Today’s Scotland on Sunday leads with “splits” in the Yes camp, revealing (shock!) that the SNP have different positions on the monarchy, the currency, NATO and so on to those held by Green and independent MSPs. Their editorial urges the SNP to ignore these fringe radicals, and what’s more, warns the radicals directly that they should shut up to avoid undermining the independence cause amongst “average” voters. Imagine making that kind argument about any other part of the political spectrum, that they should stop representing the agenda they got elected on because someone else decides it’s against their interests.
They start with a misunderstanding, perhaps genuine, perhaps deliberate. Patrick Harvie, Jean Urquhart and Margo Macdonald aren’t trying to change SNP policy: it’s been decades since a drop of non-constitutional radicalism flowed in Salmond’s veins. They’re trying to emphasise that independence would put the power in the hands of Scots, not the SNP.
The same edition of SoS features some deft polling carried out for the No camp. Punters were asked what will most influence their vote: the economy, tax & spend, pensions & welfare, health, currency, oil revenues, EU membership, defence, or education. It’s basically a few unavoidable “core” issues larded with areas where the No campaign feel they’ve hit Salmond hardest of late, but with the crucial issue not offered: whether Westminster or Holyrood makes the decisions that matter to Scots. That’s what independence means, it’s the most attractive aspect of what a yes vote would deliver, so perhaps no wonder the No campaign didn’t offer it as an option.
Next, people were asked how convincing they find Salmond’s case for independence, and only 30% say “very” or “fairly”. It’s clever, because it sets two hurdles – not “do you back Salmond?” nor “are you convinced by the case for independence?”, but both. If I’d been asked that, I’d say “not very”, but I’m also definitely voting yes. Cunningly misleading polling, in short.
The paper also notes that a quarter of SNP voters aren’t convinced by “Salmond’s case for independence”, and implies this is evidence against the radicals. But the dogs in the street know the SNP picked up support from committed No voters in 2011. These folk are primarily anti-Labour voters, they like the SNP’s top team as Ministers, they appreciate the party’s centre-right approach to tax and spend, and they’d undoubtedly support the Tories down south. Even if SNP invited every last one of them for a one-to-one with the First Minister between now and the referendum date, the benefit for the Yes campaign would be negligible.
The SNP’s 2011 triumph was based on 44-45% of the vote, and that quarter Unionist/SNP estimate is consistent with the current polling on the referendum itself, as well as with that 30% figure above. The SNP’s specific case persuades about a third of the public, which is a great start. Specifically, it’s two thirds of what’s required for a majority, and these are not swing voters. They’re core SNP supporters – actual nationalists, unlike me – and they’re in the bag. Just a further sixth of the Scottish people will need to be persuaded if the referendum is to pass, or (to risk mathematical confusion) just one in four current No voters need to be won over.
Whichever way you slice it, that feels like an entirely deliverable aim. But those extra voters needed for victory are definitely not amongst the group which voted SNP in 2011. There’s probably 6-7% or so amongst Green voters, the SSP’s remaining voters, and the disappointed ex-SSP voters who’ve not voted at all since 2003. There’s perhaps 1-2% to be found amongst the remaining Lib Dem voters. The occasional pro-indy Tory types are vocal but can probably be counted in the low hundreds at best. The rest, the bulk of the 17% or so required, will have to come either from Labour supporters or from those who don’t tend to vote at all. And it’ll be the Labour voters most disillusioned with Westminster, too, not the Blairites and the soft centre. The traditional working-class Labour voters for whom New Labour achieved nothing much after the minimum wage.
Broadly, therefore, the winning coalition for the Yes campaign can only be the third of Scots who are committed nationalists plus the left-most sixth of the Scots public. I see no other way to win this. And that means letting a thousand flowers bloom about the post-independence possibilities. It means letting Scots hear that Patrick Harvie has an ambitious and radical plan for what an independent Scotland looks like, just as Alex Salmond has a far more cautious plan. It absolutely means making the most of Dennis Canavan and Mary Lockhart. Above all it means explaining that all these decisions – currency, NATO, the monarchy, tax rates, nuclear weapons etc – will be decided by Scots at the first election after a yes vote, and everything will be democratically on the table. Every time the SNP try to promote their own party policy as Yes Scotland policy, or more generally as a fait accompli if we win independence, they turn off that sixth of Scots who are essential to victory.
This is directly counter to the SoS’s unhelpful advice. This, it should be borne in mind, comes from the paper which egged the SNP on to change its policy on NATO, something which won the party nothing but led to the departure from the SNP of two of those independent MSPs. And the same paper, in the same editorial today, explains that it’s formally against independence, preferring some unspecified version of devo-whatever.
So they’re explicitly trying to achieve a different objective, they’ve misunderstood the current situation, and their solution would be both undemocratic and counterproductive. The SNP would be ill-advised to take any more advice on referendum tactics from the paper tigers of Holyrood Road.