Exclusive:Scottish independence: Internal SNP division on indy strategy remains under Humza Yousaf as key figures including Joanna Cherry back 'de-facto' referendum
Key critics of Humza Yousaf’s leadership and party veterans have backed an alternative independence strategy ahead of the SNP’s annual conference in Aberdeen next month.
It comes after the First Minister and the SNP’s leader in Westminster, Stephen Flynn, revealed their proposed election strategy for the coming general election.
Their motion, due to be debated at the party’s conference, argues a majority of seats for the SNP at the next election would spark negotiations with the UK Government to “give democratic effect to Scotland becoming independent”.
The proposals were first unveiled by Mr Yousaf at the party’s independence convention in June, but received a mixed reception from some of his own parliamentarians.
It also represented a ditching of the planned ‘de-facto’ referendum suggested by former first minister Nicola Sturgeon, whereby 50 per cent plus one of the overall votes cast in an election for the SNP would be taken as the equivalent of a Yes vote in a referendum.
Despite the leadership scrapping this plan, some MPs, including fierce Sturgeon critic Joanna Cherry, veteran Sturgeon ally Pete Wishart and former party treasurer Douglas Chapman, have backed an alternative motion that is set to be considered at conference by members.
This alternative approach would see the general election fought as a “de-facto” referendum. Under this strategy, 50 per cent plus one votes for the SNP and other pro-independence parties such as Alex Salmond’s Alba Party or the Scottish Greens would be taken to mean people have voted for Scotland to “become an independent country with immediate effect”.
The motion adds that if the UK Government fails to negotiate or engage with the Scottish Government, “MPs will be withdrawn from Westminster, and the convening of a National Assembly, or similar, will begin, and take forward the establishment of Scotland as an independent nation”.
This strategy will be considered by SNP members at conference if it survives a final cull of motions from the provisional agenda, seen by The Scotsman, undertaken by the party prior to the finalisation of the conference programme.
In their motion, Mr Yousaf and Mr Flynn state the UK Government has continued to “unjustly block a democratic referendum”, adding the next Westminster general election – expected to take place some time in 2024 – could be a “means to offer that opportunity”.
The SNP manifesto for that election should “state on page one, line one” that a vote for the party is a vote for “Scotland to become an independent country”.
The motion then goes on to add that “if the SNP subsequently wins the most seats at the general election in Scotland, the Scottish Government is empowered to begin immediate negotiations with the UK Government to give democratic effect to Scotland becoming an independent country”.
Opposition parties branded the SNP leadership’s plans as a “crackpot alternative” to a “gold standard referendum” the pro-independence campaign lost.
It also follows the decision by the UK Supreme Court ruling the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to organise its own ballot on the issue, and after successive Conservative prime ministers have rejected calls from the Scottish Government for another vote on the country’s place in the UK.
Speaking to LBC, Mr Wishart said he would seek to amend the leadership’s motion to link to votes, rather than seats, in line with the motion he has co-signed. He said it would not be credible for the SNP to “try and assert some sort of move towards independence if you're not carrying the majority of people with you”.
Scotland in Union, the pro-union campaign group, said both versions of the ‘de-facto’ plan were “dangerous”.
Pamela Nash, who is also standing to become Labour MP for the Motherwell and Wishaw seat at the next election, said: “This is a desperate party which is constantly trying to move the goal posts on independence. The facts are clear – the de-facto plan in any form is unworkable and unpopular.
“The upcoming SNP conference should see Scotland’s party of government seeking to improve the health service, boost the economy and address the cost-of-living crisis. Instead, it looks destined to be yet another summit dominated by the reckless plan to break-up Britain."
Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow chancellor, rejected the SNP leadership’s strategy.
She said: “No, we wouldn’t consider that a mandate in any way to have another referendum. The SNP are now just doubling down on a core vote strategy, not interested in changing the lives of people in Scotland, but focusing narrowly on constitutional issues.”
She was campaigning at Blantyre Fabrications ahead of the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election on October 5, alongside Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar. No print newspapers were invited to attend the visit.
Also campaigning in Rutherglen, the First Minister defended his strategy to achieve independence. He said: “I think the question here is ‘what is it that the Westminster parties are so scared of that they won’t give us another referendum?’”
Mr Yousaf said while a second referendum was still his party’s “plan A”, it had been blocked from holding such a vote by Westminster
The First Minister said: “If they are not going to allow us to test our proposition for popular support, I believe we have to use the next electoral means to do that. The next election will be a means to test that proposition and the way we will test it is by the rules of a general election. He who wins the most seats wins that general election.”
While he stressed “the party that wins the most seats ends up winning the general election”, Mr Yousaf insisted the SNP was “not complacent” because it was “going to be a really difficult general election”.
He said: “We know Labour are biting at our heels. That is why we will be putting independence front and centre, because my belief is it is absolutely the alternative that people are crying for.
“Labour, Sir Keir Starmer, with his support for the bedroom tax, the rape clause, two-child limit, Brexit. He’s not the alternative, independence is the alternative.”
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