Andrew Wilson: Premature vote risks losing independence

We are barely a year out from the last referendum which produced a much closer result than many dared dream. Picture: John Devlin
We are barely a year out from the last referendum which produced a much closer result than many dared dream. Picture: John Devlin
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SUMMERTIME and the living is easy. Fish are jumping and the weather is, well, pretty ghastly really. And amidst all the non-heat we find, panting breathlessly, the silly stories of the silly season.

Not so much silly, as colossally over-egged. Last weekend’s BBC interview with Alex Salmond, repeating his long-stated view that independence would happen and therefore so too would another referendum, got far too much airplay.

On currency it is no longer sustainable not to articulate what plan B would look like

It was much ado about not very much. So goes the summer.

We are barely a year out from the last referendum, which produced a much closer, though decisive, result than many dared dream. It came on the back of an SNP Holyrood majority that no-one believed possible.

As a result, the hard policy work by the civil service to prepare for both a referendum and a potential positive result could only start in earnest after the election and after the legal sanction for the constitutional vote.

All of that work is now done and means that, should a referendum be required in future, the campaign could be much shorter than last time.

Where I respectfully part company with the former First Minister is in his statement that “Nicola Sturgeon would determine the timing”. In fact it will be the views of the people which dictate that.

I detect little appetite in the country for another vote any time soon. Of course, many of those who passionately supported Yes want there to be another one, and a more positive outcome, with all our heart and soul.

But our head also tells us that it is mission critical for patience to be applied and another vote to only happen when it is legitimate in the minds of the broader population and that the groundswell for a positive answer is clear, consistent and strong. To rush the fence risks losing permanently. Good things come to those who wait.

The best way to build the case and build support is not to keep re-running the arguments, emotions and politics of last year’s campaign. That risks hardening the entrenchment of the 55 and the 45, when in fact bridges require to be built.

It is certainly true that since the referendum, the conduct of the London government and parties has done more to create the conditions for another vote than anything any SNP politician has done or said: the farce of English Votes for English Laws, the disrespect of Scotland’s democratically expressed will, the dismissal and attempted diminishment of the parliamentary group Scotland sent south. Cuts and welfare vandalism.

Clever statecraft would find a way to recognise in actions that the governing party in London has zero legitimacy and mandate in Scotland. For now, that statecraft is missing.

Meantime, the prospects of an exit from the European Union is the sort of scenario that could precipitate another vote and a positive outcome. Many of my most strident unionist friends say their world view would change in that event.

But with the factors we can control, what should Yes supporters do now?

First, ensure that the SNP stays in power and governs well, imaginatively and in a unifying way. Get the economy motoring and grow the tax base that will fund the public services we all depend on.

If pledging an early referendum the majority don’t want, and that would be lost in any event, puts Holyrood votes and therefore the SNP government at risk, that would be self-defeating. Of course, keep eyes trained on the horizon but don’t risk the prize we all seek by playing to our own 
core support. The job now is to ­motivate that base to persuade the un-persuaded.

Clearly much more work needs to be done to attract the support of those born outside Scotland. This means making real the pledge the party already holds in respecting Britishness and British identity. More needs to be done to explain that.

And much more needs to be done in the rest of the UK to help people understand the realities of the case so it isn’t viewed as a negative reaction to them. Their views matter in setting the tone for their family living and voting here.

Realism about the policies we need to produce better long-term outcomes is far more likely to convince than the mistaken idea that there is a pot of black gold at the end of the independence rainbow. But there is a tool box, how will we use it well?

On currency it is no longer sustainable not to articulate what plan B would look like, even if the plan A of sterling currency union remains the right-headed option all round.

Above all else, stay positive, respectful of opponents’ views and persuade gently rather than with disbelieving rancour.

Under Nicola Sturgeon the SNP will win the next election by living up to its name and being the truly unifying national party of Scotland.

I, and many like me, are impatient for independence. That is why we have to show patience. «