Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The folly of delaying progress on an independence referendum any further

A few days ago, I tweeted this -

"The Yes movement is now made up of three camps: 

1) Those who 'know' an indyref will not be held.

2) Those who 'know' an indyref will be held and are already trying to 'win' it. 

3) Those who want to make sure the mandate for an indyref is actually used.

I'm in group 3."

But judging from the replies it seems that I was being rather naive and that there's a fourth group of independence supporters who don't want a referendum to take place at all, because they're worried about losing it.  The snag, of course, is that without a referendum or equivalent democratic event, Scotland will never become independent, and it can therefore be argued that people who oppose a referendum are only 'independence supporters' in a very nominal sense.  

I honestly thought we'd moved beyond this.  A couple of weeks ago the SNP and Greens won a mandate to hold a referendum in this parliamentary term, and that mandate was not conditional on Yes reaching a certain level of support in the opinion polls.  I assumed the only remaining questions were whether the SNP could be persuaded to keep their word, and whether they would just take "no" for an answer if the obstructionism from London continues.  But it appears that there are still people who think the SNP's number one objective should be - and is - to avoid losing a referendum by not even attempting to hold one unless the polls show a fantastical level of Yes support that no-one sensible actually believes is attainable.  We could reach the 2040s without having held a referendum, and the Pete Wisharts of this world will be patting themselves on the back saying "we dodged a bullet there", all the while missing the actual point of salience that Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom - in other words, exactly the same outcome that holding and losing a referendum would have produced.

Perhaps the time has come to stop asking these people what their mythical "perfect moment" to hold an indyref would actually look like.  The more important question is: how long do we wait for the "perfect moment" to arrive before we say "that's long enough" and act anyway? There surely has to be some cut-off point if the referendum policy isn't a fiction.  I would suggest that moment will come, at the absolute latest, when any further inaction would make it difficult or impossible to hold a referendum well before 2026 - and given the potential obstacles that may need to be cleared, that leaves little room for delay before at least setting the ball rolling.  Any notion of quietly letting the mandate expire must, this time, be regarded as an absolute non-starter.

And let's not forget what the rationale of that mandate is.  What pro-independence parties have said to voters, quite rightly, is that Brexit drove a coach and horses through the basis upon which people voted against independence in 2014, and that Scotland now has a right to revisit its decision.  Regardless of whether people vote Yes or No, their right to choose is what matters.  If what the SNP leadership were really thinking was that Brexit would only be useful if it produced a decisive Yes surge, and that people's right to choose wasn't so important if that didn't happen, then voters have been misled quite seriously.  Remember that some EU citizens made decisions to stay in this country specifically because Nicola Sturgeon had reassured them that a referendum was coming, and that it would provide an opportunity for an independent Scotland to remain in the EU.  That pledge has already been semi-dishonoured because full-fat Brexit has been allowed to occur without an indyref.  If we let another few years go past, the notion that a referendum is in any sense a response to Brexit will look obviously bogus.

Another point that a number of people have made is that the implied logic for saying that a referendum has to wait until after Scotland has recovered from the Covid crisis is that we are better placed to recover within the UK - essentially a unionist argument.  If we're saying we don't need independence to recover, how on earth are we going to convince people that we need independence after we've recovered?


  1. I'd say do lots of internal polling of Scots and take that very much into account. It has to be earlier in the parliament than later, just not too early. However, be to be as vague as possible right now; no point giving London loads of warning.

    Anyway, you just can't hold Scots feet to the fire on this, which is what you do if you rush out and set a date they are not comfortable with. After all, if the referendum is too early, they know they can just vote No and have another one in the future if they want. The electorate will decide the timetable here, not politicians.

    After all, independence isn't a government's decision. The SNP, Alba and Greens cannot 'deliver independence', only the people can. Salmond learned that in 2014 as did the UK Remainers in 2016.

    And the reasons for independence are nothing to do with the pandemic or brexit. These merely highlight why it's better to be independent; you can make the key decisions yourself rather than having England screw it up for Scotland.

    And brexit is absolutely not going to get better not with upwards of 2% of the young working population already having fled the UK. At this rate, Patel will need to look at forcibly stopping people leaving in search of a better life.

    1. I do wish you'd stop this silly spin about "holding Scots' feet to the fire". As far as I can recall, you were initially responding to someone who was talking about holding *the SNP's* feet to the fire, which is self-evidently a very different concept.

    2. Scots just voted SNP + Green at a new record level. These parties are now the Scottish government. If another minority party could force them to rush things against the will of the electorate, then the latter would be getting hot feet too. If Alba had managed to bounce the SNP + Greens into a referendum, my feet would be getting burned as I no longer had the time I wanted to work on a number of new Yes voters. As I mentioned before, I got 4 brand new shiny ones for the election.

      If you set a date, that is what you ultimately do. You force the choice. You put pressure on the electorate to make a massive decision in a short space of time. It wasn't me that coined the phrase 'holding feet to the fire'. And you can be sure that if we rushed into a vote, those who did coin the phrase would be pressuring the electorate with 'you might not get another chance for 7 years or more!' which sounds perfectly believable = Feet to the fire. The gradualists try to gently warm the feet, the hardcore hold them to the fire. Always the same.

      However, if most folks are keen on the referendum and want to vote Yes, then that's great and off we go. And it looks like we could well be at that point due simply to a long term generational decline in Britishness; a decline that brought us from the 1920's to '79 then '97, and had started to deliver ever larger Yes wins since 2007. 2021 fits a long term trend that pretty much everyone is accepting now as we see it across the UK. Jeez, N. Ireland is looking at a SF FM!

      But if people are against the referendum and would rather wait longer, e.g. due to the pandemic, then it may well backfire, even if broadly they support indy. Kinda like what happened in 2012 when the cold feet set in and Yes went from low 40's to barely 30. David Cameron got his way and bounced the SNP into a vote, 'holding the electorate's feet to the fire' on a major constitutional issue they'd never had time to deeply consider as it always seemed a good decade at least away. And polls for Yes dropped sharply, hence the SNP opted for as long a campaign as possible while still keeping things a good year and a half from an election that could overturn a Yes vote.

      Salmond didn't rush into a vote, Cameron did. Mr 'let's wait 3 years & 4 months when there was no pandemic ' is now berating sturgeon for caution lol. So let's no be silly here; Salmond is the king of waiting as long as possible because that made strategic sense.

      Sturgeon has not pushed hard for a new iref because she thought she'd lose just like Salmond did. And when she turned up the heat, the SNP got telt (2017). I think she was right from all the data I've seen and the attitude of many I know. It was too soon after 2014, the brexit vote itself just didn't really tip the balance and the pandemic isn't an indy issue really.

      I think the SNP should continue as is. Steadily work towards the goal. The framework legislation is all there. Next develop the bill itself, but leave the date open; there is no need to set one until everything else is in place and we can see if England will be stupid enough for a challenge. Lead the electorate to the day which does not seem to rushed, but like it is inevitable.

      I have an older British / English neighbour who has gone from terrified of the idea to 'well, what will be will be, I suppose it may be for the best' after many long chats. Hell, as very pro-EU, her and hubby might even vote Yes. But I don't want to hold their feet to the fire. They don't need a whole lot of time yet I think. These are the kinda folk that have seen polls hit 55%.

    3. "Sturgeon has not pushed hard for a new iref because she thought she'd lose just like Salmond did."

      That's simply untrue. There's one reason, and one reason alone, why a referendum has not yet been held. Theresa May said "now is not the time", and the SNP said "OK".

    4. I seem to remember things different James. I recall Sturgeon putting feelers out re a request for a Section 30 post brexit referendum as polls showed a brief surge to Yes.

      Theresa May didn't say No, but said 'now is not the time' like you note.


      May then body-swerved a section 30 by collapsing her own UK government and calling a UK general election.

      UK Tories promptly lost said 2017 election and formed a minority government with the support of the ultra terrorist British nationalist DUP so would would not have been able to vote through a Section 30 even if all of them had wanted to.

      At the same time, the SNP seemed to have 'got telt' by the Scottish electorate with a 13.1% vote share + 21 seat loss which, unsurprisingly, made Sturgeon take stock and not purse a new vote, not least because Yes plunged to new lows in polls.

      That's the way I saw it anyway.


    5. your usual masterpiece of obfuscation, direct from your masters at SNP Central. Utterly absurd and incoherent ragbag of excuses and diversions. Try answering the question honestly, instead of prevaricating and passing the buck. You campaigned for indy, and as usual, when it comes down to it, the hand wringing and excuse making, avoiding the crucial question is staggering. Business as normal in the neu SNP then. On with the social engineering, let's forget indy until the next lot of elections.

    6. Hi Ian, I don't know anybody from SNP central and your post seems like a rant, while mine were simply describing what happened.

      After the 2017 election where Scots withdrew considerable support for the SNP and Yes reached lows of 2014 or below, would you have ploughed ahead with a new vote? While we cannot know what would have happened, we do have lots of evidence that would suggest Scots would have voted No again compared to zero for a Yes vote. At the time, we were all discussing how the polls showed the brexit vote had just not been decisive like Yes hoped; Leave/Remain just didn't not break along Y/N lines. It was very disheartening, but the stark reality.

      At the same time, who would have voted through a Section 30? Labour? The DUP? Even if May had whipped every Tory into line, she would not have been able to pass one as she led a minority government. So any chance of a 2014 re-run went largely out of the window while the SNP / Yes licked wounds.

      Not only that, but it seemed Brexit might not even happen or be super soft, with polling showing Scots wanted to wait and see what happened.

      Anyway, we have now just had an election where the Scots public gave a huge thumbs up to the SNP + Green plan and, like it or not, a notable thumbs down to the one proposed by Alba.

      Now given that the only people who can 'deliver independence' are the electorate, I figure we should work to their timetable as much as we can. This is my opinion and not the SNP's. Although it does seem to me they are of similar opinion and, based on recent election results, have understood the electorate well.

      By contrast, I suggest you are out of touch. Do you actually speak to Scots about indy? I mean those who might be persuaded but are still unsure? Neighbours, work colleagues? Anyone who has campaigned should understand exactly what I am saying.

      Anyway, I succeeded in adding a good few new Yes voters to the pile ahead of the election, including at least one who opted for Alba. Did you, or were you too busy attacking Yes parties?

  2. A ery good post, especially the bit about the point of principle being our right to choose yes or no, not simply that it should be won.

    While the dread of losing again is real and substantial, the joys of winning cancel it out.

    The decision must be that it is for the people to decide and that a case needs to be developed and presented to them.

  3. I honestly believe that if the current SNP leadership had any nerve at all, they lost it somewhere between 2016 and 2017.

    Their 'Scotland's Place in Europe' paper of December 2016 was ignored by Westminster and Theresa May said 'now is not the time' in April 2017. Nicola Sturgeon and her team bottled it at that point, failed to argue for Independence in the snap June 2017 election and we know what happened thereafter.

    My view is that the Nicola Sturgeon leadership lack the will to fight for Indy and have instead settled for doing what they can within the constraints of Devolution. That is why they are working "as if they live in the early days of a better nation" and passing the legislation such as Hate Crime and Gender Reform matters which they believe will alter Scotland for the better. (Westminster don't care - they only want our energy sources, tax receipts and deep water ports).

    Somehow we have to embarrass or browbeat the SNP leadership into acting.


    1. Your recollection of 2017 is very much in tune with mine. The official story is that the SNP took losses in 2017 by being TOO focused on independence. I always thought the problem was that there wasn't enough, and that's why the pro-indy vote didn't turn out. Don't forget that the unionists didn't really gain anything in 2017. The SNP just didn't have anything motivating people to get out and vote.

    2. That makes no sense given how Yes hit new lows in polling just after 2017. Polling that had accurately predicted the recent election (and all those previously).

      That and the fact brexit just did not split along Yes/Remain leave/No lines.

      Do you not talk to voters. Regular folks I mean; not close friends / political geeks of the same mind? Do that and the election result / polling all matched up.

    3. Exactly this. The Tories went into the 2017 election on 'stop indyref2' whereas SNP went in with 'stop Brexit' a massive mistake.

    4. You are correct about the 2017 Westminster election. The SNP was all 'this vote is nothing to do with Independence' and George Kerevan even had full page adverts to that effect in the East Lothian Advertiser. As a result 30% of Dalkeith SNP branch didn't bother to vote. We know that from buying the marked up register from the Council of which voters voted. If your members decide not to bother you can hardly complain about the rest of the electorate.

  4. I agree and find myself dismayed by the wasted years when soft no voters could have been courted with facts and rebuttal of lies rather than wheesht for indy silence.
    I also feel strongly that we should canvas friends to sign the Digital Covenant. This verifiable list of yes people would provide a clear indication of desire for indy and may mean a referendum is unnecessary.
    It would also provide leverage against a recalcitrant SNP gov.

  5. Personally, I think the SNP need to take material action sooner rather than later, and by that I mean before the year is out. I also think they would be sensible to plan to hold the referendum towards the end of this parliamentary term. Why? Because of demographic shift. I am a firm believer that this will gain us a few valuable percent by the end of the term. I know you are more circumspect about this James.

    If I don't see this happening then I will no longer think the SNP are the correct vehicle for independence. If anyone in the SNP thinks 'steady as she goes' is the way to stay in power, then I have news for them- it's not.

  6. Hurrah and hurrah again for your last paragraph.

    I am still struggling with the fact that a 56yo and a 16yo in my house both voted snp and would not countenance any other vote at constituency, but are very much in your camp 1a - those who HOPE another referendum will not be called as they do not want a yes vote.

  7. THERE likely won't be an IndyRef2 before 2028 - the gutless Sturgeonista don't relish, welcome or even countenance a fight with the Brits. Salmond chucked in the towel, so his currency is worthless now. Another SNP leader is required - i.e. someone who actually does more than talk a good fight.

    1. Salmond held off for 3 years and 4 months; as long as he realistically could in the hope of getting enough votes. He had an outright majority too; the SNP are not setting the timetable here because they don't control parliament. The referendum must be consensus.

  8. Reluctantly, very reluctantly, I don't want an Indyref while Sturgeon and her SNP are in charge. It is quite obvious that they spurned the opportunity to make the intellectual case for Independence as a substantial part of the road the recovery from covid. I expected better. Instread we got NS for FM and both votes SNP - presumably not for Indy, but for NS as FM.

    My big fear right now is that the SNP will be goaded by Indy supporters into giving an Indyref that they do not want and which they are not going to put their butts into winning. It is all a question of trust in the SNP.

    We have a free pass at an Indyref because of brexit, but that pass is steadily being devalued by delay. However, if we lose, we are likely to find it hard to put on another Indyref for a generation.

    The short of it is that an Indyref requires a Scottish Government which is committed. I don't think we have that.

  9. I've been an activist for forty eight years and believe that I understand the majority of political situations reasonably well.

    The one that still baffles me, after all the arguments are in, is how a handful of 'suits', be they Blairite Labour or Sturgeon SNP, can so successfully subvert mass movements the objectives of which they don't appear to support.

    In modern Scotland there is no more time for excuses.Either we begin the preparatory campaigning for a new vote on independence or the 'moment' of our opponents weakness will pass. We have the tools even if the SNP leadership is craven. 'Believe in Scotland', local YES groups, 'Alba', the groups which work on policies for currency, economic policy, constitution and defence.
    Bring these together and start campaigning. Encourage/shame SNP members into joining us.
    We can't force the hand of the managerial careerists if we don't try and history will not give us forever to try it.

    1. When was the last/first time activists made a mass protest for action on independence outside/inside Holyrood or an SNP conference - thus you unfortunately have your answer.

  10. Excellent post James. You hit the nail on the head. The SNP leaders' reluctance to hold a referendum soon "in case they lose" is understandable, but it ain't right. Surely, as you rightly implied, the bottom line is that, with a hard Brexit and Scotland being dragged out of the EU against its democratic will (having lost the 2014 referendum on the basis of remaining in the EU), the people now deserve a choice if they want to remain in the other union, ye know the one that dragged us out of the EU?

    The people of Scotland really should be allowed to make the choice again soon, regardless of what level of support there is for YES in recent opinion polls. It is surely the only right thing to do after all that has happened since 2014.

    And as for Covid-19 and associated lockdowns - well, for a reluctant, timid SNP leadership, it's very convenient, is it not?

  11. Looks like we might yet have an formal Yes majority government.


    Which would make a lot of sense if you wanted to do this:


    Nicola Sturgeon tells Holyrood Scotland will have new referendum

    They way certain anti-Yes party bloggers are 'fighting hard for independence', sorry, holidaying in their beloved England until November or thereabouts makes me wonder if MI5 figure the SNP are looking to a spring 2022 vote, so are issuing contracts accordingly.

  12. The high water mark of support for independence has probably passed. In the most propitious of circumstances and the polls positive, the SNP directed its efforts elsewhere, wasting two years in a failed prosecution of the man who made most of their jobs possible and the movement as a whole a credible force. They could have capitalised on the mood of the country, but preferred to block discussion of plans for independence at their conference, instead prioritising social engineering and giving themselves grand titles such as Foreign Minister etc (when they have no foreign policy influence). They like the benefits they receive, the baubles they anoint themselves, but when it comes to the hard graft of preparing the ground for independence and thus making the recent election a virtual plebiscite, they shied away and failed to press the case. They are making it very hard for people to give them credibility as they play at pretend government.

  13. I'm in Group 4 BTW james.

    4) Those who do not advocate a vote for any particular Yes party, who expect conditions to favour an indyref when they did not in the last term so expect one to be held, and who have always been focused on trying to win over people to Yes rather than any political party, as that is what will bring about indy.