Despite pledging that every vote would ensure the referendum, reality has arrived. SNP sources now talk about the latter part of the parliamentary term. At best that’s late 2023 and beyond. In reality they’ve sold the pass and the likelihood of a poll diminishes by the day.
As with the outcome of the election, it’s Groundhog Day. I recall being at the first SNP parliamentary group meeting after the December 2019 election where a referendum in autumn the coming year was parroted.
Everyone knew that to be a lie as there was neither time, preparation nor agreement. But still it was the official party line. The excuses continued – legitimate in some cases with coronavirus, simply false as with statements of autumn this year.
Now whatever the spin, it’s off the table. Tories that I spoke to at the election count were able to narrate the likely UK strategy and Nicola Sturgeon has played right into it.
Boris wouldn’t budge and likely not even blink at demands for a section 30 order power, they said. Instead he’d just say get on with coronavirus recovery and play the long game.
So there’ll be no referendum in autumn 2023, as there’ll still be no coronavirus recovery. It’s a coronavirus recession we now face and that’s not passing this year, next year or for a good few years thereafter.
Instead the timetable will run into yet another event in the political calendar. This time, not the United Nations’ Cop26 climate summit but a UK election. It’ll likely be that year and if not it has to be by the following. Whenever it is it’ll supplant a referendum and Tory strategy will be for SNP to be rolled back, as happened in 2017.
In that election, the SNP will be facing pressure from all sides. The pent-up frustrations and problems of coronavirus are about to be unleashed and a winter of discontent looms for the new Holyrood adminstration.
Every portfolio will be under siege and yet room for manoeuvre is limited. The funding won’t be there, yet they’re the ones who’ll have to answer for failures across the board.
Even necessary changes to Scottish governance, such as separating the Lord Advocate’s twin roles, require Westminster consent. Tories will hope that, as in 2017, independence supporters stay home. Then they were marched up the hill in the spring only to be stood down.
Frustration therefore grows with the SNP in the wider Indy movement. The power of patronage’ll ensure MPs and MSPs largely keep on message. Some members’ll remain eternally loyal or just ever hopeful.
But many won’t, instead they’ll seek other outlets for their energy and other means to campaign than being SNP voting fodder. Activists have already deserted in droves, whether to Alba or other organisations. The campaign will move outwith parliament and won’t be led by the SNP.
The Indy campaign hasn’t gone away but it’s taking a new form.
Kenny MacAskill is the Alba Party MP for East Lothian