Thursday, September 24, 2015

Why independence requires the SNP to retain their majority

A few days late, I've been catching up with James Mackenzie's blogpost entitled 'Why independence requires the SNP to lose their majority'. In spite of the provocative title and the even more provocative track record of the author, I didn't find it anything like as objectionable as I thought I might - indeed, it would be quite strange if Green bloggers weren't making the odd mischievous pitch for votes from the SNP. In a way, it's actually quite refreshing to see Mackenzie openly admit that the objective is to deprive the SNP of their majority. That moves us on from the gibberish of recent months about how it's supposedly possible to vote "tactically" for both an SNP majority government and a Green opposition.

That said, you won't be surprised to hear that his argument doesn't stack up. He claims, for example, that majority government led to Yes Scotland being conflated with the SNP. No, it was the massive difference in size between the SNP and the other Yes parties that led to that problem. Whether the SNP had 69 or 64 seats was neither here nor there in that regard. Even if the Greens, with a small number of seats, had been part of a lopsided coalition (and past history suggests they themselves might have refused a coalition in favour of confidence-and-supply), the media would still have looked at the SNP as the dominant partner and referred to the administration as an SNP government, and to Yes Scotland as an SNP front.

I'm slightly unclear whether Mackenzie thinks the benefit of the SNP losing their majority is that any future prospectus for independence would be a compromise featuring a blend of SNP and Green ideas, or that there wouldn't be a single prospectus at all, leaving voters with a better understanding that the new Scotland would be a blank slate to be filled in by future election results. Either way, it's not hard to see huge downsides. The Yes campaign took enough of a pounding for alleged lack of clarity as it was - how much worse would that have been if the retort was always "but that's intentional!" And the Greens may think that their currency policy was more electorally robust than the SNP's, but presumably any compromise prospectus would also have required the SNP to give ground on both the monarchy and NATO, which would have been bound to repel voters (and I say that as a republican who wants to get out of NATO).

Going forward, there are two obvious reasons why the SNP losing their majority would be a significant setback for the independence movement, irrespective of whether the total number of pro-independence MSPs remains stable. Firstly, there's the question of mandate. It seems likely that both the SNP and Greens will have quite complicated, conditional commitments in their manifestos on the subject of a possible second referendum, and if the two wordings aren't fully reconcilable, it will become easier for the Westminster government to play semantic games and claim that a joint SNP-Green majority doesn't constitute a clear mandate for a referendum in Circumstance A or Circumstance B. It would be far preferable if the triggers listed in the SNP manifesto receive an unambiguous mandate in their own right.

Secondly, the issue that Rolfe has raised a number of times - the media narrative. If the SNP lose a significant number of seats next May, it won't matter whether the main beneficiary is a pro-independence or anti-independence party. The headlines will be the same - "Hammerblow for Sturgeon and her dreams of separation". Do we really want to make it easy for the media to do that to us?

* * *

Part of the London establishment can't seem to tell the difference between "liberalism" and British nationalism, and another part can't seem to tell the difference between "nice things" and British nationalism. Tim Farron said the following in his leader's speech at the Lib Dem conference -

"If you reject the politics of blame and separation. If you say Britain is best when Britain is together...Then guess what. You’re a liberal. Embrace that diagnosis. It is an utterly decent and British condition."

Afterwards, Isabel Hardman of the Spectator quite reasonably pointed out that, whatever else this might be, it's not a description of what it means to "be a liberal". But she then spoiled things by suggesting that it's actually a description of what it means to be a "nice person who likes nice things to happen". Er, sorry? Why, pray, is an attachment to British nationalism a prerequisite for being a nice person?

* * *

Meanwhile, "Jackanory Jim" Murphy has penned an article about the EU referendum for the New Statesman which contains a line that will reverberate down the ages for its unwitting comic genius -

"We may not be able to count on Nigel Farage being an Alex Salmond – a useful, vote-losing villain..."

Hmmm. Somebody's been shopping at Self-Awareness 'R' Us.


  1. Though photos of Fergus Ewing communing with the lairds, and praising them, is a bloody good reason for thinking that the SNP are not to be wholly trusted on Land Reform!

    I don't want any party to get an easy ride on such issues - even (or perhaps especially!) my own. I can understand the need for the SNP to keep the right wing on board - but the Ewings can seem a country mile too far in that direction.

  2. I think a bigger danger to a 2nd referendum is the SNP getting pressured into putting poll targets in their manifesto. John Curtice was on the TV a few nights ago going on about a ridiculous 60% for 2 years.

    1. 2 years?! Ridiculous is the word. I'm firmly in the slowly catchy monkey camp for indyref2 but even I'm thinking at most two consecutive polls over 60% and I'd pull the trigger.

      And targets puts all the power in the hands of the pollsters instead of the people.

    2. Including pollsters who may occasionally use No-friendly artificial adjustments to their headline numbers, such as the Kellner Correction.

    3. Sturgeon has said she will set out the conditions. Hopefully it will be simply be something debatable like 'clear demand' for independence, and 'material changes'.
      Then internal polls can count towards that.
      Setting PUBLIC polling conditions to hit would be self-defeating. And it would be hard to backtrack from in the future.

      Obviously if we were already independent, very few would want to give that up, but making that change in the first place is the tricky bit. People get used to the status quo and many don't like any change whatsoever.
      And Scotland isn't oppressed - It's just at a long term disadvantage.

      Yes support went from 30% to 45% during the last campaign, and may have won if it wasn't for last minute promises.
      A similar increase would take us well over the line. But part of that rise occurred because of a feel-good campaign with the constitution in the spotlight. With the upcoming EU campaign, all the focus will be on the UK and Britishness for a while.

      The SNP have to keep the power and be able to strike if a chance arises.

  3. Re liberalism: sometimes it may be a useful strand of thinking, mainly when it enables change which the people at large have decided they want or, at least, are not hostile to.

    However, there is another strand of liberalism, which seems to be all about making people in other societies become 'liberal' whether they want to or not, perhaps taking their things in the name of 'economic liberalism', often with disastrous consequences. Whatever Isabel imagines, this is not 'nice', being more akin to cultural imperialism (founded on both a superiority complex and naked greeed) than anything else.

  4. We won't get a referendum until enough people want it badly enough.Currently,only about 0.25% of people in Scotland want independence badly enough that they'll go and chap on doors.

    1. Some truth in that, but to be fair, no one forced 9 in 20 of the electorate to go and put a cross in the yes box. They did it because they want independence.

      If they were not that bothered, why such a massive turnout?

    2. Not everyone can or wants to be an activist. The whole point of activists, in fact, is to make sure people perform the lower-cost (in terms of time etc) political action and turn out to vote. Logically, if everyone was an activist, you wouldn't need to be chasing people up, though there would still be some need for persuading those on the other side of the fence.

    3. There is a big gulf between 0.25% and "everyone".

    4. Understood, but the point I was making is that people who go and chap on doors are always going to be a minority of people who are interesting in something or have some belief in a cause.

      Evidence for this is that more people voted No but, apparently, even less of those people were prepared to go out and campaign for that result.

  5. James

    Being a Liberal Democrat member I tweeted to Tim that he was confusing Englisness with Britishness with Liberalism. Sadly, as we see on a daily basis, huge parts of our politicians and the media, cannot differentiate between the two. Even people in the street in England can't see England as not Britain. I don't even know what Britishness is to be honest, I have never considered myself British but they see everything as English. This is not an anti English comment just a fact as I see it.

    The Liberal Democrats are in a bad place right now, I suspect that nationally the persuit of the centre will fail under Farron as it did Clegg. It will mean the party being everything to everyone and that will come across as wishy washy. They need to find common ground but had a chance to point out the differences with the Trident motion and bottled it. Willie Rennie, whom I thought was bordering on thinking, did a conference speech on how everything is SNP bad. His message of problems within public services was a fair one but then he goes and ruins it with his SNP bad mantra and anti referendum mantra, his contention that people want to move on from the referendum is not true for two reasons, the NO side can't seem to get past it for whatever reason and people know that the so called vow has been a betrayal so why would 45% of people want to put the issue to one side or ignore as Willie demands. Issues with services are not seperate from the independence debate when the levers to run your own country are not there and people see that the Scotland Bill is a weak piece of legislation designed to keep power retained at Westminster.

    The Liberal Democrats, and other unionist parties, have a long long way to go in Scotland. Myself, I remain a YES voter and will vote that way in future while also fighting for a third question in any future vote, failure to include a third question made the Lib Dems appear hollow.


    1. Bruce, I genuinely do not mean to be rude, but I can't find anything in your post that suggests why you are still in the Lib Dems? Not suggesting SNP, I myself am in the Green part, with wide open eyes and ears for the good in all indy parties, but with indy choice, why unionist, why Lib dem?

    2. Bruce,

      I agree. I remarked to a Labour voter I know yesterday that Farron's plank was 'do a Clegg' and that this was daft because it was what led to their decimation in May.

      It might be that that trick *can* be pulled off again in the future, but way down the line when people have forgotten it was recently tried and its effects. It is a generational thing, in that people who have recently lived through it are unlikely to be fooled by the idea that a party can be all things to all men.

      Indeed, the very point of politics is that incompatible interests have to be represented against each other (see business v. worker for only one of many examples). By actually doing something for one group, there is normally another group left unhappy. It is therefore near impossible to please everyone and daft to try. But it is even more daft to continue imagining that you can kid on some groups that you are representing their interests too when you are not. The Lib Dems will remain on the skids till they see this.

      My Labour friend agreed that he was being daft but I am not so sure that he'd accept that most Labour candidates lately tried roughly the same things. i.e. 'let's make ourselves electable rather than worrying about having guiding principles'!

    3. So when ARE you leaving the lib dems Bruce and where, if anywhere will you go? :)

    4. I was a member of the SNP previously but always considered myself a Liberal. My main reasons for being a liberal are that I really do believe that people themeslves can reach the right decisions if they have the information to make the informed choice, they may need support to get there but in the main they can.

      I believe that power should be devolved to the lowest possible level but not tokenistic, it has to be real. That means local communities having a real say in what is done but with them not for them.

      I am open and willing to respect or accept other opinions different from my own; open to new ideas irrespective of where it comes from. A good idea is a good idea no matter who suggests it. But I also believe that we need fair and honest government, we can find the balance between the market and the state.

      The other parties also tend to control from the top down, the SNP allow very little debate within the party overall, the leadership decide most of the policy made where as the Liberal Democrat members decide policy and have just moved to a one member one vote decision making process rather vote only at conference. Other parties tend to be centralists in the main and I just don't feel that we need that all the time, why shouldn't local communities decide what they need based on local circumstances, one size does not fit all.

      Just some of my reasons.


  6. There are two requirements to deliver independence.

    1. A government with the power to action a referendum on independence (a majority in Parliament)

    2. A majority voting YES in that referendum.

    You need BOTH of these.

    If there is no commitment to action a referendum on independence in the manifesto, the SNP government will have no mandate to call one. By omitting a pledge to hold a

    plebiscite in their manifesto, the SNP precludes a referendum for at least the life of the next Scottish Parliament. That is to say, for at least that period the SNP will be de facto,

    a party of Union.

    Unless they’re planning to have a referendum-on-holding-a-referendum on independence when the time is right (i.e. when the chances of a majority YES vote are as good as

    they’re ever going to get). There HAS to be a CLEAR commitment to a referendum on independence in the SNP manifesto to effect an unchallengeable mandate. It is doubtful

    Cameron is going to oblige us with a Section 30 next time.

    If the SNP meet or exceed their performance of 2011 and form another majority government in 2016 after nine years of incumbency, it will be a remarkable achievement. The

    chances that the stars will align to do it a THIRD time in 2021 after fourteen years as the government in a proportional voting system are not good. And if there IS no pro-indy

    majority in the Scottish Parliament after 2021 to pass legislation to action a referendum on independence - then what? No seriously, then what? It will not matter if polls are

    showing 53%/47% for indy for a month of Sundays if the People are never allowed to have their say. Remember, the Unionist parties have form here.

    Of course the caution demonstrated by Sturgeon is no doubt fueled by polling showing no clear majority for independence.

    But then as we know (worth reiterating here) that among the many factors moving sentiment, there’s that larger demographic shift – nature taking its course:

    75% of those 65 and over voted NO. That original cohort is of course going to continue to shrink. Their replacements, polls indicate, are far more YES friendly.
    What percentage of the population is 65 and over, and what is 85% (the turnout) of that number? That product is considerably greater than the 200,000 + votes that would

    change a majority NO to YES. In fact, according to the Scottish government the cohort of those 65 and over comprises 17% of the entire population.

    So simply waiting a little while we become the majority by default, anyway (latest estimates indicated four years for demographics to work the magic all on its own sans any

    other impetus). But we need an unambiguous manifesto commitment to indyref2 so that a majority SNP government has a mandate from the People to implement one in the face

    of near certain Westminster obduracy.

    Timing wise, the virtue of a limited-duration official campaign is clear. We know all the arguments. All a long campaign would do would be to help enable Project Fear 3.0. The

    more time they have to carpet-bomb the electorate the better it will be for them.

    We are never going to go into any independence campaign, certain of the outcome. There will always be risks. The greatest risk would be to bottle it - to kick it into the long

    grass till after 2021, when we have really no real idea what the political landscape might look like.

    We have a perfect storm right now where the SNP dominates Scottish politics completely, we have the most right wing Tory government in modern history, implementing

    draconian legislation designed to crush the will of the working class.

    We don’t know how things will look after 2021. We must act with a clear pledge to hold a plebiscite sometime in the life on the next (Holyrood) parliament. Is that risky? Yes, of

    course it is! Yet it is not as risky as the panglossian narrative where we "have faith" in politicians and the inevitability of independence. It's not inevitable, and faith based politics

    should be anathema to any punter with a functioning cerebral cortex.

    1. A very well argued post Christian Wright, thank you. The very minimum that can be expected of an Independence Party is a commitment to a referendum on independence should they gain an electoral majority in Parliament.

      If they don't have that commitment but still insist on fighting the election as 'Scotland's party of independence' even though for the next five years and longer, (as there was no commitment to a referendum in their Westminster campaign), the leadership will have unilaterally removed Scottish Independence as a functioning possibility from that election and following Parliament.

      This is not 'Scotland will have another referendum when the people of Scotland want another referendum'. This is 'Scotland will have another referendum when we, 'Scotland's party of Independence', put it in our manifesto as a solid commitment and the people then vote for us in majority'

      This is no little thing and would, for all the reasons Christian state's above, be a very risky move for the SNP and the independence movement as a whole. For that reason I really don't think the SNP would be so foolish. Therefore I am fairly confident that some sort of commitment to the party's right to hold a referendum in the next parliament (should it win a majority) will be the minimum expected manifesto pledge.

      However, Scotland's history of delivering strong mandates to single parties down through the decades (Scottish Unionists, Labour and now SNP) seems to have the inevitable result of parties (for day to day political and tactical reasons) slowly changing their core policies over time, while still holding on strongly to their original party mantras and descriptors.

      For example Scottish Labour were still using (and even delusionally believing) their own descriptor of 'the peoples party' right up to last year! That was 8 years out of power and god knows how many as a neo liberal capitalist party!

      The warning from Scottish party political electoral history is there. If the SNP are to remain 'Scotland's party of Independence' they need, at the very least, to reinstate their commitment to independence refarenda in their election manifestos as a matter of absolute principle. Other wise, legitimate concerns can and will be raised as to it's commitment to delivering Independence as opposed to some form of devomax.

      For all the above reasons I think it is absolutely essential that the SNP include a commitment to holding a second referendum, should they be able to command a majority for one, in the next Holyrood parliament.


    2. Where did the 75% of the 65 and over age group statistics come from? It seems a phenomenally high turnout from that particular section of society, and given a reasonable percentage of them involved through the discredited postal voting, any demonization of this group, blaming them for the No victory, smacks of divide and conquer tactics. Personally, I am over 65 and a Yes voter, and a lifelong believer in Scottish Independence.

  7. James try shopping at that self awareness site, you may pick up a bargain!

  8. The Greens in Scotland deserve to face the same extinction as the other pro-tram parties.

    Until they come up with £900,000,000 to save Edinburgh from bankruptcy and rescue the 4,000 Council jobs that are to be lost due to their insanity they can GTF with extreme prejudice.

  9. You are correct James.

    It's great being all things to all men like the Greens. However they are weak when it comes to independence matters. They are not natural independence supporters. What do I mean by that?

    Well Patrick Harvie sees independence as a means to make Scotland greener. He doesn't get up in the morning like the rest of us indi people and think ,are we any closer to independence , we must get independence.

    What makes him tick is different to what makes the SNP tick. Every day the SNP work its for independence. That's why losing the SNP majority would be used as a sign of weakness by the opposition.

    The greens are not a powerful voice for independence. They are opportunists! Relying on them to form a majority voice for Scotland, is not the route to go down.

    We must stay united and remember that this is not simply a party political choice. This is a movement and the movement must consolidate round one party. Having fringe parties is great once you get independence. On the journey they are just a distraction and often a nuisance to the cause.

    1. Glasgow Working ClassSeptember 24, 2015 at 12:17 PM

      I get up in the morning and do not give indepedence a thought. Breakfast always tastes the same. Will it taste better if independent, will my health improve! Will I have a new currency! Where will the central bank be located! Where will the Scottish stock exchange be located! What currency will I be paid in for my pension! Will Scotland join the euro if admitted into the EU! Will Scotland really stay in NATO and if so accept its responsibilities!

    2. GWC gets up every morning and doesn't give independence a thought???? Not exactly evidenced by near OCD levels of trolling on an independence blog, ya twonk!

    3. Glasgow Working ClassSeptember 24, 2015 at 8:04 PM

      I have my breakfast first.

  10. I think if the SNP win next year (which looks likely), then all they'll have done is waste 5 of their years in government in an immediate post referendum phase in which a rerun isn't really possible - and, by the end of that time, will have been in government for 14 years.

    It might have been better for them to lose next year and come back again in 2021. If we assume that every Holyrood parliament will now be 5 years in duration - and assume that some kind of pro UK government assumes power in 2021, then the next parliament in which a referendum can realistically be held will be the 2026 - 2031 parliament.


  11. A lot depends on UK behaviour. I am thinking, human rights bill, Eu and illegal wars. Not to mention forcing Trident through. We won't have to wait till 2026. The latest will be 2021. Personally I think it will be 2017.

    1. You are making Scottish Independence contingent on factors outside of Scotland and therefore outside our control. This is a dangerous and opportunistic strategy.

      If people vote for an SNP majority with a referendum commitment in their manifesto, all decisions about Scottish independence and it's timing will be made in Scotland by it's electorate.

      If however, the SNP makes their referendum commitment dependent on Brexit, they will explicitly be linking our right to decide on our independence contingent on the electoral whims of another country (in this case England). This is very weak and sends out entirely the wrong message.

      It is that mindset, i.e Scottish interests being contingent to British (=English) interests, that needs to be vigorously stamped out in every area of the Scottish electorate's psyche if we are to win, not unwittingly encouraged for short term party political maneuvering.


  12. I am not condoning that form of conditioning. I am simply expressing the views of the SNP leader.

    I think there should, and will be a referendum in 2021, regardless. The point that was being made, and is being made by Sturgeon. Is that changing something which is material in the interim can trigger an early referendum.

    It does not mean there needs to be a change before we have a referendum. It just means that circumstances will necessitate an emergency referendum to protect Scotland.

  13. Where have the SNP stated that 'there will be a referendum in 2021 regardless'? They haven't, hence the referendum conversation on this thread.

    This makes your following statement, 'The point that was being made, and is being made by Sturgeon. Is that changing something which is material in the interim can trigger an early referendum.' to be total wishful thinking.

    If Nicola makes the 'material change' argument, without first stating that a referendum will take place 'regardless', then every point I was making in the previous post still stands. Just not for you personally, but more importantly (and worryingly) for the lead party of Scottish Independence.

    Is that not a possibility which should be scrutinised before it comes to pass?


  14. Anon - Sturgeon said it was up to the people. She meant by that. Show me a consistant and an obvious lead for yes and we go for it! So in other words it's up to us to convince as many people over the next 5 years as we can. If the polls show a 10% swing then there is your trigger.

    My opinion at the moment is that yes is around 49%. If we can keep changing minds at this rate. Then by next year we could be sitting at 52%. Then it's just a matter of time before the electorate demand the referendum.

    I think the point you are not getting is that the will of the people will decide not the SNP. The reason I chose 2021 is because independence will be put in the manifesto as a commitment should yes show a lead. 2021 is the latest they could have the referendum in that term. Despite what the SNP advise to the general media. The party members and voters will not allow the referendum opportunity to be missed. I think you are worrying unecessarily.

    1. I hope you are right November13, but that does not sound like 'the will of the people will decide not the SNP.' It sounds like privately owned UK polling companies will decide not the SNP! Which is even more worrying.

      The electorate can only make it's true feelings heard on the Independence question during a referendum campaign and in the vote itself. Any wishful thinking that we can simply wander on, risk free into inevitable independence after polls start consistently showing 60% settled will for Independence is incredibly dangerous thinking (for our movement).

      Those are almost impossible hurdles to set ourselves before we even get a chance to put our message across in a proper, real and organised referendum campaign. As Indyref1 proved without a shadow of a doubt, that's the real environment where the normal electorate change their views, not phony polling questionnaires.

      There is NO risk free route to independence by referendum. This needs to be understood and accepted. The sooner the better so we can start actually assessing the real risks and best timing for that campaign.


  15. Mori sub-sample: SNP 49, Lab 21, Con 21, LD 7

    1. I believe its 53% in the turnout adjusted headline figures.

  16. Yes, they will ask for a 'floating mandate'. Brexit or something else could effect a sea-change of opinion, but the mandate itself would not be tied to any particular event. A referendum can be called if the Government of Scotland believe it is in the interests of the people of Scotland to put it to the vote. This is surely what they are going go for, and the point of Sturgeon's mantra that the next ref will happen 'when the people of Scotland want it'.


    1. A clear statement from the SNP is all that is needed.


  17. There's no need to worry about Cameron it's Osborne who will give us Independence on a plate along with Tory back benchers attitude to Scotland

    They can't help their own arrogance and disdain of us lower orders