Senior SNP figures have urged Nicola Sturgeon to “spell out” a second referendum strategy amid concern over the timing of another vote and the economic case for independence.
This week Sturgeon heads to Aberdeen for the SNP conference amid mounting expectation from party activists that she will take another step on the road towards calling a second vote.
But as the conference approaches, the Yes movement is split over indyref2 timing and there is concern amongst the SNP that economic questions over the currency, the impact of Brexit and trade in an independent Scotland have yet to be answered.
Yesterday Sturgeon came under fire from SNP veteran Jim Sillars, who compared her “irresponsible” hyping of a second referendum with the 1513 Battle of Flodden, where James IV’s much-vaunted Scottish army was crushed by the English.
Sillars, a former SNP deputy leader, said the Yes movement was not ready for another vote, despite Sturgeon last week suggesting the “common sense” time to hold it would be in autumn next year.
Sillars believes the vote should be delayed until around 2020 when the outcome of Brexit negotiations will be known.
In an open letter to the Yes movement, Sillars warned a second bid for independence would end in defeat if done too quickly and criticised Sturgeon for failing to set out a coherent strategy.
“Yes cannot afford to lose again, and lose we shall if the timing is wrong,” Sillars wrote.
“The rhetoric and hype from Nicola Sturgeon since the EU referendum has been irresponsible. The Scots deserved a composed, factual exposition of the position, but did not get it.
“Scotland’s leaders have too often whipped up emotion to overcome reason, with defeat the price. Flodden and Dunbar are examples where emotion driven to a high pitch saw strategic advantage thrown away, delivering Scots into the hands of opponents. Be misled again with emotion brushing aside reason, and we shall repeat the follies of the past.
“The Yes movement may be willing to fight a referendum now, but it is not ready. Where is the critical analysis of why we lost in 2014, and what we need to put right?”
Sillar’s call for a better organised plan of attack was echoed by Alex Neil, the former Cabinet minister who, like Sillars, believes in both Scottish independence and EU withdrawal.
Despite an STV Ipsos MORI poll last week suggesting that Yes and No support was level-pegging at 50 per cent each, Neil told Scotland on Sunday that more work had to be done to make the case for independence.
“Public opinion is very fluid,” Neil said. “Last week’s Ipsos MORI poll would suggest that we can win it, but there is still a lot of water to flow and there is work to be done on currency, trading relations and the economics and finances of Scotland.
“It is not just about Brexit, it is also about clarity on what we are taking to the people. I think she (Sturgeon) has got to spell out a strategy.”
With speculation mounting that Theresa May could trigger Article 50 – the mechanism to leave the EU – as soon as Tuesday this week, the SNP conference is being billed as one of the most significant in the party’s history.
Sturgeon has yet to formally call for a second vote, but ever since the Brexit vote has argued that it is “highly likely” that one will be held.
SNP insiders believe Sturgeon may attempt to satisfy her party’s clamour for action by either tabling a referendum bill or requesting powers to hold a referendum from Westminster through a Section 30 order.
Neither option would formally bind her to holding another vote, but going ahead with either one would make it even more difficult to back down from the indyref2 option.
Although Sillars believes 2018 is too early for a referendum because the final details of the UK’s deal with the EU will not be known, he is of the view that the Yes campaign should start working towards another vote.
He also called on the Scottish Government to negotiate a protocol in the UK’s Brexit deal recognising that an independent Scotland would inherit all the rights in the agreement. Sillars argued that such a protocol would guarantee right of access to both the UK and EU markets and counter arguments that independence would damage trade.
Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, the former SNP deputy leader called on the Yes movement to re-establish a policy board involving economists, academics, the Green Party, the Scottish Socialist Party and the left-wing Common Weal think tank.
“They should engage in a rigorous examination of why we lost and the position we should take as the details of the EU/UK deal become available to us.”
Sillars acknowledged that the SNP’s 2014 policy of sharing the pound with the rest of the UK had contributed to Yes’s failure to win last time round.
“A major reason for the defeat was the currency,” Sillars said. “Therefore there should be a rigorous analysis of what faces us. We would be able to produce the necessary answers to all the questions that people would ask – which we didn’t do last time.”
Blair Jenkins, the former chief executive of Yes Scotland, agreed that the currency question should be looked at “afresh” and added that the SNP’s Growth Commission under the former MSP Andrew Wilson would examine it.
Jenkins said: “The one thing I have learned about the currency issue is that glib remarks are not really what’s required.
“I think there has to be a detailed examination of this and I presume that’s what the SNP’s Growth Commission is doing and looking at the options and coming up with what’s the right solution.”
Jenkins differed from Sillars when it came to the timing, saying he believed autumn next year was feasible and a successful campaign could be run in nine months.
“I think a campaign from beginning to end could be nine months both in terms of going through the legislative process at Holyrood and Westminster and running proper campaigns.
An SNP spokeswoman said: “Scotland voted clearly and decisively to remain in Europe, not for an economically disastrous Tory hard Brexit outside the single market.
“The Scottish Government has a cast-iron democratic mandate for an independence referendum if that is the chosen route to protect our national interests.
“It was a specific manifesto commitment on which the SNP was re-elected just ten months ago.”