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Jim Sillars: SNP has 'wasted' time on referendum when it should have been campaigning for independence

Lorenzo Dalberto / Alamy Stock Photo

Jim Sillars: SNP has 'wasted' time on referendum when it should have been campaigning for independence

The SNP’s independence referendum Bill is a dead duck. It’s author, a lawyer, knew it wouldn’t fly and received confirmation from another lawyer, the Lord Advocate, who told Nicola about her lack of confidence in its legal competence.

It was a piece of necessary theatre to deliver something, even if it meant nothing, to the party’s members and other activists.

With the help of the Supreme Court, either to refuse to consider it (likely) or reject it (definitely), the First Minister is off the referendum hook she has impaled herself on these past six years.

It is the alternative that is the most important part of the package – a victory at the next Westminster election based on a majority of both seats and votes. It will be the first time since 2014 that the SNP will unambiguously ask the Scottish electors to vote for a mandate to negotiate independence. Yes, first time.

You may recall that such an ask was not made at any of the Westminster elections since then, nor at the last Holyrood election where Nicola Sturgeon went out of her way to assure us that our vote would not be about independence.

The objective of ‘both seats and votes’ will make it the single issue of the election, and if successful will be an overpowering expression of Scottish opinion and determination that no government in a democratic polity that is the UK can ignore. How would a UK government stand internationally when it punts to the rest of the world the profound desirability of peaceful change by the ballot box, and then say ‘except Scotland’? How would it reconcile its willingness in the Good Friday Agreement, and the Act that made it law, to let Northern Ireland leave the UK if it votes to do so, but not Scotland likewise?

Such a victory would not, of course, alter that item in the 1998 Scotland Act that legally reserves the constitution for Westminster. But as the Statute of Westminster 1931 demonstrated, political power can make legality bend to its will, when the United Kingdom had to concede to the requirement of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa that Westminster would no longer make laws for them, and would, effectively, recognise their sovereignty.

To create that overwhelming political power for independence is the reason I have been arguing that the objective should be a consistent 60 per cent in favour. But anything above 55 per cent will do. We have wasted six years being misled about a referendum when the SNP should have been campaigning for independence before and at every election, building and building the hard vote that we shall need.

The SNP mantra about Westminster is of a wicked institution set on insulting and/or disregarding the Scots, contemptuous of the principles of democracy, specifically our right to be independent. Those accusations are untrue. The 2014 referendum was recognition of our right.

No statement I can find from Prime Ministers since we lost has actually denied that right.

They have pointed to the 2014 result, repeated Alex Salmond’s words about a generation, warned that independence might make us skint, and claimed the various circumstances we face have meant ‘not now,’ but no outright declaration that the Scotland has no right to independence. Why? Because everyone with brains down there knows that the “Scottish question” has still to be definitively answered, and will have to be one day. Michael Gove and Alister Jack are on the record as admitting that if a steady 60 per cent want a referendum, then it has to be conceded. A majority of seats and votes amounts to the same thing.

Some argue it is not possible for a Westminster election to pose a single issue as the main question. Really? What about 2019 and “Get Brexit Done,” and February 1974 when Ted Heath asked “Who governs the country, the government or the unions?” And what do they think the single issue has been in Northern Ireland since Stormont was created – partition? How about the last Holyrood election where, according to all the stuff that came through my letterbox, it l was all about getting or rejecting a referendum?

What will Westminster do with SNP winning both seats and votes? Send up a Section 30, hoping the SNP will accept another test in a real referendum, with Unionists crossing their fingers Yes might lose again; or, perhaps something Plan B advocates have not considered - engage in hard negotiations and challenge the SNP to put the deal to a definitive referendum.

SNP may have forgotten its demand for a second vote on Brexit because the first was only on principle, and it was the detail deal that matters. A stupid thing to do, and Unionists have locked it away for future use.

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