Monday, November 28, 2022

The SNP have to display absolute conviction that an election is a decision on independence, not on a Section 30 order, if they want Labour supporters and the BBC to react in the desired way

As I've noted a few times over recent days, the SNP leadership have clearly decided that using a Westminster election - as opposed to a snap Holyrood election - as a plebiscite vote is not even up for discussion, and have no intention of telling us the real reason why they're so determined to go down that road.  To the extent we're hearing any reasons at all, they're just 'truthy' sounding excuses that don't stand up to the remotest scrutiny.  So for the sheer hell of it, let's speculate as to what the real explanation might be.  Here are a few obvious possibilities that spring to mind...

1) They're worried that if a Holyrood plebiscite election goes catastrophically wrong, they might lose power altogether (something that can't happen in a Westminster election).  This is not a completely unfounded concern, because electorates in western countries are more volatile than a few decades ago, and if things start to go wrong in the middle of an election campaign there is the danger of the wheels coming off completely - as they did for Iain Gray in 2011, for example.  But it still doesn't make sense to give in to that worry, because the purpose of the SNP having power is to use that power to attempt to bring independence about.  It's not the function of the independence campaign or of the independence cause to keep the SNP in comfortable, risk-free power for its own sake.

2) They're worried about the symbolism of Nicola Sturgeon resigning as First Minister, as she would be required to do to trigger an early Holyrood election without a two-thirds majority vote.  If so, they're being absurdly risk-averse, because from a procedural point of view there really is nothing that can go wrong.  The SNP and Greens in combination have enough seats to prevent any alternative government from being viable.  Any unionist government that might technically take power on a minority parliamentary vote would find itself humiliated in a confidence vote within a matter of days.

3) They've decided to make a virtue out of necessity by using the clamour for a 'Plan B' to help the SNP win seats at a potentially tricky general election.  Although this would be a very cynical motivation, it's the most interesting one, because it would suggest they've war gamed it (perhaps with the help of private polling and focus groups), and come to the conclusion that the SNP would do better in a plebiscite Westminster election than in a regular Westminster election.  And ultimately anything that's in the self-interest of the SNP in a plebiscite vote is also in the interests of the independence cause.  Perhaps they think Yes-supporting Labour voters (the Cat Boyd Paradox) would be more likely to switch to the SNP if independence seemed to be genuinely on the ballot.  Maybe they reckon the BBC and other broadcasters would be more open to giving the SNP fair access to leaders' debates if the election is presented as a de facto referendum on independence.

But if that is their thinking, it further underscores what I said the other day about the absolute imperative of closing down any suggestion that the plebiscite election is just a ruse and all you're really looking for is a Section 30 order.  If you don't have absolute conviction that the election is an outright decision on independence, don't expect Labour voters or the BBC to believe it either - and if they don't believe it, they simply won't change their behaviour in the way you're banking on.  One of the most extraordinary spectacles I've ever witnessed on British television was the edition of Newsnight on the day Nicola Sturgeon unveiled the plan of using an election as a de facto referendum if the Supreme Court ruled against her.  Astoundingly, it never even occurred to Kirsty Wark to pose the question of whether the UK Government would respect a mandate for independence at a plebiscite election and would then agree to negotiate an independence settlement.  Instead, she just took it as read that the plebiscite plan was nothing more than yet another attempt to gain a Section 30, and only considered the question of whether that ploy would have the desired effect if the SNP won a majority.  Angus Robertson, who was one of her guests, did nothing to challenge that narrative.  

If this strategy is to have a hope in hell of working, the implicit surrendering has got to stop right now.

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Sunday, November 27, 2022

The BBC's "respect" deficit

When TV news journalists on both sides of the Atlantic report on comments from Donald Trump or one of his allies about how the 2020 presidential election was rigged or stolen, it's become standard for them to add: "But these claims are false and baseless.  The 2020 election was not rigged and Joe Biden won it fair and square.  Mr Trump has provided no evidence to dispute this." They do that on the basis, as the adage goes, that it's not the job of journalists to provide balance between one person who says it's raining and another person who says it's dry - their job is instead to stick their heads out of the window, discover the truth, and report it.  

That can't be a selective principle, though - it can't only apply to the comfort zone of Donald Trump as an international bogeyman. It has to apply fearlessly to every other politician, regardless of political persuasion or status, who says things that objectively simply do not stand up.  Which brings me to the formulation that the BBC have used for an extremely long time, and used again on the day of the Supreme Court ruling, about the positions of different parties on the holding of an independence referendum: "The SNP say that the result of the 2021 Scottish Parliament election gives them a mandate to hold a second referendum in October 2023, while the Conservatives say that the result of the 2014 referendum should be respected."  These two positions are presented as direct opposites - which implicitly endorses the Tory nonsense that if you want a second referendum, you're not respecting the result of the first.

What the BBC should be saying, of course, is: "The Conservatives say that the result of the 2014 result should be 'respected'.  However, the result of that referendum has indeed been respected by all sides, and the SNP have made clear that they will continue to respect it.  There is no suggestion from any significant part of the Yes movement that independence can be declared without a fresh referendum or equivalent democratic event.  The Conservatives have provided no evidence to dispute this."

So how about it, BBC?  Or do you see your role as to provide balance between truth and lies?

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Saturday, November 26, 2022

A plea to delegates at the forthcoming SNP special conference: if you achieve nothing else, you must ensure that the plebiscite election is a *genuine* plebiscite election - which means completely closing down the Toni Giugliano / Mhairi Hunter narrative that it's nothing more than the latest chapter in the futile quest for a Section 30 order

The SNP leadership have promised that there will be a special party conference early next year to determine the details of the plebiscite election plan.  Now, I think everyone realises, and probably even the strongest SNP loyalists would privately accept this, that control-freakery has taken grip of SNP conferences in recent years, which means the scope for delegates to influence the plan will probably be quite limited.  As I said yesterday, the leadership seem to have decided that any discussion of switching from a Westminster election to a snap Holyrood election for the plebiscite vote is strictly off-limits - they've simply determined by decree that it's going to be a Westminster election and have no intention of telling us the real reason why.  (Which may mean that it's got more to do with partisan advantage than with maximising the chances of independence.) So it may well be that delegates who try to raise that issue will find themselves ruled out of order or shouted down by other means.

But hopefully the delegates can still have a positive influence at the margins, and I would suggest that one perfectly modest and realistic goal would be to definitively close down the Toni Giugliano / Mhairi Hunter narrative that the purpose of a plebiscite election is not to win independence for Scotland, but instead simply to gain a Section 30 order - in other words they think it's just another iteration of what the SNP have been doing, entirely ineffectually, at every major election since 2016 or 2017.  Their position really is a contradiction in terms - if all you're doing is trying to get a Section 30 order, it's plainly not a de facto referendum on independence.  At best it's a de facto referendum on whether there should be a referendum.  We've already had half a dozen of those recently and they've all proved utterly pointless.  It's categorically not what Nicola Sturgeon has promised us this time.

It might be worth pausing at this point to consider what the purpose of a genuine plebiscite election is, and what it is not.  At the most radical end of the Yes movement, there's a belief that the only possible purpose is to declare UDI immediately after a mandate is achieved.  That's clearly a non-starter - hardly any SNP parliamentarian would support it.  Elsewhere in the movement, including - perhaps surprisingly - centrists in the SNP, the thinking is that winning a mandate at a plebiscite election is all about impressing the international community.  But that's also largely a red herring, because Scottish independence will not receive international recognition without the UK government accepting it first.  Remember that not a single country in the world, including rogue states and anti-western states, recognised the independence of Catalonia.  There's enough antipathy towards the UK that I suppose it's just conceivable that a country like Russia might recognise a Scottish state as a mischief-making tactic, but to put it mildly that wouldn't actually do us any good.

So, if not either of the above, what is the purpose of a plebiscite election?  In a nutshell, it's to gain leverage that will help bring the UK Government to the negotiating table.  Imagine that the SNP win 51% of the popular vote in 2024 and the vast majority of Scottish seats, but the UK Government refuse to recognise that as a mandate for independence.  The SNP then retaliate by either completely withdrawing from the House of Commons or commencing an all-out campaign of parliamentary disruption, and making clear that they will only relent when the UK Government agree to open negotiations.  (I know it's hard to imagine the current SNP leadership going down that road, but let's cross that bridge when we come to it - ultimately instilling some resolve in them will be essential if the plebiscite election strategy is going to work.)

Although other countries will not interfere in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state, they might eventually, very tentatively, start commenting on it, by urging both sides to reach agreement in the best interests of the people of Scotland and the wider UK.  There would be increasing chatter in the press both at home and abroad about "the Scottish Question" or "the Scottish Problem".  There would be a recognition that doing nothing is not an option for the UK Government, because in the long run it's not sustainable for Scotland to remain part of the UK while not being represented in the Commons, or while its parliamentarians are only interested in disruption.  

The traditional maxim is that the only solutions to a political dispute are dialogue and compromise.  External actors would urge each side to show flexibility on their entrenched positions - the UK Government would be asked to accept that blanket rejectionism is no longer sustainable, while the Scottish Government would be asked to make concessions on their insistence that the only negotiation they want to have with London is on the terms of independence.  So it's possible to imagine that the shape of a negotiated settlement might involve an agreed referendum - but the point is that would be a massive concession on the part of the Scottish side, which until then would have been adamant that the plebiscite election provided the only mandate required, and that any suggestion of Scotland having to vote twice for the same thing is a democratic outrage.

In order to end up with a semi-acceptable compromise like that, you have to be resolute and unyielding in your stance until the very moment the negotiations open.  If before the plebiscite election even takes place, you're openly saying that the whole process is just a ruse and that the compromise of a Section 30 is all you're really looking for (as Hunter and Giugliano are doing), then you vastly weaken any leverage you might gain, and what you'll end up with further down the line is either a lesser compromise or no compromise at all.  So it's absolutely essential that this coming conference instructs the SNP leadership to ensure that the manifesto will state that the mandate being sought is an outright mandate for independence itself, that the only negotiations the SNP will be interested in thereafter are negotiations on an independence settlement, and that no further referendum will be required.

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Friday, November 25, 2022

The SNP leadership need to explain their strategy for overcoming the major disadvantages of using a Westminster election - as opposed to an early Holyrood election - as a de facto independence referendum

Having spent a fair bit of time recently debunking a large number of lies and intentional distortions published on Wings Over Scotland, I'll be scrupulously fair and point out that Mr Campbell is broadly correct today in his own debunking of a claim made by the former SNP councillor Mhairi Hunter.  Indeed I made essentially the same point myself on Twitter last night in a reply to Chris McEleny - 

Just to expand on the point, although there's a 'bug' in the rules that allows an alternative First Minister to be elected on a minority vote in the Scottish Parliament, any unionist leader (ie. Douglas Ross or Anas Sarwar) who exploited that bug would quickly find their new government losing a confidence vote, which would be decided by simple majority vote in a parliament with a clear SNP-Green majority.  In theory there could then be a prolonged period of 'ping-pong' with Ross or Sarwar repeatedly being voted into office and back out of office, but that wouldn't go on forever, because the Tories and Labour would take a big hit from being seen to hold devolved government to hostage with such obvious game-playing.  Where I would quibble with Mr Campbell's assumptions is that he thinks a resolution would hinge on unionist parties eventually crumbling and giving Ms Sturgeon her two-thirds majority for an early election.  I think much more likely is that they would just stop putting up candidates for First Minister, and when no government is formed within the timescale specified by the Scotland Act, an early election would automatically follow without a two-thirds vote ever occurring.

But what's more interesting than the fact that Mhairi Hunter is wrong about this is the fact that she'd clearly been briefed in advance - or had briefed herself - with a 'truthy' sounding excuse for shutting down any talk of using a snap Holyrood election as a de facto referendum in order to avoid the obvious and numerous disadvantages of using a Westminster election (16 and 17 years olds can't vote, other younger voters may be disenfranchised by photo ID rules, EU citizens can't vote, etc, etc, etc).  Other figures known to be close to the SNP leadership have similarly had ready-made legalistic-sounding explanations up their sleeve for why it supposedly has to be a Westminster election - ie. they've been praying in aid the Supreme Court's emphasis on the UK Parliament having exclusive control over Scotland's constitution, and arguing that this means only a mandate for independence achieved at a UK Parliamentary election will carry any legal weight.  But the reality is that *no* mandate for independence from Scottish voters will carry any legal weight - the judges recognised the exclusive right of the *whole* UK Parliament to decide, not just the relatively small Scottish component of that parliament.  So a mandate from Scottish voters in a Westminster election will be just as "advisory" and "non-self-executing" as a mandate at a Holyrood election.  That being the case, it clearly makes sense to select an election in which you have the greater chance of actually winning the mandate in the first place - and that means the home fixture of a Holyrood election.

What do we learn from the SNP leadership briefing its outriders with plausible-sounding but inaccurate reasons for the supposed impossibility of using a snap Holyrood election?  It suggests to me that their minds are firmly closed on the subject.  They've made a definite - if perverse - decision to use a Westminster election and they have no intention of telling us the real reason.  We may have to wait ten or twenty years for people's memoirs to appear until we find out the truth.  That being the case, we have to look at the situation as positively as we can and make very sure we maximise the chances of winning a majority of the popular vote in the 2024 general election.  

But it would also help to hear from the SNP what their strategy is for overcoming the disadvantages of the route they've chosen.  For example: where do they envisage finding extra votes to make up for the loss of EU citizens and 16 and 17 year olds?  How will they ensure that as few young people as possible are sent away from the polling stations due to a lack of "acceptable" photo ID?  Will they play hardball with the BBC, ITV and Sky to secure fair access to UK-wide leaders' debates that could make or break the whole plebiscite election strategy?  (The latter is probably the most important point of all.)

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WINGS-WATCH: I've calculated the average yearly support for independence, using every single opinion poll conducted since January 2016, to once and for all debunk Stuart Campbell's cynical fib that the Yes vote "has been static on 47% for the last six years"

I'll be absolutely blunt about this - I'm hopping mad that this post has proved necessary at this particular moment.  Although I was under no illusions when I took on the Wings-Watch fact-checking service that I was likely to be called into action fairly frequently, I would have hoped that on the day of the Supreme Court ruling, of all days, those who self-identify as independence supporters might have been united in simply condemning the London authorities for their crackdown on Scottish democracy, and in preparing for the crucial plebiscite election campaign ahead.  But, alas, Stuart Campbell instead chose yet again to attempt to drain the morale of Yes campaigners with an obscenely misleading graph which dishonestly purported to show that public backing for independence has continuously remained static at 47% since 2016.  His agenda in doing this can be described as anti-Sturgeon, or anti-SNP, or 'revenge for no support in the Dugdale case' or 'revenge for gender self-ID'.  But whatever his precise motives, they've got absolutely zilch to do with the furtherance of the cause of independence.

In order to create the false impression of constant 47% support for Yes over the last six years, Mr Campbell appears to have cherry-picked just five polls from the well over 100 that have been conducted during that period.  His criteria for the cherry-picking was simply: a) any polls conducted in the same month of any given year, and b) any polls that happened to show Yes on 47%.  He wasn't remotely bothered about finding five polls that were comparable with each other, because he admits in the small print that they were conducted by no fewer than three different polling companies - Panelbase, Survation and BMG.  Absurdly, he leaves out 2018 and 2020 altogether, simply because he couldn't find any polls in April of those years with Yes on 47%!  If it wasn't so cynical, it would actually be downright comical.

The intention, of course, is to give the impression that the five polls are typical and representative of independence polling in each year, and that Yes support has indeed been genuinely static.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  For any Wings Over Scotland followers who are actually interested in being acquainted with real facts (as opposed to only hearing distortions and lies intended to buttress a propaganda narrative that they may well be only too happy to believe), feel free to read on for a veritable feast of real numbers, presented honestly.

Let's start with the yearly figures for independence support from the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey.  Although these tend to differ significantly from Yes support in conventional binary-choice independence polling, they're extremely relevant in this particular context, because in another misleading and inaccurate post about polling a few days ago, Mr Campbell used the result from the 2007 Social Attitudes Survey as his baseline figure for indy support in the year that Alex Salmond became First Minister.  He then proceeded to make an utterly bogus comparison between that number and later Yes support in conventional polling.

Yearly support for Scottish independence in the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey:

2014:  33%

2016 (a):  39%

2016 (b):  46%

2018:  45%

2020:  51%

2021:  52%

(Note: There's been an increasing tendency for Wings-supporting trolls to drop silly hints that they think I am making numbers up, so feel free to check the above figures for yourself on John Curtice's What Scotland Thinks website.)

So that tells a rather different story from a graph suggesting Yes support has been stuck on 47% for the last six years, does it not?  With one minor exception, there has been a consistent year-on-year increase in support for independence since 2014, which was the last survey conducted when Alex Salmond was still SNP leader.  And what's more, the cumulative increase over those years has been nothing short of dramatic - a huge jump from just 33% in 2014 to 52% in the most recent survey from last year.

Now let's turn to conventional polling on independence.  The figures below are the yearly average percentage shares for Yes, after Don't Knows are excluded, from every single poll conducted in each calendar year since 2016. (I chose 2016 as the start date because that's when Mr Campbell's dodgy graph begins.)  This has been a mammoth task that has taken me aaaaaaaages, so I hope you appreciate my dedication to my Wings-Watch fact-checking vocation.

Average yearly support for independence in conventional opinion polling:

2016:  47.7%

2017:  45.3%

2018:  45.5%
2019:  47.6%

2020:  53.0%

2021:  49.6%

2022:  49.0%

This is obviously a much more complex pattern than the one suggested by the Social Attitudes Survey, but it's nevertheless completely inconsistent with Mr Campbell's false claims of a static picture.  Of particular note is the speedy and steep climb from approximately 45% (essentially identical to the 2014 referendum result) in both 2017 and 2018 to the outright majority territory of 53% in 2020.  Although support has since slipped back, it still remains significantly higher than it was in 2017 and 2018, and even a little higher than it was in 2016.  In case you're wondering, the reason why independence support was a touch higher than might be expected in 2016 is that the EU referendum occurred that year, leading to a short-lived purple patch for Yes in the summer.

I should stress, incidentally, that I haven't included last night's extraordinary Find Out Now poll in the 2022 average, simply because the question asked was so radically different from the norm, and therefore it's debatable whether it really counts as an 'independence poll'.  Including it would make a significant difference, because the implied Yes lead is around 20% or 22% with Don't Knows excluded.

My plea to Wings readers is simply to be aware that when Mr Campbell cites independence-related polling, he's almost always either fibbing to you or deliberately misleading you with selective or non-comparable data.  It's only by bearing that in mind that it's possible to really make sense of what his posts are actually about.

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Thursday, November 24, 2022

The nadir of Ciaran Jenkins' journalistic career?

I don't watch Channel 4 News very often these days, but I gather Ciaran Jenkins is reasonably highly regarded and believed to be fair and honest - which makes yesterday's incident all the more inexplicable.  I'm not going to put it down to unionist bias or sloppiness - he just seems to have misunderstood a fundamental point and as a result he's gone down a completely blind alley.  Almost every syllable of this question he posed to Nicola Sturgeon (presumably while picturing himself as a fearless seeker of truth) was misconceived and based on a totally false premise.

"First Minister, you have always said that a referendum must be lawful and legitimate.  Do you now level with the Scottish people and accept that the de facto referendum you were proposing would not be lawful because the Supreme Court have ruled on legality and would not be legitimate because the opposing side do not give their consent?"

I mean, where to start?  If Mr Jenkins had made that as a direct statement to camera rather than framing it as a question, there'd be an open and shut case for a complaint to Ofcom on the grounds of factual inaccuracy, and on two separate counts.  Firstly, he's suggesting that the SNP putting an outright commitment to independence in their election manifesto (which is what a de facto referendum amounts to) would be literally against the law - an absolutely barking mad proposition in any parliamentary democracy.  Good luck to him if he tries to call in the fuzz.  Secondly, he's clearly asserting that the Supreme Court's ruling yesterday extended to elections used as de facto referendums, which is also categorically untrue.  

The ruling was very specifically restricted to the limitations of the powers of the Scottish Parliament.  The whole point about a plebiscite election is that it's got nothing whatever to do with the powers of the Scottish Parliament.  Nicola Sturgeon is not attempting to use her powers as First Minister to turn a Westminster election into a referendum - she's simply stating what will be in her own political party's Westminster manifesto, which is ultimately a private matter for that party, and is certainly not within the province of the Scotland Act or of any court.  The SNP could just as easily attempt to use an election to win an outright mandate for independence if they were not currently in power at Holyrood - just as Sinn Féin did successfully in 1918 when they were not merely an opposition party, but actually a complete outsider party.

And as for Jenkins' notion that the SNP can't put an outright mandate for independence in their manifesto because other parties don't "consent" to it, you'd have to begin to wonder if he's a bit of a novice in respect of general elections, because the principles are straightforward and generally well-understood.  You put a proposition in a manifesto to find out if the people consent to it.  If they don't, the proposition falls, but if they do, there's no veto by politicians on the losing side - unless you live in a sham democracy, of course.

The essence of the Supreme Court ruling yesterday was that the UK Parliament has exclusive control of matters pertaining to the constitution and the union between Scotland and England.  But that parliament is directly elected by voters - including by voters in Scotland.  Any suggestion that it is in any way "illegal" or "illegitimate" for a Scottish political party to ask Scottish voters to use a UK Parliament election to give a view on matters that are under the exclusive control of the UK Parliament is just the most hopelessly muddled thinking imaginable - and it's also (hopefully unwittingly) colonial thinking, because it presumably wouldn't even cross Jenkins' mind to suggest that parties standing in England can't put constitutional matters before English voters in UK Parliamentary elections.

There was a great deal of talk yesterday - from unionist politicians, journalists and even Nicola Sturgeon herself - about the absolute imperative of adhering to "the rule of law and democracy".  But it's unfortunately a side-effect of the court ruling that those two concepts have now diverged to some extent, and that by adhering to one you may be undermining the other.  That doesn't mean the rule of law isn't important and it certainly doesn't mean that democracy isn't important, but it's pointless to deny that there is now a tension in the United Kingdom between the two - and that's something both the Supreme Court justices and the framers of the 1998 Scotland Act will have to take ownership of.  Although Jenkins was totally wrong in suggesting that unionist politicians have a veto on what goes into the SNP manifesto, it was only possible for him to make that mistake in the climate the Supreme Court and UK Government have now created, where the rule of law is about cracking down on democracy rather than upholding it.   

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Wednesday, November 23, 2022

BOMBSHELL Channel 4 poll suggests the court ruling has riled up the Scottish public so much that *60% or 61%* now say they will vote SNP in 2024 to get Scotland out of the United Kingdom. The Supreme Court justices are the toast of the independence movement this evening.

Thanks to Marcia for pointing me in the direction of a full-scale Scottish poll conducted by Find Out Now for Channel 4 News with frankly astounding speed after the Supreme Court verdict.

Would you vote SNP at the next general election if a victory for them could lead to Scotland leaving the UK? (Find Out Now / Channel 4 News, 23rd November 2022)

Yes 50%
No 33%

Excluding Don't Knows and 'Prefer Not To Says', that works out as approximately Yes 60%, No 40%.

Would you vote SNP at the next general election if your vote would be used as a mandate to negotiate independence with the UK Government?

Yes 51%
No 33%

That works out as roughly Yes 61%, No 39% without Don't Knows and Won't Says.

These are obviously extraordinarily good numbers, which at the very least seem to point to some kind of outright majority for independence in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.  It's particularly striking that respondents were not put off by the pejorative wording about "leaving the UK", which normally dramatically reduces support.  However, these numbers also raise question marks about how polling can be accurately conducted for a plebiscite election, because it's obviously pretty unlikely that a more conventional voting intention poll would show the SNP as high as 60% or 61%.  It looks like the hypothetical nature of the question, and the failure to name other parties as alternatives, may have produced a distorted outcome - but there'd be a different sort of problem if you just asked a conventional voting intention question, because that might underestimate the SNP vote due to respondents not taking into account the plebiscite element.  It's really not straightforward.

And another point that occurred to me today: will pollsters actually bother asking for referendum voting intentions anymore, now that we know there isn't going to be a referendum?  I'll almost certainly still ask for that question to be put in when I commission the next Scot Goes Pop poll (hopefully in the not too distant future), but I'll be interested to see what others do.

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The Supreme Court ruling is a golden opportunity for the independence movement - but ONLY if we hold the line that the referendum option has been completely and definitively closed off

One part of Nicola Sturgeon's statement this morning that I very strongly agreed with was her observation that sensible unionists would not be gloating about the Supreme Court ruling, but would actually be deeply concerned.  A useful clue as to why that should be the case is in the ruling's reference to Quebec - birthplace of the term "Neverendum", which in fact was always something of a misnomer, because only two referendums on Quebec independence have ever been held.  But what the word was really getting at, of course, was that the subject of a referendum dominated Quebec politics for decades, to the point that sheer boredom crept in.  At almost every election after 1995, the Parti Québécois would torment themselves trying to work out what their stance on a third referendum should be, and no matter what they came up with, it seemed to cause them harm - either because the electorate didn't want what they were offering, or because they looked divided or indecisive or dishonest about their true intentions. 

Unionist parties have for years been trying to bury the SNP and the wider independence movement with the same playbook - but the Supreme Court justices have just given us a little gift in disguise, because for Scotland the Neverendum is now over.  Scotland is now totally different from Quebec, because Quebec (courtesy of mysteriously having a more powerful parliament than "the most powerful devolved parliament in the world") has the ability to hold a referendum, but we do not.  From now on it's elections all the way for us - and good luck to any unionist party that attempts the slogan "No More Divisive Elections!"

How do you stop a referendum being a weapon for your opponents?  Simple: by no longer asking for one.  Until now it hasn't been as straightforward as that, because of a public perception that 2014 set a precedent and that a referendum is the only "proper" way of seeking independence.  That will no longer be a problem now that the public have clearly seen that the London authorities themselves have made a referendum impossible - and it's vital that we hold the line that today's decision is essentially permanent.  

The glorious irony is that we'll probably now see unionist politicians trying to gradually resurrect the prospect of a referendum, to give themselves back the power of saying "no". They'll argue that a referendum is the only legitimate way of bringing about independence, and when the people of Scotland start laughing and pointing and issuing gentle reminders that it was unionists themselves that made a referendum illegal, they'll probably start muttering about how the UK is still a voluntary union and that a referendum is still absolutely possible but not just yet, dears.  It's utterly essential that we give no succour at all to that narrative - from now on we have no interest in referendums, and we're trying to achieve independence through elections alone.  We used to think referendums were a splendid idea but the Supreme Court said they were illegal, so we moved on.

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My summary of the ruling this morning was of course a caricature, but I think it's fair to say it wasn't all that an extreme a caricature, because some aspects of the Supreme Court's reasoning seemed perverse to the point of being almost risible.  For example, there seemed to be an implicit acknowledgement that there is a right in international law to democratic self-determination, and that domestic courts are required to take heed of that right.  But the argument was that Scotland is totally excluded from that right because it is not a colony or an oppressed people.  

This is a court that has talked a great deal about "the plain meaning of words", but it doesn't seem to have occurred to the judges that by far the plainest meaning of the term "colony" is any well-defined territory which is denied the right to determine its own future.  It's almost the perfect contradiction - the ruling itself destroyed the premise on which the ruling was founded.

Similarly, if self-determination only applies to the oppressed, who can possibly adjudicate (short of the invasion of a foreign military) whether the necessary oppression is present, other than the authorities of the oppressive state?  The Supreme Court seems to lack the self-awareness to recognise that it has just joined the ranks of countless states across the world that have put themselves on trial on the question of whether they are being a bit oppressive, and to no-one's surprise at all have found themselves totally innocent on all charges.

Lord Reed tried to absolve himself of any culpability for the outrage against democracy by stressing that the court was only interpreting and applying the law, and was not taking any view on "political" questions such as whether Scotland should be an independent country.  But there can hardly be anything much more political than determinations such as "Scots are not a people, Scotland is not oppressed".  Without those highly questionable and entirely subjective perceptions, which just happen to align fully with the UK government's self-image as non-colonial and non-oppressive, the denial of Scotland's right to self-determination couldn't have been sustained within the judges' own logic.  For that reason this was an intensely political ruling.

And Reed really couldn't have made the court look much more ridiculous when he argued that they couldn't allow a referendum because a vote in favour of independence might erode the legitimacy of the UK Parliament in ruling Scotland.  Well, yes, it is kind of in the nature of democracy that people expect to get what they vote for and become a bit ratty when they don't, but that's not a reason for not holding a vote in the first place.  It could just as easily be argued that the real erosion of the legitimacy of the UK Parliament in ruling Scotland comes from a court in London haughtily determining that Scotland itself has no say in the matter, and can't even express an opinion.

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Thoughts on Nicola Sturgeon's statement: the strong reaffirmation that an election will now be used as a referendum was excellent, but it remains very hard to understand why she isn't considering using a snap Holyrood election

I've just watched Nicola Sturgeon's statement in response to the Supreme Court verdict. I was waiting to be either outraged or extremely heartened, but in the end I was neither.  It was the quintessential curate's egg of a statement - very good in parts, but with some puzzling and worrying elements.  The good in it was that she reiterated that she planned using an election as a "de facto referendum" with the "intent of achieving independence" - that's actually a much, much stronger form of words than Angus Robertson's virtually meaningless "independence will be the key issue in the election".  (Obviously I have no idea what is going on at the top of the SNP, but one possible explanation is that there's a rift between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Robertson on the issue of a plebiscite election, with Mr Robertson not being sold on the plan - that would be consistent with him bizarrely negating the entire concept in his remarks to France 24 a few weeks ago.)

I was a bit troubled by Ms Sturgeon's announcement that there would now be an intensive campaign on the issue of democracy rather than independence itself.  It's not that I don't think the issue of democracy is vitally important or that I'm not outraged that the Supreme Court have admitted that the UK is not a voluntary union - it's just that I worry that 'a campaign for democracy' potentially sounds very much like the tired, failed old strategy of saying "this is totally unsustainable, of course Theresa May/Boris Johnson/Liz Truss/Rishi Sunak will have to give us a Section 30 if we get yet another mandate - this time (for no immediately apparent reason) it's going to be completely different".  But in fairness to her she went on to make clear that Scotland needed independence because it's now been established that we can't have democracy as part of the UK.  So if she's just talking about a campaign for democracy as a component part of a campaign to win a majority for independence in a plebiscite election, I have no great objection to that.

But of course the real problem with what she said is that she's sticking to her insistence that the next Westminster election, rather than an early Holyrood election, has to be the plebiscite election - in spite of all the obvious disadvantages of doing it that way (16 and 17 year olds can't vote, EU citizens can't vote, photo ID rules will disenfranchise pro-indy voters disproportionately, pro-independence voices will be totally excluded from TV leaders' debates, etc, etc).  There was a key exchange with the BBC's James Cook in which he put to her that some of her own supporters are concerned that 50%+ of the vote will not to be attainable at the election because voters will not perceive it as a real vote on independence, and her response was that if you recognise political reality, you have to understand that you can't have independence without a majority of people voting for it.  

Now, I actually agree with her on that.  And it's not a statement of the obvious for me to say so, because it means I disagree with the official position of my own party (Alba), which insists - for reasons I greatly struggle with - that a majority of seats won on a minority of the vote should be sufficient.  But it was still rather disingenuous of her to make that point in response to Cook's question, because the concern of her internal critics is not that 50%+ for independence is not achievable in itself, but instead that it may not be achievable in the specific arena of a Westminster election, where the independence issue will be totally swamped by media coverage of the Tory v Labour battle for power in London.  The point that the critics are making is that we should be seeking a mandate in the home fixture of an early Holyrood election, not the away fixture of a Westminster election. 

I can only think of three possible reasons why she is so hellbent on using a Westminster election, and none of them are great.  Firstly, she emphasised that she wanted to use the earliest "scheduled election", so it may simply be that her notorious over-caution is preventing her from even considering the obvious option of a non-scheduled Holyrood election.  Secondly, she could be worried about the danger of losing the pro-independence majority at Holyrood if a plebiscite election goes particularly badly - but, if so, that's an obvious nonsense, because there's no point in having a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament if we don't use it to maximise the chances of achieving independence itself.  And thirdly, she could have in mind that the next Westminster election is shaping up to be particularly tricky for the SNP, and that galvanising the independence movement behind her in a plebiscite election is the best way of holding SNP seats against the Labour tide.  If it's party advantage rather than the independence cause she has in mind, that really would be unforgivable.  But I hope that's not the case, and I hope to be reassured it's not the case as this process unfolds.

One thing we did learn is that there will be a special SNP conference early next year to discuss the precise terms of the plebiscite election, and I very much hope thoughtful delegates will at least try to put a switch to using a snap Holyrood election on the agenda.  This has to be about what's best for Scotland and the cause of independence, not about party interest.

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BREAKING: London authorities rule that the UK is a prison - "Scotland has no right to vote, no right to leave"

The key points from that ruling from the London authorities:

* "Your subordinate parliament has LIMITED powers, so get back in your box."

* "The UK is not a voluntary union.  We'd have preferred to go on giving you the comfort of assuming that it was, but you did have to push us, didn't you."

* "Democratic self-determination is for oppressed peoples or colonies - we think we treat you well so TAKE A HIKE."

* "No, telling you that you have no right to decide your own future does not mean you are an oppressed people or a colony.  WE TREAT YOU WELL and we are best placed to judge that."

* "Look, you have bread to eat.  Well, some.  WE TREAT YOU WELL."

* "We can't let you vote because you might vote Yes, and if you did there might be pressure for that vote to be respected, or it might erode the legitimacy of the UK Parliament you've decided you don't want to be governed by.  That would be an absurd position to put us in, because you are not a colony and therefore we OBVIOUSLY can't allow you to leave."

* "The UK Parliament is entitled to the dignity of appearing to rule by consent, and therefore we can't allow people to decide whether to give consent to UK rule because they might withhold it.  That would be simply INTOLERABLE."

* "It matters not.  HE IS YOUR KING."


I don't think words are quite adequate to convey how absolutely bloody essential it is that Nicola Sturgeon should reiterate within minutes that Scotland WILL be voting on whether or not to become an independent country within the next two years, and will be doing so in an election used as a de facto referendum, ideally a snap Holyrood election in 2023.  No equivocation this time, Nicola.  No "period of reflection".  No amibiguities. No weasel words about "independence being the key issue in the manifesto". No briefings from your outriders that you're really still looking for a Section 30 order.  A de facto referendum means that no further referendum is required - if you get a mandate in the election, you negotiate an independence settlement with the UK Government, and then Scotland becomes independent.  End of story.