I had an epiphany earlier. As has been pointed out, by the end of this parliamentary term the SNP government will have been in power for nineteen consecutive years - slightly longer than the interminable Thatcher/Major government at Westminster between 1979 and 1997. I had assumed that perhaps a Disraeli-led or Gladstone-led government in the 19th century would have served for longer, but nope - the two great men kept swapping power over a period of decades, so neither came close to nineteen consecutive years. You have to go all the way back to the 18th century to find a Westminster government that clearly exceeded the SNP's time in office.
There's a good reason for that, of course. There's a natural pendulum in electoral politics - eventually every government will start looking tired and people will get sick of it. That doesn't necessarily mean that the SNP will lose power in 2026, because they'll be starting from an exceptionally high base. However, it does mean they're likely to lose seats (with Labour the most obvious beneficiary) and as a result there's surely a far greater than 50/50 chance that the overall pro-independence majority will be lost after fifteen years. In other words, this coming parliament is probably independence or bust. Either we get the job done this time, or we see the sun set on our hopes until deep into the 2030s, or forever.
Now, of course that thought will have occurred to the SNP's strategists too, and that ought to be encouraging. But it really depends on what you think their number one priority is these days. Is it independence, or is it power for its own sake?
In Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the three superpowers exist in a state of perpetual war, and there is no objective to the conflict other than that it should continue, because the mobilisation of war entrenches the power of the elite. Doesn't that remind you of something? "Stop Indyref2 in its tracks" galvanises the unionist vote behind the Tories, and "tell London that Scotland's future is Scotland's choice" galvanises the pro-independence vote behind the SNP. It suits both sides down to the ground for that conflict never to reach a resolution, for Indyref2 to always be there, just beyond the horizon. And even if SNP strategists realise that they can't defy political gravity forever, they might still think that minority government between 2026 and 2031 in a unionist-majority parliament is a prize worth chasing.
So those of us who actually do regard independence itself as the objective have got to break this pattern somehow. I suggested the other day on Twitter that the continued existence of Alba could function as a useful 'deterrent' - because the SNP will know disaffected Yessers have somewhere else to go if independence isn't delivered by 2026 - or more to the point if there hasn't been a genuine and honest attempt to deliver it by then.
But in fact the benefit could be felt long before 2026. There are council elections next May which Alba have said they'll be contesting. The silver lining of the poor result last week is that expectations will be fairly low and it'll be easier to exceed those expectations. Imagine, for example if Alba took 5% of the national vote - that would be seen as a major warning to the SNP leadership. Whether that will even be possible depends on the strategy employed - will Alba put up candidates across Scotland to maximise their national vote, or will they pour all their resources into a few select localities to attempt to get some councillors elected? There's a case to be made for either.
I was also pleased to see in Kenny MacAskill's new article that Alba will not be an abstentionist party at Westminster. That's definitely the right call. They have a precious parliamentary platform and they should use it.