Sunday 28 January 2024

Why are independence supporters voting Labour?


I generally don’t much trust political opinion polling. But it is all we have between elections, so we are forced to pay attention. But that doesn’t mean we have an excuse to stop thinking.

There were two polls on Scottish independence each with the usual question, the same as in 2014, that would not be asked if there were a second referendum.

In one Yes had a four-point lead. In the other No had a one-point lead.

But there must be a distinction between polling about a theoretical referendum that everybody knows is unlikely to happen anytime soon and polling for an actual General Election that everybody knows must happen in the next twelve months.

There is a mismatch.

Labour is on 36% in Scotland.
The SNP is on 33%.

Labour is predicted to win 28 seats, while the SNP would lose 30 seats and win only 18. The Conservatives would then retain their 6 seats and the Lib Dems would win 5.

Now let’s say that it is true that support for Scottish independence is really on 49% and its true that support for the SNP is on 33%. Well, that would mean either that 16% of Scottish nationalists are stupid or that they don’t really want independence.

How is Scotland to achieve independence? There is only route. It is not by saying Yes in an opinion poll. It is by voting for the SNP or another party that puts in its manifesto that it wants Scottish independence.

It may not be sufficient for the SNP to win large numbers of seats in Scotland. We have seen it do so on a number of occasions since 2014. The British government has to agree to a referendum. But it is clearly necessary for the SNP to demonstrate something near majority support in order to have a chance of persuading the British government to grant a referendum.

If the SNP wins only 18 seats, then independence can be ruled out for decades if not forever.

So, if you say Yes in the poll and you believe that you want Scottish independence what are you doing voting Labour? It may be that there are some independence supporters in Scottish Labour, but a Labour government will probably depend for its majority on Scottish MPs. To grant a referendum on the basis of opinion polling for Yes, while only 33% of Scots vote for the SNP would be for Labour to risk losing its majority. Why would Keir Starmer agree to that?

It is also possible that the SNP could persuade a British government to grant a second referendum by holding the balance of power at Westminster or by winning an absolute majority at Holyrood as Alex Salmond did in 2011. But again, the likelihood of the SNP holding the balance of power becomes highly unlikely if it goes from 48 seats to 18. A Labour government would be able to form a coalition with the Lib Dems rather than turn to the SNP. Likewise, the chances of the SNP winning an absolute majority in Holyrood becomes highly unlikely if it can only win 33% at a General Election two years earlier.

So, we have to ask these independence supporters, all 16% of them, how do they want to achieve their goal? It’s as if their goal is to drive to Inverness from Glasgow, but instead they go in the direction of Carlisle.

Supporting independence for some Scots has become almost a cultural thing. It’s part of their identity. But they don’t actually really want it. People who really want independence like the Baltic States during the fall of the Soviet Union don’t worry about issues like currency or borders or joining the EU, they just declare themselves to be independent, set up their new state and work things out as they go along.

But Scotland isn’t remotely in that situation. If you offered Scots, the Lithuanian model of becoming independent we would reject it overwhelmingly. Scots only want independence if everything stays the same as it is now and we get all that we want in the negotiations both with the former UK and the EU and also, we get free iPads and £10,000 so we can be like Denmark.

There may be 33% who will vote for the SNP come what may, but that is close to the core 25% of Scots who supported independence in 2011. What the SNP has gained since 2014 is soft support that theoretically wants independence, but actually doesn’t if it means losing the pound or the Barnett Formula or having to deal with a hard border between Gretna and Berwick.

These soft independence supporters were willing to go along with the SNP as it felt a bit like cheering on Scotland at the football, but as soon as the SNP began to look a bit dishonest last year and still more so this past week, we discover the nature of their softness.  It’s rather like Sturgeon’s crude analogy.  They were made of marzipan.

There is no real history of Scottish nationalism until the 1980s, with Margaret Thatcher and the poll tax and closing Ravenscraig and those awful Tories being wicked to Scotland. It therefore is not really an independence movement it is an anti-Tory movement. Thatcher has become like Cromwell to the Irish. An almost mythical figure to scare the weans at bedtime.

The SNP is an anti-Tory party rather than an independence party, but this means that it is now hoist by its own petard. The bomb [petard] is blowing up in Humza Yousaf’s face.

When the SNP won nearly all of the Scottish seats in 2015 the consequence was a Conservative government and people wondered how on earth could Labour ever win a majority again without its Scottish MPs. In this situation if you were anti-Tory, it made sense to vote for the SNP and independence as this was the only way to escape a Tory government. But this logic now works against the SNP. In order to escape a Tory government, you don’t need to go to the trouble and risk of Scottish independence. You just need to give Labour its Scottish seats back.

The reason people who theoretically want Scottish independence are voting Labour then is that this funnily enough gets them what they always wanted. A Labour government. This leaves the SNP with no argument.

It is self-evident that the one thing that might deprive Labour of a majority is if the SNP wins all the seats in Scotland. It will matter little if the Conservatives retain their six seats. So, the anti-Tory contest becomes a battle between Labour and the SNP in the Central Belt. With more revelations to come this week and perhaps this year, guess who loses that battle. The SNP’s anti-Tory strategy now works against it.

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