You may have seen that Thomas Widmann of Arc of Prosperity has written a blogpost in which he turns conventional wisdom on its head by suggesting that Magnus Linklater's notorious article in The Times (claiming that "the SNP's dithering" on EU membership is turning immigrants "angry") makes a perfectly logical argument which he largely agrees with. In fairness, it's true that the generous interpretation Thomas puts on the article is not irreconcilable with the actual text, but I think most people would say that the operative words are "by Magnus Linklater". This is not a man who wants Scotland to become an independent member state of the EU or who believes such an idea is even worthy of consideration, so the obvious conclusion is that he is indulging in sophistry by very vaguely giving the impression that the SNP can somehow secure Scotland's place in the EU without independence being required.
Thomas notes that it is correct to say that he, as an immigrant from another EU state, is angry about the SNP's alleged "dithering". I think what we're seeing here is the tension between an EU citizen who puts the prize of continued EU membership above all else and sees Yes as a means to that end, and those of us who may be extremely pro-European but who nevertheless would be Yes anyway, and indeed probably would have been Yes even in the 1970s when the independence cause was associated with Euroscepticism. I remember Thomas reacting with horror when I listed a number of extreme concessions that the UK government could theoretically make that I thought might be sufficient to justify the SNP dropping its opposition to Brexit in return for a deal. One of my suggestions was Devo Max (genuine Devo Max, obviously, not the Jackie Bird version). Thomas wanted to know why on earth I thought any deal that didn't involve staying in the single market or customs union could possibly be acceptable, and my answer was simply that genuine Devo Max would be such an enormous concession from London that it would be worth making our own sacrifice for. That makes sense to me as someone whose primary goal is Scottish self-government. (I think most of us, if forced to make such an improbable binary choice, would prefer an independent Scotland outside European structures to non-independence inside the EU.) I can easily appreciate why it doesn't make any sense at all to someone for whom the whole point of Scottish self-government is as a means to remain in Europe.
That said, I think Thomas is dead right to point out again that the SNP has at least partly lost sight of the moral obligation it owes to EU citizens after persuading them to stay in Scotland in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum on the basis that an indyref was coming and that it would secure full EU membership for Scotland. Somehow the clarity of that pledge has got lost as the SNP fret about the votes shed to the Tories in places like Moray. But those lapsed voters in the north-east were always unlikely to back independence in a referendum anyway, so there really oughtn't to be any tactical conflict between those who prioritise EU membership and those who prioritise independence - the most promising way to achieve both goals is to push ahead unapologetically with an indyref, either next year or the year after.
Unfortunately Thomas himself is now departing from that script by effectively abandoning independence as the most effective Brexit parachute, and is instead pinning his hopes on another UK-wide referendum to reverse the outcome of the last one. That's not something the SNP can realistically be expected to campaign for, because they'd be conceding the right of the rest of the UK to overrule Scotland's constitutional wishes. As it happens, I don't think it's a viable way of furthering Thomas' own priority either, because I cannot see any circumstance in which a Tory government would allow a referendum in which Remain was a possible outcome. It would be electoral suicide for them to do so. A snap general election followed by a second referendum held by an incoming Labour government is just about possible, but there would still be the formidable obstacle of Jeremy Corbyn's private but well-documented Euroscepticism.
The bottom line is that there is a far greater percentage chance of maintaining EU membership because of an indyref than there is of maintaining it because of a second UK-wide vote. So although Thomas' priorities may differ slightly from most of the Yes movement, I can't see any reason why there should be a corresponding divergence on strategy. We should still be marching in the same direction down the same road. I do understand why Thomas feels misled and let-down, though, and I hope that Nicola Sturgeon's long-awaited decision in the autumn will remedy that.
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