Over recent days, a few people have said to me: "I'm going to X hustings or Y hustings - which question would you suggest?" In a way this is an academic exercise, because the chances of anyone: a) picking up on one of my suggestions, and b) being called to speak, are pretty slim. However, just for the fun of it, here is my own list of burning questions that I'd like to see asked. Bear in mind that I only saw parts of the first two hustings, and didn't see any of the third earlier today, so apologies in advance if any of these questions have already been asked and satisfactorily answered (with the operative word being 'satisfactorily').
For Kate Forbes: "You've said that the first part of the 'process' element of your plan for winning independence is to put the subject front and centre of the SNP's campaign for next year's Westminster election. You wouldn't, you say, call that election a de facto referendum, but you'd be using any SNP victory as a mandate for an early democratic vote on independence. That actually sounds a bit like the second option that the NEC was intending to put before the special conference - with the Westminster election used to gain yet another mandate for a referendum, and the 2026 Holyrood election then used as a de facto referendum if the UK government ignore the mandate. But you haven't really been mentioning that last crucial part of the equation. Does this mean you are still open to the idea of a de facto referendum in 2026, or are you ruling out de facto referendums completely in exactly the same way Humza Yousaf is?"
OK, there's probably a more concise way of asking that, and there might well need to be if you're faced with an impatient moderator, but to me this is the most crucial question of the campaign. If Forbes is open to a de facto referendum at some date in the future, then we still have a credible candidate offering a credible path to independence. But if she's not open to that, then no matter whether she or Yousaf wins, we'll have a leader who has ruled out holding a vote on independence unless a Section 30 order is granted, which we all know it will not be. We'll effectively just be twiddling our thumbs for years on end, because we'd already know that independence will not and cannot happen.
For all of the candidates: "Will the postponed special conference still definitely take place under your leadership, will that conference be able to make a free choice without leadership diktat, and will you be bound by the decision it makes even if it contradicts your own personal preference?"
That last bit is particularly relevant to Humza Yousaf, who has been going around cheerfully 'ruling out' all three of the main options the conference had been expected to consider - ie. an early Holyrood election this year, a de facto referendum in 2024, and a de facto referendum in 2026. And yet he's still been pretending the members will ultimately decide, which is an absurdly contradictory position.
For Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes: "Didn't Nicola Sturgeon's strategy of going to the Supreme Court depend totally on having the Plan B of a de facto referendum in case the court closed off the option of Plan A? Doesn't abandoning the strategy in an unfinished state halfway through mean that it's been converted - totally needlessly - into a Scotland-shooting-itself-in-the-foot exercise, with literally the sole effect of it being that we no longer have the tactical option that we used to have of tabling a Referendum Bill?"
For Humza Yousaf: "The definition of insanity, Einstein said, is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. That is what you appear to be doing by saying that you will use an election victory to pressure the UK Government into granting a section 30 order, something that has already failed to work on at least four separate occasions. But isn't it even worse than that, though? On those previous occasions, at least we had some leverage because we had the option of tabling a Referendum Bill, which the Supreme Court hadn't yet ruled out. If your strategy didn't work when we did have some leverage, why would you to expect it to work now that we have no leverage at all?"
For Humza Yousaf: "You've spoken warmly of Nicola Sturgeon and say you wish to continue her work. Doesn't that sit rather oddly with your plan to totally ditch her flagship policy of a de facto referendum on the day you take over from her? Given her immense political experience, shouldn't you be considering the possibility that she has made the correct strategic call in this case and that you are being far too hasty in rejecting her judgement?"
For Humza Yousaf: "The first opinion poll of SNP members in this campaign suggests the result could be incredibly close once second preferences are taken into account. If you win very narrowly, there will be a perception, probably correctly, that you only won because party HQ did not ensure a level playing-field during the campaign. That could create years of toxic bitterness within the SNP that would cause both you and the party immense harm. Wouldn't it be in your own interests to call for a much fairer and more transparent election process before it's too late?"
For Humza Yousaf: "Approval ratings for party leaders are often highly predictive of election results. The current approval ratings show that you are considerably less popular than the Labour leader Anas Sarwar. They also show that Kate Forbes is considerably more popular than Mr Sarwar. Did you ever consider that it might be irresponsible to even offer yourself as a candidate, because if you win, you may be needlessly condemning your party to defeat in the 2026 Scottish Parliament election?"
For Kate Forbes: "If you win, will you appoint Ash Regan as Deputy First Minister and Constitution Secretary?"
If she answered "yes" to the above question (which admittedly she probably wouldn't) that might just win her the leadership by sewing up Ash Regan's second preferences.
And a couple of non-strategy questions, just for the hell of it...
For all of the candidates: "Are you in principle supportive of a conditions-free universal basic income that would ensure every citizen has access to basics like food and shelter, regardless of personal circumstances?"
For all of the candidates: "Do you support unilateral nuclear disarmament, or do you think multilateralism has a role to play too?"
Asking it in that innocent way might just coax an unwary candidate into revealing whatever multilateralist impulses they may harbour.
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