I've just been having a belated look at Robin McAlpine / Common Weal's plan for winning independence, although to be clear I've only read parts of the long document and I'm relying on the summaries in The National to fill in the gaps. This plan is something that has intrigued me for a good few months, because Robin said just after Humza Yousaf was elected SNP leader that he could see a way of winning independence in the near future but wasn't sure whether to say what it was publicly. Although I've often disagreed with him and could easily imagine not agreeing that his plan was workable, my interest was certainly piqued!
To start with what I do agree with, Robin is undoubtedly right to point out that trying to win international recognition for an independent Scotland "over the heads" of the UK Government is a complete non-starter. I've been saying that all along, and if you want proof of it you need look no further than what happened when Catalonia declared independence unilaterally. Not a single state recognised Catalonia's sovereignty - not even one of the 'rogue states' who might be thought to have nothing to lose by stirring the pot. Not even Venezuela did it. Scotland will get all the international recognition it requires on the day the UK Government grants recognition, and there is no way of circumventing that hurdle. So Robin is also right to say that the main task before us is to drag the UK Government to the negotiating table.
He may well also be right that peer-to-peer campaigning and a National Commission to answer detailed questions on independence have a part to play. But where I disagree with him is on the idea that we can and should forget about "process" because the type of campaigning he advocates can get us to 60% for Yes in the absence of a major democratic event such as a de facto referendum, and that once we do get to 60%, the game will be up for the UK. I'd be more inclined to turn all of that on its head and say that 60% probably isn't even attainable and that therefore what is required of us is to find a mechanism for allowing a mandate that falls short of that (probably well short) to be democratically recorded, and then to use that mandate as leverage to pressurise the UK Government.
I really struggle to understand the hostility to just getting on with using scheduled (or unscheduled) elections to seek an independence mandate. They would provide the focus for the type of campaigning Robin advocates, and they are a renewable resource - if you fail in one election, you can try again in the next. The psychological impact of winning 53% on an outright manifesto commitment to independence will not somehow be blunted by the fact that you only won, say, 36% at the previous outing - indeed if anything the reverse is true. And I have absolutely no doubt that an electoral mandate has far greater chance of forcing the UK Government's hand than Robin's idea of a petition. If London isn't impressed by Ipsos polls (which have fairly consistently shown a pro-independence majority), there's no chance of wowing the people that matter with what will inevitably be dismissed as an amateurish "Change.org effort".
I also think it's a tad odd that Robin prays in aid the supposed success of the Scottish Covenant Association in getting two million people to sign a petition in favour of Home Rule in the 1950s, because there could scarcely be a better example of how easy it is for Westminster to totally ignore petitions. I'd have thought it's beyond argument in retrospect that John MacCormick went down a blind alley with that wheeze and that he'd have been far better off sticking with party politics to achieve his aim, ideally in the SNP. Robin seems to imply (and apologies if I'm misreading this) that the value of the petition is that it led to the Kilbrandon Commission. That's well before my time, but I'm pretty sure it's historically bogus - Kilbrandon came about (tellingly) due to election results rather than petitions, namely Plaid Cymru's win in the 1966 Carmarthen by-election and the SNP's win in the 1967 Hamilton by-election. Its main recommendations were never implemented, of course, and devolution didn't happen until three decades later.
I also object as a matter of principle to the idea that we need a "supermajority settled will" before taking any action, because no supermajority is needed in a democracy, and because the only way of measuring it in the absence of electoral events is via opinion polls, which may well not be accurate. It's understandable that Alister Jack wants to put YouGov at the heart of the Scottish constitution, but why we'd want to follow him down that road is beyond me. Robin says the unionists have a stronger mandate than we do, but what does he mean by that unless he's taking dubious opinion poll results as gospel? For as long as Ipsos UK, widely regarded as the gold standard pollster, contradicts other firms by showing a Yes lead, we'd be very foolish indeed to just take it as read that there's a No majority, or even that there isn't a stable Yes majority already there.
But my biggest gripe with Robin is identical to the one I have with the SNP "delay" faction - it's not much use having a plan predicated on what you'll do when you get to 60% if you're not going to get to 60%, which you aren't. What you're actually doing is arguing for remaining in the UK indefinitely. Perhaps the only difference between Robin and the SNP "delay" faction is that we know Robin is sincere and therefore genuinely hasn't recognised this fatal flaw in his prospectus.
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If you're a member of the Alba Party, you now have only a few hours left to vote for me as Membership Support Convener. Go on, you know you want to! The link to vote should be in your inbox from a couple of weeks ago, and you can find my pitch for the election HERE.