Bill please!

Please! Please! Please! Make this “indyref2 bill” less of an embarrassment than the vacuous ’11-point plan’ that isn’t a plan and doesn’t have 11 points. The SNP urgently needs to come up with something for those independence supporters who are casting around for a way to avoid voting SNP in May while also dodging responsibility for the consequences. So desperate are they for a way to rationalise withdrawing their support from the ‘party of independence’ they’re even turning to the utterly pointless ‘list parties’.

This Bill has to actually look as if it is paving the way to a referendum that is free, fair and early. If it looks like it’s preparing for another five years of cowardly dithering then the SNP is seriously screwed come May, and with it what we have to regard as our last chance to restore Scotland’s independence.

Let’s be very clear about one thing. Covid is not an acceptable excuse for further delay on top of the seven years of stagnation the independence movement has already endured. If there’s any more talk of ‘post-Covid’ or ‘when the pandemic is over’ or ‘when it’s safe’ then too many potential voters are going to see this as a ‘get-out clause’ to be deployed when the party fails yet again to deliver.

I understand that the SNP leadership has a problem. It is a problem of their own making. But maybe we could save the blame-games for when we’ve less pressing matters to deal with. The problem is Nicola Sturgeon’s inexplicably unqualified commitment to the Section 30 process. Some of us said from the outset that this was storing up difficulties that would inevitably come back with their bum-biting teeth sharpened at some point. That we have reached that point is evident from the party’s total confusion on the matter, as I wrote about yesterday.

The problem now facing Mike Russell, who presumably is overseeing the drafting of the Bill, is that he has to lay the groundwork for a referendum without a Section 30 order while the SNP’s position is still that Section 30 is the “gold standard” and the only “legal and constitutional” way to have a referendum. As far as we know, this remains Nicola Sturgeon’s perspective. And, as I write, she is still leader of the party. So how might Mike Russell formulate a Bill which is basically a proposal to do something that the party says is ‘illegal and unconstitutional? How does he execute a U-turn on Section 30 while staying facing in the same direction as his boss?

One way would be to avoid mention of Section 30 altogether. Nothing in the preamble and nothing in the announcement speech. The one thing he simply must not do is restate the intention to do nothing without first requesting a Section 30 order. He needn’t go so far as to repudiate the Section 30 process altogether. Although it would be very gratifying if he did. This is politics. What is not said can often be more significant than what is said. If Mike Russell makes a very important speech on the constitutional issue – and the announcement of a Referendum Bill is hugely important – with no mention whatever of Section 30 this would send a clear signal without actually going back on the official position. And, crucially, without contradicting the boss.

The Bill itself needs to be either quite crude or rather clever. Crude in the sense of not even pretending to leave space for a Section 30 referendum. Clever in the sense of being so contrived as to work either with or without the permission of the British Prime Minister. Obviously, my preference would be crude. But Mike Russell is quitting his job as an MSP. He is not retiring from politics. He will remain the President of the SNP and while this has traditionally been little more than an honorary title, a lot of people in the party are going to be looking to the likes of Mr Russell to help members wrest back control from the clique of crazies now running the SNP into the ground. The point being that he probably doesn’t want to fall out with Nicola Sturgeon. Not yet, anyhow.

If the Bill is as cleverly drafted as might have been the case pre-Sturgeon, then it should still leave open the option of adopting the #ManifestoForIndependence. I refuse to believe that there are no senior figures in the administration and/or the party who are now giving this option some very serious consideration. Indeed, Mike Russell himself has tacitly intimated his own inclinations. The only interesting part of his much-hyped “roadmap” to independence is the declaration that the Scottish Government will go ahead with a referendum even if a Section 30 order request is refused. Of course, it is deeply regrettable that the request will be made. But the talk of going ahead without the empty promise of cooperation from the British political elite is new and welcome. I am still wondering what Nicola Sturgeon had to say about that. She hasn’t publicly rejected the idea. There’s been no slap-down. Could that be a sign that the party line is blurring and fading? We’ll see.

One thing is certain. The SNP cannot afford to disappoint its members and others who yet hope it may be the party of independence once again. If reaction to Referendum Bill is scoffing anger then this will only send more people off in search of a way they can ditch the SNP and still claim to be acting for Scotland’s cause. And that could be disastrous for more than just the SNP. Over to you, Mike Russell. Nae pressure!

10 thoughts on “Bill please!

  1. I do so hope that the more sensible people (and there surely must be some) near the ‘top’ of the SNP are ignoring Mr Wishart and reading blogs like yours which are pointing ways round the present indyref impasse, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think we can be sure that nobody “near the ‘top’ of the SNP” is reading my blog or any of those that have Wishart bursting blood vessels. If they read any blogs it’ll be the likes of Wheeshmaster General Paul Kavanagh. I reckon they’d find my fare quite indigestible.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Don’t worry Peter – it’s all sorted now!
    From todays Herald.
    “The party has applied to the Electoral Commission to register “Vote SNP for IndyRef2” and “Both Votes SNP for IndyRef2” as ways of describing itself.

    It has also asked to register “Nicola Sturgeon for SNP First Minister” as a third new party description. ”

    More distracting meat for the unthinking.
    They might as well register the slogan “Who needs plans when you have publicity stunts?”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nothing wrong with the slogans. Not very imaginative. I’d have preferred ‘SNP to Dissolve the Union!’. But if they live up to their slogans they’ll be fine.


  3. I can only hope that your arguments prevail Peter. I am one of those who are lost and wandering this political desert that the Nicola led SNP have led me into. I will never vote for a British option yet find myself confounded by the determination of the NewSNP to wipe out all hope of me ever seeing my country free of this damnable Union.
    I will vote SNP in the constituency but I will not give my vote to the SNP list if there is any taint of the Crazies on it.
    How could it have come to this?
    That the movement I have given over 60 years of my life to has been brought low by dilletantes, biology deniers, opportunists and betrayers.
    I fear that the claymore may have to go back into the thatch to await another generation.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. It is high time that someone told Nicola Sturgeon that section 30 is NOT the ‘gold standard’.

    The only ‘gold standard’ is that of self-determination of a people. That is, as laid out in general terms for all nations in the UN charter and, specifically relating to Scotland, in the Declaration of Arbroath (1320) & Claim of Right (1989).

    Perhaps Mike Russell will take a leaf out of Alex Salmond’s playbook and use a bit of subtlety in navigating difficult issues, in this case (as you say) simply by omitting any mention of the British constitutional trap.

    Mike Russell would, in effect, be telling Nicola Sturgeon what he thought about gifting a veto to the Brits without even moving his lips.

    Despite all the trouble and woe afflicting the SNP and government in recent times, Mike Russell, and the party leadership, might even find that “Both Votes SNP” would be overwhelmingly endorsed in May.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think there are people among the leadership who would dearly like to tell Nicola Sturgeon she’s wrong about Section 30. But then they would no longer be among the leadership. They’d be sitting on the naughty step alongside certain other it would not be politic to name.


  5. There are a few other ways to judge Mike Russell’s forthcoming bill.

    Is it capable of being passed by parliament before the May6th election ? In which case is it binding on an SNP or SNP-led government in the next parliament. I genuinely do not know whether there is the intention of passing it this term, doesn’t seem to have been mentioned

    Does it mention Covid ?

    On close reading does it contain sufficient wriggle room to enable an independence referendum to be kicked a significant distance down the road or accidentally sliced into the long grass ?

    If our suspicions are raised on any of these criteria, then the game’s a bogie.

    Liked by 2 people

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