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Wings Over Scotland

Scotland after the referendum

Posted on March 12, 2012 by

If you’re a bit naive, it can be hard to understand why the parties of the Union are so bitterly opposed to a second question on the referendum ballot. All three of them, after all, claim to want more powers for Scotland (though not yet, and they don’t want to tell us which ones), and after all the fuss they’ve made before it seems odd that they don’t feel the need to get any democratic mandate for them.

It’s also odd because it’s pretty much agreed by everyone on all sides that a second question for, let’s call it Devo-X, would all but completely sink the SNP’s chances of winning a Yes to full independence, whereas in a straight two-way face-off it’s already very close and the numbers (as well as the arguments) are slowly but steadily moving in the Nats’ direction. That appears an awfully big gamble for the No parties to take purely in order to deny the SNP something (more powers, but short of independence) that all the Unionists are supposedly in favour of.

So what’s the real reason? Well, it’s not too hard to figure out.

The Scotsman boldly broke the astonishing news this week that the SNP accept that there’s a theoretical possiblity they could lose the referendum. (We know, we were amazed too.) But if the FUD camp does manage to win the vote, it’ll be a hollow victory. They’ll have spent two years running Scotland down, generating all sorts of hideous ill-feeling and emptying their already threadbare bank accounts, all to gain nothing. (As they’re all determined to campaign for the status quo.) But there’s a way all that effort could be worthwhile for them, and they mention it often.

That’s because politics is all about power, and all three Unionist parties in Scotland have something in common – they realise that as things stand, as long as the SNP exists their chances of ever getting any again are close to zero. Most recent polls have the Nats more popular with voters than the other three put together, and with no reason to suspect the quality or electoral appeal of “Scottish Labour”, the Scottish Lib Dems and the Scottish Tories is going to suddenly take a massive upswing, their only hope is that the SNP somehow implodes.

It seems to be a near-uniform belief – indeed, verging on an article of faith – among the parties of the No camp that the SNP would shatter in acrimony should it lose a single-question referendum. The party would tear itself apart, runs the reasoning, in the event of a No vote which would in effect have blown apart Alex Salmond’s “gradualist” strategy.

Salmond would resign, the SNP “fundamentalists” would split off into a new hardcore faction, the alliances between those on the left and right of the party would crumble, and the Union parties would march triumphantly into the electoral gap.

All three would have something to gain from this scenario. Labour would, of course, storm back to power at Holyrood as the largest party. The Lib Dems would regain all their strongholds in the north of the country, and probably be required for a coalition administration again.

With a vote for the status quo bolstering the Union, even the Tories might find a new lease of life as a “Scottish Unionist Party” under Murdo Fraser – there being no place left for the “line in the sand” approach of Ruth Davidson in the rush to set the agenda of the “Devo X” discussions that we’re (now) solemnly told would follow a No vote.

You can see why it’s a comforting fantasy for the FUDs. But the idea of the SNP falling to pieces if they lose the referendum doesn’t stand up to even the slightest scrutiny.

Firstly because SNP politicians want power too, and the Scottish Parliament would still be very much up for grabs. We already know that a large percentage of SNP voters don’t actually back independence, but voted for the party on the basis of its competence as an administration – they’re likely to be even happier voting SNP again if independence is off the immediate prospectus.

And those SNP voters who DO back independence would of course almost certainly stick with the tried-and-tested Nats at least until some splinter group had had a couple of years to establish itself, so it’s hard to see where a significant number of 2011’s SNP votes would be lost in May 2016.

But more importantly, we’ve now reached a situation where all three parties in the No camp are standing on a platform of enhanced devolution after the referendum, but aren’t prepared to say in advance what new powers will be devolved. That would give the SNP a hugely powerful card to play in the Holyrood 2016 election – “You know we have Scotland’s interests at heart, put us back in power so we can speak up for Scotland in the negotiations, and run the country well in the meantime”.

Who would the Scottish people be more likely to trust as the guarantors of change after a No vote – the Lib Dems or the SNP? The polls suggest that’s something of a no-brainer. The SNP would be able to offer a very compelling deal to the Scottish people: “You’ve voted No like the Unionists asked you to, and they promised you more powers as a reward – elect us and we’ll hold them to that promise, with the threat of another referendum if they break it.”

In fact, in the event of a No vote, the reasonable and logical assumption would be an INCREASE in the SNP vote. If the Scottish people decided that they wanted greater devolution rather than full independence, we doubt they’d want to negotiate the terms with nothing backing them up other than the honesty and integrity of the Unionist parties, and we also can’t see them suddenly deciding that the third-rate numpties currently occupying the opposition benches – who they rejected so unequivocally in 2011 – would make an attractive Scottish Government after all.

(As we’ve noted before, independence is actually Labour in particular’s only hope of bolstering the thin, watery gruel that is their Scottish talent pool. If there were no Scottish MPs at Westminster, Labour’s “big hitters” would have to come to Holyrood looking for work, but if Scotland stays in the Union would-be Labour voters would be stuck with the prospect of Richard Baker running our country. Brrr.)

If the Unionist parties’ plan is to reject a second question in the belief that they’ll then win a No vote and see the SNP disintegrate as a result, we think they’re misguided in at least two ways.

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10 to “Scotland after the referendum”

  1. Angus McLellan

    It seems to be an axiom of unionists that you should never, ever to lift up your eyes and look out at the big wide world except to seek out scare stories.
    That explains why they seem unaware of the fact that PQ remain a significant force in Quebec politics after losing two referendums. And Puerto Rico's unending failure to resolve its relationship with the USA – the status quo of being a commonwealth, becoming the 51st US state or independence – hasn't resulted in pro-change parties disappearing either.
    Nearer to home, Flemish nationalist parties – generally an unappealing bunch of blood and soil flag-wavers if truth be told – seem unaffected by their failure to get Belgium divided. And nearer still there's Northern Ireland where Governor-General Owen Paterson seems to be blessed with the same sort of psychic powers as enabled past secretaries of state and now people like Ian Smart to know for sure that there was and is no real support for independence and so no need for a referendum since we all know the outcome. Just as well we don't pick governments on the basis of Ian Smart's psychic powers or Richard Baker would be a minister.

  2. douglas clark

    I think the current position of Unionists is untenable. It is a huge ask to assume that the electorate will vote for any politician who doesn't trust them enough to tell them what that party intends to do in the event of a 'no' vote. It is also a bit odd the idea that a 'Civic Scotland' devo-max option is even worth entertaining unless they get the backing of each of the unionist parties at Westminster.
    If we do not win this referendum I would expect us to suffer years of pain. Almost certainly resulting in a new constitutional settlement whereby it is impossible for Hollyrood to hold any sort of referendum at all. If indeed Hollyrood itself survived the carnage. This is probably our only chance in a hundred years to achieve independence.
    Slightly off topic, I thought that Salmond and Sturgeons speeches were an interesting new line of attack on the Union. What they now seem to be saying is that it is not the SNP that has walked away from the consensus, it is the Tory Party, ré NHS reforms and the Labour Party ré looking after the less fortunate. So, if you like what you've got right now vote for independence for less change.

  3. Morag

    I noted a BBC commentator repeating that the SNP was making no headway because "support for independence hasn't shifted at all in the opinion polls".  The SNP spokesman repeated the line that the campaign was only starting and there was a long way to go.  The BBC person said again that support for independence was static, despite all the recent publicity – it remains at 40%.
    Oh.  40% you say?  So it has been at 40% all along, even when the unionists were saying "nobody wants independence", even when the commentators were saying support was about a quarter, a third at best?
    Hmmm….  Is a solid 40% a good place to be starting this campaign from or not?  Let me think….

  4. UkFacepalm

    No harm in speculating 😉 …we can be absolutely certain that Eck and other SNP figures will have considered every possible outcome.

    I think its inevitable that in the event of a straight loss in 2014, the SNP would come under enormous external pressure. SNP leaders and activists will have put in every ounce of energy in the preceeding 1000 days and if any internal pressures and cracks are going to surface, then a NO vote for a possibly exhausted party could be the catalyst. Expect the media, UK establishment and all UK parties to pour petrol on even the tiniest SNP fire. Calls for resignation, leadership challenges, supposed splits and factions…the media would be in there like vultures – or rather, hyena's 😉
    However (and perhaps perversely given that my first ever vote was in the 79 referendum) I think the "40%" figure may be significant again but for a different reason.
    A 2014 Yes vote of 39% or less will be immediately, and endlessly spun and depicted, as "only 1 in 3 Scots"…a distinct "minority of voters". However a Yes vote in the range 40-49% strikes me as being less easy to depict as a hopeless and game-ending outcome. Whilst not enough to win the day, it would very much be a test of the SNP's nerve and energy reserves to lead that 40%+ position into the 2016 election … having accepted the 2014 outcome, but using that Yes vote constituency to stand as the real and only guarantors of the (ahem) "promised" delivery of devo-XXX by other parties. Another referendum can be tabled well before 2020 if that delivery is not met – and meaningfully so – by Labour,LibDems, Torys…

    Could the SNP still hold the line and take that position going into 2016 elections ? Only time will tell. The political alternatives (such as they are) would be way too dismal to contemplate…

  5. peter

    as support for independence increases in the polls, watch the clamour for a second question on the ballot paper!

  6. Doonfooter

    Thank you for posting that piece.
    There seems to be an almost religous belief among the pro-union Scottish parties that all they have to do is deliver a 'no vote' and the SNP will vanish with 'normal service' being resumed.
    They've not yet realised that last May's landslide happened despite the SNP's core policy objective rather than because of it. Many a time we have heard senior SNP ministers acknowledge that a substantial number voted for sound governance rather than Independence.
    The opposition don't appear to consider that Alex Salmond could lose graciously and accept the will of the Scottish people after fighting a positive campaign. Faced with a choice between that and those who will have given us 2-years of relentless negativity I know where I'd place my vote.
    But let's hope that doesn't happen. The Qubec referendum had a 90+% turn-out. Angus Robertson tells us they lost on the equivalent of one 'Yes' vote per ballot-box! There are a lot of don't knows to be convinced so let's make it happen!

  7. Angus McLellan

    For those who don't read the Herald, "normal service" seems to be as hard to get as ever. Maybe reality needs switched off and on. It used to work with old TV sets and so did giving them a big dunt …

    Sunday Herald, 11.03.2012, pp. 9-10: North Lanarkshire likely to fall to SNP exclusive by Tom Gordon

    … "I think the SNP has a good chance of being the biggest party or even a majority, although the latter is a big ask," said a Labour insider. … [If Ian Smart can do Kremlinology so can I: that sounds like it might be Paul Sinclair.]

    "One Labour source said many of the party's NLC councillors were expecting 'business as usual' on May 3, but would be in for a shock."  …

    A Scottish Labour spokesman said: "We are predicting an outright Labour majority …".

    So remember folks, after the votes are counted in May: Labour officially expected to win an overall majority on North Lanarkshire.

  8. Kenny Campbell

    I'm now a floating voter as I see from the Herald that England may bomb our airports if we were independent and the Bogeyman attacked….on the plus side we could rebuild them beside the railway line into town.

  9. MajorBloodnok

    As I remarked at Newsnet Scotland this morning "Not on John Smeaton's watch".
    I watched Billy Connolly recounting that story recently on YouTube and the tears (of laughter) were running down my face…
    So, misrepresentations, tendentious reporting, scaremongering, lies, and outright threats – so much for civilised debate from the Unionists.

  10. Macart

    As has been noted by some other posters, the independence vote seems to be a solid 40%. Now my arithmetic has always been a bit shaky but given that around 25% of what's left is solid unionist vote that would leave around 35% (give or take) for devo max. By what stretch of the imagination does that make independence voters a minority? Its always twisted that 60% are for the union, is it not fairer to say that 75% are for massive constitutional change?

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