Support for independence within Scotland has never been stronger. Support for the so-called Union has never been weaker. Yes is now regularly in a majority in opinion polls, and the SNP looks set to achieve a majority in the Scottish Parliament next year. Yet despite this there’s a significant body of pro-indy opinion, especially online, which is determined to split the pro-independence vote into a myriad of minor parties, each of which claims that it’s their brand spanking new party which is the one which is most deserving of list votes from independence supporters. The news that Yes is at 54% in the polls is received with moans, complaints, and despair – from independence supporters who complain that there has not been sufficient progress to our goal.
This week has seen the launch of a second new pro-independence party to contest for seats in the regional list vote in next year’s Scottish elections. The Alliance for Independence now joins the Independence for Scotland Party as a contender for pro-indy voters who have become frustrated at what they see as a lack of progress from the SNP in getting us to a referendum. There are credible reports that there could be yet other new pro-indy parties which will launch before the Holyrood elections next year. I am told that there is at least one other proposal for a new party which hopes to launch later this year. That would take us to three, and there may be more. The fact that there are multiple pro-indy parties on the list means that the plan mooted by certain independence supporters to maximise the number of pro-indy list MSPs has already failed.
The strategy for a new party which could theoretically hoover up the list votes of disenchanted independence supporters could only ever have worked under a very narrow and strictly defined set of conditions. Those conditions have not been met. Firstly, and most importantly, for the plan to work there could only be one new pro-indy party on the list which would then be in a position to benefit from the votes of all those independence supporters who are frustrated with the SNP. Yet we already have two such parties, and could yet see more popping up before the elections are due in May next year.
Which of these new parties are independence supporters supposed to lend their votes to? With multiple new pro-indy parties all that’s going to happen is that the votes of independence supporters who are frustrated at what they see as a lack of progress are going to be split between these different new parties, ensuring that none of them reach the threshold necessary to get an MSP elected and allowing a British nationalist candidate to come in through the middle. That’s a British nationalist MSP who would not otherwise have been elected.
The second important condition that has not been met is that any new party – and it could only be one new party for the reasons already given – would have to be led by a figure of national importance. Only someone with the stature of Alex Salmond would have any chance at all of launching a new party from a standing start and taking it to the position of electability. Yet he has shown no indication that he’s interested in doing so.
Alex Salmond is deeply unhappy with certain individuals within the SNP, but he has spent his life working for the party and he knows that the SNP is about a whole lot more than just him or Nicola Sturgeon. He’s not going to betray all those people within the SNP that have never lost faith in him just in order to stick the knife into the current leadership. Were he to do so he’d be placing his own personal grievances above the good of the party and what’s good for the independence movement as a whole. That’s precisely what Nicola Sturgeon’s critics have accused her of doing, yet some of them apparently want Alex Salmond to do exactly the same thing. That’s hardly the route to the moral high ground, and Alex knows that too.
For Alex Salmond to turn on the SNP would be an exercise in ego that many of his supporters would never forgive him for. It would spark off media reports of ‘war’ within the independence movement, and we’d be seen as being divided amongst ourselves. The British nationalist press in Scotland would have a field day. That’s not the way to attract the undecided voters and soft noes and yesses that we need in order to win our independence. Alex Salmond is a great political strategist, and he understands the message that a divided independence movement would send out. That’s why I don’t believe it’s a step he’d be willing to take. He is more principled than that.
Those who most loudly call for a new party for the list do so because they assert that the British Government will never agree to a Section 30 order. Which raises the question why they think a different pro-indy party would be any more successful. Boris Johnson is just as likely to say no to the ISP or the Alliance for Independence as he is to the SNP. However this assumes that the British Government is a monolithic bloc which is utterly opposed to the exercise of Scottish democracy for now and forever. That is not true. The Tories want you to believe that they’ll never concede to Scottish independence, and by taking them at their word you are both giving in to them and conceding that a British Government does indeed have the right to veto Scottish self-determination.
We have now seen two opinion polls which show that a majority of Conservative supporters in England would prefer English independence. They want to see the back of Scotland – along with Wales and Northern Ireland – because they regard us as a drain on their resources and a roadblock on the way to their mythical bunting bedecked sunny uplands of Brexit. That means that there is a large and significant bloc of opinion within the Conservatives in England which is not in love with the preciousssss union. It means that opposition to Scottish independence within the English Conservatives is hollow and fragile.
The Conservative party is not led by formibile political giants, but rather by cheap and shallow opportunists. Faced with a Scottish Government newly elected with a strong majority on a mandate for another referendum, a Scottish Government which is determined to use every legal and lawful means at its disposal to be a thorn in his Brexit side, Boris Johnson is quite likely to consider a gamble on another independence referendum. Either the independence movement loses, in which case Johnson can pose as the Saviour of the Union, or we win, in which case Johnson knows that he has secured his position as the champion of England. From his perspective it’s a win win. That’s why a concerted and determined push for another referendum from Scotland has a very good chance in succeeding.
However it can only succeed if the Scottish Government has the moral and political capital to imply that independence can be pursued by other means than a Section 30 order. Despite the complaints of parts of the independence movement, it doesn’t have that political and moral capital just now and it won’t do until after it wins a large majority at the next Scottish elections. The likes of you and I are not the people who need to be persuaded of the legitimacy of an alternative strategy to a Section 30 order. It’s the likes of my dad – an 83 year old lifelong Labour voter. It’s the likes of someone who is currently undecided about independence. It’s the likes of a soft yes supporter who is concerned that independence must be obtained constitutionally and lawfully. It’s not people like me who would crawl over broken glass to vote yes in a consultative referendum organised without a Section 30 order.
There is genuine despair in Scottish politics. It’s on the part of British nationalists who have no idea how to prevent the rising tide of support for independence and the growing disenchantment with the British state. Their despair is existential, the despair among independence supporters is frustration that things have not moved sufficiently quickly for their liking. That’s what we need to watch out for, because right now the biggest threat to independence is not anything that the British nationalists or the British state is doing – it’s what is going on within the independence movement itself. We risk being undone by our own impatience.
Right now we are all trusting Nicola Sturgeon with our lives as Scotland faces a global epidemic. We can trust her with our political future as well.
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