Politicians all over the world must look upon Nicola Sturgeon with a certain degree of jealousy. The party she leads is riding phenomenally high in the polls, despite being well past the traditional second term dip, and she herself is universally popular. 56 out of 59 Westminster MPs is unprecedented and the opposition parties are down, the Liberals almost out and Scottish Labour are one misstep away from joining them on the political scrapheap.
Whilst the SNP deals with running one country and running the main opposition in another, they also have to navigate their way through what many seem to think is the policy conundrum of a lifetime. They have to decide whether to add a commitment to holding a second independence referendum in the SNP Manifesto for Holyrood 2016. The SNP’s track record is pretty good if not all gold, however, by comparison with the alternative, it looks like there is no alternative and it’s hard to see past an SNP Government reforming in 2016. This is what has the unionists vexed and what’s driving the second referendum pantomime – trust me it’s not behind you! The commitment to a referendum will be, must be in the SNP manifesto; the only question is how heavily caveated that commitment will sit. It should be worded in a way that makes it more of an option rather than a commitment. A majority SNP Government must be able to call a referendum at the point of its choosing, as and when circumstances demand. In other words, the SNP need the ability to call another referendum if they think they can win and not if they don’t. Unionists will cry foul, they will say “that’s unfair”; but that’s politics and no more unfair than a Tory majority with only one seat in Scotland.
The Edinburgh agreement defined the route to independence through a referendum and set the precedent that a majority Scottish Government can call a referendum. For David Cameron to say no to another referendum under those circumstances would be the death of the union, an iron-clad case study of an assault on Scottish democracy that would send support for independence through the roof. However, imagine the SNP manifesto has no option on a new plebiscite and the circumstances change demanding a referendum with Yes sitting at 60% in the polls. The SNP having no referendum mandate would mean Cameron has a democratic right to say no and the opportunity will be lost.
People who think there won’t be an option (not commitment) for referendum two don’t understand the SNP. The SNP’s raison d’être is prosperity and wellbeing for the people of Scotland and independence as a means to that end. In other words, an SNP manifesto without a commitment to independence isn’t an SNP manifesto. There is a lot in the press about the SNP not wanting to debate a second referendum at its conference, obviously not – the issue would dominate the whole conference and the answer would be yes. So if I was the SNP I would give the answer and full wording on the final day of the conference and have senior figures hint at it for weeks in advance, meaning the conference will be the number one news item UK wide every day.
The only real argument for leaving it out is the fact that victory in a referendum at this point is not 100% guaranteed – so let’s make sure we win. The tactical considerations are clear. When will all the unionist parties be collectively down and unable to campaign effectively for the union again? What about a revived Labour under Corbyn? If he wins, Labour will have essentially re-elected Michael Foot. He might gain some early rhetoric-based respect from Scottish Labour voters but as soon as his leftish backers demand policies on higher taxes, public ownership, curbing the banking system, and he looks to implement nuclear disarmament etc. The majority of Blairite MPs will go into open revolt and those policies will lose England. With an unelectable UK Labour Prime Ministerial candidate, the whole Labour unity message will fade, removing one of the last barriers to a yes vote. If Burnham or Cooper leads Labour then we are back to Labour as a watered-down Tory party that is irrelevant to Scotland.
We know where the campaigning problems were in 2014 and it will take a while to develop a policy platform to ensure that currency, the economy, pensions become huge positives for the Yes campaign and a fully developed and costed positive Vision for Scotland needs to be in place to dominate the debate. We would also have to wait for the EU referendum and so the earliest possible date for referendum 2 would be 2020, assuming the next Scottish elections will be extended to 2021. Would Labour be willing to lead a No campaign again the year before a Scottish election? That might see their light go out for good, regardless of the result. Any chance to offer more powers is a once-only card and has been played badly.
The worst-case scenario on oil has happened and the sky didn’t fall in, the Scottish economy is growing, today the IMF has stated that low oil prices are an aid to growing our economy! So despite the current pain for North Sea workers being laid off, oil production is up for the first time in years; 41 new exploration licences have been awarded for oil and gas operations in the North Sea and BP is making $1 billion investment (£670 million) to extend the economic life of its North Sea assets. The worst that could happen on oil has happened and the price can only go up between now and another referendum, there is no scare story there.
The only fly in the ointment is the unionist media; one daily and one weekend newspaper supporting independence really needs to be supplemented by at least one more daily tabloid and something needs to be done about the BBC. A fully devolved BBC Scotland must be a line in the sand for the SNP; It should be Scottish focussed, fully 100% neutral, politically and constitutionally. If continues to be run from London then it will continue to have an unacceptable institutional Westminster bias despite the efforts of many of its Scottish staff.
In my life the independence case has never been stronger the independence movement has never been more motivated and independence never closer nor so inevitable, how could the SNP possibly leave an option to have a referendum out of their manifesto?
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