Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The Boris butterfly effect: what are the SNP's options in the unlikely event of a snap general election?

From our point of view, the million dollar question is what difference the wave of resignations from the Tory government will make to the Yes campaign in either a 2023 independence referendum, or a plebiscite election in 2024.  I think it's fair to say that Boris Johnson is probably now toast.  Prime Ministers have sometimes held on in unlikely circumstances - John Major, for example, seemed to be on the way out on numerous occasions, but somehow saw out his full five-year term between 1992 and 1997.  That can be partly explained by a few random twists of fate, most notably the sudden death of John Smith in 1994, which effectively took the heat off Major for a few crucial months by producing a totally unexpected vacancy at the top of the Labour party.  And it may well be that only a big and unforeseen event can save Johnson now - but would even that be enough? After all, even Major didn't see his Chancellor resign in a deliberate attempt to unseat him.  The better comparison is with the resignations of Nigel Lawson in 1989 and Geoffrey Howe in 1990, which did manage to bring down Mrs Thatcher - although admittedly there was no sense of inevitability about the success of that tactic until the final hours.  

If Johnson does go, the pro-independence campaign will arguably lose its biggest asset - but the equation is no longer as simple as it was once was.  The ideal scenario from a strategic point of view was to have Johnson wildly popular (or at least reasonably popular) south of the border but totally loathed north of the border.  We used to have exactly that, but no longer - he's loathed everywhere.  That's potentially a problem for us, because if - hypothetically - Johnson were to remain in harness until the general election, it might start to appear certain that a Labour government is on its way, which would make it harder for us to continue framing the choice as a straight one between independence and Tory rule.  So there may actually be certain advantages in Johnson being replaced, as long as his successor isn't popular in Scotland (which seems unlikely, but you never know).

The other issue is whether a new leader will cut and run by calling a snap election before the Supreme Court has had a chance to consider the legality of a 2023 independence referendum, thus disrupting the SNP's plans.  I still think that's unlikely - the fate of both Gordon Brown and Theresa May will be cautionary tales for any new Prime Minister about what can happen if you even flirt with a needless election.  And, in any case, it would only be a realistic option if there's a big bounce for the Tories after a leadership ballot, which is by no means certain.

If a snap election does occur, the SNP will have a finite number of options, which are as follows:

1) Go ahead and use the snap election as a plebiscite election.  This would go against their instincts because they want a Supreme Court defeat to justify the plebiscite election tactic.

2) Indicate that they will instead engineer an early Holyrood election to ensure a plebiscite election in 2024.  Before the usual suspects turn up with the usual refrain "they can't do that without a supermajority", it would actually be pretty easy - if the Scottish Government resign, there would be no viable alternative government without the participation of the Greens, so an early election would inevitably follow. Again, this would be against Nicola Sturgeon's ultra-cautious instincts, though.

3) Indicate that they will instead use the scheduled 2026 Scottish Parliament election as a plebiscite election.  This would cause huge discontent within the independence movement, which has been led to expect a vote on independence by 2024 at the latest.  It wouldn't be hard to imagine defections from the SNP to Alba in this scenario.

4) Indicate that they will instead use the scheduled 2027 Westminster general election (that would be the scheduled date if there's a snap election soon) as a plebiscite.  This would cause the same problem as option 3), but with bells on.

My guess is this is all academic, though - I still expect the general election to take place in 2024 (probably May 2024).

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  1. If the Scottish government doesn't take full advantage of England's current problems it will never be forgiven. Sturgeon has once again painted herself, and Scotland, into a corner with her lofty desire to follow Westminster law before taking radical action on our independence. How opportune does it have to be before she acts? England is in a total mess; time for Scotland to stick the knife in?

    If there is a snap GE it has to be option 1 or 2.

    Scotland won't win its independence by being cowardly.

  2. you missed option 5 a fake electoral plebiscite: Go into 2024 election having completely predicatably exhausted your poor attempts at getting a referendum through section 30 or otherwise and call it a plebiscitary election or as Angus Robertson said on newsnight within hours of Sturgeon's "announcement" "if we absolutely have to we will fight the next general election with independence as the key issue". This may mean say independence on the side of a bus instead of stop brexit and not much else. Having failed to engage the public and the grassroots turnout is normal around the 70% mark and SNP win 45% of the vote.

    Jobs for the boys remains and the UK govt having marginalised "the electoral plebiscite language during tke campaign never shut up about it after 0 saying you lost.

  3. If there is a snap GE in the near future, and I agree that seems unlikely, the SNP must make it a plebiscitary election on Independence, or I will not vote for them. For the first time since being eligible to vote, if there is not another pro-Independence candidate standing, I will abstain.

    What is the point in continuing the charade of voting for the SNP if they are not going to seize every opportunity to pursue freedom? I've had enough!

    1. Robert, - WGD numpty Hamish100 misrepresents what you posted. He misses out the fact that you state you would not vote SNP if the SNP do not make it a plebiscitary election on independence. He deliberately misrepresents your comment.

  4. In the event of a snap election, there is an argument to continue to use it as a plebiscite on starting negotiations with London. It would be more attractive to fence sitters, undecided and soft Nos if you would guarantee a final referendum on the negotiated settlement. That will also have the advantage to see the advantages of independence and how bad a deal we have as part of the UK.

  5. I would not be surprised if the promised use of a UK GE for a vote on independence morphed into a vote to have a mandate for a referendum once again. They wouldn't dare I hear people cry - oh yes they would.
    " Nicola Sturgeon's ultra cautious instincts" are because she wants to stay in power and has absolutely nothing to do with gaining Scottish Independence. Credit where credit is due - Sturgeon is a bloody good politician and politicians just love to say in power. An independence leader - just a means to an end for Sturgeon - and is a disaster for those of us who want independence.

  6. Personally, would find it very difficult 1to vote for the SNP if the next WM election is not a plebiscite election - whenever it is held. I really hope it doesn't pan out that way, but now and again I get a horrible feeling. Sorry Nicola, I have voted SNP for 30 years and I'm not interested in yet another mandate to have a referendum. Abstention or Alba would be the only alternatives IMO. If the SNP don't make the next vote a plebiscite, then Alba should - that could really attract a lot of potential voters, including myself.

  7. With Johnston going that is another wasted opportunity for independence come and gone under Sturgeons watch. The chaos of the Brexit years under May - opportunity wasted by Sturgeon. 3 years later after May departs we are no further forward.

    The Tories get rid of leaders who are not delivering. The SNP members just munch on their carrots.

  8. Seriously James, have you visited WGD lately? These people see Salmond as the Devil Incarnate and Sturgeon as the Virgin Mary. They will never support anything which has the mark of AS on it. I genuinely believe their hatred runs so deep they would rather lose a plebiscite than accept even one per cent if it came from Alba. I understand your attempts to rise above the squabbling in the interests of unity but the 'big tent' of 2014 is no more - only rainbow haired wokists and devotees of St Nicola are to count in any putative plebiscite (which I doubt will ever take place anyway). Sorry to be the voice of despair but, until the truth of Sturgeon's corruption over Salmondgate and the stolen money is revealed (and that will probably be by the press once any plebiscite starts), we are going nowhere.