There is endless commentary which questions ‘where are we going next?’ in the independence campaign. Invariably it involves second-guessing the First Minister’s strategy or pre-empting the UK Government’s response to further demands for an independence referendum, especially in light of the Prime Minister’s firm refusal to the First Minister’s request for a Section 30 Order.
For some, that refusal was a litmus test for more one-sided actions such as a consultative referendum, civil disobedience, unilateral declaration of independence or even more extreme measures.
Whilst all of these suggestions strike a chord with the majority of independence supporters, they are the sort of measures which will scare off those Scots inclined to say Yes in the next referendum but looking for stronger analysis, evidence and argument, not unilateral actions which question the legitimacy and maturity of the independence movement. Civil disobedience today, guns tomorrow?
The opinion polls are pretty evenly split in support of independence. However, once Brexit has arrived – and that won’t be until 1 January 2021 at the earliest – then it is projected that Remain-supporting No-voters may switch to Yes in a future independence referendum. Most polls have shown a post-Brexit shift to 60% support for Yes, but we are not there yet.
Patience in politics is more than a virtue, it’s a necessity. There are a number of issues that require more detailed work as a basis for discussion and debate with potential Yes supporters. The First Minister is expected to publish more about those issues in the immediate future.
In the meantime, one of the most obvious actions that we could all do is engage voters; on the doorstep, at meetings or a coffee morning for your neighbours. It was the stand-out effective intervention of the first independence referendum campaign. Much has been said about digital media but the reality is that people-to-people interaction is what re-energised Scottish politics. More of the same please!
Whilst everyone looks to the SNP for leadership on everything, there is nothing to stop any group from engaging with voters: what do they think of our current situation? What are the issues that are important to them? Be in no doubt that a vote for the SNP on 12 December 2019 was not necessarily a vote for independence. Rhetorically that may be claimed but speaking from Stirling, a marginal seat in the heart of Scotland: tactical voters were clear both before and after polling day: “I was lending you my vote to stop the Tory, I don’t support independence” yet!
Building confidence in self-determination, therefore, has some way to go. The political focus will be on the reality of Brexit negotiations over the next year and the lead up to the Scottish Parliament elections in 2021. The performance of the SNP in the Scottish Government will remain a strong focus with all parties, including the Greens, They will have their targets aimed at the SNP for their own party purposes, with the Unionist parties clearly determined to suggest the SNP are not performing as a means to undermine the case for independence.
Over the next year, the SI will work to provide a platform for policy debate. At a time of global economic uncertainty, trade wars and the need for climate action, the independence movement must be at the forefront of debate in Scotland. Not all of what needs to happen on those fronts will be popular but leadership is required, both in a devolved and independent Scotland.