I've no idea whether this will be a help or a hindrance, but I'm more than happy to give my 100% endorsement to Angus MacNeil MP's amendment for the forthcoming SNP emergency conference, which would have the effect of bringing about an early Scottish Parliament election in October of this year (or thereabouts), and using it as a de facto referendum on independence. The exquisite beauty of the amendment is that it sets out in crystal-clear fashion the legal mechanism by which an early election can be called. In arguing against the option of a 2023 plebiscite election, the SNP leadership have put all their eggs in the basket of claiming that it isn't legally possible to hold such an election, but now that we know that there is a legal mechanism they weren't aware of and an expert has confirmed that it's watertight, the case for 2023 is left looking extraordinarily compelling. The leadership will undoubtedly still urge delegates to reject it, but in doing so they'll be relying on unthinking loyalty rather than sound arguments.
(In reality, of course, even if it hadn't turned out that an early election can be triggered without a two-thirds majority simply by changing the standing orders, there would still have been a perfectly straightforward method by which an early election could have been engineered. The First Minister would merely have needed to resign, and if no replacement had been elected, an election would automatically have followed. Although there's a bug in the system that allows an opposition leader to be elected First Minister on a minority vote, that supposed obstacle is a red herring because any government formed in that way would have been ejected on a confidence vote within days. Excluding the Presiding Officer, the SNP have exactly half the seats at Holyrood, so no government is viable without them, let alone without both them and the Greens.)
When faced with strategic dilemmas over recent years about how to bring independence about, the SNP have got stuck in the one-dimensional thinking that the solution is always to delay. The default assumption is that the longer you delay, the better the chances of success. Conference delegates now need to urgently start thinking outside that box, because straightforward logic should tell them that in the circumstances we find ourselves in, going to the people early gives us by far the best chance of winning an independence mandate. Tory rule from London is the finest recruiting sergeant for independence, and in October of this year it'll still be easy to frame the choice as being a straight one between independence and Tory rule. That will not be possible at a Westminster election in 2024, when Labour will be seducing independence supporters with the line that if you vote Labour on Thursday, you can end Tory rule by Friday lunchtime. And if we wait until the scheduled Holyrood election in 2026, the likelihood is a Starmer government will have been in office for two years. It might be suffering from mid-term blues by then, but there seems little chance that it will be anything like as unpopular in Scotland as the Tory government currently is.
As has been well-rehearsed, there are other numerous advantages that make the use of a 2023 Holyrood election superior to a 2024 Westminster election. EU citizens and 16-17 year olds would have the vote, there would be no photo ID rules (which would disproportionately target younger voters who are more likely to be pro-indy), and pro-indy party leaders would not be excluded from flagship TV leaders' debates.
By the way, before anyone suggests that I'm singing from the same hymn sheet as Stuart "UKOK" Campbell on this, let me just point out the obvious - or what ought to be the obvious. Campbell is being intellectually dishonest in his stance on the MacNeil amendment, because he's arguing in favour of something that he doesn't want to happen. He would be utterly horrified if the people of Scotland are given a choice on independence this year while Nicola Sturgeon is still SNP leader, and by his own admission his "conscience" would prevent him from campaigning for a pro-indy vote in a de facto referendum. He is, and I quote, "the least Yes he has ever been". Presumably on the constituency vote in particular, he'd be urging his readers to reject independence "for now" by either voting Tory or abstaining in any 2023 plebiscite election - which makes a complete nonsense of him calling for one to be held.
However, in spite of the blatant hypocrisy of Campbell's stance, I can only hope that he still has some lingering influence with a non-trivial minority of SNP conference delegates, and that his endorsement of the MacNeil amendment might just make a difference. I frankly don't care how we reach the right outcome, just so long as we reach it.
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