Last January, I wrote a blog pointing out that for the foreseeable future there is not going to be an independence referendum or indeed independence by any other means. Despite its logic being patent, everybody just ignored what was staring them in the face, not least the entirety (then) of the SNP. I sat down tonight to outline why again but experienced a sense of deja vu. So, in the interest of brevity, here is my January blog;https://ianssmart.blogspot.com/2020/01/new-year-new-world.html, my July blog https://ianssmart.blogspot.com/2020/07/much-ado-about-nothing.html, my September blog https://ianssmart.blogspot.com/2020/09/shortest-blog-ever.html and finally my November bloghttps://ianssmart.blogspot.com/2020/11/the-walking-dead.html . Glad to see those who make their living from writing about Scottish politics are finally catching up.
I'm enjoying as much as anybody the Salmond/Sturgeon fall out. But it is a diversion. The idea that Sturgeon, the best known and popular Scottish politician by a country mile, might fall over whether she told the truth to the Scottish Parliament that first knew of the allegations against Alex Salmond on 29th March as opposed to 2nd April 2018 (remember that pre pandemic decade?) is the most wishful of wishful thinking. Even if a (very) few understand why that lie might be significant.
But the exact terms of the SNP Manifesto for an election to Holyrood this year, whether in May or October? That is very interesting.
The current Scottish Parliament was elected in May 2016. Only just over 18 months after the Independence Referendum. But there was already a significant part of the SNP membership demanding another referendum. Indeed the "All Under One Banner" marching organisation was set upon 12th October 2014! That is, if they weren't still insisting, apropos Trump, that the First Referendum had been stolen. Although even they couldn't entirely work out who by.
But, nonetheless, zoomer conspiracy theorists make up a significant section of the SNP rank and file. So they had to be thrown a bone. And that bone was that a vote to leave the EU would be a material change of circumstance justifying the demand for a second vote. This was an easy bone to throw. In May 2016 nobody thought the UK would actually vote to leave the EU. After all, every major Party in the UK was opposed to that.
But jings, despite Nicola Sturgeon's own enthusiastic campaigning (illogically) for the very Brexit referendum result that would not justify a second independence referendum, that is what happened, Supported by two in five Scottish voters and, more awkwardly still, by a majority of voters in Wales, also otherwise supposed to be being "dictated to by England". Nonetheless, in March 2017, Nicola did ask for her second referendum and Mrs May told her to go and raffle herself. And what then happened? Nothing happened.
Fortunately the dilemma this might have presented to the SNP leadership was avoided for the moment by the 2017 election. Not only did the reverse the SNP suffer then cause even the bravest of bravehearts to ponder whether an immediate second referendum was actually a good idea, the UK wide election result cast doubt on whether we would actually leave the EU. That, and the usual boilerplate rhetoric, at periodic conferences, managed to disguise the continued dichotomy that the SNP, in attempting to block Brexit, were attempting to block their own rationale for having a fresh Independence vote.
However, the December 2019 election has changed everything. Not only has it restored momentum to the SNP it has also installed a UK Government with a solid majority on a manifesto expressly saying they will not consent to a second referendum. Oh, and in case you missed it, we then did leave the EU.
Which would have placed the SNP leadership back in a hole were they not saved in a way they would never have wished by the Coronavirus pandemic.
For while polling on the question has undoubtedly (in the abstract) moved in their direction, the population is not nearly as animated about imminently asking it again as are the Nationalist Rank and File.
Which brings me back to my question. What will the SNP manifesto say? You see, one suspects the leadership would like to stick with Plan A. "Give us a "mandate" and somehow the Tory Government will change their mind about agreeing to a referendum." And that would be it. But they won't get away with that because their own troops won't let them. They will insist on a plan B.
However there is no viable plan B. I outlined that in my blog last January. So the zoomers will have to be confronted with that before the election. That will be a bloodbath and one from which the SNP leadership might not emerge victorious. For there is a fair part of the SNP who would never be willing to accept that, having had and lost a referendum, the only way forward now is with the consent of the UK to another referendum. Which they are not going to get. But that is the truth of their situation, If the leadership win the internal battle, their manifesto will say they propose to have a referendum which they know they are not going to have. But the only true difference if they lose will be the three words "which they know". The public however would know that this second route presents a period of continuing constitutional (at least) chaos just as we struggle to recover from Brexit and the pandemic. Is there a majority for this in Scotland despite momentary polling? Let's see. But there are good and rational electoral reasons the SNP leadership are reluctant even to contemplate a plan B.