Indyref2: from gung-ho to go-slow

Written by Kenny MacAskill on 15 January 2019 in Comment

The SNP rank and file are growing restless, yet the party has been suffering from torpor, says Kenny MacAskill

Kenny MacAskill - Image credit: Holyrood

As 2019 breaks, the spectre of indyref2 still casts its shadow.

But the frenzy has lessened and Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy seems to have moved from gung-ho to go-slow.

Only a few years back, it seemed it couldn’t come fast enough for her, now though, her strategy seems to be wait and see.

In some ways, her caution is understandable as her call to arms in 2017 had calamitous consequences.

It was premature, with resistance to another vote significant amongst many who were either hostile to independence specifically or simply scunnered more generally with the debate.

Moreover, the lack of clarity on what Brexit meant made campaigning difficult and work had not been done to address the major issues that cost victory in 2014.

The latter two issues still largely remain, but the tide is turning as the UK political crisis grows and the political mood changes.

All parties are now entering uncharted waters and Great Britain is no longer the safe haven it was once seen as by many.

Dysfunctionality now also defines UK politics not just the British government.

For these reasons, Sturgeon’s caution is perplexing given the opportunity now existing.

For sure, hostility remains amongst dyed-in-the wool unionists, but not so in the wider public.

The resonance of anti-indyref2 has hugely diminished as both a People’s Vote and an early election are openly canvassed.

Ramping up the independence rhetoric therefore, arguably, has more logic now than two years ago.

Lack of clarity on Brexit remains but that’s likely to be with us for years not just months to come.

It’s no longer the issue it was as uncertainty afflicts all sides of the debate and major scares such as not being in the EU are shown to be false.

Even the division that opened up within the wider independence movement between Remain and Leave has lessened as Brexiteers’ lies have been exposed and the real price to be paid becomes clear.

There will always be risks in independence, but it’s clear that there are great risks in staying in the Union.     

It’s hugely regrettable that so little work seems to have been done on the key issues from 2014, but that can be addressed.

Having waited so long for the Growth Commission report, it’s bizarre that it’s been sidelined so quickly.

Whilst it caused concern amongst some, there was much that could be used to foster debate or promote aspects that found favour in some quarters.

Seeking another referendum might focus minds and stimulate debate.

But the SNP needs indyref2 as well as there being an historic opportunity from Britain’s travails.

The rank and file are growing restless, yet the party has been suffering from torpor.

Whilst the movement’s a broad church, keeping as many within the faith is important.

Marching has its place, but it’s knocking on doors that delivers votes, and the former was happening as the latter was missing.

Keith Brown’s election as deputy leader and his taking over campaigning has seen an immediate increase in activity.

The SNP is at its best and most effective when the membership is engaged, and that requires to be in political effort not just in internal debate.

Much of what was emanating from SNP HQ before seemed simply a regurgitation of the leader’s message from on high, not the mobilisation of a mass membership party from below.

However, the Scottish Government has had a languid air, too.

As was said to me rather acidly by a very senior nationalist, Nicola Sturgeon is hardly going to be able to fight as her predecessor had on “team, record and vision”.

And nothing motivates, not just the membership but the core vote, like the constitution.

So, in some ways, it’s needed electorally, just as its absence brought defeat in many areas in 2017, when the SNP Westminster campaign was insipid, to say the least.

Why Sturgeon is holding back from approaching Theresa May is also baffling.

The request for a Section 30 order will be rebuffed so a vote won’t be happening any time soon anyway.

But it gets the party machine moving again and makes opposition to it look fraudulent when another EU vote is being openly sought.

Moreover, it allows for an alternative mandate of a majority of MPs to be considered if the rejection is blanket or unconditional.

So, whilst there’s work to be done, both organisationally and politically, now’s a better time to be ramping up the indyref2 case than before. The broader mood has turned.

It unites and motivates the party and keeps it on the front foot on the constitution rather than the back foot of her administration’s record.

Maybe it’s not gung-ho, but it’s certainly time to move on from go-slow.

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