Tuesday 29 September 2020

Postpone Holyrood forever


Do you remember last year? The SNP were promising that there would be a second independence referendum in 2020. What happened to it? Why didn’t we have it? Or is it still to come in the next few weeks only I haven’t noticed the campaigning?

No. At some point Nicola Sturgeon admitted that indyref2 would not be happening in 2020 due to Covid. It might have been difficult to vote when we were all in lockdown.

But the SNP did not give up on Indyref2 and the postponement wasn’t for long. The plan is to hold another referendum in 2021. At the Scottish Parliament Election due to happen next May the SNP, the Greens and the Alliance for Independence (or SNP mark II) will campaign for a second referendum. Some people think if they get a big enough majority this will put sufficient pressure on Boris Johnson to grant it. Others think he will say, constitutional matters are reserved and outside the remit of Scottish Parliament elections and anyway the Conservative manifesto of 2019 was clear about there being no second referendum for the next five years at least.

There has been lots of excitement this summer because of these uncertainties. The Alliance for Unity has been created because the Pro UK side wants to stop the SNP gaining a majority. This is only partly because we think it would be better for someone else to have the chance to run Scotland, someone who might actually focus on things like education and healthcare (i.e. devolved matters), rather than continually focus on reserved matters (i.e. independence).

But to be honest if the SNP gave up their dream of independence, I would be quite happy for them to run the Scottish Parliament forever.  Run it well, run it badly I am not especially interested.

It was for this reason when I heard that the Scottish Parliament elections next may might be postponed, I reacted with glee. Couldn’t they be postponed forever? An aging Nicol Sturgeon could continue ruling her Scottish Parliament indefinitely and as MSPs died and were not replaced in time the building would be left empty. Sturgeon would begin to resemble Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, only in her case it would be the Divorce of the UK that was postponed. Let SNP dreams rot like Miss Havisham’s wedding cake by postponing next May until Kingdom Come.

But it is likely that at some point in 2021 we will still have the postponed Scottish Parliament Election. How much will it be postponed? We don’t know what will be happening with Covid. Perhaps there will be a third or a fourth wave in the Autumn of 2021. Perhaps the waves will continue crashing onto the beach for ever.

But if Scotland is not going to be ready to hold a Scottish Parliament election next May, how could we be ready to hold a second independence referendum in 2021? How indeed could we be ready to actually become independent in 2022, 2023 and so on?

At what point does Nicola Sturgeon admit to the SNP faithful that indyref2 is not going to happen in 2021 either? If the Scottish Parliament elections are postponed until September, how would we cram indyref2 into the remaining months of 2021?

But given that we don’t even know if it will be possible to have a Scottish Parliament election, how can the SNP possibly make a manifesto commitment to an independence referendum either in 2021 or even in 2022.

There must be at least a caveat that they would only ask to have indyref2 if Covid allowed it. So, the SNP’s manifesto commitment to indyref2, which is a commitment to something outwith their control (i.e. it is reserved) is in another sense outwith their control because it depends on factors that no one can possibly predict.

What we are left with then is the same SNP aspiration to independence that they have had since 1934 and the same commitment to holding indyref2 at some point in the future that they have had since 2014.  Why don’t we all just go back to yawning?

We are in the absurd position of the SNP demanding ever more generosity from the UK Government and a never-ending commitment to protect Scottish jobs and businesses with Treasury money. We have Kate Forbes complaining about the Chancellor not having a budget because it makes it impossible for her to calculate how much she will get from the Barnett formula, while still officially campaigning to break up the UK, give up the Barnett formula, and not pay back any of the money that the Treasury has borrowed. If she thinks she needs Treasury money to run Scotland how does she suppose Scotland would manage without it? If all Scottish funding came from Scottish taxpayers today, which would be the case after independence, there would be no need for a Barnett formula nor indeed for the Treasury’s job retention schemes. If Scotland were ready for independence Kate Forbes would have the money now to do whatever she wants. Admitting that she doesn’t is the same as admitting we are not ready for indyref2. So why campaign for it.

We face the most uncertain times in decades. No one knows what will happen either with Covid or the economy. It’s hard to imagine a worse time to hold a second independence referendum and it’s hard to imagine a worse time for Scotland to become a new nation state separate from the rest of Britain.

The SNP leadership must know in their hearts that there will be no indyref2 in 2021 nor probably for years after that. If we can’t manage to hold an election in May 2020 how on earth could we manage going it alone. Why doesn’t Sturgeon admit it? She knows that she would instantly lose her job and be run out of town on a rail.

So, we all have to go through the fiction that independence is just around the corner otherwise Scottish nationalists would send round the fiery cross to gather the clans. They have to be promised every year that indyref2 will be next year even when everyone knows that it won’t be. Please postpone the Scottish Parliament elections forever. Then at least we would be spared from performing this charade.