No doubt the SNP, and many in the Yes movement, will be celebrating the Times poll which confirms that the party is on course to secure significant gains at both Westminster and Holyrood. No doubt Professor John Curtice will be widely quoted, having stated that “it can no longer be presumed that Scotland would vote No again in an independence ballot”. No doubt the implications of the poll’s findings on support for independence will be quietly swept under the carpet.
After five tumultuous years culminating in a far-right British government led by Boris Johnson pursuing a potentially catastrophic agenda, support for independence remains static. At 49% Yes versus 51% No it only just avoids being within margin of error of the 2014 result. What does this say about the SNP’s strategy over this five year period? I suggest it says nothing at all flattering.
Looking back over those five years it seems that pretty much everything that has happened – and everything that has been done by the British political elite – should have benefitted the independence cause massively. If the polls are to be believed, the cause has benefited not at all. We are entitled to ask why. We are entitled to wonder how it is possible that so many opportunities could have been missed and so many openings left unexploited and so much time squandered.
And still, despite this and other evidence that its approach has been totally ineffective, the SNP leadership stubbornly insists on sticking to the same strategy. Although the term ‘strategy’ is used here only in the loosest of senses as there is no clearly identifiable plan. To all appearances, the SNP administration has simply been dragged along in the wake of a British state accelerating towards a political, diplomatic and economic black hole of its own making.
Were this scenario part of a movie script the plot-line would be discarded as too implausible. It is simply not credible that the events of the past five years could have had no impact whatsoever on the constitutional issue. The writers would have been told to go back to their keyboards and think again. Unless, of course, this was a dramatic device intended to convey monumental failure on the part of the SNP.
Maybe the polls are wrong. I’m sure that claim is already permeating social media. Perhaps all the polls are wrong. Perhaps the implausible hasn’t happened at all and the events of the past five years have had an impact on public attitudes which isn’t being reflected in the polls. Aye! Maybe that’s it! Maybe all the polls have been rigged!
Or maybe not.
Deploy Occam’s often inconvenient razor and we are left with but one explanation for the lack of movement in the polls – nothing has been done that would make them move. One their own, political developments do not necessarily have a direct effect on public opinion. It very much depends on the nature of the development and, perhaps more crucially, the perception of it once the facts have been filtered and manipulated by the media. Ensuring a desired impact requires purposeful action every bit as much as ensuring little or no impact. Somebody has to make something of it or others can easily make nothing of it.
In all of the five years since the 2014 election I can think of only one occasion when the SNP has purposefully and effectively exploited a situation. That was when the Westminster group staged a walkout in protest at the British government’s seizure of powers returning from the EU which rightfully should have gone to the devolved administrations.
That’s it! There’s been nothing else. Lots of speeches condemning this and that. Countless Tweets ‘slamming’ one thing or another. But no concerted, coordinated, coherent strategy to exploit the myriad instances in which the British political elite rendered itself vulnerable. Nothing to grab the public’s attention, never mind its sympathy.
I don’t say all this in a spirit of condemnation. Although I realise that it will almost inevitably be received that way – if only because a condemnatory tone is all but impossible to avoid in the circumstances. What I intend is constructive criticism. What I hope is that the SNP leadership will, even at this late stage, accept that ‘playing nice’ is not working. What I hope is that they will at last start listening to those who are urging a change of tactics.
What I hope for from the Scottish Government is less accommodation and more confrontation. Less compliance and more defiance. Less complacency and more urgency. Less talk and more action.
What I anticipate, regretfully, is more of the evidently ineffectual same.
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