The SNP Membership, Not the Leadership, Must Decide on the Second Referendum 104

The policy of the SNP is that there will not be a second referendum on Independence in the next 5 years unless something material changes, such as UK exit from the EU. Why is that party policy? Because Nicola Sturgeon says it is.

I am only a humble SNP ordinary member, for only four years. But something within me tells me I am allowed to disagree. And I do. Loudly.

I think it is essential that the SNP manifesto for next year’s Holyrood elections states clearly that, if a Holyrood majority will support it, a second referendum will be called on Scottish independence before 2020. If elected on that manifesto, something material will have changed. A unique double mandate will have occurred at Westminster and Holyrood for supporters of independence. And that change will have come from where it counts, from the Scottish people, not from extraneous circumstances. The independence I want is absolute, not a product of external factors.

Those who are comfortable with the status quo, plus a few more powers for the Scottish parliament, will argue that we cannot hold the referendum until we are certain to win, that another loss will kill it for ever. But there is a much more important argument – that of missing the key moment, letting the window of opportunity slide by. With a very right wing Tory majority in Westminster immediately imposing fresh austerity in Scotland, and with levels of SNP political dominance historically unlikely to be exceeded in any pluralist democratic system, there can never be a more favourable conjunction. If not now, when?

The biggest danger is bottling it.

Gradualism has taken us so far. I liken it to a long jumper hurtling down the runway. You may be sprinting brilliantly, and achieve fantastic speed and momentum. But if you think “this is going well, let’s not change anything” and don’t alter your action when you hit that white board, you will record six feet and not thirty. Scottish independence is at the white board. Gradualism has had its day. It’s time to soar. Let’s not fail to jump and plunge into the Killiecrankie Leap, no matter how well we are sprinting.

Some genuinely think I am wrong. It is a legitimate argument. But it needs to be a legitimate debate at Party conference, and a vote by members that decides on whether a second referendum is in the manifesto, not a decision by the leadership. I share the popular admiration for Nicola Sturgeon. I think she is tremendous. But were she the Archangel Gabriel, I would not follow her on the “leadership principle”. I do not subscribe to it.

Which leads me to say that I have decided to put myself forward again for vetting to be an SNP candidate, for the Holyrood election. This has not been an easy decision given the leaks to the media and internet abuse I went through last time, and I realise that I open myself to the apparent humiliation of easy rejection.

I should add that if I pass the party hierarchy vetting but fail to be selected by party members in the constituency, I should have absolutely no complaint whatsoever. That is proper democracy working.

But it seems to me that it is now very important indeed that the SNP is a political party that genuinely welcomes internal debate and differing shades of belief of those sincerely attached to Scottish independence, and can accommodate in particular those of an independent frame of mind who will not guarantee always under any circumstance to do what they are told.

The SNP is now in a dominant position in Scottish politics and facing no coherent or effective external opposition. In that circumstance, extreme discipline becomes more frightening than admirable.

Canvassing during the referendum campaign one thing No voters repeatedly told me was that they feared that the SNP was authoritarian and an independent Scotland would have the characteristics of a one party state. I assured them that they were quite wrong. I hope to prove that I was not lying.

My last post was about the excellent Jeremy Corby. Pro-CND, anti-austerity, anti-privatisation, pro-Palestinian, he rebelled against the Labour whip 230 times in the last parliament. Yet the Labour Party – which we characterise as the epitome of machine politics – does not seek to suspend him or stop him representing them in parliament. Many in the SNP will agree that Corbyn is a first class MP. Yet the same people will argue that no SNP representative should ever be able to rebel against their party whip, even once.

I abhor the creed of Democratic Centralism, which has always been associated with Stalinism. The worrying thing is that at present I do not even find the SNP terribly democratic. I have been to two party conferences now and both were glorified leadership rallies without one single genuine policy debate. There are issues which urgently need democratic consideration. The second referendum is top of the pile. The future Scottish currency may be next. I would like to find what the new membership wants on the monarchy and on NATO. The very close NATO vote a few years ago by no means killed off that debate, whatever the leadership may want.

The SNP has shown it can dominate. Now we must show that we can be genuinely democratic.

104 thoughts on “The SNP Membership, Not the Leadership, Must Decide on the Second Referendum

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  • Joan McDowall

    I agree, but surely failure to deliver the Smith Commission in full would be a ‘ material change’ ?

  • Juteman

    It’s a difficult decision to take, Craig. Like you, I want independence so badly, but I realise lots of fellow Scots aren’t as passionate about it.
    It’s the waverers that we need to take with us, and becoming too narrow in our focus may frighten them off. I reckon that only about 25% of the population are Britnats, and they will never vote Yes. As most of them are older, the passage of time will lessen their number.
    The 45% that voted Yes last time will surely have hardened in their resolve.
    That leaves around 30% of floating voters, and only 5.01% of them are needed.
    I hope better minds than mine are working on possible scenarios, as I change my mind every day on when would be the best time.

  • craig Post author


    The one thing I am sure of is that the best time is with an Old Etonian Tory government at Westminster.

  • Jim Morris

    Craig, I am with you on this one. It is a question of democracy. Perhaps an online petition asking for a commitment to a yes vote at another referendum could be launched and when we get to 2.5 million signatories then we go for it, regardless of the timing. Some people could lie, of course, but would a million of them be bothered to do that?

  • Brian

    Cameron has proved himself a master tactician. So, what is he up to? He’s more or less told us we’ll barely get what was committed by the Smith Comm. He clearly did not warn the Scottish Govt of Osborne’s new cuts. These are major insults to the Scottish people. Is he daring the SNP to make a move?

  • Muscleguy

    I think the commitment to another referendum should be conditional. Both because it will not scare so many horses and thus not endanger the SNP’s support for Holyrood and also so we can avoid making the mistake of going again if we do not have a good chance of winning. The polls must be 55+% for Yes before we go again. If we do not ensure this then we will end up like Quebec and Westminster will throw the jibe of neverendums against us, rather legitimately and getting another one for a long time will be impossible.

    I want out as much as you do but we have to be level headed and sensible about this. Sturgeon is busy laying the groundwork for the aftermath of the Euro referendum by being principled on the quadruple lock, which will never be conceded* but will be necessary to have argued for. The case for the next referendum needs to look principled, not opportunistic.

    SNP support is up to 56% in the latest poll just as the Tory’s support rises in England. Positions are hardening on both sides of the border and confrontations are being needlessly created by thoughtless Westminster. I doubt Gideon thought about the Scottish budget having already been set when he cut our money without consultation. But he is looking high-handed and the SNP have rightly cried fowl. These things create Yes voters and more will come. Supporting the SNP even if you are No is to take a half step towards Yes.

    BTW I have sent an email to my MSP Shona Robisa telling her she has lost my support and vote over her anti-democratic vote against the assisted dying bill. There is strong public support for such a measure but our politicians are too craven to introduce it. I wonder if we deserve to be an independent country with such craven representatives. I think I may have to add a Green constituency vote to my habitual one on the list. They will not prevail on the constituency but a stand must be taken. Needless to say my email was not dignified with a reply.

  • craig Post author


    Conceivable. Or it could be hubris, arrogance following his referendum and general election victories.

  • Former Dundee Man

    Agree with you, Craig, but (which means you can optionally ignore what comes before the comma) I think a certain behaviour and style of “strong” leadership is expected by a significant proportion of the middle class sheeple (including mainstream media). It’s these “I’m all right Jock”, “Why can’t things stay the same?”, “Looking after the uneducated, lazy plebs will ruin us” feart folk that need to be swayed & all this democratic process business is not of interest to them.

  • Former Dundee Man

    @Muscleguy – there was this joke about how do you defeat the left? Put them in a room and let them fight it out. See the Judean People’s Front scene in Life of Brian. Yes we believe in something, in equality, fairness, sustainability, peace. And we won’t much compromise because these beliefs should be the line in the sand. So we end up throwing out the baby with bath water. The SNP guys who resigned over NATO. You who withdraw support for your MSP over assisted dying.

    Let’s get independence first then sort out ideologies. The route to this will mean accepting things we’d prefer not to, but it’s a means to an end. We may need Nicola Sturgeon and this ultimate leader position to get us where we want to go, even if the modus operandi can sicken free thinking minds. But as I replied above, a significant proportion of the population need and expect such leadership and it’s these people we need to win over if we’re to get independence.

  • semus

    I note that it is said that the older Brit Nats will decline in number in time naturally. However the massive building programmes that I have noticed,and huge estates of houses for sale in Dumfries, where there is no work and no futures.The young have to leave to find work.
    I already see and also hear so many and varied English accents moving in as well as having the funds to take “bridging jobs” that many without the backing of an house sale, cannot afford.
    This is the situation that as happened in Wales.It’s Anglicisation.Where hardly a Welsh accent is heard.
    So here are new houses in areas that are cheaper to buy into, cheaper to live in(no student fees for your offspring, free prescriptions, bus passes(no more in England and no water bills(which in England are now like a second mortgage),If you were English why not cash in, and continue to vote Tory or Labour, and as it appears from the referendum and previous elections, our new English/British Scots, are more enamoured of Union and queen than of our Jockalypse.
    Or are my observations that of a tired old man?

  • Muscleguy

    @Former Dundee Man
    As a current Dundee man I will point out that the Greens are Yes too and so voting for them does not endanger independence. Also my party vote as I Indicated has long been for the Greens so the SNP will not miss my lack of support. Where they might miss me is on the ground. I helped get Stewart Hosie re-elected with a vastly increased majority despite not being a member of the party. I am in RIC and we have not decided what to do around next May so I may likely not be free for that anyway. The cause of Yes is bigger than the SNP and I reiterate, we do not deserve to be independent with morally craven politicians.

  • L Thomson

    I am an SNP Member and I want a referendum to be in the SNP manifesto in 2016, Scotland needs to stop begging for scraps of powers when she can be Independant and control her own future.

  • DomesticExtremist

    I’m not sure a second referendum so soon is a good idea.

    The last campaign was long and rather divisive and it is quite likely they might lose this time by a larger margin and effectively take the question off the table for a very long time.

    Nothing has changed in TPTB that would alter its partiality on top of which the party would be open to the charge of repeatedly asking the same question until they get the answer they want.

    The demand should come from the Scottish people, not the SNP.

  • davidb


    Ah but, theres a precedent now being set by Wastemonster. You can restrict the electorate on a whim. Whats sauce for the goose…

  • Innes

    I’m not interested in material changes, I am interested in winning a second independence referendum. I can’t see why a second independence referendum before 2020 would be a Yes and therefore I am opposed to it at this time. Let’s see Yes at 60%, then we can have a referendum.

  • Muscleguy

    I too would ideally like 60% but I fear that as the polls trend towards 55% the voices will get louder and more strident for another referendum. Waiting for 60% would be hard to do and the resulting furore might even set the cause back. Which is why I plump for over 55%.

  • Phil

    “Which leads me to say that I have decided to put myself forward again for vetting to be an SNP candidate, for the Holyrood election.”

    Well that bandwagon is probably more rewarding than a paypal button. Outrageous I hear! Our hero is above troughing. That’s what the “evil” people do. And our hero is not evil. Never was. I mean, isn’t any more. You know what I mean. Sure he did once trough. He swanned about the globe selling imperialism but he is now reformed and no longer susceptible to the trappings of power. That’s what evil people are.

    I’ve missed this.

  • Habbabkuk (la vita è bella)


    “..and with levels of SNP political dominance historically unlikely to be exceeded in any pluralist democratic system,…”


    I note with interest that you have – for the moment at least- come round to seeing the advantages of the current first-past-the-post electoral system.

  • jools

    If the argument is ‘We’re going to be poorer under the Tories anyway’, that won’t swing the NO voters, many of whom are not affected by any cuts. No matter that many have been appalled at governments actions and interventions on the world stage, any positive economic argument for Independence hasn’t convinced the majority. What’s changed?

  • Jim Lamb

    Before we think of the next indyref we’d better get our macro economic policy sorted and watertight too, as that’s what killed us. No point going for it otherwise as the media will do us like they did last time. Get that sorted at conference and then let’s go after it, proper.

  • Habbabkuk (la vita è bella)


    Actually, the whole post was interesting….and a little touching I wish you good luck any way.

    Two points:

    1/. Am I correct in thinking that you see the SNP “central committee” vetting process in respect of your intended candidature (transparency of process and its outcome)as a touchstone for whether the SNP should be seen as “a political party that genuinely welcomes internal debate and differing shades of belief of those sincerely attached to Scottish independence, and can accommodate in particular those of an independent frame of mind who will not guarantee always under any circumstance to do what they are told.”?

    2/. Are the comments in the first half of the last paragraph of your post deliberately designed to test the limits of the SNPs vetters’ tolerance?

  • L Thomson

    I agree with Jools & Jim but would ad that there is No voters that would be afected by a YES vote they call themselfs SNPOUT I got into debate with one of them I found out he was a professor at edinburgh lab for medical research, they only think about themselfs and how they can keep there wealth.

  • Muscleguy

    @L Thomson
    As a former Biomedical Scientist I know there is an opinion amongst a number of others that they fear that Independence will cut them off from funding. I understand that but do not see how it is definite. For a start during the negotiations for independence Scotland cannot negotiate to stay plugged into the Research Councils by paying into them as Westminster does, pro rata. Also Scotland researchers get 10% more than our population would justify in terms of winning funding. However since Scotland produces 10% above the UK average in terms of GDP then iScotland could easily afford to continue that level of funding on its own were that necessary. My no voting wife who works in university admin fears for her job under indy as though education were not woven through the Scottish psyche, she is English born but brought up in NZ like me she does not understand Scotland properly. I cannot conceive of iScotland not funding the universities properly. Ditto science. We have such a rich heritage of science and invention. It is the golden goose that has underlain much of our prosperity.

  • Kempe

    This would be the CND that supports Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear programme but vehemently opposes the UK having one. Somehow Iran has overcome all the intractable problems such as waste and the threat of terrorism that make nuclear power unacceptable.

  • Tony_0pmoc

    Craig, I am with you on Scottish Independence, but only because it might potentially offer a real resistance to what is in effect neocon control of all Western Governments including the EU, and the Mainstream Media.

    As you are a committed Globalist, and major EU supporter, I find both your and the SNP’s Scottish Nationalism, rather contradictory and difficult to understand. You then come out with this “I abhor the creed of Democratic Centralism”.

    I abhor all kinds of MASSIVE Centralist control, because what you in effect end up with is an Incompetent Dictatorship…regardless of the political Label.

    The real reason, why we – the entire Western World – is in its current dire state, is due to one Massive Event – that literally changed everything.

    I guess I knew on the day, but couldn’t prove it. It was an enormous psychological shock to me as much as anyone, and when this happens, it is a quite normal human reaction, for normal, rational, cognitive analysis to be suspended, particularly if “Authority” is immediately explaining to you, very repetitively an explanation for these events.

    Whilst I was shocked on the day, I was even more shocked in February 2003. I was at work at the time – and saw the videos again, together with a detailed breakdown, using basic physics and maths, that proved conclusively to me, that the Official US Government Story was impossible. This had such an enormous emotional shock on me, that I felt as if someone had literally kicked me very hard in the guts. I assumed everyone would realise it when they saw the evidence….even if they had little basic knowledge of physics. But I was incredibly naive. I told absolutely everyone I knew….It was the worst thing I could do. Instead of what was a meteoric rise at work, resulted in everyone thinking I was having a Nervous Breakdown. I told all my family and friends as well..and no one believed me…except one person…who is a French architect. He actually designs and builds the bloody things.

    So eventually, I learned to keep quite. I still lost my job, but that is because I pleaded to leave after being completely humiliated.

    Some people can’t take the truth. All these things are related…including your desire for Scottish Independence. I just wonder how you felt about that 20 years ago.

    Meanwhile, when it all gets to me, because it is incredibly depressing, and I do understand people wanting to remain innocent…because the truth is so hard to take..I hear a song on the radio like this…and it makes me fell a lot better.

    “Paolo Nutini – Iron Sky [Abbey Road Live Session]”


  • Republicofscotland

    That’s the spirit Craig,I too feel it’s getting close to the right time to push for independence,I think it will be included in the SNP’s 2016 manifesto.

    The problem I forsee though is this,did the Labour voters in Scotland only lend their votes to the SNP,because they liked what they heard regarding Miliband and Sturgeon,acting together at Westminster to thwart the Tories.

    Or do the Labour voters who backed the SNP at the GE,genuinely want independence. Timing is eveything in politics,you only have to look at the Tories selling of the last of the Royal Mail to see how quietly its being done.

  • Habbabkuk (la vita è bella)

    “Ah but, theres a precedent now being set by Wastemonster. You can restrict the electorate on a whim. Whats sauce for the goose…”

    If the “precedent” referred to is the electorate for the referendum on EU membership the the above comment is egregiously silly and misguided.

    This is because the “precedent” is no precedent at all – the electorate for the EU referendum is the electorate that has the vote in UK general elections – no more and no less.

    Pay attention, poster “Davidb” !!

  • Republicofscotland

    As for Royalty,and NATO,ffor me once old Lizzie kicks the bucket,I think Scotland should have a vote on retaining the monarchy,with a view to ditching it for good.

    NATO in my opinion again is a somewhat tainted organization,and largely controlled by the greatest warmonger in history (Britain apart) the USA.

    Sweden and Ireland, seem to get along just fine without being members of NATO,and so could Scotland.

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