Thursday, May 27, 2021

Here's why the independence referendum must take place before the next UK general election

This was the result of the 2017 UK general election in Scotland...

Vote share:

SNP 37%
Conservatives 29%
Labour 27%
Liberal Democrats 7%


SNP 35
Conservatives 13
Labour 7
Liberal Democrats 4

By any standards that was an exceptionally good result for the SNP - they took 59% of the seats in Scotland, higher than the percentage of seats Mrs Thatcher won across the UK in her 1987 landslide.  Their 37% vote share was identical to the winning UK-wide vote share for David Cameron in 2015 that paved the way for the EU referendum, and it was slightly higher than the 36% share Cameron took in his first election win in 2010, and the 35% won by Tony Blair in his third victory in 2005.

And yet the result was portrayed by the media as an unmitigated disaster for the independence movement.  Midway through the BBC results programme, the former President of YouGov, Peter Kellner, declared that independence was "dead" - a ludicrous claim that went completely unchallenged.  The general consensus among journalists was that the independence referendum that Nicola Sturgeon had only just announced was now a non-starter, and depressingly the SNP leadership themselves seemed all too eager to buy into that narrative.

We were fortunate to get a second chance in 2019, and most of the losses the SNP suffered in 2017 were reversed.  But we mustn't squander that good fortune by allowing another UK general election to happen before an independence referendum.  The 2017 experience shows that the SNP will be judged by an absurdly high standard in Westminster elections that are 'away fixtures' for them due to their exclusion from much of the TV coverage.  If they fail to meet that standard, momentum will drain away and it could be much harder to hold a referendum, let alone win it.

The obvious lesson: the independence referendum must by held by autumn 2023 at the absolute latest, and ideally by autumn 2022 in case Boris Johnson cuts and runs with an early election in May 2023.  Unfortunately, though, a suspicion is beginning to grow that the SNP plan to deal with the 'once in a generation' jibe by actually waiting for a generation.


  1. And if the polls "show" a drop in support will that make the gutless SNP even mair feart?

    1. We ought to be worried about that, soft no's, soft yes's and undecideds can always be swayed - that's the battle ground

    2. There's no such thing as a soft no. Never has been. You are either Scottish and voted yes or a rabid yoon and voted no.

  2. Westminster elections are of course nothing to do with independence though as they are not Scottish, but British elections. Scots MPs can't legislate for a iref and you can't give or withdraw an electoral mandate for Holyrood via an election to a completely different parliament. Scots understand this fine, hence they have often voted in different ways for the two.

    The SNP have been right to not make UK elections about independence (in manifestos) for this reason; it's a gift to unionists. You might as well shout 'Scottish elections are trumped by great British ones!'. That's what seeking a mandate in e.g. 2017 would have done.

    The reality is that UK elections are about UK governance and Scottish elections about Scotland. Hence the SNP were 100% spot on to stand against British brexit in 2019, and not for an indyref as they already had a mandate for that, so why risk undermining it and legitimizing Westminster being dominant to Holyrood mandates.

    The only situation I'd suggest to make a British election about independence is if Westminster tried to block an iref. Then Yes MPs could stand on a '>50% = independence' mandate in the same way Sinn Fein do in effect. This is perfect as Scots can vote as they like for the governance of Scotland in Holyrood, leaving the 'single issue' independence vote to union elections. It's not as if Scots MPs are ever allowed to be involved in UK governance anyway.

    That said, I do think an iref in the first half of the parliament makes sense, but I don't want to dance to English tunes. The main danger of leaving things late is the next Holyrood election; that would need a good stable Yes party majority to ensure indepdence continues and we don't end up with a post-brexit type messy stalemate.

    1. That is a blatant contradiction of what you wrote recently (was it yesterday or the day before?) - you said that the SNP were right to do a U-turn on holding an independence referendum because the 2017 Westminster election result showed the public weren't ready for one. Now you say Westminster elections are irrelevant to independence. Which is it?

      (Although your own view is fairly academic, as the media make every SNP setback about independence whether we like it or not.)

    2. Whatever the perception of the SNP performance in 2017 was, let us not forget that it was their poor performance in the north east seats, which they ceded to the Tories, which allowed May to stay in power and cobble together a deal with the DUP. Without those six seats she couldn't have stayed. So in that sense, it was indeed a disaster.
      And two years later they sided with Jo Swinson to give Johnson what he wanted - a general election, at the time the govt was on the ropes. The rest is history.
      So whatever the implications are for the fairytale of independence which the SNP promote (ie nice dream, let's not rush it), they are heavily responsible for the way UK politics has panned out. Certainly at the time it was said the SNP favoured a new tory government because it would make the case for independence for them. See how that worked out?
      I wouldn't put it down to malevolence as such, just sheer stupidity, incompetence and lack of intellectual weight, of the kind that has been prominently displayed for the last three years.
      Remember how they insisted the recent election was the one that they must have a majority and that would be the decisive blow to denying us a ref or independence? See how that also panned out, and how they have gone quiet about it. Another blowhard promisee that was handily written out of the script straight after.
      It's all hot air, smoke and mirrors. The SNP are the Scottish establishment and show no sign of shifting that any time soon. Their lukewarm attitude to independence is evident, as it gets dialled down again, pushed into the long grass. Business as usual, no real change, just some cosmetic social policies that no-one asked for, a few bicycle lanes. Oh, brave Scotland.

    3. Skier seems more of an Artist than a scientist these days. He needs to keep both contradictions comfortably in play at the same time so that, when the time comes, he can seamlessly follow whichever path the SNP leadership decide to follow, while writing long posts on how perfectly logical and straightforward whichever option has been taken (or not taken) by the leadership always was - unless of course you are an English unionist from Bath blah blah etc. etc. etc... :)

    4. "And two years later they sided with Jo Swinson to give Johnson what he wanted - a general election, at the time the govt was on the ropes."

      That was undoubtedly a strategically sound decision. They had no arithmetical leverage over the Tory government in spite of the hung parliament. Stuart Campbell's notion that they could have got an indyref by doing a deal with the Tories on Brexit is an absolute fantasy that has been debunked umpteen times.

    5. That is a blatant contradiction of what you wrote recently (was it yesterday or the day before?) - you said that the SNP were right to do a U-turn on holding an independence referendum because the 2017 Westminster election result showed the public weren't ready for one.

      No contradiction at all. At the time (in 2017), I said the SNP should not make the vote about independence in case they undermined a perfectly good and correct Holyrood mandate. I stand by that point; the SNP only had a single mandate for an indyref from 2016. At no point have the ever openly sought another and should not be doing so in other elections. At most you can say 'our party and it's goals remain popular' if you have a good result. Of course unionists however want to make every election about indy so if the SNP take a bit of a hit, they can shout about how there's no mandate any more. Let's not dance to their tune.

      There is also a great danger in parties trying make elections about something. The electorate may not play ball; you can't force them make it about something, and if you do, it may well backfire.

      I don't know how many times I have to say the same thing about 2017. The SNP support fell sharply, both at the ballot box and in Holyrood polling. Yes also fell back to lows not seen since 2014.

      The SNP had been pushing a 'cancel brexit' message and the public gave a 'no, that's kinda got to go ahead because in the end, brits voted for it and Scotland must accept that'. Maybe it was the wrong message, but what else to use? Certainly not a 'new mandate for indy' one as that's not possible and could have been a gift to unionists. So this was the best option open.

      Now if support for indy hadn't fallen sharply at the same time, I'd have been more inclined to believe that maybe Yes voters were annoyed at the SNP for not making the election (stupidly) all about indy, so didn't turn out. But the fall in Yes and a fall in SNP support did look very much like 'Haud oan, now isnae the time' in part because the brexit vote just didn't go along Yes/Remain No/Leave lines. Many No voters were remainers, with quite a lot of Yes voters Scexiters. Turnout maybe did favour unionists, but it didn't drop by much, and I figure it was more due to the election being seen as Brexit British and not Scottish.

      And, crucially, the Section 30 idea flew oot the windae as there was no majority government to deliver one. No f'n way the DUP would vote one through and Lab+Lib were hardly going to assist the Tories who didn't want a referendum. That totally busted the SNP strategy. What's the point in asking for an S30 for May to say 'I can't give you one (whew) because I don't command enough MPs'.

      All these factors combined to see the SNP retreat. And sensibly I think.

      God help us all if they'd gone ahead and we'd lost. That would be Scotland having endorsed unionism twice in the space of 3-4 years and f'n endorsed Tory brexit. Gone would be one of the best reasons to justify a new vote.

      So when brexit actually happened and it all went to crap (as is now happening), unionists could say 'But Scots voted for brexit in the 2017 iref!' and they'd be largely correct.

      Thankfully, the brexit crap is now hitting the fan and Scotland has not warmly embraced it with another No vote.

    6. James, just to clear up one point. I have no idea about Stuart Campbell's notion, and am not remotely arguing that was a possibility, or that they could have done a deal over brexit. Neither of those was ever a starter. My point is simply that they voted for an election which gave Boris absolute power, and now spend all their time complaining about him. What exactly was sound strategy about that?

    7. Because the number of pro-independence MPs increased from 35 to 48, thus repairing the damage caused by the 2017 election. There was no real downside, because the SNP were powerless at Westminster both before and after the election, so it made no difference to that side of the equation.

  3. You are right James but the SNP is an indy-would-be-nice-wouldn't-it-as-long-as-it's-not-too-much-bother party - it's not a nationalist party anymore, it's full of political actors who don't live and breath the liberty of their country - the Brits know this and fear nothing but a miaow from Scotland's lion. Depressing, but things change - for the worse too of course - anyway...

    1. Woman H in her testimony describing herself as a soft Yes who wasn't really bothered about independence and was then shocked when Salmond didn't support her as a candidate for parliament.
      The SNP is full of them from top to bottom.

  4. Nicola was very clear. The 2014 IndyRef was a once in a lifetime event not simply once in a generation. Don't believe me? Listen to Nicola herself:

    1. Who was Nicola speaking for? Certainly not me. The people of Scotland will decide when the next referendum is held, not a politician (whether nationalist or unionist).

    2. Found some more examples of this.

      "[Corbyn] This election is a once-in-a-generation chance to transform our country, take on the vested interests holding people back and ensure that no community is left behind."

      He [Boris Johnson] added: “This is a critical once-in-a-generation election."

    3. So if she suffers a tragic and terminal accident then it's time for another vote? Are you plotting sedition there?

  5. I always thought that after May's "now is not the time," the SNP position should have been that if the UK Government refused to accept the Holyrood mandate for a referendum, then the only option would be to revert to the Thatcher Principle and simply declare independence based on a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster. That's the inevitable consequence of the Tory position.

    It would have made the election in 2017 a very different beast. The unionists would have had to be a lot less subtle about their tactical voting plans. The three UK parties would have all had to sing from the same hymn sheet about it, while the pro-indy vote would have been hugely motivated. The real goal, of course, would be to force agreement on a referendum which would increasingly look like a foregone conclusion. Instead, 2017 saw the SNP back away from talking about independence and spending the next few three years trying to stop Brexit. That was nothing but wasted time.

  6. Nicola Sturgeon has NOT "announced" a referendum.

    1. Don't be so modest, Peter, #Referendum2018 was a tremendous success. Never underestimate the power of a Peter A Bell hashtag. #DissolveTheUnion

  7. Any referendum in 2018/2019 would have had to have been held without a Section 30.

    Unless anyone can explain the coalition of MPs in London which would have happily got together to pass one?

    Theresa May had an easy excuse should Holyrood have made a formal request: 'I can ask my MPs to vote for it, but the DUP will say no so I can't pass one'.

    Labour and the Libs would say 'We are non in government! It is up to the Tories to legislate for this!', and we believe now is not the time!

    Remember, we had total stalemate on brexit for all the same reasons. All parties were trying to stall or soften brexit because none really backed it strongly or had their own self interest at heart. It's nonsensical to believe an S30 could have passed when spanner after spanner went into the brexit works.

    So we'd have been looking at the SNP using up a super valuable Holyrood mandate to hold a new iref with out a S30 just 3-4 years after the last one when polls showed support for them and Yes had hit new lows, as supported by them taking a decent hit in the 2017 election.

    Chances are a new iref would have then had Scots 'endorsing Tory brexit' by voting No again just before the Tories won a huge majority for a hard brexit.

    Thank god we still have brexit as an ideally selling point and we didn't chuck that away a couple of years ago. Especially as folks are not getting a taste of the s**t that is brexit, hence Yes moving to majority.

    1. Conservatives 318
      SNP 35
      PC 4
      Total 357

      So think we can put the 'there would not of been enough votes for a section 30' claim to bed now.

    2. The Conservatives are opposed to a Section 30 order, Adam. Duh!

  8. Why are we having William and Kate stuffed down our throats at sickbag levels never seen before if there's no gonnae be an iref?

    'We love you (peasant) jocks, don't go!'.