You might have seen that I was name-checked the other day in an article by Iain Macwhirter about a supposed danger of SNP disunity after Nicola Sturgeon makes her long-awaited decision in the autumn. I think the first thing to say here is that any implication that there could eventually be a threat to Ms Sturgeon's own position as leader is faintly ludicrous. She's by some distance the party's greatest asset, and it's obvious that any replacement in the foreseeable future would be a step backwards. The two most credible alternative leaders are Humza Yousaf, who is probably the long-term heir apparent but needs more experience, and Angus Robertson, who has left active politics for the time being.
Nevertheless, Iain claims that Ms Sturgeon "wants to see support for Yes heading in the direction of 60% before she acts". And it's quite true that, if this reading is correct, I and a great many others within the SNP would believe she's about to make a terrible mistake. But my question is the same one I've asked of the BBC's Sarah Smith: how does Iain actually know that Ms Sturgeon intends to 'wait' for the impossible 60%? Is he guessing? Does he have a reliable source? Has he had direct conversations with Ms Sturgeon on the matter? He doesn't tell us, and doesn't even give us any clues. I'll be more open and concede I have absolutely no private insight into Ms Sturgeon's thinking, but I do find it incredibly hard to believe that she would be foolish enough to set herself a fanciful target for pre-campaign Yes support that every scrap of logic suggests will not and cannot be met. Even amidst the initial shock after the Brexit referendum result, Yes support only reached the low 50s. Bearing that precedent in mind, how can anyone expect to get close to 60% without even campaigning? The only people who would seriously set a 60% target are those who don't want an independence referendum to take place, and who don't want Scotland to become an independent country within their political lifetimes. I believe Ms Sturgeon does want independence as soon as humanly possible.
Iain also suggests that Ms Sturgeon might use her autumn statement to abandon an independence referendum in favour of a push for a second EU referendum, but that sounds even less plausible than the 60% claim (which makes me suspect the whole thing may be wishful thinking on Iain's part). In doing that, she would be endorsing the right of the UK electorate as a whole to overrule Scotland's own constitutional preference. In short, she would be embracing the logic of unionism. That is quite simply unthinkable for any SNP leader. She could of course stipulate that the SNP would only support another EU vote if a double mandate was required (ie. the UK as a whole would only leave the EU if Scotland voted Leave), but as that would mean she would remain opposed to any referendum that might actually take place in the real world, what would be the point? It would just be a monumental distraction from the real task in hand, which is to keep Scotland in the EU by means of independence.
I was interviewed about this subject on Radio Sputnik a few days ago, and you can read a transcript HERE (the audio file is also available at the bottom of the page). Of course when you speak off the cuff you always forget to mention one or two things - basically the point I was trying to make is that the whole purpose of delaying a decision until the autumn of this year was to make sure there was clarity on the shape of Brexit at the time a referendum is called, and to demonstrate that the SNP had sincerely tried (but failed) to keep Britain as a whole in the single market and customs union before turning to an independence referendum as a last resort. If the necessary clarity arrives on schedule this autumn, a decision can still be made at the planned time. If it doesn't arrive, a nonsense would be made of the SNP's strategy if they pushed ahead immediately with an indyref just because of a date on a calendar, and I suspect most of the party membership would have no great problem with Ms Sturgeon deciding upon a very short further delay of a few weeks or months until we know whether there is going to be a no deal Brexit or not. But what would not be accepted is any suggestion that the delay will be open-ended and could lead to the current mandate for a pre-2021 referendum expiring altogether.
And I just don't believe that the membership will be asked to accept any such thing.
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