by Colin Fox, RISE lead candidate for the Lothians
“A second referendum on independence will almost certainly be demanded if the UK votes to leave the EU against Scotland’s wishes,” insisted First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the Andrew Marr programme recently. Comparing David Cameron’s position to King Canute, Alex Salmond claimed the Tories would be “unable to hold back the tide of Scottish public opinion” on the matter.
That would seem a reasonable claim given the gulf between what Scotland wants and what we get. But on reflection there are more holes in the SNP’s case than on Donald Trump’s Aberdeenshire Golf courses.
For they appear to be conceding that if English voters opt to remain in the EU—and the latest polls suggest they will—indyref2 will be off the table and demands for it demobilised once again.
There was a time when the SNP claimed winning a majority of MPs at Westminster was a mandate for independence. There was also a time when winning a majority at Holyrood was deemed a mandate. Not anymore.
Their Brexit scenario raises more questions than it answers. How for example is a second referendum to take place when the power to grant it remains with Westminster?
Is Nicola Sturgeon seriously expecting the Tory right in their Brexit hour of triumph to concede Scots another chance to break up the British state? After they had been assured the matter had been resolved for a generation? Not a chance.
Boris Johnston, the likely Tory leader by then, would accuse Nicola Sturgeon of refusing to abide by two democratic votes she’d lost. More worryingly, they might call her bluff. For they will have noticed she did not seek, nor secure, a mandate for indyref2 in her Holyrood election manifesto six weeks earlier.
For fear of losing their overall majority at Holyrood the SNP barely mentions independence, clearly believing it unpopular in many quarters. They have barely defended the cause over the past two years amid the collapse in North Sea oil prices.
And with Scotland about to suffer another round of SNP spending cuts, no one in the Yes camp believes we would win another vote in these circumstances.
Moreover, EU membership is not the issue to precipitate indyref2. Many Yes voters will oppose it this time round if the UK is outside the EU and Scotland too. Indyref2 must be fought on bread and butter issues, on the economy, on working people’s living standards and on freeing Scotland from Tory rule. If there were an ‘unstoppable’ desire to hold a second referendum after such an EU vote, we would lose it. And that would be fatal for the independence movement.
So Nicola Sturgeon must resist the temptation. It should not be difficult. She resisted it in May 2015 when Scotland sent 56 SNP MPs out of 59 to Westminster. She resisted it when Cameron took us to war in Syria. She resists it as we run up to the Holyrood elections despite forecasts of an SNP landslide.
If they win another majority it will be because the prevalent mood in Scotland is anti-Tory, not pro-SNP. And there is a huge difference.
It will not be ‘their record in government since 2007’ people support—for that is mediocre to be sure. People are unhappy at the austerity, casualisation, poverty wages and economic insecurity attributable to the Tories. With the demise of the Labour Party, the SNP are the default anti-Tory option. But the nationalists woo conservative ‘middle Scotland’ who happily vote for their brand of managerialism but not independence.
This contradiction is not just a dilemma for the SNP. It revisits the conflict the Yes movement never resolved, between the SNP’s core message that independence offers a non-threatening future to the well off—keep the pound, keep the Queen, retain low taxes for the wealthy, remain in the EU, remain in NATO—and the message the SSP and others emphasised that it was about profound change involving significant redistribution of wealth, an end to corporate control over our economy, an end to vested privilege, extending equality, economic justice and democracy and jettisoning conservative values.
Despite the SNP, independence remains the elephant in the room in these elections. It is the only option we have of getting rid of the Tories and their policies in Scotland.
The Radical Independence Conference in Edinburgh examined why the SNP is so cautious on independence. In the session ‘Routes to Independence’ I highlighted RISE’s promise of a second vote on independence within the lifetime of this Parliament at a time of our choosing. If no majority materialises, I added, we will not call it. But if one does emerge we will have secured the political mandate to press for it.
The conference also heard how the movement might pursue other options if indyref2 is closed off to us including a campaign of civil disobedience, an economic boycott, protest rallies and plans to revive the cross-party Scottish Independence Convention founded by the SSP, Greens and the SNP in 2005.