Saturday, 7 June 2014

A vote for independence is a vote for the SNP


I’ve long been of the opinion that the SNP are in the business of hiding the truth from the Scottish people. This isn’t because they are bad people or anything like that, it’s because they believe passionately in Scottish independence, but know that people who share this belief are in a minority in Scotland. Less than a third of the Scottish population consistently support independence come what may and this figure has remained steady for years. These are the core SNP supporters, the people we meet online, who have believed in the SNP vision all their lives, who are desperate to win Scottish independence. I’m often impressed by their sincerity. They campaign effectively and they are very well organized. They are well funded too. They all know that the task is to convert the core nationalist support into 50% plus one vote. So they need to convert around 20% of Scots to their cause. This 20% are, of course, not SNP supporters; they may even be opposed to the SNP, but they need to be persuaded. How do you go about it?

The first thing you do is pretend that a vote for independence is not a vote for the SNP. Lots of Scots are put off by the SNP. I’m often struck by how many independence supporters object to being called nationalists. They seem blissfully unaware that one of the meanings of the word “nationalist” is someone who supports independence. Well then what is someone who is Scottish and supports independence other than a Scottish nationalist? This isn’t in any sense pejorative, but is an accurate description of someone’s political beliefs.  Ever since I can remember, to describe someone as a Scottish nationalist is to describe someone who supports the SNP, just as to describe someone as a Welsh nationalist is to describe someone who supports Plaid Cymru. People who support Welsh independence, but don’t support Plaid Cymru must be about as rare in Wales as dragons.  

One of the ways the SNP have set about trying to pretend that a vote for independence is not a vote for the SNP is by erecting a curtain between themselves and the independence campaign. This curtain is called Yes Scotland. But it’s rather like in the Wizard of Oz; in the end we find out who’s pulling the levers. Let’s look at who makes up Yes Scotland. The political parties that support Yes Scotland are the SNP, the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party and Solidarity. The Scottish Socialists won 0.4 % in the last Holyrood election, Solidarity won 0.14 %, while the Greens won 4.4 % up from the 0.7% they had won at the previous General election.  By any normal standard these are minor parties. They have no chance of forming a government either in Scotland or the UK. Moreover even they realise that Yes Scotland is a front for the SNP.  Mr Harvie the Greens leader has described it as "entirely an SNP vehicle."

Naturally lots of people who previously have voted for other parties will vote Yes. But on what basis are they voting Yes? I assume it must be on the basis that they believe what is contained in the White Paper, Scotland’s Future. But who wrote Scotland’s Future? It was the Scottish Government which is made up exclusively of SNP members of the Scottish parliament. They are not in coalition with anyone as they won an absolute majority. Scotland’s Future is full of SNP policies many of them not shared by other parties and certainly not by other major parties. So clearly if I were to vote for Scotland’s Future, I would be voting for the SNP. It’s their manifesto after all. To suggest that someone can support a manifesto without supporting the party that wrote it is ludicrous.

When I was growing up in Scotland everyone knew which party supported independence. I can remember when they were a tiny party, but then they found their defining slogan “It’s Scotland’s oil” and they gradually became more popular. I remember when they opposed the Scottish Constitutional Convention and were against devolution because it wasn’t what they wanted. People who supported independence voted for the SNP, people who didn’t voted for Labour, the Liberals or the Conservatives.  The only party that has campaigned for independence for all of my life is the SNP. But now suddenly when there’s a referendum I’m supposed to believe that voting for independence is not a vote for the SNP? Well I’m sorry. I can see through the curtain. I know who’s pulling the levers.

Imagine if there were a policy that the Conservatives had which no other major party shared. Suppose, for instance, that they proposed reunification with the USA so that Britain would become the 51st State. Well let’s say they put it to a referendum with the question “Should Britain become the 51st state of the Union?” and imagine if the Conservatives campaigned for a Yes vote? Imagine if they had campaigned for this for years, but that Labour, the Liberals and the SNP had always opposed them. Well would it not be reasonable under these circumstances to say that a Yes vote would be a vote for the Conservatives? After all they would be the party in government; they would be the party that had always wanted to join the USA. Would it cease to be a vote for the Tories because a few tiny parties decided that they wanted to play the role of полезные дураки [useful fools]? Would it cease to be a vote for the Tories even though they admitted that in future USA elections they might not win?


Independence is the core policy of the SNP. It is the reason the party exists. Indeed the goal of independence is the only reason the SNP has existed since its beginning. In many ways it would be more accurate to describe the SNP as the Scottish Independence Party (SCOTIP). Anyone voting for independence who thinks they are not also voting for the SNP is deluding themselves. 

5 comments:

  1. Another excellent article, that brings up some points that I don't think are often considered.

    If I may play devil's advocate to expand on your points, a common response from Nationalists is that a vote for yes is not a vote for the SNP because after independence you can vote for whatever party you want in the subsequent Scottish General Election.

    To which my response is, why is the date for independence set before the next Scottish elections? Why the compressed 16 month timetable post-referendum until the declaration of independence? When you think about it, it's entirely to the SNP's, not Scotland's benefit:

    Firstly, the referendum is being held this year, rather than last year(which would have given more time for independence negotiations) to give the Yes side maximum chance of winning. No point in having a referendum you can't win. But the SNP know, that post-Yes, negotiations are going to be difficult. Very, very difficult. What happens when it turns out that Osborne and co aren't bluffing and say that, despite everything the SNP said, a currency union isn't going to happen? A lot of Yes voters may not like at all the terms of the deal that will be negotiated, and it's vital for the SNP that the electorate don't get the chance to have a second vote to reverse the Yes, which is what could easily happen if there was a Scottish election before independence.

    So the compressed timetable is to make independence irrevocable, no matter what the terms of separation are. One could argue (and I strongly would) that this is not in Scotland's best interest at all, but for the SNP independence is the answer to everything; they really wouldn't mind if Scotland was significantly worse off. In their hearts, they want a Scottish currency anyway, and borders at Gretna because of Schengen? Bring it on. The average Scottish person may not share these views, but that doesn't matter. Get them to vote Yes now, no matter what, then blame the perfidious English (for not agreeing a fair deal) later.

    And this brings me to my second point. As you say, independence is defined by the White Paper, written by the SNP. No matter what the Yes campaign say about a 'team Scotland', independence will not be negotiated by a cross-party group, it'll be negotiated by the SNP who will hold up the white paper booklet and say "This is what the Scottish people voted for". So things like removal of Nuclear subs from Faslane will be negotiated by a party that believes this to be one of the biggest reasons for independence, versus other parties who may have other more day-to-day priorities. Yes voters should be very aware of this.

    Anyway, my prediction is this (actually my prediction is a 60% No, based on analysis of the "don't know" vote in similar referenda, but let's assume yes for a minute): On occasion of a Yes vote, Westminster will say that they weren't kidding about Currency Union, the EU will say something like "it'll take 3 years for us to fully evaluate and accede Scotland, and that's giving you a fast track", and other negotiations will mean that in March 2016 the SNP will be forced, in the face of massive unpopularity (shipyards closing, banks relocating) in Scotland to either declare UDI (without the consent of Westminster), or run an election campaign against a backdrop of Labour and other parties saying that a vote for them in May 2016 is a vote against the craziness of everything the SNP have wrought, and an end to independence negotiations with a return to some kind of Devo-Extra. I can even see the slogan: "Vote Labour against THIS version of independence". It worked for the Monarchists in Australia, I'm surprised Better Together aren't running that already.

    Anyway, I'm strongly hoping for a convincing No vote. Anything else, and it's not going to be nice for anyone.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for a great comment. I think the vote in September is irreversible whichever way it goes. Cameron said as much a couple of weeks ago. There has been a long standing tradition in the UK to say that independence would be granted to Scotland if the majority said they wanted it, which is right and proper. But this is the chance. This indeed is the final chance. The plan is to offer Scotland considerably more devolution, but the price that will be paid for this is that the UK will become more unified constitutionally. This is the last referendum on independence that Westminster will offer. Of course it's always possible to declare UDI, but it's not really a serious option for a modern Western European country.

    If there were a yes vote that too would be irreversible, even if later it became clear that the Scottish people had changed its mind. There would be one big chance for us to express an opinion between September 2014 and March 2016. The General election of May 2015 could easily turn into a sort of second referendum. But I don't believe it would matter. Cameron has been quite clear on this matter. The referendum in September will be irreversible. It's for this reason above all others that we must treat it as decisive and as a life changing event. We have one chance to get the result we want. For this reason we must put all our efforts into this battle. A vote for Yes even by one vote will lead to independence no matter how badly the divorce negotiations go, no matter how much SNP optimism turns out to be unfounded. They know this. That is why they will promise anything to get that one extra vote they need.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm afraid that's your poorest article and argument to date Effie.

    The question we are being asked in September is "Should Scotland be an independent country?".

    The question could hardly be clearer. It's not a vote for the SNP.

    I can fully understand why you'd like to portray it as such - after all the AV referendum result was seen as voter rebellion against the Liberal Democrats - but your logic is uncharacteristically in error.

    You claim that lots of Scots are put off by the SNP, and that the Yes side needs to gather 20% of voters who are not SNP voters, yet the SNP gained over 44% of the vote in the last Holyrood election. If the Scottish electorate could be nicely placed in the boxes you'd like, that would mean we only need to persuade 6% of the electorate to our side. But we both know that it's not that simple - there are SNP voters who'll vote No, and Labour, Liberal and even Tories who'll vote Yes.

    Voting Yes to "Should Scotland be an independent country?" isn't about voting for the SNP.

    You say that Yes Scotland is just a front for the SNP. Maybe there's some truth to that because of course the SNP is the largest party supporting independence. But a funny thing happened to Yes Scotland after a few months - it lost control of the campaign it's nominally in charge of. The broader Yes campaign has grown from the ground up to such an extent that Yes Scotland is largely irrelevant to it. If, for the sake of argument, both Yes Scotland and the SNP downed tools and decided to do no more campaigning between now and September the campaign would be hardly affected. It's a grass roots movement now, and that's what you're voting for, not Yes Scotland or the SNP.

    Voting Yes to "Should Scotland be an independent country?" isn't about voting for Yes Scotland.

    The White Paper can roughly be split into three parts - an explanation of why Scotland should be independent, an outline of the process of becoming independent if we vote Yes, and a final third which is largely an SNP manifesto explaining what they'd like to do in the event that we vote Yes and that the SNP is re-elected in 2016. This third part is optional for Scotland - we can vote for the Greens, we can vote for whatever the new Scottish Labour party come up with, etc etc.

    Voting Yes to "Should Scotland be an independent country?" isn't about voting for the White Paper.

    I'm happy to be called a nationalist, on the basis of the civic nationalism the SNP espouse. That's my choice. I know of lots of people who are voting Yes simply because they believe government at a closer level will be better. If they don't wish to consider themselves as nationalists that's their choice, and fine by me.

    Voting Yes to "Should Scotland be an independent country?" doesn't mean you're a nationalist.

    But the final error you make is one of omission, and to me it's a glaring one. Like many other members of the SNP, I would be amazed if the party is able to survive in its current form beyond the first term of an independent Scottish parliament. Along with a commitment to get the best deal for Scotland, its remarkable unity at present is down to the shared belief in independence - once that is achieved differences on policies like NATO and the left/right positioning of the party are certain to lead to defections or outright splits.

    However, in the event of a No vote the sophisticated Scottish electorate will continue to vote for the SNP on the simple basis that if you wish the devolved government at Holyrood to stand up for Scotland it's clearly better that government be led by a Scottish party rather than a branch of a party based in London.

    So, voting Yes to "Should Scotland be an independent country?" is simply that.

    But as a side effect, it will abolish the SNP. Voting No will keep a strong SNP indefinitely.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is obviously one we're not going to agree on. Responses I've received from UK supporters have been positive. Naturally independence supporters disagree.

    I think everyone knows that the SNP support in the last Scottish election was a fluke caused by Labour supporters lending their vote as a sort of protest against Blair and Brown. A more realistic level of support was recorded in the recent Euro elections. So I'm not far off in saying the SNP need to add an extra 20 or so percent.

    There are people from all parties who will vote Yes and No. Even some SNP supporters will vote No. But the main group who are targeted by Yes are clearly Labour voters. If the SNP can make sufficient numbers of them switch allegiance albeit temporarily the Yes vote will be in the bag. That's why my side emphasises the connections between SNP and Yes while your side downplays those connections. The bulk of funding for Yes has come from two SNP supporters. The bulk of people actively campaigning for Yes are SNP supporters. But you have to downplay that to win over those who are not SNP supporters. Fair enough its a good tactic.

    I've never understood the idea that someone can want independence but objects to the term nationalist. I keep referring these people to the OED. If people don't wish to follow the meaning of words we may as well go through the looking glass to speak with Humpty Dumpty.

    It's perfectly possible that the SNP would split up after independence, but this is not always the case when parties campaign for independence and then win it. Fianna Fáil were the natural party of government in Ireland for decades because they were associated with winning independence. Something similar can be said for the ANC.

    As always thank you for your comment. I try to campaign in a positive way, pleasant way, but of course supporters of different sides are bound to disagree. What I like best is that your comments are always well thought out and polite. If only everyone on my side would debate in a similar manner.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is an interesting post, but I have to disagree pretty strongly with your comment that 'everyone knows that the SNP support in the last Scottish election was a fluke caused by Labour supporters lending their vote as a sort of protest against Blair and Brown.' Everyone knows nothing of the sort.

    Blair and Brown were not even in power in 2011. A protest vote against them would have been rather an absurdity. I can understanding as a member of Labour that you want it to be about that, but evidence indicates you are deceiving yourself.

    You also tied yourself in knots with some of your other logic. If a vote for the SNP was only a protest vote, then why would one assume that after independence everyone would vote for the SNP? What would be the point of continuing a protest vote against parties in another country?

    What will happen to the SNP when its raison d'être is achieved is an interesting question. I suspect one will have to wait and see, but only if all other political parties somehow disappeared in an independent Scotland could a vote for Scotland to be an independent country be for the SNP. I rather doubt that you are proposing such a thing would happen.

    ReplyDelete