As we approach the festive season, we are often told it’s more important to give than to receive. As far as the Prime Minister is concerned, he is the gift to Scottish independence that keeps on giving.
In a private Zoom call to Northern English Tories, he pronounced that “devolution has been a disaster” and poor we Dougie Ross is left apoplectic. However, to the diehard Unionist cause, it is manna from heaven. They hate devolution and believe now that abolishing the Scottish Parliament is the answer.
Meanwhile, the rumour mill over the past week has been strong on suggestions the Scottish Tories are re-shaping their 2021 election strategy; Make the 3 May a referendum. Tories privately have long accepted that they have no moral ground to deny a second independence referendum despite the awful rhetoric of Alistair Jack. It makes them look undemocratic whilst their own supreme leader in London has consistently made unedifying statements which he has failed on time and again. How can a term – once in a generation opportunity – coined in a debate, be held as a constitutional barrier when the UK Government is prepared to break international treaties in pursuit of Brexit? Scottish Tories know that they are on the wrong side of the argument. What turns it around for them is to replay 2016 election strategy, only this time with more meaning: vote Tory to stop indyref2. Not vote Tory to kick out the SNP; even that would be a stretch too far. However, an appeal to the key swing No-to-Yes voters; “now is not the the time” is their best rationale (yet again). We’ve seen Gordon Brown on Marr say just that, so the Better Together alliance is back in action even if it is lurking in the background.
The Tories will pick their moment to announce this. Probably just before SNP Annual Conference. A united SNP/Yes movement setting aside the Plan B distraction with a focus on win on 3 May and the referendum won’t just be held, it’s a dead cert to win.
All sounds terribly wonderful for the independence movement and, in truth, it is.
It is vindication of Nicola Sturgeon’s dogged patience strategy which has won through, not the carping from the sidelines by those who just thrived on Tory obstinacy.
However, the Tories are banking on this U-turn too. What they want to see is the Nats jumping for joy and talking independence incessantly for the next few months so that they can claim it’s all they are interested in. Not tackling COVID. Not building back better or whatever cliche is in use. Not tackling educational attainment or repairing health and social care. It’s all they have left to argue but it might just have cut through with those swing voters. So the lesson is still very much ‘keep the heid’. Independence comes at a price: sort out devolved Scotland at the same time as telling us how independence will make it even better. Not easy but then when has the struggle for self-determination ever been simple.