Alex Neil: Picture credit - David Anderson
As Alex Salmond said: “The dream shall never die.” The challenge is how do we make the dream come true?
Despite the flaws in the 2014 independence referendum campaign, we still achieved 45 per cent support for Yes, no mean feat given our starting position. That led to a spectacular result in the 2015 UK General Election, when the SNP won 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland.
But since then we have ceded ground to our unionist opponents, especially in the 2017 UK General Election when we lost 21 of our 56 seats. Why?
The main – although not the only – reason for this setback was that a high percentage of those people who voted Yes in the 2014 referendum, and who also voted for Brexit in the 2016 EU withdrawal referendum, deserted the SNP in 2017.
The question is how does the SNP win back the support of these people? And what do we need to do to turn the core vote for independence – still roughly 45 per cent of the electorate – into majority support for Yes? How do we prepare the ground for Indyref2?
Firstly, we have to rectify the mistakes we made in Indyref1. The economic case for independence has to be much more convincing than it was in 2014. This time, we need a currency policy which will prove credible on the doorstep. We mustn’t again give the impression that an independent Scotland would be totally reliant on oil revenues for economic survival. We must persuade many more pensioners, a huge majority of whom voted No in 2014, that they would be better off living in an independent Scotland. We must present a bold agenda for real change and make independence exciting again.
We also need to review our policy on an independent Scotland re-joining the European Union. Continued adherence to this position will make it difficult to win back the support of many of the pro-independence/pro-Brexit people who deserted us earlier this year. An independent Scotland re-joining the EU would mean tariff barriers between Scotland and the rest of the UK – which would be out of the EU – not a position a majority of Scots are likely to endorse.
As an alternative to re-joining the EU, an independent Scotland should instead seek to become a member of both the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA) – a position which is much more likely to win majority support and which would better reflect the new realpolitik in post-Brexit Europe. It would also demonstrate that being in the EU isn’t a prerequisite to being a good European, as Norway and others have demonstrated.
Meantime on the domestic front, the SNP Government has to adopt a more radical approach to improving our public services.
The Scottish Government’s budget, due in December, will present an ideal opportunity to do this. Top priority has to be expanding the tax base, to avoid deep cuts in public spending and to finance higher levels of public investment. We need to find ways within our existing powers of raising new sources of revenue which don’t place extra burdens on those already seeing their living standards eroded by benefit cuts or as a result of price rises outstripping wage increases.
Where additional tax needs to be raised, the emphasis should be firmly on taxing wealth, not the incomes of hard-pressed workers. Prime targets should include taxing land zoned for development and vacant and derelict land. In addition to raising significant amounts of revenue, such a policy would also drive down the price of development land and thereby stimulate new housebuilding, as well as help increase the overall rate of economic growth.
The way forward means being bold, setting the political agenda for the future of Scotland, delivering good government whilst preparing the ground for a successful Indyerf2 and taking the people with us every step of the way. If we do all this, then we truly can make the dream come true.