Leaders: What next after the referendum?

IT IS heartening to know that senior figures in the SNP are giving some serious thought to what might happen in the event of a No vote in the independence referendum.

A contingency plan ahead of a vote that goes against the Nationalists is only good government. Picture: Hemedia

Last year, when quiet conversations on this subject began, close observers of the SNP detected a divide in Nationalist opinion. While there was agreement that independence had to remain the medium-term and long-term goal of the party, there was disagreement about the short-term strategy after a No. One body of opinion regarded it as essential for the SNP to retain its distinctiveness on the constitution, and not get sucked into any kind of convention to negotiate a pan-Scottish agreement on the next phase of devolution. Get drawn into that process, they reasoned, and the SNP would inevitably have to sign up to its outcome. That would be an unacceptable risk, they said. Would it not be better if they stood apart from the consensus-building and instead argued at the subsequent UK and Holyrood elections for full devo-max, with no concessions?

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The opposing argument had a different starting point – a growing awareness of the deepening division in Scottish society caused by the referendum, and the intensity of feeling on both sides. How the losing side responded to defeat could have a profound effect – socially, economically, politically – for years to come. What the country would need, regardless of the result, would be a process of healing – a national group hug to affirm that we were now all in this together and would have to make it work as best we could, even if the outcome was not our choice. According to this outlook, the last thing Scotland would need was another two election campaigns fought on constitutional disagreements. The time would have come for the SNP to join Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems and the Greens, and come up with a pan-Scottish vision for Scottish devolution that could see the ­country move forward as one nation, not two tribes.

This debate would no doubt be held in the open within the SNP in the event of a No vote. But according to the soundings taken by our political journalists the argument for consensus-building is the one currently finding favour in the SNP leadership. There are many in the party who still rue the day the SNP stood back from the Scottish Constitutional Convention in the 1980s and 1990s, meaning the party arrived very late to the civic and political coalition that would ultimately win home rule in 1999. They argue this is not a mistake the party wants to repeat. But there will be others within the SNP who will put the case for political distinctiveness, for party political advantage.

Whether there is a Yes or a No vote, this newspaper will be on the side of the consensus builders – the ones building bridges across the barricades and making common cause in the interest of national unity. After 18 September there will be a compelling need for the nation to put aside its differences and seek out what unites rather than what divides. For the future’s sake, we will need a Scotland United.