There's an article linked to prominently on the BBC News homepage this morning, entitled "SNP plays longer game in bid for Scottish independence" and stating that there has been a significant shift in position since Nicola Sturgeon was leader. In what sense this is 'news' is a complete mystery, because it was clear from the day Humza Yousaf announced his leadership campaign that this is what would happen if he was elected - he promised to abandon all plans for winning independence and that is exactly what he has done. Nor is it newsworthy to wheel out John Curtice with approving words about the SNP climbdown on independence, because he was always a fierce critic of Ms Sturgeon's de facto referendum policy and consistently urged her to ditch it and revert to ineffectually begging for a Section 30 order. Whatever his pedigree as a polling expert, Professor Curtice has always been as unable as any of his fellow critics of the de facto referendum to explain exactly how begging for a Section 30 order is a superior plan given that the UK Government have already decided never to grant one in any circumstances.
Nevertheless, as I know from wading through astroturf propaganda in the moderation queue of this blog on an almost daily basis, Yousaf's supporters very much want us to believe that abandoning all plans to win independence does not in fact mean that all plans to win independence have been abandoned. And the BBC are breathlessly reporting the "plan" to build a sustained supermajority for Yes and then ask for a Section 30 order as if it's somehow a real thing rather than a cover story to keep SNP members quiet while Yousaf gets on with non-independence-related stuff for whatever time remains of his leadership. So if even the state broadcaster want us to take the non-plan seriously, it's about time some serious questions were answered to flesh it out, make it much less vague, and expand on the underlying thinking behind it. Let's see if any passing Humza fans can oblige (although they may need to call HQ first to get a new script).
1) Do you honestly not understand why, two-thirds of a decade after Nicola Sturgeon first announced a referendum that has yet to be delivered, people burst out laughing when you say now is the time to *start* playing a longer game on independence?
2) As we self-evidently have been playing a longer game on independence over the last two-thirds of a decade, one that was supposed to at long last reach its culmination over the next 6-18 months with either a referendum or a de facto referendum, doesn't replacing that interminably slow process with a far slower one mean that you'd be more honest in calling your new plan "the eternity game"?
3) Isn't there a contradiction in the fact that you're demanding a big increase in support for independence before a vote on independence can be called when all the evidence suggests that big swings in public opinion are far more likely to occur after a vote is called and all-out campaigning is underway? If we learned any lesson from 2014, that's the lesson. The biggest swing to Yes occurred only around 2-4 weeks before referendum day.
4) If you're now saying that it's only appropriate to request a Section 30 order after a sustained supermajority has been attained, why the hell has Humza requested a Section 30 at least three times already in the month he's been leader? Can you honestly not see the plot-hole here?
5) What does a 'supermajority' mean in concrete terms? Does it mean 52%? 55%? 60%? A well known person down south suggested to me recently in all apparent seriousness that 75% would be a perfectly reasonable target number - surely you don't mean that? We really do need you to set an exact target number and to stick to it, because if you continue with the current vagueness, the well-founded suspicion will be that no matter how high Yes support rises, you'll just say "that isn't enough yet, we'll know what enough looks like when we see it".
6) What does 'sustained' mean in concrete terms? Does it mean six months? A year? Five years? And are you saying that if even one outlying opinion poll shows Yes below the target figure (whatever the hell the target figure is), the sustained sequence is broken and we have to start all over again?
7) When you say "the barriers to independence will melt away" as soon as Yes support rises high enough, what does that mean in concrete terms? Does it mean the UK Government will suddenly agree to negotiate an independence settlement there and then? Does it mean they will agree to an independence referendum? Or does it mean something else, and if so, what?
8) Between mid-2020 and the early months of 2021, there was a sustained supermajority for independence. Every single opinion poll conducted during that period showed a clear Yes lead, which at times rose as high as 56% or 58%. (I remember it well, because I personally commissioned three of the polls during that long sequence, including the very first one in June 2020.) So why didn't your prediction come true that the barriers to independence would melt away in those exact circumstances? Why didn't it even come close to coming true? Be careful before dismissively saying that the best part of a year is nowhere near "sustained" enough, or that 56%-58% is nowhere close enough to a "supermajority", because the implications of any such statement would be mind-boggling.
9) On what logical basis can you possibly argue that the UK Government would be more likely to agree to a Section 30 order if a sustained supermajority for Yes is established, given that they would have even less of an incentive to allow a referendum to take place once it looks unwinnable for the No side?
10) Why are you effectively contracting out Scotland's democratic voice to opinion poll firms mostly based in London? There's no other way that a 'sustained supermajority' can be measured other than through public opinion polls, and yet London polling companies have a track record of unionist bias, unconscious or otherwise - most notably the notorious 'Kellner Correction' in the run-up to the 2014 indyref. There's a particular question mark right now over whether weighting poll results by recalled votes in a referendum that took place a decade ago could be leading to a significant underestimate of the Yes vote.
11) If a simple 50% + 1 majority for independence is no longer sufficient for you, that means a substantial number of No voters will have to be won over. Don't you understand, therefore, that this plan does not have a hope in hell of working until Yousaf is replaced as leader? All of the polling evidence during the leadership election confirmed that any limited public sympathy for Yousaf is largely confined to voters in the Yes camp, and that No voters mostly loathe him. To win over enough No voters to get a sustained supermajority, you'd need a leader like Kate Forbes, who polls showed was liked and trusted in substantial numbers across the constitutional divide. Doesn't simple logic inexorably dictate that you're going to have to overcome your hang-ups about Forbes and unite behind her as leader sooner or later? Always assuming, of course, that you're remotely serious about this so-called "plan to win independence" in the first place.
12) The whole reason Nicola Sturgeon promised a referendum back in 2016/17 is that Scotland was set to be dragged out of the EU against its will. The point of the vote, therefore, was not to guarantee a Yes vote or to guarantee independence, but to guarantee the choice that Scotland was entitled to. Are you now arguing that Nicola Sturgeon was wrong to say that Scotland had a right to choose between Brexit and EU membership as an independent country, and that we can only 'earn' that choice, very, very belatedly, if we can prove to you that we can be trusted to vote in the 'right' way? That certainly seems to be your position, and it doesn't say much for your belief in the principle of democratic self-determination.