Saturday, July 9, 2022

Which of the criticisms of the SNP's new strategy on independence are fair, and which are unfair?

Not for the first time in my life, I find myself roughly equidistant between Sturgeon loyalists and the First Minister's most trenchant critics in the wake of her big announcement.  That's probably the most realistic and sensible place to be, but it's not always the most comfortable, because there aren't all that many people here with me.   For days, the comments section of this blog has been full of suggestions that nothing has really changed and that the Scottish Government are continuing to act in bad faith by kicking the independence can ever-further down the road.  So I thought it might be an idea to sort through those criticisms and separate out the ones that are well-founded from the ones that seem to be nothing more than unjust knee-jerk reactions.

"Angus Robertson's comment that independence will be 'the key issue' in the SNP campaign for the 2024 election suggests that the notion of a plebiscite election is a confidence trick - SNP supporters will be duped into thinking they're fighting a de facto referendum while the unionist media will hear nothing more than a vague Independence Is Quite A Nice Idea Isn't It."

I must admit I was concerned when I heard the phraseology Angus Robertson was using in media interviews.  However, Nicola Sturgeon is the leader of the SNP, not Angus Robertson, and her own language has been absolutely unmistakeable.  See, for example, her tweet reacting to Boris Johnson's refusal to grant a Section 30 order - 

There's no real space for creative ambiguity in those words - she's suggesting that if a referendum isn't possible, Scotland will be able to choose independence in the general election in exactly the same way that it would have been able to do in a referendum.  So I don't think we need to worry about tricksy language at this stage.  What might be a more reasonable concern is Ms Sturgeon's long track record of repeatedly going back on her word on independence strategy, so it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that she could use crystal-clear language now but not actually follow through on it when the time comes.  However, she surely must realise that the patience of many SNP stalwarts would be pushed beyond breaking-point if she did that, possibly triggering a wave of resignations from the party and perhaps defections to Alba.  So there's a huge incentive for her not to backtrack this time.

"Sturgeon is conning people into thinking there will be a referendum in October 2023!"

To me this is a really odd criticism to still be making, because the whole point of her announcement was to finally drop the pretence that there will definitely be a referendum next year.  The pretence was certainly there before the announcement, and we were absolutely right to call it out for the absurdity that it was, but it's not there anymore.  What we were really criticising her for was not having a credible backstop in the event that a referendum is struck down by the Supreme Court, but she's now introduced a credible backstop in the form of a plebiscite election in 2024.  So until and unless she goes back on her word, I think we should just give credit where credit's due and acknowledge that she's finally done exactly what we've been asking her to do for years.

"Sturgeon has needlessly given the unionists a massive Christmas present by setting the target for victory in a plebiscite election far too high.  She should be saying we only need a majority of seats, not a majority of votes."

I'm not sure that stacks up.  If there's a battle for hearts and minds on the question of whether Scotland can become an independent country on the basis of 35% or 40% of the vote (enough to win a majority of seats under first-past-the-post), or whether 50% should be required, it's obvious that the public will side with the unionists on that point - as indeed will other countries.  The pro-independence camp would be left looking a bit dodgy, as if we were trying to swindle our way to our goal without a proper mandate.  So it's probably best to make a virtue out of necessity by voluntarily acknowledging from the outset that only a majority of votes will do.  Arguably we could fudge the issue for the time being by saying "winning the election" would constitute a mandate without specifying what "winning" means.  But I'm not sure that would be sustainable as the election approaches.

"Sturgeon has undermined the independence cause by failing to appoint a Lord Advocate who is prepared to unequivocally state that a referendum is legal without a Section 30 order."

That is absolutely fair comment.  It would have been perfectly possible to find a potential Lord Advocate with a favourable interpretation of the legal position, and it seems almost negligent that this didn't happen.  There are only really two possibilities: either a) Nicola Sturgeon was trying to sabotage her own chances of delivering her promise of an independence referendum, or b) she had priorities other than independence at the forefront of her mind when she appointed Dorothy Bain, and simply didn't consider the consequences of what she was doing.  I'm fairly sure the answer is b), but that's more than bad enough.  If I was in Ms Sturgeon's shoes, I'd be tempted to rectify the error by hurriedly installing a new Lord Advocate - there would be a hit to be taken as a result of doing that, but in the long run it would probably be worth it.

"The SNP will make a Yes vote harder to achieve by insisting upon a much less broadly-based campaign than in 2014, with Alba and lots of other 'undesirables' left out in the cold completely."

I can't disagree with that, and it's a dreadful indictment of the intolerance of the modern SNP (and indeed of the modern Scottish Green Party).  But that doesn't get the rest of us off the hook.  If the Yes campaign is deeply flawed, we will have to get wholeheartedly behind that deeply flawed campaign and make very, very sure that it wins in spite of itself.  Independence comes before everything else.  As I've said before, I'll quite happily kneel in front of a statue bearing the inscription "FIONA ROBERTSON, MOTHER OF THE NATION", just so long as Scotland is an independent country by then.  Who gives a monkey's where the credit goes after we achieve our objective?

*  *  *

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  1. Although I'm still an SNP member it is some time since I pretty much lost all confidence in the current leadership and went on to a 'believe it when I see it' basis.
    That said we have to behave as if this turn towards independence is real. We are upping our public YES events locally and consciously working towards a local united front including any and all democratic, pro independence groups.
    Political sectarianism is every bit as ugly and destructive as religious sectarianism. A politically mature and inclusive independence movement has every chance of success in the coming months - let's be grown up and seize the time !

  2. There is one thing NS could do that would put the YES movement on the front foot uniting those with doubts and stop the continuous commentary that keeps the wider Yes movement focusing on negatives we can do nothing about such as the wrongs done by Westminster to Scotland instead of the positives of being an independent country. Confront the British State. There would be no hiding room for those with an agenda other than independence and no need to interpret what the SNP are saying. By not confronting Westminster weakens the Scottish independence movement.

  3. You still don’t get it. She is planning to lose the Referendum or the plebiscite election. She is window dressing the defeat. She has created the condions for a narrow but guaranteed defeat under either option - wake up!

    1. It certainly looks that way. Confrontation with Westminster should be demanded by the Yes movement instead of sitting back and meekly accepting inaction. Where are the protests outside parliament both in Edinburgh and London! Where is the anger! Why is the Yes movement giving NS so much hiding space! Are we actually feart of her and don’t want to admit it? If NS won’t confront Westminster then the Yes movement needs to confront NS. That is reality. That is where we are.

    2. "She has created the condions for a narrow but guaranteed defeat under either option - wake up!"

      If you're right, we need to foil their dastardly plot by making sure they win a majority. That'll show 'em.

  4. Sturgeon is still micromanaging everything. There has been justifiable criticism of the lack of fight being shown by pro-indy politicians, it may be, on the SNP side at least, that this is because they are under strict instructions from Sturgeon not to do or say anything radical in their approach to independence. Even so it is extremely disappointing to see pro-indy politicians behaving like feart school children when we are in one of the most important periods of Scotland's history. We need fighters, not fearties. We need to have them leading from the front, not hiding behind self-imposed barriers.

    And it is primarily Sturgeon who continues to build these self-imposed barriers. It does not inspire confidence, and confidence is exactly what is needed to counter the infamous Scottish Cringe which still infects too many of Scotland's people.

    If she doesn't change soon she will gone down in history as a traitor to Scotland, and rightly so.

  5. "it's probably best to make a virtue out of necessity by voluntarily acknowledging from the outset that only a majority of votes will do."

    I'm ok with that in principle, but if it comes to that I'd like the SNP to be clear what happens if they smash a "plebiscite" GE in terms of seats but fall a bit short of the magic 50% barrier. If the SNP wins, say, 57 out of 49 seats on circa 48% of the vote (and for simplicity let's say that includes other pro indy party votes), then what? If we're saying we need more than 50% votes for indy, then less than that presumably has to count as it would a >50% no vote, i.e. we accept we lost. So what are all those MPs going to do at Westminster?

    " the whole point of her announcement was to finally drop the pretence that there will definitely be a referendum next year."

    Standing up in Holyrood and saying "we intend to have an independence referendum on the 19th October 2023" is a fairly odd way to drop the pretence that there will definitely be a referendum next year.

    Dropping the pretence would have been just that - it would have been saying we wanted a referendum, it's clear that we won't get a S30 from Westminster, it's highly likely the Supreme Court would say that it's outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, so we're moving straight to plebiscite elections to win independence.

    Suggesting a date and presenting a bill to the Parliament is still clear pretence, in my view. I'm not saying those steps aren't necessary to support the ultimate destination of a plebiscite, but I don't agree that somehow the pretence has been dropped. All that Sturgeon's done is finally accept that a Plan B is needed in order to stop Plan A being held in limbo indefinitely.

    1. "Standing up in Holyrood and saying "we intend to have an independence referendum on the 19th October 2023" is a fairly odd way to drop the pretence that there will definitely be a referendum next year."

      It's not remotely odd when later in the same speech she says the referendum may not happen, and if it doesn't she will use a plebiscite election instead. As I said in the blogpost, the point you're making is very hard to understand because it's not actually grounded in reality. It's like you're only hearing the part of the speech you want to hear and conveniently disregarding the rest. Nicola Sturgeon can be blamed for many things, but she can't be blamed for that.

  6. Wouldn't it be wise if SNP, Scottish Greens and Alba all make a joint pledge prior to any Plebiscite Election saying a vote for any of these parties is a vote for outright independence and therefore if together they achieve 50% plus 1 vote, then that's is the majority of Scots (instead of just the SNP achieving 50% on their own)?

    1. It won't happen because Sturgeon's SNP and Harvie's Greens hate Salmond and Alba with a passion and would rather lose than include them.

  7. To quote Eric Burdon "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" Have a look at this article

  8. Is the Lord Advocate's position not just a way of getting things to the supreme court quicker? i.e. if the LA had said it was in the competency of the Scottish Parliament, it would have been challenged which would have taken time. The "I'm not sure" bit, puts it straight to the supreme court (a provision that's part of the devolution settlement) which again takes all the timing away from the Unionists

    1. The simple answer to your question is no. They've been forced to do it this way round because of the Lord Advocate's lack of "confidence" (or, to put it another way, because they selected the wrong Lord Advocate last year).

  9. On the whole...she has come IP with a place...but as we see the union is asserting its forced reply of No to a is time our Government stood up and instead of asking from Westminster started demending..further the government should be creating lists of things the British establishments has and is doing which proves Scotland isnt an equal partner in the union..proving that shows the Britain itself has broke the treaty of the union..lastly the sovereignty of the Scots people must be addressed by the government and that held to the highest governence of our courts in Scotland.

  10. I have no confidence in Sturgeon or any of her cabal.