Second best

The idea of a plebiscitary election seems to be gaining traction. It is very much my second choice in terms of how we should proceed. Often it is not the best ideas that win, but the most popular ones. When that happens supporters of the better plan have to accept it and try to make the best of it. And I would be perfectly prepared to do that. Under normal circumstances.

Unfortunately, these are not normal circumstances. We absolutely must proceed on the basis that restoring Scotland’s independence is a matter of the utmost urgency; and that the coming election is our last chance to do it. We cannot afford to get it wrong. We cannot afford to settle for second best.

A plebiscitary election MIGHT work. It MIGHT trigger a process by which Scotland’s independence is restored. But it probably won’t. The most likely outcome would be that we find ourselves back where we are now, but without the prospect of an election which can be used to leverage Scotland’s cause. We’ll know we’ve squandered our final opportunity.

The important thing about the next move is that it must be decisive. It must be conclusive. A plebiscitary election is very, very unlikely to produce such an outcome. Especially if the waters are further muddied by a plethora of snake-oil parties on the regional ballot.

There’s a severe case of disconnected thinking in the plebiscitary election idea. Barrhead Boy’s latest blog article illustrates the point nicely. On the one hand, he insists on a particular course of action having given no informed consideration to the arguments against this course of action or the arguments for an alternative course of action. On the other, he advocates a second – or secondary – course of action such as will serious reduce the likelihood of the first course of action being effective.

The only way a plebiscitary election MIGHT work is if there is ONE party standing on a very explicit independence platform and that party gets a massive majority of the votes. Yet here we have numpties demanding that the 2021 Holyrood be made a plebiscite on independence while also insisting on splitting the vote for independence.

To make things even more bizarre, the people who want to rely on the SNP adopting a very explicit independence platform are the same ones who flatly refuse to even consider the possibility of persuading the SNP away from its current inane approach to the constitutional issue.

The same thing as supposedly makes the #ManifestoForIndepen
dence / #ScottishUDI idea infeasible isn’t even a minor stumbling block when it comes to the idea of a plebiscitary election!

A plebiscitary election is too susceptible to challenge to be as conclusive as the situation requires. If you haven’t identified any ways in which it could be challenged then you haven’t thought it through. The only thing that could make it something like conclusive enough would be an unprecedented landslide for the party representing a vote for independence. The notion that votes for other parties will count is naive to the point of being delusional. We are not independent yet. This is still the British political system. There is only ever one winner. Why is it not obvious that this must be even more true when you make an election a binary choice?

IF the SNP can be persuaded to make the election a binary choice between the Union and independence and IF the SNP makes an appropriate manifesto pledge and IF the SNP then gets >50% of the vote on both ballots, then a plebiscitary election MIGHT be conclusive enough. But probably not.

I was going to go into the ways in which the British would be likely to respond to an attempt to make the coming election an independence plebiscite and their potential responses to various post-election scenarios. But what’s the point. It seems that thinking things through to that extent isn’t very fashionable.

9 thoughts on “Second best

  1. Just for clarity, there is currently only one alternative independence party approved for the May election – the ISP. There may be one other – the AFI – but they are still waiting to hear from the Electoral Commission. No others are seeking approval. That isn’t a “plethora”.

    Peter, you are very good at looking at the likely outcomes of different approaches, and how they might be achieved, so give me your thoughts on this: let’s consider that the SNP improve their result in the constituencies. Knowing how the D’Hondt system works, how would they get any list seats? What is your strategy to get the tens of thousands more votes needed to get even one SNP list seat per region? I have looked at it every way I can, and do not see a practical answer – I’d genuinely be delighted to see what I’m missing.


    1. Among other things, I’ve no doubt, you’re missing the fact that if the SNP win a working majority on the constituency ballot then winning seats on the regional ballot ceases to be important. In those circumstances votes become the most important thing. Especially if there is a possibility of pushing the vote share above 50%.

      The logical conclusion to it all is that if you are prioritising Scotland’s cause then you must maximise the SNP vote on BOTH ballots in case they need list seats and you must maximise the SNP vote on BOTH ballots in case they don’t need list seats.

      Unfortunately, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to see this simple logic while you’re transfixed by the notion of a ‘super-majority’. For present purposes there is NOTHING that requires a qualified majority. A ‘super-majority’ is good for a wee thrill and a few headlines in The National. In terms of realpolitik, it is totally useless. An overall majority of the popular vote, on the other hand, carries massive political weight.

      If we are talking about a plebiscitary election then doing anything other than maximising the vote for the pro-independence party that is odds-on to win would be total insanity.

      I don’t care how many of these snake-oil parties there are. At best they’re totally useless and at worst they will totally fuck Scotland’s cause.

      All of this has been explained repeatedly and in far more detail than I can be bothered repeating here. The problem is that I’m trying to use reason and rationality to address a faith position. And that never turns out to be anything other than a frustratingly futile exercise.


      1. I see where we diverge now – I think overall vote share is utterly pointless if it doesn’t convert to seats in Holyrood. “But x-thousand people voted for us” is the cry of the loser in an election, not the winner. No one but the person consoling themselves cares about how many votes they got.

        The ISP don’t regard the SNP as an enemy – they want independence just as much as you do, and your desire for that goal has never been in question. In a way I’m sorry that the ISP is needed, but the truth is, it is. There are a lot of people who want an alternative to the Woke-dominated, independence-averse party currently in government. Those people (me being one of them), would not vote SNP 1&2 – independence votes would be lost. The SNP could work with the ISP to produce the independence majority that cannot be ignored, but it won’t – it is too full of its own importance.


        1. I see another couple of ways we diverge. I know that vote share cannot be expressed as “x-thousand”. And I don’t put partisan prejudice before Scotland’s cause.


  2. Peter, logically then would you agree that the SNP manifesto should state that the criteria for achieving our mandate for independence in the Holyrood election should be ?

    1. A majority of seats for the SNP as a result of the election (irrespective of whether these seats are gained in Constitiuency vote or List vote)
    2. A majority of the popular vote achieved in the election – ie Constituency Votes + List Votes.

    That’s a really tall order – in 2016 we got 46.5% of the constituency vote , and 41.7% of the list vote
    43.2% overall – so a majority for SNP in the popular vote needs a big improvement over 2016 but not entirely out of the question if we go into the election with a very clear commitment about independence. If you add in the Green vote in 2016 the overall indy-supporting share goes up to 46.7% which is a better platform from whichh to achieve 50% plus.

    I’m aware of your views about the mandate being possessed and actionable only by the party of government. So if the SNP were to adopt the criteria of a majority of seats for indy supporting parties, plus a majority of the popular vote for indy-supporting parties to win a mandate for independence then that would be more achievable, and the SNP, being the party of government, would thus possess the required mandate.



    1. That is precisely what we should be aiming for. The argument that the bullseye is difficult to hit so we shouldn’t even bother aiming at the target makes as little sense as the idea that we should just make a bullseye that’s easier to hit. I’m not the one who is advocating using an election as a pretend referendum. I see a plebiscitary election as a distant second best to a referendum. Because we need an outcome which is conclusive. What is conclusive is, like politics, not merely a matter of arithmetic. It is also a matter of perception. To be genuinely – might we say conclusively – conclusive it must settle the matter for a clear majority of the electorate. Preferably, a majority of the population. It is entirely possible for there to be people who vote for independence and welcome a result in favour of independence but who nonetheless don’t regard that result as conclusive. They are the ones whose perceptions have to be addressed.

      Who controls the means of manipulating public perceptions? Answer, not us! So we have to make it as difficult as possible for the British propaganda machine to manipulate perceptions such as to persuade people that the result is not conclusive. Or not conclusive enough.

      You would have no difficulty understanding these degrees of conclusiveness if we were talking about a referendum. It’s a fairly simple calculation involving vote share and turnout. But a plebiscitary election is not a referendum, as I believe I may have mentioned. One consequence of this is that ‘conclusive’ is harder to define. There is more scope for subjectivity. It becomes more a matter of opinion.

      Who controls the apparatus for manipulating public opinion? Answer, not us!

      This is why I say that the most likely outcome of a plebiscitary election is that we will find ourselves right back where we are now. I don’t say that just for the sake of embellishing an argument. I say that because having thought the thing through beyond the point where what I’m thinking causes no discomfort, I can see how easy it will be for the British to make the case in the court of public opinion that the outcome is not sufficiently conclusive for something so momentous and therefore there must be a referendum. But that’s all righ because now they’ll give us a Section 30 order. And lot’s of people will think that’s the problem solved, not least because proponents of both Plan A and Plan B have told them that a Section 30 order solves the problem. The voices pointing out that a Section 30 order isn’t a solution but a whole new set of problems don’t stand a chance of being heard outside the bubble of Yes activists on social media.

      To prevent this scenario – which I’m sure you’ll agree is unsatisfactory – then we have to hit the bullseye of conclusivity in a plebiscitary election. In a referendum, the target for those aiming for conclusivity is much bigger. In a plebiscitary election the target for those aiming for doubt is huge.

      Who controls the machinery for manufacturing and amplifying doubt? Answer, not us!

      The more you’re seen to fiddle with the criteria for a win the easier it is to instil doubt about the conclusiveness of that win. That is why a plebiscitary election is such a poor second choice. You think you’re making the task easier for yourself. But you’re not. And to cap it all somebody comes up with the brilliant notion of splitting the pro-independence vote. A gift to Project Doubt.

      Bottom line. Either you get an SNP working majority and >50% on both ballots in your plebiscitary election or you find yourself needing a referendum and the British state pretty much calling the shots on whether, when and how that happens. Your last chance democratic event has been squandered. But we should be growing accustomed to wasted opportunities by now.

      There is another option. Another way to use this democratic event. But to see it you have to tear your eyes off the shiny baubles and see past the glittering generalities.

      Who controls the means to make you do that? Answer, not me!


  3. If the SNP come out swinging then it’s easy SNP 1 and 2. If we get more wishy washy pish then it’s SNP 1 ISP 2. It really is that simple. Its all down to this, I genuinely believe if we don’t at least make a go for it now then the game is well n truly a bogey


    1. If the SNP doesn’t adopt a #ManifestoForIndependendence then there’s even more need to vote SNP1&2. Like far too many others, you seem blind to the fact that there are TWO imperatives in play here. The fight to restore independence is one. But necessarily prior to that is the imperative to prevent the British parties seizing power. Or, to put it another way, keeping a pro-independence majority. Which has to mean keeping the SNP in power.

      If the SNP doesn’t adopt a #ManifestoForIndependendence then a lot of people will, like you, forget all about the primary imperative and follow an unthinking urge to punish the SNP by not voting for them. Which means that there is an even greater likelihood that the party will need list seats to make up the numbers.

      This is called thinking it through.


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