Onwards to 2020

Well the dust is settling on the European elections and after effect for all parties is rippling through them.

The new no-members, no-policies Brexit Party has failed to take a parliamentary by-election in a seat they romped home at European level, which suggests voters are clear that Farage is great for a protest vote but no one wants him or his party in Westminster.

Labour’s humbling in Scotland to an all-time low in share of the vote has at least forced out arch-Brexiteer/Unionist Neil Findlay, and made his boss do a U-turn to support a second EU referendum and to Remain. A long realisation that Labour is getting nowhere aping the Conservative AND Unionists.

The Tories witnessed a vote collapse (or switch) but received the consolation of holding onto enough votes to keep their seat, such are the vagaries of the d’Hondt seat allocation.

The Lib Dems are cock-a-hoop at getting back into Europe in Scotland, scooping up the non-independence Remain vote, particularly attracting non-independence Labour voters.

Before the Scottish Independence referendum, the Greens could have relied on attracting Remain voters in Labour to give them a tactical lift but they found themselves squeezed by SNP holding on to independence-supporting former Labour supporters and anti-independence Labour votes going to the Lib Dems. If only Labour had gone all pro-Remain three months ago: then the split between Labour, Lib Dems and Greens might have been even closer.

What SNP vote evidenced is that its increased share gained a seat. Unlike in 2016 Scottish elections, staying SNP in a PR election delivers results. However, a future 2021 Scottish election is a different kettle of fish.

So, making sense of it all, there are clear divisions in the electorate around binary issues: Scottish Independence and membership of the European Union.

Remain votes held at roughly 61-37, and Scottish Independence support at 46-50. Now there are huge caveats, but it is a relatively good indicative display of how Scottish people think. Once Brexit is actually delivered, then we can expect a bigger shift to align pro-Remain and pro-Independence support.

Clearly this suggests that there is roughly 10-15% of the electorate who voted No to Scottish independence in 2014 but are ready to vote Yes if Brexit Britain delivers for English nationalism.

But should we just sit back, take the temporary pain of Brexit in order to move on to our ultimate goal? Heck no! We need to identify and talk to that 10-15% soft support for Independence and warm them up more. Let’s find out now, in relative peace time, what are the issues that trigger them to say Yes or make them hesitant and remain as No voters.

Now that the Referendum Bill has been published by the Scottish Government, Parliament will be reigniting debate about the detail of the ‘how, when and who’ of electoral administration for any plebiscite in Scotland.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has signalled that the Referendum Bill could face its first test as early as 2020 with the second Scottish Referendum.  Whether this is a consultative referendum or a binding vote with Section 30 approval of the Westminster government remains to be seen.

Any consultative referendum has to bring a majority of voters out to vote for independence if independence is to have a credible start and refute the need for any confirmatory vote. A Section 30 Order is unlikely to be granted by any UK Government before 2021, and in so doing Boris and Ruth frame the next Scottish Parliament elections about the right to self-determination.

Whichever route is most successful, there is still work to do: ensuring the proposition for independence is more convincing than 2014; attracting support of at least 60% to ground the decision as the clear ‘will of the people’.

Research by this year’s Oliver Brown Award recipient, Professor James Mitchell and colleagues, provides the evidence that the SNP membership is squarely behind their leadership line that the referendum can only be held when the circumstances are in place to lead to a likely win. Voices from outwith the SNP need to appreciate this better.

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