We are having the second SNP Conference in three months. Oddly, given that all the other parties have now defaulted to in person conferences, the SNP have kept their event online. No real surprise however because anybody who has ever seen a live SNP Conference will be aware that they are dominated, whatever the nominal subject of debate, by speeches about "William Wallace", grievance of supposed English perfidy, regular departure from even a semblance of reality and, above all "Traitorrrs" (sic) who have the audacity not to support the SNP. Speeches delivered by people who are at best politically unattractive and at worst actively frightening.
Now these people hold identical views to the SNP leadership, you don't get to be in the leadership of the SNP without first have been immersed in its grass roots without demur,, but the leadership has worked out that they owe their current positions from giving these views as little visibility as possible and a virtual conference delivers that perfectly. Only the on message ever get on screen and certainly none who believe Nicola Sturgeon herself is fast becoming one of the traitorrrs.
But you'll not be able to hold virtual conferences forever and these angries are getting steadily angrier at the lack of progress towards "Freeedum". Sturgeon has handled this situation as well as possible (I've never been one who underestimates her abilities as a politician) by promising them a second referendum is just around the corner at every conference since 2016 but at a certain point no group can be that gullible forever. At some point it will be the Autumn of 2023 (actually that point will be the Autumn of 2023) at which time it will be clear there is not going to be a Referendum in 2023 and even Sturgeon will then struggle to deliver the message that there will definitely be one in 2024. Or indeed any time in the forseeable future.
So, the first ananswered question is what happens then?
It is not a question with an easy answer. It might be that the SNP continues to hold office as a Party that nominally believes in independence in a way that much of the Church of England continues to function as an institution that nominally believes in God. It would certainly lose members but if it could show a basic competence in delivery of public services (Big if but the subject of another blog) it might yet remain in possession of the trappings of power in Scotland based on the impossibilty of the opposition parties co-operating. Or at a certain other point, while the angries would still be angry, the electorate might just decide to move on. Or, Sturgeon might depart and, in a more presential system than we care to concede, the electorate will look for who is available as a credible alternative First Minister. It is genuinely difficult to pick such a person from within the current SNP Holyrood group and with the greatest of respect to Douglas Ross, he is no Ruth Davidson. However, in an exact reverse comparison, Anas Sarwar is no Richard Leonard and Scotland as a whole has not been a Tory nation for a very long time. Let's await events. Or, in the case of another referendum, non events.
But that leads me to my other unanswered question. What happens in Scotland if it looks like Labour might win a UK General Election? Or, more accurately, what happens if it looks like the Tories might lose a UK General Election?
There have been lots of things going on in the background of purely Scottish politics since 2014. Brexit, certainly but also the car crash that was Labour's internal politics under Corbyn leading to many to conclude that a UK Labour Government was an impossibilty. Never mind that the current Prime Minister is easily the worst qualified for that office then any incumbent during my lifetime. But before all that there was the Tsunami election of 2015 where, let's be frank, there was little anticipation of a Labour Government and, that aside, in my view unfairly, little enthusiasm for Ed Miliband as Prime Minister.
That might be changing. Were it not for our loss of our traditional fiefdom in Scotland (nobody's fault but ours so that's not a complaint/excuse) Labour would now be comfortably ahead of the Tories in the UK polls. We are not that however and certainly nowhere where we were under John Smith or Tony Blair.
But let's assume by the time of the next UK Election the polls are pretty much where they are now. Labour ahead of the Tories but not so much to as to gain an absolute majority if we have 40+ hostile SNP MPs from Scotland.
What happens then? The SNP's opening gambit will be that they would not support any Government that wouldn't give them a second referendum. But we'd just call their bluff. "We will not sanction a second referendum so voting SNP might occassion a second election where the Tories might win." Good luck to them at the ballot box if they sustain their bottom line until polling day and better luck to them still if they maintain that until that second election.
That's not however my second unanswered question.
That is, if the conclusion of the SNP is that, inevitably, before or after polling day, they'd have to support a Labour Government without the offer of a second referendum or face electoral oblivion, what will that mean for the internal politics of the SNP? Then we'd really find out if the the modern SNP is truly a social democratic Party that happens to believe in independence or one which, if they are not continuously engaged in a battle for independence, regards the game as not worth a candle.
I finish with the old Chinese proverb Ted Heath quoted on the day Thatcher resigned. "If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by."