Our opponents love nothing better than a good Quebec comparison, don't they? Over at PB today, Labour supporter Don Brind is drawing some small comfort from the total collapse of the formerly dominant Bloc Québécois, a development which is potentially opening the way for the social democratic NDP to take a share of power at federal level in Canada for the first time ever. But Labour supporters may want to look away now as I point out the less encouraging aspects of that comparison -
1) As spectacular as the Bloc's defeat in 2011 was, it only came about after the party had won an outright majority of Quebec seats in six consecutive federal elections - 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008. If the SNP remain dominant for a similar extended length of time, it seems highly probable that there will be a second independence referendum at some point.
2) The Bloc were eventually defeated by the NDP, a party that had previously been only a minor player in Quebec politics, rather than by the Liberals or the Conservatives. Even now that the Liberals have the immense Quebec-specific advantage of Justin Trudeau as leader, the province still seems set to stick with the NDP. So there's no evidence at all that, having broken the mould, voters are keen to go back to their old voting patterns. If anything, the lesson would appear to be that if the SNP are eventually beaten in a Westminster election, it may not be Labour that does it.
3) Part of the reason for the NDP's success in 2011 was the late Jack Layton's "French kiss" towards Quebec voters - including the promise, which none of the other pan-Canadian parties have made, that a simple majority in a referendum would be sufficient to secure Quebec independence. This would suggest that voters in Scotland can't be expected to "move on" from the constitutional debate until at least one unionist party has made major concessions on it. The equivalent for Labour might be support for Devo Max, or the unambiguous transfer to the Scottish Parliament of the power to hold a legally-binding independence referendum. Or, better still, both.
4) There's nothing inevitable about what happened to the Bloc. As Peter Kellner pointed out a few months ago, when unionist parties were defeated in Ireland, they NEVER recovered, even though Irish independence didn't occur for several more decades. When the Irish Parliamentary Party was eventually displaced in 1918, it was by the even more radical Sinn Féin.
5) It's entirely wrong to interpret the demise of the Bloc as representing the conclusion of the Quebec sovereignty debate. The first referendum in Quebec was held in 1980, over a decade before the Bloc was founded, and at a time when almost all sovereigntists voted for federalist parties at federal elections. The question of a future referendum will be decided at a provincial level, where the Bloc doesn't even stand. In the most recent provincial opinion poll, the sovereigntist Parti Québécois is level-pegging with its main federalist opponent - and the two largest sovereigntist parties between them have 47% of the vote. An independent Quebec is still very much on the agenda in the medium-term, regardless of whether the Bloc recovers.
6) Much - although admittedly not all - of the recent problems for both the Bloc and the Parti Québécois has been caused by uninspiring leadership. If we can keep Nicola Sturgeon in harness for at least a decade, and then ensure a smooth transition to someone of the calibre of Humza Yousaf, there must be a reasonable chance that we can avoid that problem.