After ten years in Government, the SNP are sitting on 44% of the vote in Scotland. They have a mandate for an independence referendum from an independence-majority Holyrood and SNP-majority Westminster.
As promised they have introduced legislation to allow the Scottish Parliament to hold an independence referendum. The First Minister has said late 2020 would be best and that the UK Government would be committing a “democratic outrage” which would be “utterly unsustainable” if they refused a section 30 order.
Political pundits predict any new UK Prime Minister will simply say no to a section 30 order leaving the Scottish Government with a choice of holding an advisory referendum or seeking another mandate and asking again. But it’s just not that simple as the political environment is fluid. Westminster is in chaos and support for independence and the SNP is only likely to rise, especially if Brexit goes ahead. The Brexit Party winning the EU election in the rest of the UK and flying high in Westminster polls makes Brexit almost impossible to stop without the entire Westminster political system imploding.
Now walking straight into the SNPs “democratic outrage” trap the Conservative leadership candidates are lining up to announce, in absolute terms, that they will not allow a referendum on independence, thus feeding the democratic deficit argument. It’s a well-planned tactic I suggested in my newspaper column and on this site a year ago.
The Conservatives are about to choose a new leader and this is why it stops being so simple. The new Conservative leader must command a majority of party support when they replace May or we are heading for a general election (GE). That means they have to convince the DUP and keep the Conservative remainers onside. May has shown that they can’t do both.
Forcing May to step down before a Brexit deal was reached, which would have given the new leader a clean sheet, demonstrates that they are no more aware of the scale of the task ahead of them than she was.
There is no one that can hold the Tories together but there is a candidate who could win an election by bringing back the Brexit vote – so PM Boris Johnson looks likely and so does a No Deal Brexit.
A GE before October 31, 2019, looks probable scenario and this changes everything for the SNP. Remember 2017? The SNP pushed for a referendum, May said “now is not the time” and called a snap GE. I predicted that having led their troops up the hill, the SNP had a choice: go all out for independence or face big SNP losses because the SNP vote needs to be motivated by progress towards independence.
Nicola Sturgeon has raised expectations again and if another GE is called she has zero choice but to make it about independence. Thus any snap GE becomes a pseudo-referendum (in Scotland) but with a twist – it will be about the right to have a referendum on independence if Brexit occurs against our wishes. It will be about an undeniable mandate and that, in my opinion, will need to contain four fairly radical elements.
If the SNP win a majority then:
1) They have the right to call a referendum at the time of Scottish Parliaments choosing
2) If the UK leaves the EU they will call a referendum
3) Thereafter if the UK still refuses a section 30, they have the right to declare independence before Brexit and immediately begin negotiations on independence from the UK and on continuing EU membership (Scotland never having left) and with EFTA to maintain single market membership to cover all options.
4) If Brexit is cancelled, Westminster chaos ensues and the Scottish people decide they want independence (Sco Government official polling), then they get a referendum.
Point 3 is the surprise that might change everything, high stakes poker yes, but a section 30 offer is highly likely with that in the mandate.
YouGov today has published a poll on Westminster voting intentions with the Lib Dems leading on 24%, the Brexit Party on 22% and Labour and the Conservatives on 19% each which would mean a five-way hung parliament.
In Scotland, the subsample has the SNP on 44% and the Lib Dems on 11% behind Labour on 12% and the Tories in second place on 19%. That indicates that the SNP would win 57 seats and the Lib Dems two, wiping out both Ruth Davidson’s team and Labour.
You might think the unionist parties would simply join together and stand under a Better Together banner – except that would be illegal. It’s called working together – they can’t stand in the same UK election as different parties in the rest of the UK and as an alliance in Scotland.
Tactical voting would be the unionist option to harness the no Vote but that would mean that asking Tory voters to vote for Corbyn for PM and Labour voters possibly for Boris Johnson as PM. The Lib Dems would have trouble voting for anyone who would go through with Brexit and if you didn’t involve Brexit Party they would stand alone and mop up the pro-Brexit votes.
Swathes of Labour voters, smaller amounts of Lib Dems and even remainer Tory voters would consider voting SNP and accepting the inevitable to stay in the EU. In a referendum Yes needs 51% for a majority, in a GE 40% delivers a super majority. So the FM gets her impossible-to-resist mandate for a referendum and her timeline that political commentators said was just power play and not realistic, suddenly makes sense.
Now obviously Brexit could still be stopped. However, the inevitable ensuing chaos combined with the emerging possibility of Nigel Farage as the future PM (under those circumstances) still gives Scotland a route to independence. The Lib Dems and Labour will also offer federalism but they can’t deliver that as the rest of the UK would have to vote for it, not just Scotland, so it’s going to get messier still.
Democracy seems to be the way we choose the person to fire when things go wrong. A snap Westminster election will be how the UK chooses the person Scotland’s voters will fire when they finally decide to believe in themselves.
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