The Great Mistake 226

The SNP risks a great loss in putting Independence on the back-burner. They have the huge energy of the street Yes campaign behind them. Shifting from fifth gear to reverse risks not only loss of momentum, but damage. “Go out and work for Independence!” is what 80,000 new members want to hear. “Go out and work for Devo-Max and a supply and confidence agreement with Labour at Westminster”, is not.

I was not too concerned at reports that Alex Salmond had said that Independence may not feature in the SNP’s coming Westminster manifesto, and it would be up to Nicola Sturgeon. It was just one interview, and the great man was possibly just musing, I thought. But then we had Nicola Sturgeon’s message to all members, repeated as adverts in the newspapers, setting out the stall for the General Election. This makes no mention of Independence at all.

I think there are two major mistakes here. The first is that rather than state its fundamental beliefs, the SNP is tailoring its message to be appropriate to a specific tactical situation – a hung parliament with the SNP able to sustain a Labour-led government, in return for certain demands. Tailoring the message to this circumstance is a mistake because it is a scenario which is entirely beyond the power of the SNP, or even Scotland, to bring about. And my very firm prediction is that it will not happen.

Labour and the Tories are neck and neck in recent polls, but I fully expect the Tories will make ground, as the incumbent government always does in the final months before a UK general election. They have the opportunity of a populist budget to boost them. UKIP support will dip, disproportionately returning to the Tories. Murdoch will back Cameron, along with the Mail, Express and Telegraph. The Tories have over twice the campaign funds of Labour. The LibDem vote will plummet but they will hold on to more of their own seats UK wide than a uniform swing would indicate. I am willing to bet that the Conservatives remain in power, probably still as the ConDems, after the General Election.

In this scenario, what happens in Scotland is irrelevant to who forms the UK government – as so often. Whether there are more Labour or more SNP on the opposition benches will make little difference to Cameron and Osborne. What will happen, however, is an increasingly urgent demand for Scottish Independence in the face of five more years of unwanted Tory rule in Scotland.

It is tactically essential that, in this scenario, the SNP MP’s can claim to have been elected on a clear mandate for Independence. The SNP may have a majority of Scottish MP’s after May. There will be a vote on whether the UK leaves the EU. Should the UK vote to leave the EU (which is not improbable), the demand for Scottish Independence may become overwhelming. If at that stage we have a majority of Scottish MP’s clearly elected for Independence, there are a number of possible options for achieving Independence. If however those MPs were elected only on a platform that prioritised Devo-Max, the arguments look very different.

The second major mistake is that Devo-Max is unobtainable. Whitehall and Westminster will never agree to hand over to Scotland its full oil or whisky revenues. It is in any event not possible for Scotland to run an expansive fiscal policy within the overall control of the Treasury and Bank of England. It is possible to get limited extra powers for the Scottish parliament. The Smith Commission is very close to the limit of what Westminster will ever agree within the Union. Even were Smith to be fully implemented (which like Calman it won’t) it is no substitute for Independence.

And as I have frequently stated, so long as our foreign and defence policy is still controlled by Westminster, so long as they can still send Scots to fight and die in illegal wars, so long as they can involve us in hideous torture and permanent conflict in the Middle East, we have not obtained ethical responsibility, and the rest means little.

Many No voters already regret their vote. The SNP does not need to pitch its message to appeal to continuing unionists. As the Independence vote is heavily behind the SNP, while the Unionist vote has more significant diversions between Labour, Tory, Liberal and UKIP, under first past the post the Yes voters alone will sweep the board – which is precisely what opinion polls show as happening.

The other thing we know from the Referendum is that a significant number of SNP voters, voted No. The truth is that not every supporter of the SNP is a fervent supporter of Independence. Certainly a great many members do not relate to the social radicalism and desire for sweeping societal change that motivated so much of the astonishing street Yes campaign.

The SNP has now a substantial professional class. It has MSP’s, Scottish ministers, MP’s and MEP’s, and all their research assistants, secretaries, constituency secretaries and SPADs. It has paid councillors, committee chairs, leaders of councils. It has a Chief Executive and HQ staff. If the process of gradualism has brought you a good income and a comfy living, it is a natural temptation to see the accretion of a few more powers, and the addition of a lot more jobs for MP’s and their staff, as all part of useful progress, without wanting to risk anything too radical. Independence can become a misty aspiration, lost in the day to day concerns of genuinely ultra-important stuff like running the NHS or schools or local transport.

The SNP is not the small band of noble rebellious souls it once was. It is now a major institution in itself, and part of the fabric of the British state. Institutions, even composed of the nicest people, always develop and protect their corporate interest.

I worry that the downplaying of the Independence goal for the General Election may drain the fire from those 80,000 Yes-oriented new members. I worry even more that this may not be an accident.

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226 thoughts on “The Great Mistake

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  • Mary

    I saw a little of Blair in front of the NI committee. He had a fairly easy ride and did some grovelling and apologizing. To hear his voice and see those ghastly hand gestures again was depressing.

    I thought he looked and sounded very strained and ragged.

  • Duncan McFarlane

    Can’t agree on most of this Craig. The SNP wants to get as many votes as possible in order to extract as many additional powers for the Scottish parliament and government as possible.
    Polls show big majorities of people in Scotland for additional powers that go well beyond the Smith Commission’s fairly modest recommendations. So by representing all those people- Yes and No voters – the SNP is representing the majority in Scotland.

    If Scotland gets major additional powers then the people of Scotland get the additional insulation from tory policies (under tory and New Labour UK governments) that most of them want. If on the other hand the UK government refuses to concede the amount of devolution most Scots want then more of them will be willing to back independence.

    If the SNP instead held the election on a policy of holding another independence referendum very soon, or calling a Unilateral Declaration of Independence if they got a majority of seats in Scotland (or a majority of seats and votes cast) they would be risking effectively losing a second referendum within less than a year after the first. If that happened the chances of another within a generation really would become low.

  • Duncan McFarlane

    There is also a significant “Loyalist” minority in Scotland of the same kind found in bigger numbers on Northern Ireland. Those are dangerous people and we have to avoid giving them any excuse for turning Scotland into another Northern Ireland – e.g over a narrow majority for independence or a disputed UDI election. If we go for independence it has to be with a big majority of the electorate having voted for it. And the best chance of that is to go for additional devolved powers just now, which unites enough No voters with Yes voters to provide a big majority to get either those additional powers, or , if Westminster refuses us them, independence.

  • glenn

    Ace, thanks Dreoilin. Even with the qualifiers, coal knocks everything else out of the park. Wonder why all those given to rending of garments, and gnashing of teeth about the wind-farm bird deaths, were never so concerned before.

    Surely it couldn’t be because the fossil fuel industry didn’t push that line of propaganda before?

  • Ba'al Zevul

    @Node: I trust you are proportionally more concerned about domestic cats, which wreck far more havoc on bird populations? This is the fascinating part, to me. People suddenly aghast at windfarm induced casualties to birds, when they’ve never given a toss about the far greater damage humans and their pets inflict for sport. Not to mention loss of habitat, gardens being paved/ decked over by the million each year, and so on.

    +1. Not forgetting human deaths (1) in coal mines…

    Just last May at the Russian “Raspadskaya” mine, which produces a tenth of the country’s coal output, a pair of explosions tore through the deep tunnels just after four in the morning, killing 91.

    Just last May at the Russian “Raspadskaya” mine, which produces a tenth of the country’s coal output, a pair of explosions tore through the deep tunnels just after four in the morning, killing 91.

    56% of the UK’s coal for power comes from Russia….

    Talking of blots on the landscape…

    Not much room for the coal tits to breed there…

  • Ba'al Zevul

    And (2) on the roads. To say nothing whatever about the stats on roadkill vs, the stats on wind turbines.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    I saw a little of Blair in front of the NI committee….

    On the radio alone, he came across as completely insane. At one point he thought he was still PM (the inflexion did not suggest that he was using the historical present). Never mind. He’ll get an easier ride from the US Republicans at their schmoozefest in Hershey, PA, tomorrow.

    Trivially, anyone else notice that Tony’s less wrinkly than he was last year? I’m not alone in this:

    Vanity of vanities. And it shows.

  • Dreoilin

    “Surely it couldn’t be because the fossil fuel industry didn’t push that line of propaganda before?”

    (Sorry Glenn, I haven’t been back here since, until now.)

    I really have no idea, but I’ve only seen vague passing references to bird deaths + wind farms myself.

    I saw a headline about birds avoiding wind farms, but I think that may have been posted here already.

  • nevermind

    3.7 billion birds killed by cats annually.

    @ Duncan who wrote
    “Can’t agree on most of this Craig. The SNP wants to get as many votes as possible in order to extract as many additional powers for the Scottish parliament and government as possible.”

    Well, Jack’s alright then and bigger the rest of the union,. after all the SNP will only do it for the Scots.

    What are the SNP policies for devolution to the English regions? now that they are smarting to become a fully fledged Westminster coalition partner to Labour?
    have they got any demands for PR so we can get some fair voting system here?, or is it all about Jack? climbing his very own taxpayer paid for beanpole.

  • glenn

    Comrades – thanks. The human and environmental casualties in the “business as usual” crowd, who think burning rocks is simply the best, and a sustainable 21st century technology too, apparently have a tin ear when it comes to the immediately obvious disaster coal mining has always been.

    Another staggering aspect of 1st world thinking, is that their pets (which kill far more wildlife than any windfarms they might fret about) require considerably more resources than the average 3rd world villager. But there is a huge world overpopulation problem which is of great concern too. Why won’t they just stop breeding? And oh – I’m a grandparent yet again, am I not deserving of much praise?

  • Jemand

    “But there is a huge world overpopulation problem which is of great concern too.”

    I’ve written on this subject several times here and have been scoffed at by Craig and ignored by others.

    You just can’t reason with people living in bubbles.

  • charlesobrien08

    I have to disagree with the analysis,we have just fought our way to getting a referendum,knowing full well that the British Government/Establishment would not keep their word if a yes vote had won the day.We now have a much better chance,and that is by the previously chosen method that is recognised and that is the Members of Parliament sent to Westminster,that first past the post system that is favoured by the the majority there and that is the place to win with the world watching.The B.G. like to play at medieval knights and serfs and would rather declare uprising and send in the troops they have form,as we all know and I think that moves were made last July to manoeuvre and reposition troops ready to split the country,our country that is,rather than abide by the result.I believe that Alex Salmond knew of the shift from yes we will abide to we shall divide,you did see how aggressive so many people were after the no vote was declared they were ready to divide the country,thats why they wanted to cause some pain to those who voted yes.That is why Alex did not push hard he knew what the Establishment would do to preserve itself and its privileged position in the world.An open vote of Scottish Laws for Scottish votes = English Votes for English Laws,they cant argue with that after all they are forcing it.Of course just being my opinion and perhaps the odd way I look at things may be completely wrong,May the 8th will show us how it will be.There may have to be another ’16 Easter Parade.

  • Mary

    More of the tommy rot. ‘Churchillian’!!

    Tony Blair Wows Republicans at Hershey Retreat
    Jan 17 2015

    House and Senate Republicans, who are meeting in Hershey, Pennsylvania, this weekend to plot strategy for the coming session of Congress, were treated to a rousing presentation by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on how to fight Islamic extremism.

    Blair’s speech featured three standing ovations by lawmakers and selected staff. Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole called the speech “Churchillian.”

    Although the speech was closed to the press and public, several lawmakers gave their impressions of Blair’s talk afterwards.

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