The SNP knows the risk they would lose an independence referendum is too high and the extreme language about wanting one is designed with the 2021 Scottish election in mind, writes John McLellan.
Imprisoned against our will, we’re living in a dictatorship; there was no spleen left unvented by the SNP leadership as they lost no time in laying the groundwork for what will undoubtedly be a year of bitter argument about a second independence referendum.
But argument might be putting it too strongly because it takes two sides to have an argument, so perhaps shouting match would be a better description as Nationalists seek to crank up the anger ahead of next year’s Scottish Parliament elections while the UK Government gets on with delivering the general election mandate and Conservatives in Holyrood concentrate on the SNP’s record in administration.
The Conservative results in Edinburgh were not great as the expected anti-Boris, pro-EU effect kicked in, not dissimilar to the plusher parts of London like Putney and Richmond Park. But in the rest of Scotland a 3.5 per cent drop was still the second best Tory result since 1992 and the 25 per cent vote share ahead of the 1987 return.
But even with Labour’s dreadful campaign and the Lib Dems’ increasing irrelevance beyond a handful of intensive local campaigns, the inescapable truth for the SNP is that 54 per cent of the Scottish electorate still voted for a unionist party. Even if a few of them were actually independence supporters in disguise, they would almost certainly be Leavers opposed to indyref2 while the SNP’s express intention is to take an independent Scotland back into the EU.
By First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s own admission, some of those who voted SNP will not necessarily back independence so the risk of losing a vote is too great for Nationalists to take; the extreme language is not about actually wanting a referendum now but to raise the stakes for 2021 and as cover for the deteriorating public services for which the SNP is responsible.
Their earnest hope is that the Brexit trade negotiations are disastrous and by the time of the election it will be against a background of disarray in Westminster and dismay amongst voters. But the evidence of the past five months is that with a decisive majority and a clear plan, the opposite will be the case.
Further, there is a high sense of urgency in London that just as the promises to the North and Midlands must be honoured, so too is support for the Union an absolute priority. Just as the Scottish Government will be winding up the language of grievance – although it’s hard to imagine how they can top the talk of imprisonment and totalitarianism – the UK Government will be ramping up both direct and indirect funding for Scotland and making sure it shouts about it too.
The shrieks of oppression have their basis in a refusal to accept the 2014 referendum result, after the UK Government’s tyrannical jailers responded to the 2011 Scottish election result by not only accepting the mandate but ceding control of the date, the franchise and the question to the SNP. They got everything they wanted except the result.
So when Scots voted in the 2016 EU referendum they did so as citizens of the UK with the same rights as everyone else, not as semi-detached federalists in which their two options were Remain or Independence.
And 2014 means that when Scots vote in general elections they are electing a UK Government which is returned with a mandate from the whole UK. With an overall majority, the Conservative Government now has to honour the promise to rule out another independence vote.
There is also the small matter of the economy. For all the screaming about mandates, the situation facing Scotland after last week’s result is rosier as part of a UK with a more positive outlook than it has had for years and the promise of stability which investors crave.
The SNP’s offer is more division and uncertainty next year and the prize for success is an even bigger split from Scotland’s biggest trading partner than in 2014, a £12-15bn tax-and-austerity programme and begging letters to Brussels.
With falling school standards and hospitals which can’t open, haven’t they got enough on their plate?
John McLellan is a Conservative councillor in Edinburgh