In recent months, the SNP have apparently been engaging in a listening exercise. There have apparently been events with members of the SNP listening and engaging with non SNP members in an attempt to argue the case for Independence. There has also been an online survey as well, one where there has been speculation about the results ever seeing the light of day. Both the survey and the concurrent listening exercise come to mind in a week where two poll’s were published showing that support for Independence has dropped to below the ‘hallowed’45% achieved in the September 2014 referendum.
|The First Minister with the EU's chief negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt|
Whilst pro-Union supporters like Hague and company would like to think that this is the result of pro-Independence supporters coming to their senses and understanding that an Independent Scotland would be bankrupt thanks to the huge deficit (and for fans of that kind of fiction, there’s another piece of that ilk in the Spectator this week), I suspect that there’s something else going on. I think that people have not taken kindly to the First Minister’s interpretation of ‘material change’ and application of that to a result where only 62% voted to remain.
Why pro-Unionist supporters are wrong in that it’s the economy at play here is two fold. Firstly, anyone who believes in Independence will understand that the deficit will be there but that we Scot’s will decide in the maiden Scottish General Election how our economic affairs are to be managed, deficit or not. Whilst Hague does us all a service in flagging up the state of the Scottish economy, the conclusion I take is not that we can’t but that we should and that radical surgery is required. Surgery that some shirk from. The second reason is that the pro-Union parties haven’t changed their tactics regarding the constitution. Their tactics are to flag up the cons with Independence, relentlessly and in an utterly negative fashion. ‘Project Fear’ is still alive and well and has kind of mutated into ‘SNP Bad’. Of course, there are criticisms that you can make of the current SNP administration, most of them surrounding their timid and conservative policy prospectus. But to criticise for the sake of it, with no thought to any constructive form is politically dumb. The sort of political dumbness that Scottish Labour have attempted to make into an art form, which explains why they’ve been eclipsed by the shameless bandwagon jumping Ruth Davidson Party. If I could turn back time indeed… The only set of tactics that have changed since the Holyrood elections have been those of the SNP.
While the SNP did have a good EU Referendum, and history has shown how wise it was for them not to take part in the official ‘Remain’ campaign, they have since June somewhat overplayed their hand. As I’ve said before, when you consider how embarrassingly poor and offensive the official Leave campaign was, then 62% seems rather low. At the time I thought that the pro-EU vote needed to be at the very least 65% for the SNP to have any credibility when it came to claiming a material change. I think that 62% is made up of genuine EU enthusiasts and also people who voted against both the Leave vision of ‘Brexit’ as well as the campaign itself. Those people may be Eurosceptic but unable to vote for such a right wing campaign – hardly “being ripped out of the EU against our will”. If anyone wonders why Eurosceptic’s would vote to remain, have a look at both Owen Jones and Paul Mason’s pieces this year – both are opposed to the European Union’s current direction of travel and both advocated hold your nose and vote remain.
While the SNP have continued to talk up the likely prospect of a second Independence referendum, the pretext for that shows that they have failed to learn their lessons from the first Independence referendum. Up till Osborne gave us the infamous “Sermon on the Pound” (© Iain McWhirter), the SNP and Yes Scotland were being battered over those currency plans and their plans to ‘retain Scotland’s membership of the EU’. Those two policy pronouncements from the SNP led to people like myself wondering what the point of Independence was then if we would be handing power back to the Bank of England and the EU. The pro-Independence supporters that are vocal about wanting rid of Westminster rule appear ignorant of the by-product of Salmond & Swinney’s ‘back of a fag packet’ Sterlingzone proposals. A Fiscal Pact would have ensued with the Bank of England having a degree of control over an Independent Scotland with the core aim ensuring the value of Sterling and making sure an Independent Scotland kept within spending and borrowing targets.
Not that the EU were showing signs of being interested in bringing us straight into the EU, with both Barroso and Rompuy both parroting the line that Scotland would have to wait in line to apply for EU membership and that being good little Europeans would not be sufficient. At the time I’d though that there would have been three countries that would have blocked I-Scotland’s application. Had we voted for Independence, we would have left the EU, having just voted to split from a country with its name on the various treaties with the EU. In this respect, the Better Together campaign were entirely correct in their synopsis of Yes Scotland’s arguments – it’s just that the form of works they choose has now become a hostage to fortune thanks to that EU referendum result.
There are some pro-Independence supporters though for whom exit from the EU was an attractive prospect. If Independence could be though of as ‘Taking back control’, then doing so outside of the sphere of influence of the EU would be Independence Max – with full control over policy areas such as agriculture, fisheries, and the economy. Let’s not forget that the Michael Ashcroft post EU Referendum poll showed that 35% of SNP voters voted against their parties’ line by voting to leave the EU. Maybe some of those voters did it tactically to sabotage the Union. The voters that genuinely are Eurosceptic must be exasperated at the SNP’s constant cheerleading of a project increasingly pro-Thatcherite in it’s policymaking. It was the EU (alongside the ECB) which forced Greece to sell off it’s publicly owned assets at knock down price. Alternatively known as ‘making Greece TTIP compliant’. It’s also the EU, through the Lisbon Treaty, which seeks liberalisation of markets previously closed off to publicly owned companies. The SNP seem content to toe the party line when it comes to outsourcing, but go quiet when re-nationalisation comes up. Like with the current hot topic, Scotland’s railways.
In looking at what has happened to both sides of the constitutional debate, it is only the post EU Referendum tactical change from the SNP which can account for the drop in support for Independence. Sturgeon’s misguided belief that only pro-Union Little Englanders back Brexit looks more and more like beliefs that have clouded her judgment at best, and at worst forced a tactical blunder that pleases only the pro-Unionists. By tying the question of Independence to membership of the EU, the SNP have backed into a cul-de-sac on an issue that only the one eyed pro-Indy supporters back wholeheartedly. The SNP hierarchy have unnecessarily caused a split in the ranks of pro-Independence supporters and with the use straight away of the threat to hold a second referendum, the SNP have unnecessarily played their only card too early and in the face of a democratic result that has gone against the SNP’s own wishes. If a second Independence referendum is lost, Sturgeon’s reaction to the Brexit vote might be seen as the moment that kept Scotland in the Great British bosom.