The independence movement is a broad church and so is the SNP but at times in the last few months that seems to have been forgotten. The left will support independence if you prove to them that it will mean a more widely shared prosperity and the right level of social protection. The right will support independence if it is used to create a wealthier nation, grow business, grow exports and create opportunities for entrepreneurship. That policy balance and convincing both sides of the historic political spectrum that they are best for Scotland is what drew support for the SNP from every part of Scotland in the 2015 General Election and in its three Holyrood successes.
The 2014 Yes campaign was unashamedly left wing and, with support starting only the mid to high 20s. It needed to be. A more balanced approach would have been highly risky and the left wing campaign undermined Labour’s trust with its voters. But as soon as the referendum was over the Yes campaign was closed down and all its data, momentum and energy were lost. The SNP set themselves up as the home for Yes campaigners and they joined the party in droves, delivering a 2015 GE landslide.
Now with the left convinced on independence, the SNP in power and Scottish Labour stalling, three of the four pillars of independence were in place. All the SNP had to do was to show how independence would enhance prosperity and grow the economy by freeing Scotland from the economic straight jacket of centralised, business-focused Westminster control and the prize was within reach.
For a couple of years the SNP has slowly been losing support from business people. In Scotland, a majority of small and medium-sized business owners and entrepreneurs were supporters of independence and the SNP. Most did not see themselves as either right or left wing. If I could pick just one SNP policy that helped small business people support the SNP, it was the Small Business Bonus Scheme that lifted the drain of high rates from small businesses, allowing them to grow and employ more people. It beggars belief therefore that the SNP dropped the ball so badly, first on rates relief for empty buildings and then on the business rates re-evaluations this year. They appear to be losing that policy balance that made them an unstoppable electoral force. They still won GE2017, but they lost seats they didn’t need to.
Again and again since 2014, Business for Scotland made representations on business policy that would aid Scotland, to Holyrood and Westminster and supplied pre-budget scrutiny reports calling on the SNP Government to honour its manifesto pledge to maintain a competitive advantage on business rates versus the rUK. Some concessions were gained but we remained frustrated that the SNP were not proactively building that final pillar of independence.
The Sustainable Growth Commission is a great idea. Finally the party of independence was going to make the economic case for independence, but before its findings could be published, as luck would have it, Theresa May called a snap election. That meant that having just announced indyref2, the SNP would be attacked on a “stop indyref2” platform but were not yet ready to make the economic case.
That’s politics, and at that point the only way to stop the Tories from taking seats and even losing socialist voters to Corbyn was to double down on independence and get the 45 per cent to vote for them one more time. Instead the SNP having marched their troops to the top of the hill with the indyref2 announcement decided to try and march them down again, and campaign on managerial competence.
The Sustainable Growth Commission should have been launched on September 19, 2014, and a renewed economic case for independence promoted every day since. I can’t help feeling that a snap election under those circumstances would have delivered 50 or more SNP seats again and independence support would now be over 55 per cent. I know, I know you are thinking it’s easy for me to be smart after the event, but every meeting between BfS and the SNP in the last two years has raised these very points and frustration has been building.
On this website in February 2016 (months before the Brexit vote), I spelled out what would happen, and where, if the economic case for independence wasn’t renewed when I wrote: “We all know the borders seats are problematic for independence. However, some polls suggest in parts of Scotland up to 20 per cent of regular SNP voters voted No in 2014.
Look at some of the biggest No vote areas where the SNP usually romps home, in Aberdeenshire (60.3 per cent No) and Perth and Kinross (60.1 per cent No). In Angus, where the SNP holds both Westminster and Holyrood seats, only 44 per cent voted Yes. Moray, which also returns an SNP MP, said 59 per cent No.
“The only way to convince the non-left on independence is to publish a forward-thinking, creative, progressive and fully costed roadmap to greater economic prosperity and a fairer, more environmentally sustainable, independent Scotland.
“If the SNP does not grasp that thistle and promote the benefits of independence more consistently, even the growing disappointment with limited devolution, increasing disillusionment with Westminster and even a forced Brexit will not alone guarantee independence within a decade.”
The Scottish Government has yet to grasp that thistle, but a majority in the next Scottish election and victory in a new Scottish referendum at around same the time is still within their grasp. Some commentators have even suggested that the SNP needs to shelve plans for indyref2. Why on earth would they take the pain of last week and then say no to the coming gain? Any Brexit hurts Scotland more than the rest of the UK. With a soft Brexit now on the cards, this will largely protect our economy from the worst of the fall out.
However with EU grants to farmers ending, the UK is in no position to replace them and 60 to 70 per cent of farm businesses potentially facing bankruptcy as a result, the constituencies that the Conservatives’ Brexit hammer will hit hardest will include the Borders, Perthshire, Aberdeenshire, Angus and Moray. We just hit peak Tory in Scotland and their MPs have big trouble ahead. What goes around comes around.