Friday 26 April 2024

The independence movement is committing suicide


In writing about the end of the Bute House agreement I had assumed that the independence movement remained rational and would act with the aim of furthering that goal rather than destroying it. I had also assumed that Humza Yousaf had consulted with his Scottish Greens colleagues and had planned for all eventualities. That too has proven to be a false assumption. If he had known that the Scottish Greens were to vote against him in a confidence motion it would have been insane for him to end the Bute House agreement. But then again it is equally insane for the Scottish Greens to vote to bring down the Scottish government and cause an early election to Holyrood. So, we are dealing with the insane and the insane.

Rationally the Scottish Greens are no worse off than they were between 2016 and 2021 when they informally supported the Scottish government. But it is clear that we are dealing with human nature here. Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater have just lost very well-paid jobs which they have got used to. They have made plans which depend on them keeping these jobs for the next two years and more. They are furious and want revenge. It’s extraordinary that Humza Yousaf didn’t find out that this was going to happen.

From being a nothing much story, this has in a few hours become an everything story. If Yousaf is defeated in a confidence vote which may well depend on how former SNP leadership candidate Ash Regan votes now that she has joined Alba there is a good chance that we will have a Holyrood election very soon. Ash Regan is really Alex Salmond in a dress so the fate of the SNP will depend on Salmond. Other factors include the presence or absence of Michael Matheson. To think that the fate of a government could depend on children watching a Celtic game in Morocco.

If there is a Holyrood election it is hard to imagine a worse time for it to occur than now for the independence movement. They all held their banner at the last march as if they were united with each other even as they tried to divide the UK, but the independence movement has been fighting itself since at least Alex Salmond was arrested and that fight is about to get still more nasty.

The problem is that Scottish nationalists still think that they are in 2021 when the SNP won 47.7% of the vote. But those days are past now and in the past they must remain. The arithmetic has changed.

The peculiar voting system for the Scottish Parliament means that a party that wins 47% of the votes is going to win all its seats via the constituency vote and very few if any with the second list seat vote. It made voting for the SNP with the second vote pointless. Scottish nationalists rationally ought to have picked either the Greens or Alba to maximise the number of independence supporting MSPs.

But this logic only works when the SNP vote is very high. If the SNP vote declines to around 30% then it will need all of the first and second votes it can get. If you don’t win the maximum number of constituencies, you need the maximum number of list seats to make up the difference. But this completely destroys the logic of using the second vote for the Greens or Alba.

SNP voters reflecting on how the Greens and Alba brought down the SNP government may well be reluctant to give them their second votes anyway.

But this has the potential to destroy the Greens. Only 34,000 Scots voted for the Greens at constituency level in 2021, but it won eight seats because 220,000 Scots voted for it on the list. The vast majority of those 220,000 were SNP supporters rather than genuine Greens.

It is for this reason that the reaction of Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater is metaphorically suicidal. If SNP voters turn against the Greens, it could easily end up with no seats. This is why I assumed that the Greens would continue to support the SNP government. It is insane not to.

For Pro UK people the same logic applies as in the General Election but with an addition. In much of urban Scotland it will make sense to vote Labour while in parts of the Northeast, Borders and Perthshire it may make sense to vote Conservative. The Lib Dems will be favourites in a few other places. But this also means that in parts of the Central Belt it will make sense to vote Labour with the constituency vote and another Pro UK party with the list vote.  If Labour wins enough constituencies the second vote will be wasted unless it goes to another Pro UK party.

The likely result of 2024 Holyrood election could be similar to the 2007 election. Labour and the SNP would have a similar number of seats but there would be a Pro UK majority of MSPs. It was peculiarly stupid of the Conservatives in 2007 to prop up Alex Salmond. This was the cause of everything that followed. But we can hope that everyone has learned their lesson and would cooperate.

The prize on offer is this and it is quite close. A Pro UK majority in Holyrood used cleverly and not selfishly can begin to investigate the SNP government since 2007. Who knows what a forensic audit might find out. So too a Pro UK majority of Scottish MPs in Westminster destroys the SNP argument about a democratic deficit.

There may be two elections in 2024 and the SNP may be defeated in both, but there is a joker in this game of poker. Imagine if someone else were to be charged in the middle of either campaign. That could destroy both the SNP and the Scottish Greens. The independence movement is committing suicide.