I flew back from Amsterdam yesterday after a month spent campaigning for Julian Assange, much of it organisational rather than public. Seeing Scotland with perspective after a month away really brings home the astonishing state of Scottish politics, particularly around the Independence movement.
Support for Independence is as consistently high as it has ever been. Polls this last six months have varied between Yes lead and No lead, but almost all have been in the 48‒52 region for either side, i.e. a tie within the margin of error.
The Unionist vote continues to be very heavily weighted by older people – in this YouGov poll the 65+ age group are 72‒28 Unionist, and that is very much in line with the 2014 referendum and all polling since.
It is not unreasonable to conclude that the slow upward trend in the Independence vote since 2014 is a result of new 16- to 24-year-olds becoming eligible at 60% Independence support, replacing 72% Unionist voters who leave us.
It makes more sense that Unionism relates to a generation’s experience of the Second World War and its aftermath and the last days of Empire, rather than being a form of mental decline that awaits everybody as you get older – though the Project Fear pensions scare tactics of the unionists will have played a part.
I am fascinated by the volume of churn. According to this poll – and it is not an outlier in this respect – 20% of 2014 No voters have switched to Yes, but 17% of Yes voters have switched to No.
That is a remarkable level of volatility. The extraordinary campaign gain of 15 percentage points by Yes in 2014 is therefore certainly repeatable. I would argue that the overwhelmingly unionist ambient media, absent any Independence campaigning, means that a campaign by both sides could only lead to a swing in one direction.
But the paradox which is much more interesting is that there has been a very significant opinion poll swing of support away from the SNP, ostensibly the party of Independence, without any commensurate drop in support for Independence.
This has not been accompanied by any significant growth in support for other pro-Independence parties, including Alba.
The answer to this conundrum is fascinating. There remains massive support for Scottish Independence among Labour voters in Scotland.
I have this last ten years pointed out from time to time that, very consistently, opinion polls in Scotland show about a quarter of Labour Party voters in Scotland support Independence. The obvious explanation of the current surge in Labour support while support for Independence remains firm, is that this percentage has increased.
About one third of those intending to vote Labour in this recent YouGov poll, voted for Independence in 2014.
If I may be so presumptuous as to explain what you are looking at, in a sample of 1103 Scottish adults, approximately 440 both said they were intending to vote Labour at the UK General Election, and were prepared to say how they voted in the 2014 referendum.
Of these Labour voters, approximately 297 had voted No and approximately 143 had voted Yes. The Labour Party needs to accommodate itself to the Independence support in its own ranks.
In another specific question the poll shows that 40% of Labour voters in Scotland support a second referendum in the next five years. That will be difficult to manage for uber-conservative Starmer once the Establishment get him into Number 10.
The poll throws up some more interesting reflections on the complexities of Scottish politics. Only 78% of SNP voters would definitely vote for Independence, a factor which plainly looms large in the mind of their careerist MPs.
40% of Green voters oppose Independence. Independence is supported by a significantly higher proportion of Reform UK voters than Green voters. I still haven’t quite got my head round who Reform UK are, and why they feature in polls. Has anybody ever actually met one of them?
The SNP is now looking to move on from the Sturgeon debacle, with a leadership and party machine absolutely dedicated to denial that she did nothing to attempt to achieve Independence, while splitting the party by her extreme identity politics ideology.
It is interesting that the haemorrhage of party members from the SNP preceded the haemorrhage of public support – I suppose the members had a closer view of the abandonment of effort on Independence – but the public have now definitely caught up.
So the SNP are faced with an obvious strategic need to re-establish the connection between voting SNP and Independence. This has led to a very strange outcome. Firstly, the much vaunted special party convention in Dundee to debate the issue decided – nothing whatsoever. It didn’t really debate the issue, rather being a procession of leadership-directed drones.
The SNP is now sending out an entirely mixed message. It is doubling down on the Sturgeon identity politics agenda – pursuing gender recognition reform forlornly through the courts, and astonishingly pressing ahead with its crazed proposal to abolish jury trials in sexual assault cases. The rationale for this appears to be that all men are evil, so if you send some innocent ones to jail it’s all good anyway.
On top of which the SNP has suspended Angus Brendan MacNeil MP and Fergus Ewing MSP, for the crime of entering politics to further the cause of Independence, rather than to take some kind of continuous assessment programme in political correctness.
So Sturgeonite business as usual appears to be underway. Then suddenly Humza Yousaf pulled a six-foot rabbit named Harvey right out of the hat, by endorsing a plan that if the next Westminster general election returns a majority of SNP MPs, then the UK government would be invited to open negotiations on Independence.
Which is, on the face of it, quite a shock. A majority of MPs could be attained on 40% or even less of the popular vote. This linking of the inadequacies of First Past The Post elections with Independence potentially hoists the unionists with their own petard – but what does Yousaf really mean?
A fundamental question is how this is different to asking for an S30 order for a referendum. The SNP position is that, if Westminster refuses an S30, that just has to be accepted as Westminster is sovereign.
So the 600 billion dollar question is this: what does Yousaf do when Westminster simply says “no” to his request to open negotiations?
Because the truth is, without a threat of simply declaring independence and standing on Scotland’s right of self-determination, Yousaf’s new position simply amounts to stopping begging London on his knees for an S30 Order, and begging London on his knees for negotiations instead.
There is enormous distrust of Yousaf’s motives in the Independence movement. By making the criterion the election of SNP MP’s – as opposed to a majority of votes for Independence-supporting parties – Yousaf has provided, in theory, an answer to that burning question of how the SNP re-aligns the Independence vote to itself.
Not only does he provide a motive for those Independence supporting Labour voters to back the SNP, he also builds a powerful defence against other Independence supporting parties – Alba, ISP and in a lesser sense the Greens.
If Yousaf meant his new policy, this could obviously deter other Independence supporting parties from standing candidates against the SNP and splitting the vote, fatal under FPTP.
I have personally so far taken the view that Alba must stand against the SNP because the SNP has zero intention of progressing Independence, and Alba must ultimately supplant it. But if the SNP were saying a majority of SNP MPs would be taken as a mandate for Independence, I might feel compelled to support them and not split the vote; there are a number of key constituencies where even 2 or 3% to Alba could cost the SNP the seat.
But the difficulty here is that Yousaf does not seem to say an SNP majority would be a mandate for Independence: he seems to be saying that it would be a mandate for negotiations. That appears something of a straw man – hopefully the upcoming SNP conference might provide some clarity about what this means, but plainly the ambiguity to date is deliberate.
Yousaf is to be congratulated on tactical cunning. His posturing has put many of his radical pro-Independence opponents like me into a false position.
Having for years criticised the SNP for doing nothing to forward Independence, many now find themselves echoing unionist concerns that a majority of seats through FPTP is not a sufficient mandate and that the bar should be higher.
I however would be perfectly happy with the Yousaf formula – if I believed he meant it.
My conclusion from all this is that Alex Salmond is a far better political strategist than I am. That is of course obvious, but I am occasionally guilty of thinking myself more clever than I am.
While I have been pushing that genuine Independence supporters must commit to fighting the SNP everywhere, Salmond has kept his powder dry, refraining from standing in the coming by-election humiliation of the SNP in Rutherglen, and continuing to plug his proposal for an electoral alliance of pro-Independence parties, despite its contemptuous rejection by the SNP.
The advantage of this is that Salmond is not wrong-footed by Yousaf’s apparent conversion to radical pro-Independence action. He has his powder dry to move either way.
I confess I am wrong-footed. I don’t believe in Yousaf’s good faith; but it is not a convincing electoral position to tell people not to vote for the SNP as the established pro-Independence party in order to further Independence, when the SNP do actually for once take a radical Independence position.
It will be an interesting autumn.
I was talking yesterday to SNP MP Tommy Sheppard about an immigration case where I am helping one of his constituents. I found myself wishing that we were back in the halcyon days of 2014 when we were all working together in a good cause. Tommy features in the photo that is still atop my personal Facebook page.
I cannot understand what drives the SNP to expend all its energy on culture wars issues. If the SNP is serious about attaining Independence in the short term, can it not put its culture wars agenda on ice, as matters to be decided in an Independent Scotland?
But they plough on regardless. This is campaigning yesterday in the Rutherglen byelection.
📣 “We’ve got a real chance to send a shockwave in this community and send a message that we reject Brexit and Westminster austerity.”
— Olaf Stando 🌻 (@OlafSNP) September 30, 2023
The flags are not saltires. The core message does not include Independence. The SNP is simply determined to make life impossible for those of us who dearly wish to bring the Independence movement together again.
I find it impossible to believe that the SNP is not under the control of the UK security services. No other explanation of the party’s bizarre and counterproductive behaviour makes any sense.
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