Here’s how unionists can end the SNP’s independence referendum hopes – John McLellan

Who did Joanna Cherry call "repellent"? (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Who did Joanna Cherry call "repellent"? (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
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Unionists must stop talking about indyref2 and make 2021 vote about SNP negelct of public services, writes John McLellan.

Here’s to an election-free 2020, wrote one of my Conservative colleagues on her Christmas card, and after a year in which we had a General Election, a European election and, for party members, a leadership election, we’d say three cheers.

The SNP say they want a second independence referendum in 2020 while, with the polls and the election result still showing a majority for the Union, quietly hoping Prime Minister Boris Johnson sticks to his promise not to grant one. So maybe the campaign machinery can get a year’s reprieve.

It will suit the Nationalists just fine for the Scottish Parliament vote in 2021 to become an indyref2 decider if public services, particularly the starvation of funds from local government, continue on the same trajectory as they are now.

But a repeat of the SNP’s outright win in 2011 would be the start of another campaign of attrition like 2012-14 with the actual second independence referendum not taking place until 2023 or even 2024. It is therefore in all the Unionist parties’ interests to talk about everything except another referendum to turn the narrative into one of neglect.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson’s opposition to IndyRef2 will boost support for independence, warns ex-government adviser

READ MORE: Petition calling for Scottish independence hits 500,000 signatures

After a podcast discussion with the ex-SNP MP Angus Robertson for the Edinburgh Evening News, to be broadcast on Boxing Day, the Nationalist strategy is relatively clear; to argue that the UK Government is a dictatorship led by an immoral Prime Minister which is enslaving Scotland, and the starting point for any discussion about services is any evidence that things are worse in England. After the First Minster spoke about imprisonment and Finance Secretary Derek Mackay of dictatorship, Edinburgh South-West MP Joanna Cherry came close to describing Conservative MPs as “repellent” on social media. “The atmosphere in the House of Commons today is truly repellent. I feel trapped in the parliament of another country whose concerns and obsessions are utterly alien to me,” she tweeted. So much for joyous inclusivity.

With the Brexit Bill sailing through Parliament yesterday, the timetable for departure on January 31 has been set, as will the legal requirement to conclude trade negotiations by the end of the year and the sense of momentum in a week is in stark contrast to the last three years of paralysis.

However, Scotland seems doomed, to borrow from Ms Cherry, to be trapped in a debate of a party whose concerns and obsessions are utterly alien to at least 55 per cent of the population. There shall be a second independence referendum, and if that one is lost there shall be a third. Neverendum indeed.

Brexit negotiations apart, there is a lot to play out next year, not least of which is political leadership. Depending on who replaces Jeremy Corbyn, Richard Leonard’s number could be up, Willie Rennie might finally have had enough of gooky photo opportunities and, for reasons which can’t be explored publicly, many in the political village expect Derek Mackay to be First Minister this time next year.

For Scottish Conservatives, far from being election-free, 2020 immediately kicks off with the process of appointing Ruth Davidson’s successor, although after four months as interim leader outsiders might be forgiven for thinking Jackson Carlaw has already taken over.

Mr Carlaw took full advantage of the opportunity the election afforded to tour all the associations, meet the membership and deliver his punchy brand of political stump stand-up which made him a popular figure at Scottish party conferences over the years with his late-night Blue Review comedy quiz. Making a good fist of his appearances on the Scottish election TV debates has raised his public profile and while not a shoo-in, it will take an exceptional candidate to overtake him. However a contest there should be, not least because it is a six-week publicity opportunity for Conservative ideas and to start the preparation for 2021 ahead of time, but also because credible contenders will demonstrate depth. Glasgow MSP Annie Wells might give him something to think about. And the rest of the country.

Edinburgh’s Beirut?

On the subject of local services, last month Edinburgh Council announced the closure of Waverley Bridge every weekend until January 5, a move designed, in the words of the city’s transport convener Lesley Macinnes, to “ease congestion on the busy pavements and crossings, making it much easier for everyone to move around in a relaxed, welcoming and festive atmosphere”.

Instead, as anyone who has been near Waverley recently will testify, it has turned Market Street into Edinburgh’s Grand Theft Auto which has become so bad that one nearby resident I spoke to this week likened it to Beirut. And before anyone shrieks at the hyperbole, he used to live there. Next weekend it will be even worse when Network Rail carries out a major upgrade of points at Haymarket and buses will replace the 30 services an hour which would normally be heading west out of Waverley.

For a relaxing, pollution-free Twixtmas weekend in Edinburgh, give the Waverley area a miss.

Airport money-spinner

As for angering travellers they don’t come much better than Edinburgh Airport, which is rackling up its minimum drop-off charge to £5 and claiming the price hike was necessary to cut vehicle numbers.

If the airport was really serious about slashing private vehicle access, it would just withdraw the facility altogether. But it hasn’t because it’s a money spinner, especially from holiday-makers who will just stick the fiver onto the cost of the whole trip, and business types who will claim it as an expense. It’s not a congestion charge, it’s just a charge.

It’s Christmas every day for Zuckerberg, Page and Brin

Disruption is the buzz-word in the communications world; be it disruptive actions by cyber-intelligence misinformation or the distortion of long-established commercial markets,

The marketing world got a wake-up call this week with the announcement by international multi-media marketing giant Dentsu Aegis of 1,400 redundancies in seven locations, hundreds of them in the UK, a nice Christmas present for its UK chief executive Euan Jarvie, a well-kent face in the Edinburgh media scene from his years with Mediacom in Leith, to hand out.

More work is being pushed out to regional offices, so Dentsu’s 350 Edinburgh employees might be spared the worst, but a report this week from the UK Competition and Markets Authority shows where the real problem lies, with half of all UK display advertising going to Facebook (£2bn) and Google sucking up 90 per cent of all search advertising, some £6bn.

It’s a fortune built entirely on information gleaned from users for nothing and with access to details about your every whim, no wonder Google and Facebook see less need for advertising go-betweens. As you key in those searches for last-minute presents this weekend, you are contributing to the Christmas that never ends for Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.