The veteran SNP MP Pete Wishart may be a loose cannon on Twitter but he has a point about the impact of the People’s Vote on the independence campaign, writes Tom Peterkin.
Pete Wishart, the former Runrig musician who is now the SNP’s longest serving MP, is regarded as something of a maverick. In fact, for those who follow his provocative postings on social media the word “maverick” might be regarded one of the kinder descriptions of the MP for Perth and North Perthshire.
Over the years, his Twitter feed has been a one-man stushie-fest. After the 2014 independence referendum, No voters were described as “naw-bags” (a joke, apparently). Another memorably ill-judged online contribution saw him compare Blairites to “incontinent old relatives”.
Then there was the regrettable tweet (since deleted) in which he used a four-letter word – which should not be used in polite company and which refers to a certain type of solitary nocturnal activity – to describe his Unionist opponents.
When these online crimes are taken in isolation, they do little to suggest that Mr Wishart is a deep political thinker. But if the veteran MP has a redeeming feature, it is that he is actually far more engaging in person than his online persona suggests.
So when Mr Wishart burst into print yesterday morning to denounce the SNP’s recent conversion to a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal it was worth taking note of.
Writing in the independence-supporting National and using considerably more than 280 characters, Mr Wishart argued that Nicola Sturgeon’s support of another referendum on EU withdrawal threatened the SNP’s drive for Scottish independence.
One of Mr Wishart’s key objections to the SNP’s stance is that it takes no account of his view that it would be wrong for a Remain vote in Scotland to be trumped by the UK result in a People’s Vote that endorses the Brexit deal overall.
“No-one from the People’s Vote campaign has attempted to answer the question which is: what if Scotland votes to remain (which it will) and the UK as a whole votes to leave again (which it might)?” Mr Wishart wrote.
“They won’t answer because for them it is a UK vote and the outcome in Scotland is irrelevant and just the same as the outcome in any other part of the UK. They simply do not acknowledge that we as a nation have our own national view and national interest. To say that we will sign up to a referendum without any guarantee that our Scottish national voice will be at least acknowledged is little more than an open invitation to have our national view ignored and disrespected all over again. We are simply inviting all the indignities we are currently enduring to be replicated and refreshed,” he warned.
The publication of Mr Wishart’s article means there has now been a clear sighting of that rarest of beasts – an SNP policy split. The MP has set himself against Ms Sturgeon who, when interviewed on the Andrew Marr Show during the SNP’s autumn conference, said SNP MPs would “undoubtedly” support a People’s Vote. Until then, Ms Sturgeon had been sceptical about another Brexit referendum and her line had been to make the point made in Mr Wishart’s article about the possibility of Scotland voting differently from the UK.
Since SNP conference, her scepticism appears to have subsided. For example, a video message from Ms Sturgeon was played to the hundreds of thousands of people who marched on London in support of the People’s Vote last month. But perhaps the main problem with the SNP embracing the People’s Vote movement from Mr Wishart’s point of view was its potential impact on a second independence referendum in the long term. SNP support of a poll on the Brexit deal would make it difficult for Ms Sturgeon to object to those who would want to subject a Yes vote in a second Scottish independence referendum to another plebiscite on the terms of the deal. In his article, Mr Wishart argued that SNP support for a People’s Vote created an unhealthy precedent as far as Scottish independence is concerned and any subsequent negotiations to break up the UK.
“By enthusiastically buying into this confirmatory vote for an EU referendum, we weaken our hand in resisting Unionist calls for a second vote on a successful indyref,” Mr Wishart wrote.
“... If they were successful in using this precedent against us, unreconciled Unionists would be working non-stop from the day after the referendum to ensure that a successful outcome would be overturned. Every apparatus of state would be deployed and they would ensure that the worst possible deal would be offered to the Scottish people in the hope that their Union could be rescued.”
Of course, the best way of avoiding that neverendum-style outcome is for referenda to be recognised as one-off-events and for their results to be respected. Of course, that would mean respecting the No-vote in 2014 and the Leave vote in 2016 – not something that politicians on the losing sides seem inclined to do.
Indeed, given the SNP’s readiness to overlook the “once in a generation” pledge in relation to a Scottish independence referendum, there is a certain irony in Mr Wishart pointing out the dangers of another Brexit poll. Nevertheless, he has a point when it comes to the damaging impact a People’s Vote could have on the SNP’s long-term strategy. By accepting a People’s Vote, Ms Sturgeon could be storing up future problems for the SNP. That is something Mr Wishart has expressed in a rather more articulate manner than the contents of his Twitter account.