John Swinney's independence position in SNP manifesto is a complicated one

John Swinney said a vote for the SNP would ‘intensify the pressure’ for independence

John Swinney repeatedly vowed independence would be “page one, line one” of the SNP manifesto. And sure enough, the very first page of the slender, 28-page document states in block capitals: “Vote SNP for Scotland to become an independent country.”

As always, though, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

“If the SNP wins a majority of Scottish seats, the Scottish Government will be empowered to begin immediate negotiations with the UK government to give democratic effect to Scotland becoming an independent country,” the manifesto says on page seven.

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SNP leader John Swinney. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesSNP leader John Swinney. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
SNP leader John Swinney. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

What does this mean in practice? Essentially, it means that if the SNP wins a majority of seats, it will push for a second independence referendum.

Launching his party’s manifesto at an event at Edinburgh Park on Wednesday, Mr Swinney argued the SNP already has a mandate for a second referendum following the 2021 Holyrood election.

The general election, he said, gives people a chance to “intensify the pressure to secure Scottish independence”. Logically, this means if the SNP loses a large number of seats, that pressure diminishes and independence recedes into the distance. Mr Swinney refused to engage with this possibility.

“If the SNP wins a majority of seats in this election in Scotland, the Scottish Government will embark on negotiations with the UK Government to turn the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland into a reality,” he told journalists and activists. “And the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland were expressed at the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, where just a few miles from where we are today there is a parliamentary majority in favour of independence, and in favour of a referendum on the question of independence.

"Now, I have long made clear my view, and it’s my party’s view, that the best way to secure independence is through a democratic referendum. The obstacle to that is the intransigence of the UK government.

"So, what this election gives people the chance to do, is to intensify the pressure to secure Scottish independence, and to bring that about by voting SNP in order for us to achieve a majority of Westminster seats at this election. So if anybody out there is keen for Scotland to be an independent country, then the only vote they should cast is for the SNP because it’s the only way it’s going to happen.”

Mr Swinney said there was “a basic democratic point”, adding: "I think if we get to a point in the UK where we just have what I might call a casual attitude to respecting the democratic outcomes of elections, I think we’re in really, really dangerous territory.”

I asked the First Minister if he was seriously saying the SNP would claim a mandate for indyref2 even if his party loses a vast number of its seats. He replied: “I think people in Scotland should have their democratic wishes respected, and in 2021 they called for there to be a referendum on the question of independence as a consequence of electing a parliamentary majority committed to that particular objective.

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"And in this election, if people want to intensify the pressure for that to be the case, then their opportunity is to vote for the SNP to make that happen. And I stress, it will only happen if votes for the SNP are cast, because it’s only votes for the SNP that will be able and capable of delivering independence.”

So there you have it. If the SNP secures a majority of seats in Scotland at the general election, it will push for a second referendum. It it does not, the party will still claim a mandate for a referendum, but in reality the momentum will be lost.

What else does the manifesto say? From oil and gas to attacks on Labour

Elsewhere, Mr Swinney insisted Labour’s plans will lead to spending cuts. He accused Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar of seeking to cut public spending in Scotland, after Mr Sarwar ruled out any income tax rises if he becomes the next First Minister.

Mr Swinney said: "People need to have their eyes wide open. The Labour Party, yesterday, in Scotland, along the road at Murrayfield Stadium, committed themselves to cut public spending in Scotland directly as a consequence of voting Labour.

"That’s a double-whammy, so people need to be really aware of what are the consequences of voting Labour. Voting Labour in Scotland will get you spending cuts, and that would be a disastrous outcome from the election.”

Mr Swinney admitted people were “considering” voting Labour, adding: “But I find it my duty to say to people, be careful what you wish for, because the Labour Party is going to pick up where the Tories left off with spending cuts, and that will be a disastrous outcome for Scotland.”

The SNP manifesto calls for extra money to be pumped into areas such as the NHS, as well demanding the full devolution of tax powers, giving the Scottish Government control over measures such as windfall taxes.

David Phillips, an associate director at the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the SNP “ignores the potential hit to economic growth from leaving the UK, and the big fiscal challenges an independent Scotland would immediately have to confront”.

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On oil and gas – a key issue in Scotland in this election campaign – the manifesto advocates “an evidence-based approach”. This would see new North Sea licences considered on a “case-by-case basis, through a robust climate compatibility assessment”.

The manifesto calls on the UK government to match a £500 million north-east transition fund.



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