This whole ‘Plan B’ episode is painfully reminiscent of the time when Pete Wishart came out with that nonsense about postponing a new referendum indefinitely in the hope that the independence fairy would deliver something called the ‘optimal time’. Along with many others, I had a number of questions about this approach to addressing the constitutional issue. Or might one more pointedly say, this determined effort to avoid addressing the constitutional issue. Now, as then, nobody wants to answer the questions. Now, as then, the ‘plan’ really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. But relatively few are subjecting it to any scrutiny. And nobody is responding to enquiries. Pete Wishart went as far as blocking me on Twitter so as to avoid questions about his outlandish notions.
Great as it is to have two such well-respected individuals putting some pressure on an SNP leadership which seems uncommonly relaxed about Scotland’s predicament, the ‘Plan B’ put forward by Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny simply doesn’t measure up. And debating it at conference would be a pointless waste of time. Let me explain.
There are, as I see it, three serious problems with the idea of using an election as a substitute for a referendum. For a start, there is the matter of the fundamental difference between a parliamentary election and a referendum. The latter is, or is meant to be, a binary choice between two clearly stated, deliverable options. It is difficult enough to set up a referendum in such a way as to get, not just a result, but an incontestable decision. What is difficult in the case of a referendum is as close to impossible as makes no odds using a necessarily multi-issue election as a substitute.
It might be possible to have a single-issue parliamentary election. In theory, it is possible – if all parties contesting the election cooperate. If they all agree that the election is to be fought on one issue only, and if they all campaign exclusively on that issue, then it effectively ceases to be an election and becomes a referendum.
What are the chances of the British parties cooperating in this way? And, if you’re contorting an election so as to make it something close to a referendum, why not just have the referendum? Because the British state won’t ‘allow’ a referendum! So why would they ‘allow’ a referendum thinly disguised as an election?
It is weirdly naive to suppose that a British state which would go so far as to deny Scotland’s democratic right of self-determination wouldn’t sabotage an attempt to use an election as a substitute.
And it would be so easy for them to do so. They need only contest the election on any and every issue except independence in order to be able to claim that not everybody was voting on the issue of independence. The one thing pretty much everybody in the independence movement is agreed upon is that the process of restoring Scotland’s independence must sport impeccable democratic credentials. An election used as a proxy referendum would be wide open to challenge.
Then there’s the matter of time. The next scheduled appropriate election – and surely a ‘Plan B’ worthy of the name cannot gamble on an unscheduled election – isn’t until the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2021. There is considerable doubt as to whether there will even be a Scottish Parliament by then. What is absolutely certain is that the British political elite will not be idle. An overarching imperative for them is locking Scotland into a political union unilaterally redefined for the purposes of the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project. Any ‘plan’ for taking forward the cause of independence that involves delay beyond Brexit has to address the near certainty of the Scottish Parliament being ‘suspended’ and the likelihood of the British government unilaterally declaring Scotland part of an ‘indivisible and indissoluble’ British state.
Then there’s the fact that there is already a mandate for a new constitutional referendum. A very clear mandate with all the democratic legitimacy anybody could wish for. That mandate is being flatly denied by the British state. Why would it be any different for this new mandate? Why wouldn’t the British simply ignore that as well? Especially as we’d be implicitly admitting that the existing mandate was such as could be ignored. By saying we need another one, we’d not only undermine the democratic legitimacy of the mandate we already have, but of any and all mandates.
Any ‘plan’ that seeks to avoid confrontation with the British state’s anti-democratic denial of Scotland’s right of self-determination woefully misses the point that this bullying behaviour must be challenged, not side-stepped. It does Scotland no good whatsoever to work around the injustices of the Union, leaving them intact. The Union is a constitutional device by which the people of Scotland are denied the effective exercise of their sovereignty. It must be confronted. It must be challenged. It must be broken.
Finally, addressing the fuss being made about the ‘Plan B’ resolution not being selected for debate at conference; what would be the point? No debate is required. It’s not necessary to debate using an election in the way suggested by Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny. The SNP can simply put it in their manifesto for any UK or Scottish general election. The SNP has a standing mandate to pursue independence by any democratic means. Using a majority in an election as a device is perfectly legitimate and requires no prior approval from members. Are members going to object? Is anybody in the Yes movement going to protest?
British Nationalists will be outraged, of course. When are they ever anything else? Ruth Davidson will put on her best scowl and denounce the ploy using the voice that she imagines to be Churchillian but actually makes her sound severely constipated. The British media… well… they’re the British media….
People are saying we need a ‘Plan B’. We really don’t. We need a ‘Plan A’ that works. We can’t afford to fail. We can’t even afford to contemplate failure.
Angus and Chris are to be commended for at least trying to press the issue. But their mistake is to suppose that there might be a path to independence delineated by the rules and procedures of the British political system. There is no such path. There is no route to independence which does not require the breaking of those rules and departure from those procedures. There is no way to walk out of the Union. We have to break out.
The Union’s grip on Scotland will not be broken by some cunning plan or devious ploy or artful political manoeuvre. It will be broken when Scotland’s First Minister stands up in Scotland’s Parliament and declares the Scottish Government’s intention to #DissolveTheUnion.
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