A poll worth heeding

There are a couple of things worth noting about the YouGov poll which suggests a Conservative win with a substantial majority. The first is that it is very likely to be accurate. This because voting intentions in England, where UK general elections are decided, are based very substantially on Brexit. These voting intentions are fixed. They are unlikely to change because nothing about Brexit is going to change. Or, at least, nothing is going to change soon enough or dramatically enough to have any impact on voting intentions. Nothing is happening with the Brexit process. Not that is visible to the public, antway. And none of the parties are going to change their stance on the Brexit issue during an election campaign.

It is significant, too, that none of the 68 Tory MPs giving Boris Johnson a working majority is likely to be a ‘rebel’, They wouldn’t have been selected as candidates if they were not as committed to taking the UK out of the EU at any cost as their leader.

The second thing to note is that, as is commonly the case, Scotland cannot affect the outcome of this UK general election. The most Scottish voters might hope to do is slightly reduce the Tory majority. They can only do that by voting for their SNP candidate. As has been true for many years now, there is absolutely no point in voting for British Labour in Scotland. I dislike the expression “wasted vote”. As far as I am concerned, participation in the democratic process is always worthwhile. But a vote for British Labour in Scotland is certainly futile if the intention – or the hope – is to influence the outcome at UK level.

In Scotland, British Labour is irrelevant and the Conservative Party is anathema.

We have to think, calmly and rationally about what is the best outcome for Scotland in the coming election. A good case can be made for a British Labour minority government supported by a substantial SNP presence at Westminster. But we have no way of bringing about that outcome. Or even of contributing to it in any effective way. Whatever British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) may tell you, there is simply no possibility of them enjoying a miraculous resurgence. And, even if that miracle were to happen, the election would still be decided in England.

The best outcome that is actually achievable is a massive win for the SNP. A win on a scale that shakes the British establishment. A win so big it cannot be ignored.

What does Scotland gain from returning upwards of 50 SNP MPs? We know that the SNP provides the most vigorous opposition to the Tories at Westminster. Even if this opposition cannot have much actual effect because of the way the odds are stacked against them – both numerically and procedurally – it is SNP MPs who speak, not just for Scotland, but for democracy, decency and political sanity. It is SNP MPs who ask the awkward questions. It is SNP MPs who defend our NHS and other essential public services. It is SNP MPs who truly hold the Tory government to account in a way that only those with very long memories will recall British Labour doing.

No British government is ever going to facilitate or cooperate with any process which puts their ‘precious’ Union in jeopardy. That includes the Section 30 process to which the First Minister is so inexplicably committed. In terms of Scotland’s cause we must therefore consider what might best serve that cause when the time comes to seek the restoration of Scotland’s independence with the consent of the Scottish people but absent the involvement of the British state. Unquestionably, Scotland’s cause is best served by maximising demonstrable support for the SNP – the only party which is unconditionally and unequivocally committed to independence.

That commitment to independence necessarily entails so much more. It entails a commitment to protecting Scotland’s democracy; to defending the Scottish Parliament; to preserving our ability to develop a distinctive political culture informed by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people. It entails dedication to maintaining our essential public services, such as NHS Scotland, and defending them against predation by corporate hyenas.

Even if you are not yet persuaded that Scotland’s interests can only be secured by ending the Union with England-as-Britain, a vote for the SNP is much more than a vote for independence. It is, first and foremost, a vote for al the positive things mentioned above. But it is also a vote against the chaos and corruption of British politics. It is a vote against a system which imposes Tory governments on Scotland regardless of how we vote – along with all their socially corrosive and economically destructive policies.

It is a vote against a political system which so favours a corrupt and incompetent elite as to allow Boris Johnson to become Prime Minister. It is a vote against a system intent on maintaining established power, privilege and patronage while actively excluding the worthy and the talented.

It is a vote against an archaic and grotesquely asymmetric political union which denies the people of Scotland the full and effective exercise of our sovereignty. It is a vote against everything that England-as-Britain has become and will become as its decline into ugly right-wing nationalism continues.

The YouGov poll has to be taken seriously. We must anticipate Boris Johnson continuing as British Prime Minister, but armed with a solid majority in the British parliament and emboldened by his victory. A Boris Johnson made all the more dangerous by being afforded almost unfettered power. A Boris Johnson determined to earn that most ominous of epithets – strong leader.

Behind this gleeful, gloating, malignant child-clown, a British government intent on locking Scotland into the Union and dragging us along on its wildly erratic journey into the political, diplomatic and economic unknown – leaving behind it a wasteland of public services in which the poor and the powerless must survive however they may.

The only thing which can function as a buffer between this and Scotland is a strong, determined and assertive SNP government in Scotland supported by a massive SNP presence in the British parliament. It may be that we have the former. On Thursday 12 December we must ensure that we have the latter. For Scotland’s sake, we must all vote SNP.

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Campaigning with flair

My Scotland poll: Yes to independence takes the lead

Polls don’t predict anything, of course. But let’s make some allowances for the rather excitable headline in The National (Scottish independence soars ahead as Ashcroft poll predicts Yes win).

That being said, there are occasions when pols try to predict. Or, to be more precise, they ask their respondents for their predictions. The Ashcroft poll which is causing such exhilaration among Yes supporters and such agitation among Unionists asked the following question.

If there were to be a new referendum on Scottish Independence within the next two years, what do you think would be the most likely outcome?

By a margin 52% to 30% respondents stated that they thought the outcome would be a win for Yes.

This finding has considerable implications for the independence campaign strategy. Taking it at face value, it tells us that the idea of independence, not so long ago considered outlandish, has gone well beyond being normalised. To the extent that this accurately reflects public attitudes, it suggests that people are resigned to independence being inevitable whatever their personal attitudes to the prospect.

Some of us realised the inevitability of independence some time ago. Almost exactly five years ago I wrote,

I take the view that independence is now inevitable and that a No vote can only postpone it for five or maybe ten years. I take this view not only because I believe that the spirit of progressive activism that has arisen in Scotland will not be suppressed, but also because I recognise that the response of the British state to a No vote will, itself, provide greater impetus for the independence movement. My concern is not that the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status will not be achieved but that, in the interim, irreversible harm will have been done to Scotland’s institutions and that serious, perhaps irreparable damage will have been done to the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Please stay: A response to Jim Sillars’s essay in the Daily Record

In March 2016, with the EU referendum looming, i expanded on this point.

The first and most important thing to remember is that independence is coming anyway. Independence is inevitable. It is inevitable because any devolution measure which succeeds in terms of the aims and objectives of the British state necessarily fails in terms of the aspirations and priorities of Scotland’s people. And this was never more true than it is of the latest round of inept and malicious constitutional tinkering represented by the Scotland Bill.

EU referendum is not Scotland’s fight

What is significant is that there now appears to be a more general acceptance of this inevitability. Whether this is because of growing concerns about the way in which “the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK” is being soured by British politicians; or whether it is due to increasing dissatisfaction with a devolution settlement which looks daily more insecure; or whether it is simply an artefact of the ubiquity and pervasiveness of the Yes movement, we have no way of knowing. It is likely to be some combination of all these factors as well as others, such as just plain weariness with a constitutional debate that won’t go away no matter how much British Nationalists would like to wish it away.

This has the potential to open up some new lines of attack for the Yes campaign. It could, for example, piggy-back on British Nationalist propaganda about ‘voter fatigue’ by suggesting that the easiest way to stop the campaigning is to vote Yes. Because it’s highly unlikely that there will be a campaign to take Scotland back into the Union. Portraying a Yes vote as drawing a line under the issue and allowing us to get on with building a better nation could appeal to more than a few people.

Perhaps more importantly, the idea of independence being inevitable could usefully augment a campaign which seeks to turn the issue around and put Unionists on the defensive. An anti-Union campaign on a question about dissolving the Union could make good use of the argument that most people are resigned to independence happening and so the onus is on Unionists to persuade them otherwise.

There is another valuable lesson in all of this. Above all, the Yes campaign has to be imaginative enough to incorporate new material into its strategy. And flexible enough to be able to do this on the fly. We should not need taught that running a dusted-off and polished-up version of the 2014 campaign is a very bad idea. After all, at that time few among the general public thought independence was even possible, far less inevitable.

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