Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The practical implications of using the 2024 general election as a de facto independence referendum

There's one caveat that needs to be placed on my two previous posts from earlier today, which relates to the fact that the referendum legislation the Scottish Government are referring to the Supreme Court specifies that the question would be exactly the same one that was asked in 2014, ie. 'Should Scotland be an independent country?"  Since the outset of devolution in 1999, it's been widely felt that a referendum held without Westminster's consent would have the best chance of being legal if it asked a more indirect question about whether the Scottish Government should open independence negotiations with Westminster.  The fact that Nicola Sturgeon is very deliberately spurning that tactic makes it look as if she's actually trying to maximise the chances of the Supreme Court rejecting the legislation.  I would be incredibly cynical about that if she hadn't so firmly committed herself to the Plan B of a plebiscitary election in 2024.  Nevertheless, it's legitimate to ask questions about why the SNP leadership now seem to actively prefer a plebiscitary election to a legal referendum, given that they've spent several years lecturing us that a legal referendum is the only viable way of achieving independence.

The explanation is, as ever, likely to be bound up in the SNP's own partisan interests, and I'm wondering if they fear a Scottish Labour surge at the general election if it looks like Starmer could become Prime Minister.  They may have calculated that turning the election into a de facto referendum is the best way of ensuring that Yes supporters don't drift off to Labour.  It resolves the 'Cat Boyd Paradox', ie. the problem of left-wing Yes supporters who seem to sincerely believe that voting Labour at a general election is not irreconcilable with their backing for indy.

I've always said that there are dangers in using a Westminster election, rather than a Holyrood election, as a de facto referendum, because it's harder to control the narrative - we have a London dominated media that will always tell us UK elections are about UK-wide issues.  That may explain why pro-indy parties in combination won an absolute majority in the Holyrood list vote last year, but not at the Westminster election in 2019.  But let's accentuate the positive - there has been one occasion in the past when Yes parties won more than 50% of the vote at a Westminster election, so that shows it can be done in theory.  It happened in 2015 in the very special post-indyref atmosphere, and it may well be that a plebiscitary election is a potential way of recreating that atmosphere.

I would imagine it's also occurred to the SNP that even if Yes parties fall short of a popular vote majority, they can still win a majority of seats with the help of first-past-the post.  That would allow them to muddy the waters with a 'contested mandate'.  The biggest threat to a majority in terms of seats would be a formal unionist electoral pact - but I just can't see that happening, because it would be tantamount to a unionist concession that the election is functioning as an independence referendum.

One obvious practical issue is what the non-SNP pro-indy parties will do at the 2024 election.  The SNP are in coalition with the Greens, so those two parties will undoubtedly have already nailed things down between them.  I hope to goodness there's no electoral pact allowing the Greens a clear run in one or two constituencies, because there are plenty of people who would vote SNP but would never vote Green. From a popular vote perspective, we can't afford to squander those votes.  

As far as my own party Alba are concerned, we're all still processing today's announcement, but it's pretty much inconceivable that we would do anything to impede a serious attempt by the SNP to secure an outright independence mandate - exactly what we've been begging them to do from the start.  So I would imagine we'd end up backing the SNP in the vast majority of constituencies.  The only real question mark would be over the two constituencies in which Alba currently have the incumbent MPs.  There will be considerable thought on the latter point, I'm sure, but I'm very confident that any decision will be taken with the best interests of the independence cause in mind, rather than the partisan interests of the Alba Party.

Scotland may not have declared independence yet - but it's just declared independence from the tyranny of "once in a generation"

For many years now, I've been arguing that there's considerable beauty in finding out once and for all whether the Scottish Parliament can legislate for an independence referendum without a Section 30 order - because if it turns out it can't, we can then stop worrying about referendums altogether and get on with achieving a mandate for independence via a scheduled election.  That carries three huge advantages - 

1) It acknowledges the principle that while there may be a legal barrier to Scotland becoming independent without the consent of the UK Parliament, there is no legal barrier to Scotland voting for independence without the consent of the UK Parliament.  Those are two completely distinct concepts that have been conflated and muddled for far too long - including, it has to be said, by very senior people in the SNP.  There is nothing to stop any political party putting independence in its manifesto for any election, and indeed it's highly unlikely that there's any legal impediment to holding an informal, 'unauthorised' referendum.  This is not Spain and voting is not a criminal offence - not yet, anyway.

2) It frees us from the tyranny of "once in a generation", which again has been a tyranny caused by people both outside and inside the SNP.  If and when it's established that the referendum option has been legally closed off and that scheduled elections are the route to independence, never again should we hear the argument that "we only get one more shot so we have to wait for the absolutely perfect moment".  Scheduled elections by definition occur on a regular basis - every five years or sometimes less.  So the fear of failure will be taken away - we know another opportunity will present itself relatively quickly even if we fail to get our mandate in 2024.

3) It's going to cause a considerable strategic dilemma for the Tories and other unionist parties.  Can they really fight the 2024 election on the familiar  "stop a referendum" pledge when the SNP are no longer asking for a referendum?  But if they fight it on a starker "stop independence" pledge, that'll tacitly acknowledge that the election is a de facto referendum, and make it harder to later discredit or ignore any pro-indy mandate that may be achieved.  Do they therefore go into the election largely ignoring the independence issue, and thus deprive themselves of the tried and tested way of firing up their own base?  It's a real problem for them.

Incidentally, it's not totally impossible that an incoming Labour government in 2024 might refuse to accept an SNP victory as an outright independence mandate but would at that point finally accept that the issue has to be resolved, and offer a legal referendum as a compromise.  But before the election it's absolutely vital that everyone in the SNP and the wider Yes movement holds the line that an independence mandate must simply be respected, full stop, without any suggestion that a compromise will be considered.  That'll give us the maximum leverage after the mandate is achieved.

At long last, we're there - a CREDIBLE guarantee that there will either be a referendum next year, or a plebiscitary election the year after

As most readers will know, I'm a member of the Alba Party's NEC, but I'm not going to be churlish about this - Nicola Sturgeon's statement today at last contained the clarity that we've been crying out for ever since the Brexit referendum six long years ago.  She'll try to hold a legal referendum on 19th October 2023, and if the Supreme Court strikes that down, she'll use the 2024 Westminster election as a de facto referendum by seeking an outright mandate for independence and NOT seeking yet another pointless mandate for a referendum.  Substantively, that's what I've been calling for her to do for a few years, and what I used the Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase polls to establish that there was, indeed, public support for.

I might quibble about some of the details - I'm not sure about the wisdom of the Scottish Government effectively challenging its own referendum in court, even if that's just a procedural device to expedite an inevitable legal process, and I would have preferred a snap Holyrood election to be used as a plebiscitary election, because a Westminster campaign could easily be overwhelmed by UK-wide issues.  But none of us were going to get every single detail of what we wanted.  What's important is that we at last have a credible guarantee of a vote on independence in either 2023 or 2024 at the absolute latest.  

So I'm more than happy to say it: well done, Nicola.  You delayed for far, far longer than you should have done - this should have happened before Brexit, not after, but you've done the right thing in the end.

Monday, June 27, 2022

#Referendum2023: It's like Christmas Eve for the Yes movement as we are now just ONE SLEEP AWAY from hearing the PRECISE METHOD by which the guarantee of an October 2023 independence referendum will be delivered

On the eve of her historic announcement about how exactly she will deliver her promise of an independence referendum in sixteen months' time, Nicola Sturgeon has been reported as saying that the Scottish independence movement has now also become "the Scottish democracy movement", due to the attempts of Labour and the Tories to stop a referendum that people have already voted for.  A few critics have suggested that this is rather troubling mood music, because if Ms Sturgeon was genuine in her stated determination to hold a 2023 referendum without a Section 30 order, she would just get on and legislate for it, without according undue importance to the unionist parties' futile attempts to thwart it.  There have even been a few dark mutterings that maybe she isn't even serious about holding a referendum next year, and that what she is actually doing is preparing the ground for the SNP to pitch itself as the "pro-democracy party" in the 2024 Westminster election.

Please, please, please, I beg of you, ignore this corrosive cynicism.  If Nicola Sturgeon's words appear to be consistent with a stunt intended to boost SNP support in 2024, you can rest assured that is purely coincidental, because as we've been told again and again, a referendum is definitely going ahead in 2023 - "no ifs, no buts".  The SNP aren't even wasting a split-second of thought on strategy for the 2024 election, because they know we'll have voted for independence by then, and the election will thus be an irrelevant sideshow as far as Scotland is concerned.  And let's face it, even if by some billion-to-one chance the SNP end up reneging on their promise of an October 2023 referendum, SNP activists still wouldn't be powerless to do anything about it because they could always come over to Alba en masse at that point, but I'm quite sure it won't come to that because the referendum is definitely on.

Roll on our guaranteed independence referendum of October 2023.  Signed, sealed, and tomorrow it will be delivered.  There'll be no more "next steps" or "shortly" or "in due course", because this time is the real deal.  Prepare to be impressed.

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SCOT GOES POP #Referendum2023 COUNTDOWN CLOCK

There are just 465 days until the earliest possible date for #Referendum2023 (5th October)

There are just 486 days until the last possible date for #Referendum2023 (26th October)

(Note: the Countdown Clock calculations assume that tradition will be maintained by holding #Referendum2023 on a Thursday.)

Monday, June 20, 2022

Alex Massie's bizarre repudiation of the principles of parliamentary democracy

Courtesy of an anonymous commenter on the previous thread, I've now seen Alex Massie's column in full, and it's even worse than I thought.  It effectively contains a repudiation of the most fundamental principle of parliamentary democracy, which is pretty extraordinary from someone who imagines himself to be a traditional moderate conservative.  The strength of parliamentary democracy, we're generally told, is that it's not rule by whim or rule by impulse - a party puts forward a manifesto containing a considered package of proposals, and voters give that party a broad mandate to implement its programme.  The result of a general election is not then frivolously over-ridden by random opinion polls saying "yeah, but we don't like that bit of the programme, just leave that bit out, actually".  

Massie is now elevating opinion polls above parliamentary democracy by saying it's inconceivable that the elected SNP-Green government should be allowed to honour its manifesto commitment of an independence referendum because there are purportedly ComRes or YouGov polls saying the voters aren't enthusiastic about a referendum in 2023.  (In reality, the polling evidence on voters' preferred timing for an indyref is a lot more complicated and contradictory than he'd care to admit.)  He apparently thinks the 'government by YouGov' principle is so self-evident that anyone who argues in favour of parliamentary democracy instead is being knowingly fatuous.

This really shouldn't need saying, but no country has introduced rule by opinion poll yet, and there are exceptionally good and obvious reasons why.  First of all, polls can be inaccurate.  They have a margin of error, but sometimes they're not even accurate to within the stated margin of error.  Secondly, they can be easily manipulated with leading question wordings - the propaganda polls Survation regularly carry out for Scotland in Union are the most obvious example, but there are subtler forms of manipulation too.  And most fundamentally of all, polls are throwaway affairs.  Respondents are giving an instantaneous reaction to questions they may not have previously encountered or considered in any depth.  By contrast, most voters in general elections will have thought about their decision carefully and at considerable length.  Elections are a serious business, opinion polls are (relatively) disposable.

And, actually, the word 'serious' brings me to another of Massie's recurring themes.  When Nicola Sturgeon was in "do nothing" mode, he used to praise her to the skies as a "serious" political leader, drawing an implicit contrast with "unserious" activists or politicians who actually want to take some kind of action to overcome Westminster's anti-democratic obstructionism of Scottish self-determination.  Now that Sturgeon has - temporarily and/or superficially at least - moved to the other camp, Massie is of course blasting her for "looking unserious".  (This is the Alyn Smith school of politics, where the main objective is to avoid at all costs "looking odd" when viewed through some sort of centrist dad prism.)  Even more absurdly, he's claiming that "do nothing" would be a far better strategy for achieving independence, because for some fantastical reason he's never specified, he expects us to believe that Westminster will eventually agree to an independence referendum if we just wait for enough years or decades.

But let's imagine that Sturgeon had actually done what Massie thought she should do, or what he thought "a serious leader" would do.  That would have meant that, having won an election on an unambiguous pledge to hold a referendum, she would then have said that obviously she can't honour her promise because Boris Johnson doesn't fancy the idea and mumble mumble something about YouGov.  It's hard to think of anything that would carry a more fundamentally unserious look than that.  It would be treating voters with utter contempt, it would be treating the whole process of democratic elections as a meaningless farce.

To be frank, the best that can be said for Massie is that he's making a set of mind-bogglingly stupid propositions look intelligent or defensible with the use of some elegant prose.

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Scot Goes Pop Fundraising

Over the years, Scot Goes Pop has provided extensive Scottish polling analysis and political commentary, as well as commissioning no fewer than six full-scale opinion polls, and producing numerous podcasts and videos.  If you'd like to help me continue this work, donations are welcome via any of the following methods...

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Sunday, June 19, 2022

#Referendum2023 : Another EXCITE-SPLAT as the mainstream media LOSES ITS RAG over the guaranteed referendum date of October 2023

I can't get past the paywall, but apparently Alex Massie says in his latest column that "a consultative referendum designed to heap pressure on the British government is the kind of wild gamble made by desperate punters who have run out of options".  But what does he mean by "run out of options"?  As I understand it, Massie believes the only circumstance in which an independence referendum should take place is if it's agreed by Westminster - in other words he thinks Boris Johnson should be given an absolute, condition-free veto over Scottish democracy.  There's not much point in Massie praying in aid opinion poll results that he thinks supports his case when he doesn't believe the wishes of the Scottish people actually matter anyway.  "Run out of options" literally means nothing more than "Boris has said no". Any attempt at any sort of action whatsoever now that Boris has said no is thus a "desperate gamble".  Massie's message to Eastern European dissidents during the Cold War would presumably have been "stop gambling, just do nothing, accept Moscow's veto".  But, as those dissidents would doubtless have reminded him, a gamble when you've been left with little to lose is barely a gamble at all.

Elsewhere, Gerry Hassan argues that our guaranteed referendum date of October 2023 is too early, and like Massie he also prays in aid opinion polls purportedly showing that voters want a referendum, but at a later date.  As I've pointed out umpteen times, this is one of the biggest red herrings in Scottish polling.  Five years ago, polls showed that voters wanted a referendum, but not imminently - they wanted it about three to five years down the road.  In other words, they wanted it around about now.  So if you took what they said absolutely literally, polls should still be showing that voters want a referendum now - but they don't, they show that voters want a referendum, but in around three to five years' time.  If you came back in five years' time, you'd find that voters still say they want a referendum, but after another three to five years.  This is a vicious circle that no pro-independence government will ever break out of unless they decide to lead public opinion on referendum timing rather than be a slave to it.  "Yes, but not yet" effectively means "never", unless the "yet" is a fixed, immutable date.  So the majority SNP-Green government have done absolutely the right thing by guaranteeing - "no ifs, no buts" - that the referendum will take place in 2023.

Turning to the piece in the Times that is causing so much interest, I must just start by noting the irony of the Scottish Tories suggesting that an advisory referendum would be a "glorified opinion poll". It's the Tories themselves who have attempted to turn Scotland into a "YouGov democracy", constantly arguing that Scotland shouldn't have a referendum because YouGov says we don't want one.  A glorified opinion poll should thus be right up their street.

There's a suggestion in the article that the SNP may have a "clever legal wheeze" in mind whereby the wording of the referendum question is changed to ask whether voters want the Scottish Government to open negotiations with the UK Government to bring about independence - in other words it wouldn't be a direct independence question, and thus might evade any difficulties arising from the Scotland Act.  What undermines the sense of cleverness somewhat, though, is that the "open negotiations" referendum question is exactly what the SNP had in mind in the early days of devolution - I distinctly recall the late, great Professor Sir Neil MacCormick discussing the possibility of such a question in the run-up to the 1999 Holyrood election and saying he had "no doubt" that it would be within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.  So clever wheeze it may be, but that cleverness long predates the current SNP leadership, and is presumably what we'd have ended up with in 2014 if the UK government hadn't spontaneously offered to negotiate a Section 30 order (remember it was David Cameron and Michael Moore who made the initial approach to the Scottish Government, not the other way around).  Nicola Sturgeon has long set her face against what was once the preferred approach of the government she was Deputy First Minister of, so in a sense she's just ended up back where she started after a needlessly long detour.  But the important thing is she's getting it right now - "more joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth", and all that.

One thing that becomes abundantly clear - albeit indirectly - from the SNP source quoted in the Times article is that Alba and their fellow travellers have played a crucial role in bringing about the SNP's somewhat more radical new stance on independence.  The clue is in the suggestion that pushing for a referendum will be a "win-win" because it will re-unite the Yes movement behind the current SNP leadership.  Nicola Sturgeon wouldn't even need a strategy for rallying the Yes movement behind her if we had all remained slavishly loyal to her previous "in my own good time, dears" messaging.  So this gives the lie to the idea that unity for unity's sake would have achieved independence quicker, and I would respectfully suggest that the most effective way of keeping the SNP leadership honest over the crucial sixteen months until the referendum they've promised is to join or support the Alba Party.

There's been a lot of cynicism about the SNP source revealing that uppermost in the leadership's thoughts has been that the new strategy may help to gain seats at the 2024 Westminster election.  Well, what I'd say is that the SNP might well deserve to gain seats if they secure a Yes vote in a consultative referendum and the UK government refuse to accept the result - the obvious next step would be to pile on the pressure by securing as many pro-indy seats as possible at Westminster, and given the nature of first-past-the-post, that would have to mean getting behind the SNP in most constituencies. 

But yes, just as pure observation, it's fair to say that there's one obvious difference between the Salmond and Sturgeon governments.  The object of Salmond's strategy on a referendum was to deliver independence.  The object of Sturgeon's strategy on a referendum is to rally the pro-indy base and help the SNP win elections.  If independence itself is actually achieved along the way, that would no more than a happy by-product.  But I suppose, ultimately, who cares if the motivations are cynical as long as they help us all to get what we want.

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Scot Goes Pop Fundraising

Over the years, Scot Goes Pop has provided extensive Scottish polling analysis and political commentary, as well as commissioning no fewer than six full-scale opinion polls, and producing numerous podcasts and videos.  If you'd like to help me continue this work, donations are welcome via any of the following methods...

Direct payments via Paypal - my Paypal email address is:   jkellysta@yahoo.co.uk

Scot Goes Pop General Fundraiser 

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If you prefer a bank transfer, please message me for details using the contact email address which can be found in the sidebar of the blog (desktop version only), or on my Twitter profile.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

#Referendum2023: It's OCTOBER! Specificity THRILL-BOOM as the Scottish Government NAMES THE MONTH for our guaranteed independence referendum next year

We still don't have the exact date for #Referendum2023, but we're far closer to it thanks to an announcement from Angus Robertson, the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution and External Affairs, on today's Good Morning Scotland -

"The First Minister made clear yesterday that she intends to make an announcement to the Scottish Parliament in the forthcoming weeks about the route-map towards the referendum, which we intend to hold next October."

Assuming tradition is maintained by holding #Referendum2023 on a Thursday, we can now narrow the date down to four possible options:

5th October 2023

12th October 2023

19th October 2023

26th October 2023

Let's hope it's the 5th, because October is a transitional month and the weather is often a lot better at the start than it is at the end.  (For that reason, September might have been preferable, although perhaps there's some other major event in the calendar that would have clashed.)

In all seriousness, I think we are making some progress now.  This most certainly doesn't mean a referendum will actually be held next year, but the Scottish Government have now gone far enough that it's going to be very hard for them to quietly march their troops back down from the top of the hill in the way they've got away with in the past.  There would be a tremendous sense of betrayal among many SNP members and supporters if that happened, and it wouldn't be hard to imagine a large number of defections to Alba or to other independence parties.  So to avoid that danger, the Scottish Government will know they'll have to make a credible attempt to deliver an October 2023 referendum, and if the vote doesn't take place it'll have to be clearly seen that it was external forces that thwarted it.  As a result, it would be established that the type of referendum the SNP and Greens want to hold simply isn't viable, and the onus would then be on them to explain how they're going to deliver independence without a referendum.  The only remaining game in town would be a plebiscitary election, which is something that no UK government or court can thwart.

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SCOT GOES POP #Referendum2023 COUNTDOWN CLOCK

Thanks to the October announcement, the Countdown Clock will henceforth have considerably more precision - and note this means we are now less than 500 days away at most.

There are just 477 days until the earliest possible date for #Referendum2023 (5th October)

There are just 498 days until the last possible date for #Referendum2023 (26th October)

(Note: the Countdown Clock calculations assume that tradition will be maintained by holding #Referendum2023 on a Thursday.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

#Referendum2023 : It's a certainty! Drama as it emerges our guaranteed independence referendum next year will go ahead EVEN WITHOUT A SECTION 30 ORDER

As you know, I think Nicola Sturgeon and the rest of the SNP leadership do not expect or intend to keep their signed-in-blood "no ifs, no buts" promise of an independence referendum in 2023.  However, the fact that they are continuing to ramp up expectations of what will probably prove to be a phantom referendum is a very good thing, because that makes it much harder for a reckoning to be avoided.  Harder but not impossible, mind - the SNP leadership have a track record of gratefully grabbing hold of any big news story that randomly comes along as an excuse for further delay.  But the likelihood is that the rank-and-file SNP membership will go into next year in the genuine belief that a referendum is imminent, and that means the leadership will have to factor in the danger of mass disillusionment - and perhaps mass defections - if members later feel they've been 'had'.  So, at the very least, the leadership are going to have to make it look like they made a serious and credible effort to deliver a referendum and were unexpectedly thwarted by forces outwith their control.

And that can no longer mean simply asking for a Section 30 order, pretending to be shocked when Boris Johnson says no, and then saying "this is totally unsustainable, vote SNP yet again in 2024 to tell Boris Johnson that he is doing something totally unsustainable".  To Nicola Sturgeon's credit, she has finally released us from the Section 30 trap, and says that a referendum can go ahead without the permission of London Tories.  So the failure of Johnson to respond to a Section 30 order will no longer be an acceptable excuse for inaction.  What Sturgeon has not done, though, is release us from the "legality" trap - she's still drawing an utterly bogus distinction between a "legal" and a "non-legal" referendum.  (In reality, the UK is not Spain and there is no such thing as an "illegal vote" here.  There are certainly votes that have no legal standing or recognition, but that doesn't prevent people from organising them.)  So the excuse for a lack of a referendum next year is now more likely to be legal in nature - "we tried, but we underestimated the conservatism of the Supreme Court, we can do no more for now".  

And, unfortunately, there is probably still enough goodwill towards Sturgeon among the SNP membership that they would accept that as a good enough excuse for the time being.  But such a sequence of events would still move us forward, because after a defeat in the Supreme Court any further talk of holding a referendum would then be seen as a dead end (barring something improbable such as a post-election deal with Starmer), and the debate would move on to the timing of a plebiscitary election.  Pete Wishart would hate it, but that's where the conversation would go.  So, on the whole, today's events are a positive development.

SCOT GOES POP #Referendum2023 COUNTDOWN CLOCK

There are just 205 days until the earliest possible date for #Referendum2023 (5th January)

There are just 555 days until the last possible date for #Referendum2023 (21st December)

(Note: the Countdown Clock calculations assume that tradition will be maintained by holding #Referendum2023 on a Thursday, and that it will be before Christmas.)

Monday, June 13, 2022

#Referendum2023 : All Systems GO! The starting gun has been FORMALLY fired, and either a Referendum Bill or a TIMESCALE for a Referendum Bill will be set out SHORTLY

Today has seen multiple further hammerblows for the dwindling band of cynics who are inexplicably sceptical about the majority SNP-Green government's cast-iron guarantee that an independence referendum will be held in 2023.  When asked if the Scottish Government's new paper about independence meant that she was formally starting the Indyref 2 campaign, Nicola Sturgeon replied "yes".  That's crucial, because of course the SNP leadership have started the Indyref 2 campaign on many previous occasions, so the fact that they are doing so "formally" on this occasion is tremendously heartening.  That ol' starting gun will actually stay fired this time.  And it's also emerged that one of two things will happen "shortly" - either a Referendum Bill will appear, or a timescale for a Referendum Bill appearing will appear.  I'm hugely reassured that there's no third possibility that a timescale for a timescale will appear - if that had been the case, I might have worried that we were being strung along.  So the only remaining concern is that when we see the timescale shortly, it'll just say that the Referendum Bill will be along shortly or "in due course".  But I'm sure there'll be far more specificity than that.

Let's celebrate this latest thrilling landmark with another update of the #Referendum2023 Countdown Clock.

SCOT GOES POP #Referendum2023 COUNTDOWN CLOCK

There are just 206 days until the earliest possible date for #Referendum2023 (5th January)

There are just 556 days until the last possible date for #Referendum2023 (21st December)

(Note: the Countdown Clock calculations assume that tradition will be maintained by holding #Referendum2023 on a Thursday, and that it will be before Christmas.) 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Here's what the SNP leadership could have done, should have done, and should now be doing on independence, but have not done

I've recounted this story before, but in the spring of 2017, Mike Small of Bella Caledonia summoned me and several others from the Scottish pro-independence New Media to a meeting in Edinburgh, with a view to "resolving our differences" in the wake of Nicola Sturgeon "calling an independence referendum". I remember thinking afterwards that it was a bit of a shame that nobody had recorded the meeting, because playing it back would have been hysterically funny due to all the little cultural differences on display.  The radical left/identity politics Trendies were being characteristically passive-aggressive, which inevitably triggered a fairly direct reaction from me, while an utterly serene Peter Curran was delivering brutal truths on an equal opportunities basis to everyone in the room with a beaming smile on his face.  Meanwhile, there was someone with a sort of hippy worldview who gave us all a little lecture on how we were falling disappointingly short in our communication styles, but unfortunately he did that using such impenetrable psychobabble that I had to rely on non-verbal cues to make an educated guess as to what he was actually getting at.

But whatever our differences in culture, ideology and temperament, the one thing that united every single person in the room that day was that we were all just taking it as read that an independence referendum was actually going to be held, probably in the autumn of 2018, but certainly by 2019 at the latest.  As far as we were concerned, Nicola Sturgeon had simply called a referendum in exactly the same sense that Alex Salmond had done so a few years earlier, ie. with the intention that a referendum would take place.  It had yet to occur to us that the calling of a referendum on this occasion might be more of a metaphysical concept that would form part of an ongoing Hokey Cokey routine, going just far enough to keep independence supporters motivated to vote SNP, but never extending as far as an actual real-life referendum.

This is why I'm so bemused when people ask me in all apparent seriousness what I could possibly want the SNP to be doing on independence that they aren't already doing, and what Alba would be doing differently if they were in government.  It really, really oughtn't be hard for anyone to think of what the SNP could have done already that they haven't done.  Most obviously they could have held an independence referendum in 2018 as promised, secured a Yes vote, and delivered sovereign independence for our nation by 2020. It should have been unthinkable for them to withdraw the Section 30 request after it had been submitted, and I have no time whatever for the argument that the 2017 general election outcome made that U-turn inevitable.  The SNP won that election handsomely, with a proportion of Scottish seats that was more or less identical to the proportion of seats across the UK won by Mrs Thatcher in her 1987 landslide victory.  

I am well aware that there were siren voices external to our movement trying to use the 2017 result to convince us the referendum was dead - Peter Kellner was the most obvious offender on the BBC results programme, but I myself was accosted on Twitter by Professor James Mitchell within literally seconds of the exit poll being released.  He was furious that I had pointed out that the SNP appeared to have completed a "triple lock mandate" for a referendum in exactly the manner specified in their manifesto, ie. by winning a majority of Scottish seats.  As far as he was concerned, the notion that multiple electoral mandates should be respected or honoured was for the birds, seemingly because the margin of the SNP's triumph wasn't enormous enough to satisfy him, and those of us who felt differently should pipe down and start learning to know our place again.  He seemed pretty confident that his own brand of anti-democratic 'realism' was firmly back in the ascendancy.

You know, it's just possible that the likes of Kellner and Professor Mitchell are small 'c' constitutional conservatives and that paying heed to their pronouncements is not really compatible with the best interests of the independence cause.  If we'd listened to them at every step along the way, we would never have believed it was appropriate to campaign for independence, we would never have believed that full independence was even attainable, and we most certainly would never have been brave enough to hold a referendum in 2014 - which ironically would mean that even the careerists in the SNP's Westminster group would never have won their seats on the back of the post-indyref swing from Labour to SNP.

I also have no time for the argument that it was actually desirable to call off the referendum in 2017, on the theory that the decline in the SNP's vote share in the general election somehow demonstrated that Yes would have lost.  In truth, the result of that election tells us absolutely nothing about what would have happened in an indyref more than a year later.  Just three months before the first indyref in 2014, the SNP took a disappointing 29% of the vote in the European elections, which probably indicates that they would have been in the 20-25% zone if a general election had been held at around that time - well below the 37% they achieved in 2017.  And yet that didn't prevent enormous momentum developing behind Yes over the subsequent weeks and months, culminating in an outright lead in the famous YouGov poll on the penultimate weekend of campaigning.  It was the fact of the referendum itself that changed the political weather.  Indeed, sticking with the referendum plan in 2017 would have been the ideal way for the SNP to regain the political initiative after their reverses in the general election.

But even if we factor in the SNP leadership's needless loss of nerve in June 2017, that's not the end of the story.  Because they could then have honoured their subsequent promise that a referendum would be held later than originally intended but before Scotland was dragged out of the EU against its will.  They didn't even attempt to keep that promise, and there's no Covid alibi for that one - the virus didn't properly arrive on these shores until a few weeks after Brexit Day.

And even if we factor in both the loss of nerve in 2017 and the failure to honour the promise of a pre-Brexit referendum, it still doesn't end there, because there was nothing to stop the SNP from acting with far more urgency after they won yet another mandate for a referendum in May 2021.  They could have struck while the iron was hot and put in a renewed Section 30 request within hours of the 2021 election outcome becoming clear.  They could have passed a Referendum Bill by now, and there could be a Yes campaign in full swing on the streets of our cities and towns.

So for the people who have been innocently asking me, as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths, what more I think the SNP could have done and should be doing now, I hope the above answers your question.

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