The beautiful city of Bath in south-west England has been the source of a surprising number of furious anti-SNP rants over recent weeks, but today has seen perhaps the most unhinged of the lot. Apparently (and brace yourself for this) the SNP are about to enter into "an alliance with the DUP...to kill independence". Which would be absolutely shocking if it were true. To quote the immortal line of 1980s Doctor Who assistant Tegan Jovanka, "if" is truly the most powerful word in the English language.
The basis for this latest ludicrous Wings claim is a tweet from James Melville claiming that the DUP are "on board" for a second EU referendum and that it's likely that the votes are now there to make that referendum happen. Now, first things first: we do actually have to test the accuracy of Mr Melville's claim. I'm sure he's a great bloke, but he's also well known on Twitter as a bit of a Remain/People's Vote propagandist, so naturally he's going to sometimes say things that turn out to be a tad over-optimistic from his own point of view. I can't see any evidence at all that the DUP have come out for a second referendum - there's speculation that they might do, but to the extent that they've commented on the record, they've given the firm impression that they won't. And even if they do, I'm doubtful that would be enough to swing the balance in itself.
If the SNP and the DUP do end up walking through the same lobby in favour of a People's Vote, does that mean they're "in alliance" with each other? No, it does not. That's one of the silliest and laziest allegations in politics. In a binary vote, all you can control is which way you vote and your reasons for doing it. You have no control whatsoever over how other parties vote, and in many cases you may not even know what they're planning to do until the vote is actually underway. Parties can sometimes end up voting in the same lobby for polar opposite reasons - indeed, that happened only yesterday. The SNP voted for the Letwin amendment because (among other things) they think the new deal gives Northern Ireland an unfair advantage over Scotland, and the DUP voted for the Letwin amendment because they think the deal is bad for Northern Ireland.
And in the unlikely event that a People's Vote is actually held, would that have the automatic effect of "killing independence"? No, of course it wouldn't, for the obvious reason that we don't know what the result of the People's Vote would be yet. If, for a second time in four years, the people of Scotland voted emphatically to remain in the European Union but were outvoted by people in another country, that would strengthen rather than weaken the case for independence. And it's perfectly conceivable that could happen. Although most recent polls show a Remain lead, it's usually not an enormous one, and in any case the referendum choice would be framed as "Deal v Remain" rather than "Leave v Remain". The Brexiteers will have something positive to sell, and that could make all the difference as the campaign unfolds - especially with the financial muscle of the Tory party firmly behind them. I have a sneaking suspicion that the dread words "best of both worlds" might be given another outing.
Now, don't get me wrong - I'm on the record as being sceptical about the SNP's strategy of backing a People's Vote, and I do still worry about the danger of throwing away the casus belli for an early indyref. But I also think it would be a rather good idea to avoid hyperbole and hysteria about the effect of the decision that the SNP have made. It's far from clear that it's going to be the unmitigated catastrophe that Wings is so vividly painting in his readers' minds.
And why in the name of all that is holy is an alleged independence supporter trying to push the self-destructive narrative that the SNP need 50%+ of the vote (as opposed to the SNP and Greens winning a majority of Holyrood seats between them) to claim a renewed mandate for an independence referendum in 2021, if required? And why does he chuck in gratuitous attacks on other miscellaneous SNP policies such as the fictional "car park tax" and tail-docking of working dogs? Is he trying to do the unionists' work for them?
Oh no, I was forgetting, he wants to be Deputy First Minister. Silly me. (Although that probably amounts to the same thing.)