It was only 10 years ago that the SNP took control of Holyrood for the first time. At that year’s Scottish Parliamentary election the SNP edged out Scottish Labour by 47 seats to 46 and went on to form an Alex Salmond led minority government. This result shocked Scottish politics to the core. For most of their history the SNP had been seen as a fringe party. A party of by-election success and a party of protest. Their call for Scottish Independence was supported by perhaps 25% of people on a good day and independence was not really looked upon as a serious discussion for debate. Despite that breakthrough in 2007 the SNP only won 6 seats at the subsequent 2010 General Election. We then come to 2011, and that’s when things really changed.
For those who don’t know, the Scottish Parliament is based on Proportional Representation i.e. a mix of first past the post and list, or “top-up” candidates. The theory is that this should ensure that no party can possibly get over half the seats and gain an overall majority. However, in 2011 the SNP “broke” the Holyrood PR system with 69 seats and a seemingly impossible majority. The momentum gained from such a crushing victory left the SNP with no choice, they had to take this opportunity to go for independence. As such the 2014 indyref was scheduled. History of course shows that the Scots chose to reject the chance for full independence by 55% to 45%. A bitter blow for many, but the country had spoken. Pundit after pundit predicted a rapid demise of the SNP at this point, but instead the exact opposite happened. Over the coming months their membership rocketed to over 100,000 and at the General Election of 2015 they won all but three of Scotland’s 59 constituencies. A year later the SNP retained control at Holyrood with 63 MSPs, having just failed to break Holyrood PR for the second time, by a mere three seats.
Not long after the 2016 Holyrood elections came the EU Referendum. This was PM David Cameron’s gamble to put an end to the In/Out question brought to the fore by the Tory enclave otherwise known as UKIP. Like most I went to sleep that night not even bothering to watch the results. It was assumed to be a certain win for “Remain”. Unfortunately for the second referendum running I was to be on the losing side as “Leave” won. The campaign was decided largely on the back of English fears and smears over immigration south of the border. This was something which barely touched Scotland who as a result voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. As a consequence the SNP government decided to put a bill to Holyrood to timetable a second independence referendum. The justification was that their election winning manifesto had clearly stated that any major changes, particularly constitutionally, would entitle the call for the Scottish people to revisit the independence question. Leaving Europe certainly qualified as a trigger and so a bill was introduced and subsequently passed with support from the Scottish Greens. At the time polls were favoring independence and many previously hostile commentators agreed it was a perfectly valid path to take.
After all of this excitement politics began to settle down. The earliest “indyref2” would take place would likely be 2019. It would only happen once the outcome of the negotiations around UK exiting the EU were defined. In essence it was designed to give the Scottish people the chance to remain in the EU within an independent Scotland, or stick with the UK outside of Europe. We then entered a period of relative calm with only the 2017 Local Council elections on the horizon. Then the unthinkable and unforeseen happened. On April 19th the UK parliament, at the behest of the Conservative government decided to call a snap election. The purpose was to gain a meaningful mandate ahead of the EU exit negotiation process i.e. a mandate to clear up a mess the Tories themselves had created. More than likely, the real reason was to crush Labour who languished 20+ points behind in the opinion polls. On June 8th the second General Election in two years took place. The full result and some high level analysis can be found here. The SNP went into this election with 56 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats. They left it with only 35, a loss of 21 seats and 400,000 votes.
So now we are up to date, we can return to the original question – what now? Firstly some perspective. In winning 35 seats the SNP still has 11 more seats than the other parties combined. It was the second best result in SNP General Election history. If you’d said after the 2014 referendum that the SNP would have 35 seats in 2017 you’d have been laughed out of town. However, because 35 is 21 less than 56 any sense of perspective has been lost. Not even the most ardent of SNP supporters expected us to retain 56 seats. That election was a night where all the stars aligned and anyone who had the smallest of reasons to vote SNP did so. This time that wasn’t the case. This time the opposition parties beat us into submission with joint agendas which demanded a second referendum be taken off the table. In the immediate aftermath of the EU Referendum opposition from Labour and the media softened towards a second indyref. This was undoubtedly due to the polls favouring such a move. However, over the months which followed the polls slipped back to roughly 2014 levels. Therefore old battle lines were redrawn and once more it was the SNP against the rest. It wasn’t a fight we seemed ready for and it meant we got stuck on the back foot and were rarely able to go on the attack. Tory leader Ruth Davidson was barely questioned on actual UK Tory policy, most of it divisive and unpopular. Instead she and the other Scottish leaders simply stuck to the “No Referendum” line from pillar to post. This resulted in tactical voting, a rise in Tory support as “saviours of the union”, which allied with SNP core vote not turning out led to the results we had. Reality is Both Labour and the LibDems barely moved – they won seats with less votes than 2015 because the SNP vote dropped and the Tory vote rose.
In the aftermath of the result there were the usual calls from both ends of the spectrum. We should talk about independence more. We should shelve indyref2 and get on with governing Scotland. Well, what do I think we should do? Well for one we shouldn’t panic. As things stand the SNP have 35 MPs, 63 MSPs and 431 Local Councillors. We remain the largest and most successful political movement in Scotland. Ten years in government, while not perfect, have shielded Scottish voters from the worst excesses of UK Tory policy. Scotland would be a lot worse off it it wasn’t for the SNP in government.
I’m no political strategist but as someone who is sick of the SNP being on the back foot I’d say we need to go on the attack. We may never again be as strong as we are now. As such we need to be defiant. Show passion. Show we’ve had enough. Stop taking shit from our opponents. Lay it out in Blue and White. Indyref2 is not coming off the table, in fact It’s being nailed to the table. It’s staying. Deal with it. Why should the Scottish people burn the only lifeboat we may have as the once previously unsinkable UK is about to hit an iceberg called Brexit? The only people who want a second independence referendum off the table are Unionists. The reason they want it scrapped it simple – they think there is a good chance they’ll lose it. Even if polls aren’t necessarily in our favour at this moment, we’re not talking about having the vote now, we’re talking about having it once we know EXACTLY how the UK is to leave Europe i.e. summer 2019. There are no more elections between now and then. No more predicable debates where the opposition are allowed to ignore policy to simply play the same old no referendum tune. Once the grim facts are laid bare voters will then know the true cost and risks of leaving Europe. By then the SNP will have a fully fleshed out plan for independence in Europe. No confusion over currency. No argument over EU membership. No doubt left as to how much staying in the UK will cost the Scottish economy.
For now I’m not going to look beyond indyref2. That’s precisely what our opponents want us to do. To take our eye off the ball and to let slip possibly the best chance we’ll have to be free to run our own country. We can’t afford to do that. If it does all crash and burn at least we’ve gone down fighting the good fight. I’d rather that than stay passive and watch a chance to be a proud independent nation pass us by.
Thanks for reading.