Monday 26 June 2023

The SNP thinks it can win by doing worse


What we witnessed on Saturday was on the on hand the most serious threat to world security since 1991 and on the other one of the maddest events in history.  The Wagner coup that went all the way from Rostov on Don to the gates of Moscow in a day and then gave up is so bizarre that it makes even those of us with reasonable knowledge of Russia shake our heads and give up even trying to understand the place. Prigozhin achieved more in a day than Yemelyan Pugachev and Stenka Razin, the two greatest rebels in Russian history and came closer to overthrowing the tsar than they ever did. But he will share their fate and his followers will share the fate of their followers. Why start if you don’t want to see it through to the end?

To compare events in Scotland seems somehow even madder, yet if anything Humza Yousaf’s latest ploy to overthrow the British state is even more bizarre than Prigozhin’s. Fortunately, there is no danger to Humza’s health. No one is going to offer him green tea laced with Polonium and his followers can rant and rave about rebellion all they like safe in the knowledge that they will be ignored.

Yousaf’s plan is so confused that no one quite seems certain what it is. He may not believe in the possibility of resurrection on the third day, but he clearly does believe in the possibility of the resurrection of the de facto referendum which everyone had assumed had descended unto hell only to remain there.

What the SNP plan amounts to is to turn the next General Election into a vote on independence. Just like Sturgeon’s plan. But while she required fifty percent plus one vote of the turnout in Scotland to declare victory, Yousaf merely requires that the SNP wins the most seats.

It’s not even entirely clear what Yousaf means by most seats. Initially it seemed that this must mean that the SNP would have to win half the seats in Scotland. But no there are suggestions amidst the confusion that the SNP would only have to be the largest party.

But this is Wagner level of mad no matter how you play it. The SNP could easily win half the seats in Scotland with around a third of the votes. It could be the party with the most seats with less than twenty five percent of the votes.

At the moment the SNP has forty-eight seats while Labour has one seat in Scotland. Let’s imagine the SNP loses twenty-six seats and wins twenty-two. Labour on the other hand wins twenty-one seats and in fact wins a greater share of the vote than the SNP. Overall, Labour wins three hundred and forty-five seats so its Scottish seats are what give it an overall majority.

So, Labour has just formed a government. Keir Starmer is Prime Minister, but Humza Yousaf sets out on his Wagner like odyssey playing Flight of the Valkyries from his helicopters and marches on London to seek independence.

Keir Starmer has the good manners to actually meet Humza Yousaf and his merry men at Ten Downing Street. Yousaf tells him that the SNP won the election in Scotland and now wants to begin negotiating independence or else have a second referendum.

But you lost twenty-six seats. Your share of the vote went down from forty-five percent to twenty-five percent. Labour won a greater share of the vote and gained twenty seats. The SNP is in opposition. Labour is in government. But we won says Yousaf.

Even when the SNP won all but three of the seats in Scotland in 2015 and won very nearly 50% of the vote, no one thought this gave it the right to a rerun of the referendum it lost the previous September.

Even after winning thirty-five seats in 2017 with 36% of the vote and 48 seats in 2019 with 45% of the vote it was still the case that Sturgeon had to ask Prime Ministers May and Johnson for permission to hold a second referendum. The idea that Yousaf can somehow force a British Prime Minister to negotiate independence after winning fewer seats and a smaller share of the vote just because he has defined losing seats and winning fewer votes as winning is so bizarre that I keep expecting him to announce that he is going to capture Newcastle then York in order to restore the Stuarts to their rightful place on the throne only immediately afterwards to kick out the Bonnie Prince on the grounds that the SNP are republicans.  

It’s all very well exhibiting your republicanism by going to Bannockburn every year to worship the feet of an Anglo-Norman French King, but such cosplay becomes a little silly when you propose to march on London when the overwhelming majority (perhaps 75%) of Scots voted for Pro UK parties. Would Humza Yousaf turn back at Derby when he realised, he didn’t have the support?

This is all nonsense of course. The Scottish part of a UK General Election has no more constitutional significance than the part that takes place in Yorkshire. Just as Scottish voters don’t have a veto on the result of a UK wide referendum, so too each seat in a General Election is worth exactly the same as any other. There is only one majority that matters, the majority of seats needed to form a UK Government. There is only one manifesto that matters, the manifesto of that Government.

A group of MPs in Yorkshire cannot put forward a manifesto that people in Yorkshire will no longer have to pay VAT or income tax if they win most of the seats in Yorkshire. To achieve this goal these MPs would have to win a vote in the House of Commons.

Well so too with the SNP. To enter into independence negotiations the SNP would have to win a vote in the House of Commons. To obtain the right to a second referendum it would have to win a vote in the House of Commons and to leave the UK after such a referendum the SNP would still have to win a vote in the House of Commons. It is the whole of the House of Commons that decides everything that is not devolved. Groups of twenty or thirty MPs can decide nothing, even if they are from Scotland.

Where else is the SNP supposed to win a vote other than the House of Commons? Holyrood cannot vote on reserved constitutional matters. The Supreme Court told us this. So where are Humza Yousaf’s merry MPs who supposedly have a mandate for independence supposed to vote? Do they annex a school room in Derby?

The UK Government backed by the Supreme Court and the Scotland Act certainly does not need to grant anything to Humza Yousaf on the basis of the SNP doing worse at the next General Election than at anytime since 2014. Yousaf must know this, so what game is the SNP playing.

I think it’s a core votes strategy, the same one that Sturgeon was playing. Independence is just around the corner. We will have a second referendum next year. We will begin negotiations before you know it. But this strategy depends on independence supporters believing it to be true. But this is perhaps the bizarrest part of the whole story.

Sturgeon marched her troops to top of the hill in Derby, Wagner marched its troops to the top of the hill in the Moscow region, Humza proposes marching his troops to the top of the exact same hill and the poor suckers not only march, they actually think they are going to win.


We're on the march with Humza’s Army

We're going to Ten Downing Street

And we'll really shake them up

When we win the breakup

Cause the SNP has the greatest ever dream.


This is a diminishing returns strategy. If Humza marches everyone back from Derby next year, is the SNP really going to be able to have another “march with Kate’s army” or indeed anyone else’s army. SNP voters look so gullible rather than canny that you begin to suspect they are not Scots.

The UK is a unitary nation state. There is no legal right for a part to secede. But if the SNP ever consistently had sixty percent of the vote there is little doubt it would have its second referendum. The choice is to either be patient and build support or to rebel. All of the de facto strategies are forms of rebellion or else you just slink back after the Prime Minister says No.

But if the SNP wants rebellion, why doesn’t it just rebel? It can. A simple vote in Holyrood would be enough. But UDI means starting life with no cooperation, no deal and no recognition. It would probably involve the cash machines not working and no food in the shops too. But lots of countries have become independent without referendums. But if you don’t fancy that and the SNP certainly doesn’t fancy it, nor does the Scottish electorate, then stop inventing these mad schemes, where you get to win by getting fewer votes.

If on the other hand you fancy a little bit of rebellion then make sure you see it through otherwise you end up stranded in Derby or a hundred miles from Moscow and you look completely mad, because now you have nowhere to go.