The SNP leadership have promised that there will be a special party conference early next year to determine the details of the plebiscite election plan. Now, I think everyone realises, and probably even the strongest SNP loyalists would privately accept this, that control-freakery has taken grip of SNP conferences in recent years, which means the scope for delegates to influence the plan will probably be quite limited. As I said yesterday, the leadership seem to have decided that any discussion of switching from a Westminster election to a snap Holyrood election for the plebiscite vote is strictly off-limits - they've simply determined by decree that it's going to be a Westminster election and have no intention of telling us the real reason why. (Which may mean that it's got more to do with partisan advantage than with maximising the chances of independence.) So it may well be that delegates who try to raise that issue will find themselves ruled out of order or shouted down by other means.
But hopefully the delegates can still have a positive influence at the margins, and I would suggest that one perfectly modest and realistic goal would be to definitively close down the Toni Giugliano / Mhairi Hunter narrative that the purpose of a plebiscite election is not to win independence for Scotland, but instead simply to gain a Section 30 order - in other words they think it's just another iteration of what the SNP have been doing, entirely ineffectually, at every major election since 2016 or 2017. Their position really is a contradiction in terms - if all you're doing is trying to get a Section 30 order, it's plainly not a de facto referendum on independence. At best it's a de facto referendum on whether there should be a referendum. We've already had half a dozen of those recently and they've all proved utterly pointless. It's categorically not what Nicola Sturgeon has promised us this time.
It might be worth pausing at this point to consider what the purpose of a genuine plebiscite election is, and what it is not. At the most radical end of the Yes movement, there's a belief that the only possible purpose is to declare UDI immediately after a mandate is achieved. That's clearly a non-starter - hardly any SNP parliamentarian would support it. Elsewhere in the movement, including - perhaps surprisingly - centrists in the SNP, the thinking is that winning a mandate at a plebiscite election is all about impressing the international community. But that's also largely a red herring, because Scottish independence will not receive international recognition without the UK government accepting it first. Remember that not a single country in the world, including rogue states and anti-western states, recognised the independence of Catalonia. There's enough antipathy towards the UK that I suppose it's just conceivable that a country like Russia might recognise a Scottish state as a mischief-making tactic, but to put it mildly that wouldn't actually do us any good.
So, if not either of the above, what is the purpose of a plebiscite election? In a nutshell, it's to gain leverage that will help bring the UK Government to the negotiating table. Imagine that the SNP win 51% of the popular vote in 2024 and the vast majority of Scottish seats, but the UK Government refuse to recognise that as a mandate for independence. The SNP then retaliate by either completely withdrawing from the House of Commons or commencing an all-out campaign of parliamentary disruption, and making clear that they will only relent when the UK Government agree to open negotiations. (I know it's hard to imagine the current SNP leadership going down that road, but let's cross that bridge when we come to it - ultimately instilling some resolve in them will be essential if the plebiscite election strategy is going to work.)
Although other countries will not interfere in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state, they might eventually, very tentatively, start commenting on it, by urging both sides to reach agreement in the best interests of the people of Scotland and the wider UK. There would be increasing chatter in the press both at home and abroad about "the Scottish Question" or "the Scottish Problem". There would be a recognition that doing nothing is not an option for the UK Government, because in the long run it's not sustainable for Scotland to remain part of the UK while not being represented in the Commons, or while its parliamentarians are only interested in disruption.
The traditional maxim is that the only solutions to a political dispute are dialogue and compromise. External actors would urge each side to show flexibility on their entrenched positions - the UK Government would be asked to accept that blanket rejectionism is no longer sustainable, while the Scottish Government would be asked to make concessions on their insistence that the only negotiation they want to have with London is on the terms of independence. So it's possible to imagine that the shape of a negotiated settlement might involve an agreed referendum - but the point is that would be a massive concession on the part of the Scottish side, which until then would have been adamant that the plebiscite election provided the only mandate required, and that any suggestion of Scotland having to vote twice for the same thing is a democratic outrage.
In order to end up with a semi-acceptable compromise like that, you have to be resolute and unyielding in your stance until the very moment the negotiations open. If before the plebiscite election even takes place, you're openly saying that the whole process is just a ruse and that the compromise of a Section 30 is all you're really looking for (as Hunter and Giugliano are doing), then you vastly weaken any leverage you might gain, and what you'll end up with further down the line is either a lesser compromise or no compromise at all. So it's absolutely essential that this coming conference instructs the SNP leadership to ensure that the manifesto will state that the mandate being sought is an outright mandate for independence itself, that the only negotiations the SNP will be interested in thereafter are negotiations on an independence settlement, and that no further referendum will be required.