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by Alex Neil
18 September 2023
Alex Neil: SNP's latest independence wheeze is politically naive

Alex Neil is a former member of the Scottish Government

Alex Neil: SNP's latest independence wheeze is politically naive

As someone who has spent the last 50 years fighting for Scottish independence I am sorry to say, like many other SNP members, I am in despair at the ongoing absence of a clear and credible strategy for achieving it. 

Ever since the 2014 independence referendum successive party leaderships have become obsessed with process rather than substance. 

Their latest wheeze to seek an independence mandate in next year’s UK general election on the back of winning more parliamentary seats than any other party is, as Pete Wishart MP has already pointed out, ill-thought out. It lacks constitutional credibility and is politically naive. It’s for the birds. 

Even in pre-devolution days the SNP never adopted such an unrealistic stance. We clearly stated that for the party to gain a mandate to deliver independence we had to win an overall majority of parliamentary seats in Scotland, a position that even Margaret Thatcher accepted as being democratically legitimate. 

But the more important point is, to quote Neil MacKay of The Herald newspaper, “the SNP must stop staring at shoes and start talking to the right people”. 

Let us begin by learning the lessons of why the Yes side lost the 2014 vote, especially our failure to persuade enough Scots that independence would improve their standard of living and quality of life. Until we do that we won’t persuade enough people to vote for independence, irrespective of the electoral process which is used to make it a reality. 

There are two ways to get independence support well over the 50 per cent mark needed to make it happen. 

Firstly the Scottish Government needs to get its act together, to demonstrate the benefits of running our own country. 

Ways to do that are by taxing the big landowners (instead of fleecing ordinary working yet again by increasing income tax and council tax) to fill the fiscal black hole, mobilising some of the billions of pounds available from pension funds to massively and urgently expand the house building programme, putting in place a much more ambitious and urgent plan to tackle the problems in the NHS instead of excusing poor performance by pointing out that things are even worse in England (anyone doubled up in pain because they can’t get a hip or knee operation couldn’t care less what the waiting time is south of the border), getting the 41,000 children currently being taught in oversized classes into much smaller classes within a year, increasing the Scottish Child Payment to tackle child poverty, doing more to tackle poverty amongst pensioners and disabled people, radically reforming our land laws, as well as sorting out all the other problems which are costing the SNP thousands of votes on an almost daily basis. 

Get focused entirely on the people’s priorities by delivering better services and supporting the Scottish people; and ditch the crap, such as carelessly drafted laws which are doing untold damage to small businesses and rural communities and wasting public money on legal action against the UK Government on the GRR Bill instead of sorting out the problems ourselves. 

While the Scottish Government does that, the SNP as a party must inject new energy into the campaign for independence, including taking steps to build a much more unified movement for independence. 

Start by developing an independence manifesto which spells out a costed programme for the first five years of an independent Scotland, explaining how we would sustainably grow the Scottish economy, improve public services and make Scotland a fairer society whilst playing our part in the international community. 

Focus on the future

Spell out realistic policies on key issues like our post-independence relationship with Europe, borders, pensions and currency. And ditch the obsession with Brexit. For better or worse that’s now history. Focus on the future. That’s what matters most. 

The independence manifesto should be debated and agreed within the wider independence movement with plans and policies which appeal to the majority of the Scottish people and which would motivate them to support independence. 

Armed with an independence manifesto the movement will then be in a much better position to mobilise mass support for independence. 

To quote Keir Hardie we must “educate, organise and agitate”. 

Our task is to build up such overwhelming support for independence amongst the Scottish people that Westminster dare not refuse their demands. 

Such an approach will yield far greater success for the independence movement than will constantly contemplating our navels (and wasting precious time) on process. 

Scotland is already near the tipping point of over 50 per cent support for independence and has been since 2014. We are very close to achieving or goal. Stop snatching defeat from the jaws of near-certain victory. 
 
Alex Neil 
Former SNP MSP for Airdrie and Shotts and Cabinet Secretary 

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