I part company with Peter A Bell is his belief that Greer's flawed thinking on strategy is symptomatic of a major difference in approach between the Greens and the SNP. In reality, Greer's views are shared by some senior people in the SNP, while some take the opposite view, and others are somewhere in between. I've no idea which camp Nicola Sturgeon is in, and unless Peter has some sort of inside knowledge, I think he's in danger of projecting his own beliefs onto her. This isn't first and foremost an SNP v Green problem - there's an internal SNP debate on strategy that needs to be won.
* * *
If you're an SNP supporter in the Penicuik ward, don't forget to vote in the local by-election today. The SNP won the popular vote in the ward last year, but this is exactly the sort of place where Labour have prospered in recent months, so it could be a tight contest and every vote is important. (The Tories are in with a serious chance as well.)