When proposals for a new pro-independence party were first aired, it was in the context of ensuring that there would be a majority for independence in Holyrood. The discussion centred around how many people perceived that their votes on the list were ‘wasted’ and so there was talk of setting up a new independence party with the goal of achieving independence as its sole manifesto commitment. This party, it was said, would be able to win seats on the list that the SNP wouldn’t be able to pick up. It would ensure that we’d be able to achieve a pro-independence majority, because at the time the idea of a new party was first mooted, many people were doubtful that we would again see the majority of pro-independence MSPs that is necessary in order to bring about a second independence referendum.
What we now know from a number of opinion polls, and spectacularly confirmed by the most recent Panelbase poll, is that pro-independence parties are on course to win a handsome majority in the next Scottish elections without the assistance of a new party. Moreover both the recent Panelbase polls show conclusively that the SNP will have a majority in Holyrood by itself, and without needing to count on the support of the Greens for another independence referendum. The fears that the independence movement was going to lose its majority in Holyrood and with it any chance of another independence referendum have proven unfounded. This is an immense relief to those of us who fervently hope for the opportunity to bring about the better Scotland that we can only achieve with independence.
According to the poll conducted for the Scot Goes Pop blog, the SNP is set to win 53% of the votes in the constituency ballot, and 48% on the list. Meanwhile the second largest pro-independence party looks set to pick up 3% in the constituency vote and 7% on the list. Pro-independence parties are likely to win an absolute majority of both votes and seats in both the constituency and the list ballots.
The seat projection based on these figures would give the SNP 72 seats in total, while the Greens are on course to take 5. That gives 77 pro-independence MSPs in the next Scottish Parliament out the total number of 129 MSPs, a comfortable majority. Both the Conservatives and Labour look like they’re going to lose heavily, with only the Lib Dems out of the British nationalist parties making any gains. This would result in a total of 53 anti-independence MSPs, one of whom would be Ken Macintosh the Presiding Officer who only casts his vote in the event of a tie.
After the SNP’s crushing victory in the 2019 Westminster General Election, the Conservatives shifted their previous statements on what would be required to achieve a mandate for another referendum to the claim that the only way it could be legitimate would be for the SNP to win both a majority of seats and a majority of the popular vote. It was a hardening of their previous insistence that the SNP had to win a pro-independence majority in Holyrood all by itself, without the support of other pro-indy parties. This is of course a specious argument, an exercise in goal shifting by a discredited party which rules in London with a majority of 80 on just 43% of the popular vote. Elected representatives for minor pro-indy parties, whether that’s the Greens or anyone else, can’t be discounted just because it doesn’t suit the Tories to acknowledge their existence. It makes a mockery of democracy. But then you remember that we’re talking about the Tories here, and making a mockery of democracy is pretty much their stock in trade.
However what these recent polls show is that the SNP is indeed on course to leap over the artificially high hurdle set by the Conservatives. Which means that the Conservatives will simply invent yet another spurious reason as to why they’re not going to recognise the mandate possessed by Holyrood. My guess is that they’ll start to include people who didn’t vote at all, and claim that because an absolute majority of the Scottish population of voting age didn’t vote for a pro-independence party then there’s no mandate.
If by some circumstance the SNP did manage to achieve that unprecedented support, the Tories would only find some other reason. It will be because the election was held in a month without an R in its name. Or because James Dornan MSP gave Murdo such a look. Or because an opinion poll from Scotland in Union asking “Are you stupid enough to want to live in a bankrupt dictatorship with a standard of living lower than Moldova?” managed to find a slight majority against independence. Although the way the British Government is currently going, that question could equally apply to remaining a part of the UK. The point being, the Conservative opposition to another referendum isn’t motivated by considerations of democracy, it’s motivated by the fear that they’re going to lose it. A large majority for pro-independence parties in the next Holyrood election combined with a series of opinion polls showing a slowly increasing majority support for independence is only going to turn that fear into an existential terror.
The obvious question is how the Scottish Government will respond in the event of the inevitable refusal from part time Prime Minister Johnson to Section 30 order for another referendum. There is little doubt that he will refuse, because the chances that he’ll end up as the Prime Minister who presided over the break up of the UK will be alarmingly high for him. It’s one thing for a Conservative PM to agree to an independence referendum when, as David Cameron was, he’s convinced that he can secure a crushing majority against indy and support for independence has never come close to securing a majority in opinion polls. It’s quite another when there have been six polls in a row asking the indy question and only one has shown a majority against it.
However what we as independence activists and supporters often forget is that we’re not the people who need to be persuaded. All of us who share Yes memes online, who canvassed for indy in that pre-covid world, who persuade and argue for an independent Scotland, would happily support an alternative strategy to get a valid vote on Scottish independence in the teeth of a blanket refusal from Downing Street. But not everyone in Scotland would. It remains a fact that there is still not a crushing and huge majority in Scotland for independence. There is some road still to travel.
The crucial voters are those soft yesses, undecideds, and soft noes. It needs to be demonstrated to that group that not only is there a cast iron mandate for another independence referendum, but also that Westminster is acting in an undemocratic, unreasonable, and high handed manner in refusing one. That, and that alone, will bring those voters on board with whatever alternative route to an independence referendum that may have to be taken.
A decisive majority in both seats and the popular vote will give the Scottish Government the confidence and political capital it requires to take alternative steps if Westminster continues to deny the obvious – that Scotland demands another independence referendum. If we are to build the better Scotland of our dreams, we can only do so by demonstrating that we have impeccable democratic credentials. We can’t win indy by trickery, by being underhand, or by finagling the voting system. That means achieving a majority which cannot be gainsayed.
We are in a very strong position right now. It’s a position which is likely only to strengthen as the full horrific impact of the epidemic and the British Government’s mishandling of it filters through to the general public. It’s only likely to strengthen even further when the UK reaches the end of the EU transitional period – with either no deal or a deal which is considerably worse than the current arrangements. What we as a movement need to do right now is to keep calm and to focus on the prize which is coming closer and closer into reach. Independence is ours to win, and this blog will be continuing to focus on the arguments for it until we do.
And finally, here’s something productive to do during lockdown – learn a Gaelic song!
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My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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