Winning a de facto referendum is within our grasp

A major new poll for The National has found that a clear majority of voters would back pro-independence parties if the next UK General Election were to be used as a de facto independence referendum. In such a scenario total of 54.4% of voters would give their votes to either the SNP, the Scottish Greens, or Alba, bringing about a reversal of the 2014 independence referendum result, described at the time by the BBC as ‘decisive’.

I do not propose to rehash the arguments for engineering an early Holyrood election versus using a UK General Election as a de facto referendum, both options have their advantages and disadvantages, as I have already detailed at some length here :

What this poll demonstrates is that using a UK General Election as a de facto referendum could be a winning strategy. The poll does not seem to ask about voting intention in an early Holyrood election fought as a de facto referendum, so it’s not possible to pass comment on whether that would win a majority for independence. The option of engineering an early Holyrood election is not amongst those being voted upon by SNP members at the party’s special conference in March, and so it is vanishingly unlikely to happen, no matter how much its advocates might wish it were otherwise.

The strategy being put to the SNP conference sees a three pronged attack on Westminster intransigence. Firstly to use the next UK General Election as a de facto independence referendum, should the SNP together with any other parties standing on a platform for independence win a majority of votes cast, this will be regarded as a mandate for independence and for the Scottish Government to open negotiations with Westminster to secure independence. Secondly, if the threshold of an absolute majority of votes cast is not met, but the SNP wins the election in terms of being the party with most seats and greatest vote share, this will be taken as a mandate for another independence referendum and the Scottish Government and the SNP will seek a transfer of powers to Holyrood in order to bring about the referendum. Thirdly, if Westminster continues to ignore Scottish democracy and refuses to facilitate another independence referendum, then the next scheduled Holyrood election will become a de facto independence referendum.

The significance of today’s poll is that it demonstrates that achieving a majority of votes cast for the pro independence parties at the next UK General Election may not be the insurmountable hurdle that some have feared. The poll found that the SNP alone could surpass the 50% threshold with 52% of votes cast, if replicated at a General Election this could see the SNP sweep the board.

The Conservatives poll especially badly in this poll, losing votes to both Labour and the frothing English nationalists of the Reform party and polling an embarrassing 12%. The Conservatives are looking at the very real possibility of a repeat of the UK General Election of 1997, when they were annihilated in Scotland and lost every one of their Scottish MPs. Indeed the Tories could be left to deal with even greater humiliation. In 1997 they polled 17.5% of votes cast in Scotland. This poll suggests that they will be lucky to come close to that next time round. They could be in for an electoral oblivion that would see the end of the Conservatives as a significant political force in Scotland for decades to come. It’s a punishment which would be richly deserved for a party which has treated Scotland and Scottish democracy with the utmost contempt and which has systematically trashed every promise and commitment which it made to the people of Scotland in 2014 in order to win that year’s independence referendum even as it hypocritically demands that the SNP ‘respects’ the result of the referendum, presumably by not asking the people of Scotland if they believe that the Better Together parties have fulfilled their end of the bargain that they struck with the electorate of Scotland.

It’s not democracy that the Conservatives want, it’s a permanent get out of jail free card. It’s up to all of us to ensure that they don’t get one. Although this opinion poll is very encouraging, the independence movement needs to cease its internal arguments about process, which do absolutely nothing to persuade undecided voters and soft noes why they should support democracy in Scotland. Democracy in this country can can only be secured by supporting independence.

After the SNP special conference in March the process will be clear, the focus must then be on co-ordinating efforts in order to maximise the pro-independence vote in the face of a largely hostile media. So it is welcome that senior figures in the SNP such as veteran MP Pete Wishart are calling for a cross movement and cross party Independence Convention to mobilise and co-ordinate the grass roots campaign and to establish a campaign headquarters and structure which will involve all pro independence political parties prepared to contest the General Election as a de facto independence referendum. This body, says Wishart, “Must be inclusive, consensual and community based.”

There remains a huge amount of work to do, but this is a very positive development. It would help to ensure that all pro independence parties and organisations are working toward the common goal of winning a mandate from the people of Scotland for independence even as they maintain their individual identities and points of view. If nothing else it could help bring about an end to the counter productive sniping which sees certain supposedly pro independence activists and groups devote the majority of their time and efforts to attacking others within the independence movement for ‘doing independence wrong.’  Instead we should be trying to reach out from within the confines of those who are convinced Yes voters in order to make arguments that can persuade those vital undecideds and soft No voters to support independence. The real enemies of independence are not other independence supporters, they are the Conservatives and their allies. It’s high time we took the fight to them.


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