How does indyref 2039 sound to you? Or indyref 2054? Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has sought to harden the UK Government’s position on opposing the right to decide on independence. Asked by the BBC if he was ruling out an indyref regardless of the Scottish Parliament election result, Jack said: “It’s no for a generation”. Asked to define a generation, he responded: “Is it 25 years or is it 40 years? You tell me. But it’s certainly not six years, nor 10”.
This wasn’t off-the-cuff comments, it was a set-piece interview with the BBC’s Glenn Campbell specifically on independence. If there has been a debate amongst Number 10 strategists about what to say on indyref ahead of the election, that debate now appears to be over. The hardline, anti-democracy approach was always likely to be the most sure-footed for the Tories coming into this election. To invite the possibility that they could accept indyref would have been too dangerous, given current polls. Another one was released yesterday by Survation, showing an indy majority for the 12th consecutive poll and the SNP’s lead growing.
It’s unfortunate, then, that there won’t be a debate at SNP conference later this month about independence strategy, as proposed by the advocates of a ‘Plan B’ on routes to indy. As Craig Dalzell has written on Source, “the proposed motion on a debate around alternative approaches to gaining independence has been reduced into the consolidated resolution on independence simply as ‘Conference agrees that if there is a majority in the Scottish Parliament after the Holyrood election in May for a fresh referendum on independence there can be no justification whatsoever for the Westminster government to seek to veto that democratic choice’.”
The whole point of Plan B was to ask what does the SNP do if the Westminster government continue to exercise a veto, as they clearly are intending to? There’s “no justification” for lots of anti-democratic things in the world, but they still happen – sometimes you have to debate how to respond to them. SNP deputy leader Keith Brown has now announced a National Assembly for 21 January to “discuss tactics and strategy for campaigning” after criticism of the conference agenda, but that is not exactly the same issue, and neither will it have the same authority nor participation as a conference debate and vote. If the SNP will not discuss the major strategic questions facing independence, there will need to be a wider debate organised in the indy movement about it.
My own view is that pursuing independence directly via a parliamentary majority is a total non-starter, but that a referendum organised without Westminster consent has to at least be on the table. Critical to that, though, is to try to peal off softer sections of unionism towards the right of Scotland to decide. A referendum with a unified boycott from nearly half the country would not work very well. The Labour Party is important in this respect, but so is civic institutions, trade unions, etc. What’s really needed to drive this forward is a self-determination movement, a broader front which can apply pressure specifically on the question of the right to decide, and make it extremely uncomfortable for the likes of Keir Starmer and Willie Rennie – ‘People’s Vote’ advocates, remember – to line up behind Boris Johnson.
Democracy is the theme of the week, it seems. The US President is trying to stop vote counting. The UK Government is trying to stop Scotland’s right to decide. And those who arrange the SNP conference are trying to stop a debate about indy strategy. If you value democracy, now is the time to speak up for it.
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