This is the first in a short series of 3 articles around the steps the Scottish government should be taking to ensure indyref2 happens, how things have developed over recent months and what I believe should happen now. Along the way I’m going to be reminding people of how parliamentary democracy works or at least how it should work. Going back to basics and trying to clear some of the unnecessary fog around procedure, mandates etc.
Part 1, how covid saved the SNP. I’ve grown increasingly frustrated over recent months with the various ideas put forward for a Plan B for independence. At the same time I’ve been frustrated by the SNP/ScotGov complete inability to pursue Plan A.
Let’s recap a little. I believe the course the SNP had been pursuing up until the S30 request went in was the right one. Some people think they should have been moving faster and pursuing a different course or cutting corners but there was and is a process to follow. The process is important and I’ll be referring back to it. The SNP had/has a mandate from the Scottish Parliament, to seek a S30 order and an independence referendum.
The First Minister was right to wait until the Brexit fog lifted and the possibility of a UK general election being called was known. It simply was not plausible to hold an independence referendum until the mists cleared on Brexit and the general election had been held. Brexit is still not settled as I write this, but we do know it is either going to be hard Brexit or no deal Brexit. The anticipated UK general election duly arrived producing a clear majority for the Tories and an increase from 35 to 48 seats in Scotland for the SNP. Buoyed by this excellent UK General Election result the First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister requesting discussions on a S30 order passing power to the Scottish parliament to legislate for a referendum. This was the culmination of Plan A. The response was predictable, BoJo says no.
The Prime Ministers response both pathetic and insulting is reproduced below.
A half page, six short paragraphs, reply to a 33 page document from the First Minister. The letter contains a series of lies and makes no constitutional, democratic or legal case for refusing the S30. That’s because there is no case.
Along with an expectant nation I was eager to hear the SNP response. The constitutional process was exhausted, what next? The answer was…nothing. It was unbelievable that with all the months to prepare for this totally predictable moment the SNP/ScotGov had no plan to deal with it.
This was a massive failure on behalf of the SNP/ScotGov. Clearly they had no idea what to do next having reached the end of the political road. Their lack of response has emboldened the UK government. They know they can simply keep saying no with impunity because there will be no come back.
Instead of definitive action it seems Plan B is to try and build support for independence (without actually campaigning for it) and hope that events will grow polling numbers in favour of independence. The belief appears to be that as support rises the UK gov will find the pressure to grant a S20 overwhelming. The idea that this strategy coupled with a win for the SNP and indy supporting parties at the May 2021 Scottish elections will somehow bring democratic enlightenment to the Conservative and Unionist party is clutching at the most meagre of straws.
There is no incentive for the Tories to grant a S30. There is no political fallout they have to worry about. They don’t rely on Scottish votes or seats. The only thing Boris Johnston is afraid of politically is the Conservative party itself. He, and various government ministers have already made it clear a S30 won’t be granted even if the SNP win an overall majority at the election. Normally one would take the cast iron guarantees of Bojo and his fellow clowns with a pinch of salt but in this case there is no reason to doubt them. There is far more danger in granting a referendum than in denying one. Why? because they could lose and they know it, which is of course the actual reason, in amongst all the nonsensical excuses, that they won’t grant one in the first place.
Pre Covid 19 this put the SNP in a really bad place politically in the run up to the 2021 election. There is a mistaken belief in the SNP that the SNP are indy, they are not. It is as big a mistake as unionist politicians and press believing the SNP is the Yes movement, it isn’t. Many people vote for the SNP because they want independence not because they are in love with the SNP. There was a huge amount of anger and frustration when the SNP failed to follow up on the S30 refusal. A lot of that anger and frustration still exists as most people still don’t know what plan B is. I don’t mind the SNP playing their cards close to their chest if they actually have some cards to play. There was a real danger that the SNP could lose seats at the election through activist and voter apathy. They need people out knocking on doors and they need people to vote for them. There was a distinct chance they could have lost the indy majority. Any possibility of the unionist parties forming a government would have been seized on. Don’t think the idea of a Tory/Labour/LibDem coalition is fanciful. They’ve done it at local government level to keep the SNP out when the SNP were the largest party and they would do it at national level to put the SNP out of power and halt independence in its tracks.
So thank God for Covid. The pandemic together with the growing realisation of what Brexit means for devolution and the economy have saved the SNP bacon. The incompetence, corruption and dishonesty which the Prime Minister’s and UK government’s shambolic handling of the crisis has highlighted, together with the First Ministers empathetic and assured touch, has had a dramatic effect on the First Minister’s popularity, the SNP’s poll ratings and support for independence.
The SNP are odds on to win the election, quite probably with a majority. Indy has been the preferred choice of the Scottish people 14 polls in a row. So what now? What happens if the SNP or independence parties have a majority next May? We’ll explore that in part 2.