Robin McAlpine has another article over at CommonSpace in which he castigates the leadership of "the movement" (by which he presumably means Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues) for inaction on an independence referendum, and for potentially letting a historic opportunity slip by. I'm trying to work out how much of it I agree with. There's one small part that I definitely disagree with, because it's factually inaccurate - Robin claims that it's been almost two years since an opinion poll last pointed to a pro-independence majority at Holyrood, but that's categorically not true. A Survation poll as recently as July suggested that the SNP and Greens between them would have a fairly comfortable majority. Obviously there are a number of different projection models, but there was another poll as recently as last month that might just about have translated into a pro-indy majority. It's true that most recent polls have suggested the SNP and Greens would fall short, but not all that far short, and there are still two and a half years to go until the next election anyway.
I'm also inclined to disagree with Robin's call for the development of a detailed prospectus for independence. Clearly the public need to be inspired by the possibilities of independence, but what we shouldn't do is require "the movement" to monolithically support something that closely resembles a party political manifesto for a post-indy election. There needs to be space for centrist or centre-right indy supporters to say that they hope to take Scotland in a very different direction from the one Robin McAlpine has in mind. For similar reasons, I'm agnostic about Robin's calls for the SNP to abandon the Growth Commission report, which is very much a radical left preoccupation.
But on the main thrust of the article, I'm just not sure. As the old joke about the French Revolution goes, it's probably too early to tell.
In the immediate aftermath of last year's general election, I was extremely worried that the SNP leadership might have lost their heads (over what was, after all, a clear victory), and were about to make a terrible mistake by putting an independence referendum on the backburner as a sop to voters in the minority of seats that were now held by the Tories. I wrote blogpost after blogpost urging that the triple-lock mandate for a pre-2021 referendum should be honoured, and at one point I was even quoted in the Financial Times with words to that effect. That attracted the anger of a number of fellow SNP members who loudly told me, in defiance of quite a bit of publicly-available evidence, that the leadership's position was absolutely unchanged. "Just trust Nicola" was a common refrain. When the new policy was eventually revealed, it of course turned out that there had been a significant shift, but I nevertheless breathed a huge sigh of relief. I didn't personally agree with an eighteen month pause in the plans for a referendum, but as long as we were still headed towards the same destination, that was all that mattered. And I could see that there was a plausible argument that voters would in the long run be more accepting of a second indyref if the SNP had spent a decent period of time concentrating on securing the least worst Brexit for the whole UK, and had been seen to fail in spite of their very best endeavours.
But of course everything hinges on the assumption that the SNP leadership were being honest that this attempt to improve Brexit is strictly time-limited, will come to an end soon and will give way to a renewed all-out push for independence. If that's what happens, the delay could well have been beneficial and Robin will be proved wrong. But if the pause was instead a cover story for the beginning of an indefinite delay and for the SNP's gradual transformation into a primarily anti-Brexit party, then Robin is right and those who "trusted Nicola" made a mistake. I genuinely don't know which way it's going to go, but I still very much live in hope.
One thing Robin is undoubtedly right about is that it's not good enough for the leadership to say to the rank-and-file: "stop thinking and talking about process, just leave all of that to us, we know what we're doing, and you don't need to know what we're planning". I am inclined to trust Nicola Sturgeon, but at the end of the day those of us who are members of the SNP joined because we believe in Scottish independence, and not because of a quasi-religious belief in the infallibility of one person.
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