Monday, June 28, 2021

I'm finally compelled to admit it: the SNP leadership have become the biggest obstacle to independence

A couple of weeks ago, an SNP leadership loyalist on Twitter (I think it was Marcus Carslaw) framed the debate on indyref timing as supposedly being between the official SNP position of holding a referendum in 2023, and the preference of Alba and people like Joanna Cherry for an earlier vote.  That was completely bogus, because there is no official SNP commitment to a referendum in 2023, and if there was, most people in Alba would be reasonably happy with that - our actual fear is that there won't be a referendum at all over the coming five years, and that the mandate will be allowed to expire yet again.  That concern has, to put it mildly, not been allayed by a comment in the Sunday Times' write-up of their new Panelbase poll, which states that people in SNP leadership circles are privately going around saying that there isn't going to be a referendum this side of the next UK general election, which isn't due until 2024.  

There's a stock line in many a courtroom drama where the defence attorney says "do I have the court's permission to treat this witness as hostile?", and I think I've finally reached that point with the SNP leadership.  Until very recently I was genuinely unsure whether they were serious about holding a referendum or whether they were just stringing indy supporters along, but I'm now forced to conclude that it's the latter.  If they were intending to use the mandate for an indyref, they would be doing it before the UK general election. Waiting until afterwards means in practice that yet another mandate would be required, because we know from the experience of the 2017 general election that any seat losses for the SNP will lead to a consensus between the media and the 'caution' wing of the SNP that an indyref is unthinkable for the foreseeable future, which would push it back to beyond the 2026 Holyrood election.  And the balance of probability points towards seat losses, because the SNP won an exceptionally high 48 seats out of 59 at the last general election.  No-one should expect electoral gravity to be defied forever.  Besides which, waiting until 2024 carries the strong whiff of "hoping for something to turn up" that might bring about a Section 30 order - perhaps the SNP holding the balance of power in a hung parliament, which is a 5% chance at best.  (And even if by some miracle it did happen, the SNP's caution faction would then be telling us that "now is not the time" to press home that advantage, because the voters would never forgive us for "playing games".)  We've got to have a more credible plan for bringing about independence than this.

The term "neverendum" was coined in Quebec, and even though it originally meant the repeated holding of referendums on the same subject, what it's instead come to mean in both Quebec and Scotland is endless debate about a referendum that somehow never actually takes place.  The SNP leadership and the Tories are colluding in the neverendum process - they have a shared self-interest in an indyref remaining an apparent prospect, but perpetually just over the horizon. The election that will supposedly determine whether an indyref takes place is always the next election, and when the SNP win each successive election we somehow find out the next day that another election two or three years down the road will need to be won - and that all "grown-ups" and "realists" understand this to be true. 

Here's a thought we need to consider.   Perhaps what "grown-ups" and "realists" think they know most of all is that Scotland cannot and will not leave the United Kingdom.  After all, no integral part of a stable democratic state anywhere in western Europe or North America has become independent since the Second World War.  (Even going a little further back, the only example I can really think of is Iceland's independence from Denmark, and that's a special case given the physical distance between the two countries.) Secession is not part of the 'normal', 'safe' political process as it's practised by statesmen and stateswomen across the democratic world.  We should never forget that our political goal is an intensely radical one - bordering on revolutionary. To bring it about will require equally radical thinking about process and strategy.  Staying within the normal 'safe', 'mature' parameters means staying within the United Kingdom - it's as simple as that.

This is not, incidentally, a call for Nicola Sturgeon to stand down or to be replaced.  Apart from anything else, my guess is that her successor would probably be equally cautious about strategy.  But I do think we now need to be hardheaded about the fact that the SNP leadership have become the biggest obstacle to progress, and if it's pointless to change that leadership, what we'll need to do instead is change the leadership's thinking.  That will require the building up of tremendous external political pressure - both from direct electoral opponents like Alba, and also from non-party organisations like Now Scotland.

Just a word on the Panelbase poll itself - it shows Yes on 48% and No on 52%.  The Sunday Times are portraying this as a significant drop in independence support, which on paper they're entitled to do because the last Panelbase poll had Yes on 52% - but the snag is that previous poll was an outlier.  A week before it was published, another Panelbase poll (commissioned by this very blog) had Yes on 49%, which was much more in line with what other firms were showing at the time.  So it looks to me like nothing much has changed since the election - either Yes are holding steady, or any drop has been very minimal.  There is, frankly, no evidence yet to justify John Curtice's rather odd claim in the Sunday Times piece that there has been a post-election "cooling" of public attitudes towards independence.

Prior to the election, Mark McGeoghegan doused himself in parfum d'obsession and insisted that although he could not prove that the bastards in Alba were to blame for the fact that Yes no longer had a clear lead, anyone who didn't believe that to be the case was a zoomer.  Well, let's be blunt - anyone who still holds McGeoghegan's view is the real zoomer, because Alba have had practically no coverage in recent weeks.  The explanation for the small No lead must therefore lie elsewhere.  Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP leadership quite rightly expected their fair share of credit for building up a sustained Yes lead last year - and it would be equally fair for them to accept the lion's share of the blame for any slight reversal of fortunes that has occurred since.  The most plausible explanation is the complete failure to make the case for independence.

I'll leave you, though, with one piece of very good news from the Panelbase poll: 54% of respondents want a referendum in the next five years, and only 46% don't.

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You can catch up with the latest episode of the Scot Goes Popcast HERE.


  1. I agree with you entirely.

  2. "Hoping for something to turn up".

    I think that you are probably correct James. For a long time now the rational arguments that the SNP leadership has no will for the fight have built up. Somehow though, despite reading, thinking and talking about it every day, I've been unable to emotionally accept the conclusions.

    Residual denial or something. Time to back off from the party and work though YES and others such as Believe in Scotland.

    No more money to the SNP. No more knocking ourselves out on election campaigns that go nowhere beyond themselves.

    I'll probably still vote SNP on a lesser evil basis but that's about it.

  3. You are dead right James.
    In the months leading up to the Election there was a growing clamour amongst grass root supporters to make it a Plebiscite for Independence.
    SNP response - Mike Russell's eleven point plan. Sounds impressive except the first five had already been achieved.
    The only time the leadership ever mention Independence at all is in the run up to any election - just to 'keep the Tories out'.
    All the while, the both votes SNP ploy achieved the opposite, giving the unionist parties Holyrood seats.
    The only way to win any referendum is to actually Campaign for Independence. This is how we got to 48% from 25% back in 2014 and here we are on the same figure again.
    I disagree on one point James. Nicola Sturgeon does need to go.
    As a colonial Administrator she has been good enough, but we need a leader with some courage, vision and a clear strategy to take us forward.
    Qualities sadly lacking in anyone at the SNP top table.
    Where is the Draft Referendum Bill we were promised at the end of 2019? In fact is there any recent legislation passed, that has actually benefitted the people of Scotland?
    We're being taken for fools.

    1. Re: "Nicola Sturgeon does need to go.
      As a colonial Administrator she has been good enough, but we need a leader with some courage, vision and a clear strategy to take us forward. Qualities sadly lacking in anyone at the SNP top table."

      I agree, Sturgeon must go. But the problem is that there is no one with the qualities at the SNP top table, which in itself is a damning indictment of her leadership.

  4. I agree with everything apart from your last couple of sentences:

    "one piece of very good news from the Panelbase poll: 54% of respondents want a referendum in the next five years, and only 46% don't."

    You will almost always find that the majority for a referendum goes up the further down the road it is projected to be held. What people seem to be implying is "yes I want a referendum, just not now".

    It is always "just not now".

  5. The SNP leadership and the Tories are colluding in the neverendum process - they have a shared self-interest in an indyref remaining an apparent prospect, but perpetually just over the horizon.

    I suppose we have to hope that the SNP leadership believe that if they don't actually go for it this time, their turnout will drop sufficiently to hand the NE to the Tories, and Labour will win back enough voters from the 2011-5 exodus to at least be competitive in the central belt. But I suspect they don't believe that, and they're probably right not to.

  6. The polls suit the SNP leadership just fine. The more they drift down, the more their argument will be, 'not now, we have to wait for public opinion to be in our favour'. While they do nothing, of course, to change that public opinion.
    Iain Lawson has given a good account of the autocratic takeover of the party, from the members, from scrutiny and from accountability, in his blog today. This has cemented a clique at HQ who basically do as they please, with their well-known priorities and obsessions (which do not include independence). One of those is the elimination of any challenge to their power.
    It was only a few months ago we were told that the election would be the final piece of the jigsaw in securing a referendum and then independence. Now that has been consigned to Room 101, again. These people are very, very comfortable in the positions they are, unchallenged and surrounded by sycophants and favoured acolytes. Patronage goes a long way to building an autocracy. Independence is the mirage that keeps them in the style to which they are now accustomed. Why risk all that?

  7. Scotland "will not leave the United Kingdom". Scottish Independence will dissolve the United Kingdom. Scotland didn't join it, but it's union with England and later Ireland created it. When (most of) Ireland left, the British establishment persuaded itself that very little had changed, and tried to carry on change to name, flag or Royal Coat of Arms. For the Kingdom of England to try to adopt the "nothing to see here folks, move along" approach to Scottish Independence would be laughable. The situation is more akin to the former Czechoslovakia, where a single unified state reverted to it's two formerly independent states. As for the rest of your piece, bang on the money.

  8. I don't detect any change in polling. The panelbase is consistent with baseline Yes at 50% or just shy of it. Upper limit about 55%. So probability would be a win, but still notable risk of just falling short if it's rushed into faster than the electorate want. These polls are asking about a referendum 'tomorrow', which seems maybe just a bit too quick for folks. But if 48% are prepared to vote Yes first thing the morn without any campaign, plan on currency, EU/EFTA, borders with the UK etc, then the Union really is on its last legs. These people are lost to the union and will never come back; they are the baseline Yes.

    As for SNP vs Alba, it's not possible to be definite about either. There's no solid evidence the SNP don't plan to hold a new iref in the next couple of years. At the same time, there's solid no evidence Alba would have come good on a sudden snap referendum if they were the SNP's position. It's quite possible they would have delayed depending on polling and external factors. For example, if EEA folks said 'Don't rush into this, we'd prefer you to wait until we work out how to accommodate the outcome now that we see it's going to be a Yes', then I'm sure Alba would do that. If they were not pragmatic like that, indy would likely end up like the slow motion traincrash of brexit. If folks don't think that European leaders and even Biden have opinions on Scottish indy that have been communicated directly or indirectly with Sturgeon they are living on a different planet. We don't live in isolation. Scottish indy will have serious knock on implications for N. Ireland which I imagine Biden has interests in...

    Gove's comments show the UK know it's happening but they are trying to buy time. They hope that if the SNP lost ground in another UKGE (which they are thinking about calling) like 2017, they could say 'No mandate!' and hope it caused the SNP to panic and pause again.

    Salmond delayed for over 3 years post 2011 for very good reason. For him, that gave Yes the best chance of winning. It's not wrong to do if done for sensible reasons.

    For me, the SNP and Alba are both politicians and so I have to decide which I trust more. I see the reasoning for the SNP not going ahead after 2017 which I'm not going to go into again.

    In terms of who I generally trust more in Sturgeon vs Salmond, it has to be Sturgeon. Salmond told me porkies about her breaking the code, joining with Wings / the Tories on this, even thought there was no evidence of this that I could see. I can't help but feel he did this hoping to boost Alba if Hamilton found against Sturgeon, but that fell flat. Sturgeon's testimony seemed more truthful to me, and this proved true under independent expert scrutiny from my irish countryman.

    I've got nobody on a pedestal, but for now, I trust the SNP leadership a wee bit more than Alba's. I will continue to update this based on how both behave.

    1. Lol, SNP loyalists love to drag the conversation on to Wings and Alba as soon as they can. It does, after all, avoid thme having to answer the criticisms of the article, or examine the deceit they are subject to.
      They have a flexible approach to polls. Last year 17 polls in a row had a majority for yes, culminating in 58% towards the end of the year. That lead has collapsed to levels a few points above the 2014 result. That is down to the SNP and their remarkable determination to shoot themselves in the foot, which naturally makes people suspect what their actual motives are. Certainly they have failed to articulate a case for independence, and were still stuck at the starting gate, unable to answer questions they have had years to prepare for.
      Couple that with all the shenanigans over gender and hate crime, and their poor performance in government, it is no wonder people are cooling on the idea. Could you trust this lot in and indy Scotland, in a scenario they have failed to articulate or convince a majority in? As James says, their credibility is fading, and that won't come back without a major change in leadership and accountability.

    2. Salmond called a referendum in 2012 after wining a pro Yes majority in 2011, and only having 6 MPs.
      Murrell has not called a referendum 6 years after returning 56 MPs and 5 years after winning a Yes majority.
      You're just embarrassing yourself now.

  9. I would agree with James here. I think there is a further danger for Scotland governed by a quiescent SNP. The Conservative UK government will strain every sinew to ensure the north of England gets preferential treatment as regards investment. For example the talk of giga-factories for lithium battery production. Look where most FDI for wind turbine parts and assembly has gone: Teeside and the Isle of Wight. Over time this is not going to help Scotland's relative economic performance, tax receipts and the size of any theoretically calculated 'deficit'. These points will be made relentlessly. There is no real evidence that the SNP hierarchy are much interested in economic growth anyway, any economic involvement on their part tends towards the disaster end of the scale.
    While Sturgeon focusses on baby boxes and the likes Boris will be steering investment to favoured areas. I predict that this scenario coupled with the SNP's vow of silence on doing anything to promote independence will sooner or later result in a significant fall-off in support for the SNP and independence. Some might come to the conclusion that if nothing is going to happen under the SNP maybe its better to throw in their lot with the UK and try to get some more crumbs from Johnson's table.
    If MI5 had been asked to come up with a strategy to neuter Scottish Independence thy may well have come up with a recipe like Sturgeon's SNP. I don't think they have the ability to actually carry out such a plan so it is lucky for the UK that Sturgeon and co came along at the right time.

  10. A sad conclusion more and more of us are coming to accept. Prepare now for incoming from the Nicola cultists (I think we all know who I mean) to denounce you as a blasphemer and point out the error of your ways.

  11. Skiers 2021 (to date) PoP ex DK

    Not biased to any pollster due to higher polling frequency.

    All polls so far in 2021 from individual pollsters averaged then an average taken of these*.

    50.3% Yes
    49.7% No

    And this is with all the evidence in hand saying Yes has retreated to 'baseline' over the past Year, i.e. minimum support. Only those who would vote Yes no matter what and 'are not for turning' are saying they would vote Yes in a snap iref held tomorrow.

    That will not be for long now that unemployment is rising businesses are closing, while supermarket shelves are starting to empty.

    1. Forced to use an average including pols from 6 months ago to support your case. You really are Wet Pishfart.
      Nice to see you want the people to suffer while you enjoy your expenses paid lifestyle instead of actually campaigning.

  12. The moment I realised they weren't interested in independence was the FM's statement on 31 January 2020. Despite running a GE campaign on #indyref2020 just weeks earlier, she told us it wasn't going to happen. It was at that moment I realised indy would never happen under her leadership. Nothing that has happened since has changed my opinion.
    However, the SNP have had their last vote from me. We will lose THREE Westminster seats in the next General Election. My wonderful MP Joanna Cherry is one of those whose seat is being abolished, and we know the pettiness of the SNP leadership won't allow her to get another.
    I will have no reason to vote SNP.
    The SNP have turned into New Labour in less than 7 years. It's heartbreaking.

  13. HEY! BUT if you want gender reassignment social/physical - then the Scottish Nicola Party will go to war for you!

  14. Quite a number of the Wings brigade seem to have migrated.

  15. Unknown, yeah. I was feeling more and more uneasy leading up to that announcement, and it just knocked all the wind out of me. I'm not going to keep voting SNP for more of the same. I'm also getting my 2017 indyref 2 donation back. I don't like being lied to.

  16. Meanwhile while the baby box strategy is being refined, tweaked and re-launched on an unsuspecting Scotland, in the real world:
    Nissan set to confirm battery gigafactory in the North East by 2024 - and it could create up to 2,000 jobs
    That's North East England they are talking about. Expect a lot more of this.

  17. I'm giving the SNP until the end of the year to do something concrete to advance independence. If they don't then my vote will be going elsewhere.

    I've voted SNP in every election since I could first vote back in the '80s until I tactically voted Green in the regional vote at the last election, but enough is enough. I simply no longer believe that Nicola Sturgeon has any intention of actually calling a second Indyref.


  18. This week on the 'Skier Takes The Piste' blog. I am not full of myself. I can personally vouch for the party accounts. I am not obsessed with toilets. Men who prefer to use urinals are weird. The SNP are right about everything. I don't advocate support for any one party. Alba's blue is Tory blue and Alex Salmond told porkies about Nicola. I don't criticise any other yes party. I self-id as Scottish. Mr.Hamilton is my Irish fellow countryman. St.Nicola told the unvarnished truth to the Hamilton inquiry. I don't put any politician on a pedestal. I AM NOT A TROLL!

    Well, you've certainly came up with some comedy gold this week, Skier. My personal favourite was your 'the party accounts are super duper' routine - absolutely hilarious although accusing others of being obsessed with toilets came a close second. Please tell me you will be taking this show on the road. I mean you are joking right? You can't possibly be serious! Keep up the good work although perhaps you should limit yourself to one rib-tickler a day in case you run out of material.

  19. Hi James. I'm coming to the conclusion that as a country Scotland deserves everything it gets from this Westminster gov. For independence to be polling 50:50 shows sadly a country with no faith in itself and no guts. We have allowed this to be done to ourselves. Tbh I'm glad I'm out of it and living in a small independent nation which rightly backs itself on the world stage.