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by Kirsteen Paterson, Margaret Taylor & Sophia Villegas
15 October 2023
Yousaf and Flynn win backing for amended independence strategy

The amended proposal passed after a near three-hour debate

Yousaf and Flynn win backing for amended independence strategy

The SNP has overwhelmingly voted to adopt First Minister Humza Yousaf's independence strategy after a near three-hour conference debate.

Under the plan, the party will seek to begin negotiations with the UK Government if it wins a majority of seats in Scotland at the next general election.

Delegates voted to adopt the resolution, with amendments that introduced changes including the undertaking that the next SNP manifesto will include a demand for the permanent transfer of powers over employment, windfall taxation and more in the case of an SNP general election win.

They also include launching a Scotland-wide campaign by the end of the year, in partnership with Yes groups.

The resolution on independence strategy was put forward by Yousaf and the party's Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn.

Addressing the hall, Yousaf called on delegates to support their plan, saying there are “no shortcuts” to making the “dream of independence” a reality.

“We all know the fact that Westminster is denying Scotland a democratic referendum tells you precisely who fears democracy,” he said.

Yousaf asked delegates to reject a suggestion put forward by MP Joanna Cherry that a majority of votes for all pro-independence parties combined should be taken as a mandate for independence. He also spoke against MP Pete Wishart’s proposed amendment that the independence strategy should be based on the party winning a majority of the vote rather than the most seats.

“In an election the majority of seats is a victory, plain and simple,” he said. “For that reason, I don’t believe [these] amendments will advance independence and I ask you therefore conference not to support them.”

Amid suggestions from some parts of the SNP that its MPs should withdraw from the House of Commons, Flynn said: "I will never leave the people of Scotland without a voice in that parliament.”

On calls to "set independence aside and focus just on the cost-of-living crisis,” the MP said: "There is an inextricable link between the cost-of-living crisis and the need for Scottish independence.

"Energy bills are high because of decades of failed Westminster energy policies. Mortgage bills are high because the UK prime minister crashed the economy and food bills are high because the UK dragged us out of the European Union.”

Flynn also paid tribute to veteran SNP activist Nancy Duffy, who appeared in a video with Flynn before her death at the age of 90. He said he had been "inspired" by their meeting, saying: "She fought her entire life for what she believed in. Her belief is my belief. Her belief is your belief. Let's get on and finish the job for people like Nancy and every other person who has come before us."

A range of party grandees spoke in favour of various amendments to Yousaf and Flynn’s independence plan.

MP Tommy Sheppard proposed a change that said the party’s next general election manifesto should “demand the permanent transfer of legal power to the Scottish Parliament to determine how Scotland is governed, including the transfer of power to enable it to legislate for a referendum”.

Addressing the conference, Sheppard said that Scotland “will become a self-governing nation” but that that will require winning the votes of a majority of “all the citizens of this country”.

Noting that there is a 10 per cent gap between the number of people who support independence and the number who vote SNP, Sheppard said the party should be arguing for the immediate transfer of powers to enable them to have their say on Scotland’s future.

“It’s a compelling argument for people to get behind,” he said.

SNP policy convener Toni Guigliano moved the amendment that said “Independence for Scotland” or “words to that effect” should be added to the party’s name and logo on the ballot papers for the next General Election.

He said the lesson the party learned from its defeat in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election was that it “must make it clear beyond doubt what’s at stake” and that while the additional words would not be “a magic wand” they would “send a message that a vote for the SNP is a vote for Scotland to become independent”.

In another amendment put forward in her name, Cherry proposed that the party reaffirm its commitment to setting up a constitutional convention made up of MPs, MSPs and representatives of civic Scotland to take forward independence negotiations with the UK Government should the SNP win more Scottish seats than any other party in 2024.

She said that support for independence is “steady at around 50 per cent” and that “with another campaign the only way is up”, but that that would mean “bringing as many people with us as possible”.

“The constitutional convention should consist of any MP or MSP who wants to join, regardless of party,” she said. 

Putting forward his bid to shift the strategy's focus from winning the "most seats" to the "majority of the vote", Wishart called on the SNP to "present a credible and realistic route" for voters.

He said: "The fact that support for independence significantly outstrips support for this party is our biggest problem and also our biggest salvation. We get this party back to its winning ways when we close that gap."

Questioning the legitimacy of Yousaf's strategy, he said few delegates believe independence can be achieved "without the expressed consent of a majority of the people of Scotland". He went on: "The rest of Scotland certainly doesn't believe that and the SNP supporters staying at home don't believe that."

Wishart said the SNP "already have a majority of MPs" and the plan would "give Westminster something new to say no to", but going for a majority of votes would deliver "real credibility when we approach international institutions".

Independence Minister Jamie Hepburn argued that focusing on overall vote share would mean the SNP setting itself a "hurdle" that no other party adopts. He said: "The rules are quite simple and straightforward: win the most seats and you have won.

"Not a single other party will go into this election seeking victory on the majority of votes cast. They are looking to win the most seats."

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