I’m with Nicola: stick to Plan A (but with more action)

In the last few weeks there has been a serious discussion as to how the SNP push forward with plans to hold another independence referendum. As usual in these circumstances there is, generally, two camps being created here. There is the Plan A camp, which is to stick with current strategy, and Plan B, which is to take a new approach that is one level down from UDI. The second camp is one lead by Angus MacNeil MP and councillor Chris McEleny.

After their original resolution failed to get through to this year’s SNP conference the two submitted their proposals in the form of an amendment. The amendment reads are follows:

When Nicola Sturgeon and the cabinet had a public discussion in Stirling, the First Minister was asked as to what alternatives she would seek if a Section 30 was not granted for another referendum. Her response is one most of the Yes movement can get behind.


I wish to offer more reasons as to why SNP members should reject the Plan B amendment.

1) Seeking independence through a General Election works in favor of unionists

If we want voters to see past political parties and embrace the open vision of independence, will that not be undermined through a general election when only political parties are on the ballot paper and not the question of independence?

Lord Ashcroft’s most recent poll found that 40% of Labour voters in Scotland back independence. This group of Labour independence supporters will be vital in pulling out a majority for Scottish independence (and, in the event of a Hard Brexit, there is a good chance more Liberal Democrat supporters will back independence too).

When faced with a binary choice of Yes/No there is little to no pressure for voters to stick with party lines. They are not putting a cross next to Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson or Nicola Sturgeon. They are faced with a straightforward question on independence.

If these same voters were faced with a General Election they are far more likely to vote with their party, regardless if they support independence or not. There are many within and outside the Yes movement who have a strong dislike for the SNP, so asking them to endorse independence through a party they dislike will not work in our favour. This also works against the Yes movement’s message “Independence is not about the SNP”.

Ashcroft’s poll found that 52% of Scots now back independence. This is good news overall, but this is a very thin lead. So why put it at risk?


2) Solutions should be found in Scotland, not at Westminster

If we want to circumvent Westminster obstruction then it must be done at home, in Scotland. Even an advisory referendum would be wiser than MacNeil and McEleny’s Plan B.

If we believe that Scottish sovereignty lies with the people of Scotland then we must focus our efforts here, not at Westminster.


3) What happens if the SNP win an election with a minority of the vote?

We can’t call the Westminster voting system, first past the post, democratically bankrupt but then argue to abuse it for our own political gain. By doing so we are no longer serious democrats.

Democracy is at the very core of the independence movement. We want independence so we can have governments that reflect the will of the Scottish people. Starting independence negotiations, against the wishes of the majority, is the opposite of what independence stands for. When dealing with a binary question we need a referendum to address it.


4) As the First Minister says, giving up legitimises Westminster’s anti-democratic argument

The more we talk about alternatives to the 2014 gold standard the more we legitimise the unionist argument for blocking another independence referendum. We should ask less questions about alternatives and continue our focus pressuring unionists to accept a fair debate.

That is not me saying we should never ask about alternatives. These are discussions that should happen, but the majority of our energy should be focussed at challenging Westminster.


5) Independence through a general election will not be legally recognised by either the UK or international community

One of the reasons that many SNP members support Plan B is that Westminster can simply ignore calls for a Section 30 and thus stop us getting closer to independence. But there is a very obvious flaw in their own proposal…Westminster can also ignore calls to negotiate independence with Holyrood. So what would be the point of Plan B if we are faced with the exact same problem?

The international community would not recognise these negotiations either, unless there is a clear majority expression in favour of independence. That requires a referendum. A clear expression for independence cannot be found in a general election (see reason 1).


6) Plan B completely gives away our strategy for unionists

Even discussing Plan B, before it’s even reached the SNP conference, works against the independence movement. Unionists will have time to plan against MacNeil and McEleny’s proposals. Unionists will bring up point 3 and argue the SNP will happily ignore the majority of the electorate for the sake of independence.

“Ah” cry defenders of Plan B “but unionists will always spin SNP policy.”

Correct, but usually the Yes movement can respond to spin and point out unionist misinformation. In this case it’s completely clear that Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny are happy to ignore the majority of the electorate (in the scenario that most voters back unionist parties) for the sake of winning independence.

“But what happens if we win a majority in a general election?”

That is less likely to happen. See reason 1.


7) We’re already making serious progress with Plan A (but more can be done)

Look at what’s happened in the last week. Scottish Labour are in open civil war with UK Labour over their policy for another independence referendum. They are tearing themselves apart over a very basic democratic principle.

Conservative’s have already shifted their language from “no referendum” to “if you win another pro-indy majority you might get a referendum.” The very fact the tone has shifted in our favour is proof that Plan A is progressing. However, where I sympathise with MacNeil and McEleny, progress is not going fast enough. We could be doing a lot more.

I agree with them that we need to pick up speed and move now with serious campaigning. We need to act as if we’re at peak 2014. We need a properly organised campaign with other independence groups. The SNP needs to campaign alongside other groups and pro-indy parties. Instead of saying we need to be active we actually need to act.

But for the reasons stated above we cannot endorse their amendment for the SNP conference.

When Westminster is playing an anti-democratic game then other solutions must be found, but not at the cost of ignoring democracy itself.

Comments (14)

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  1. Papko says:

    Another point is When have the SNP actually stood in a General Election on an independence mandate ?
    In 2015 it “wasn’t about independence ”

    in 2017″ It wasn’t….”

    So what election did they ever stand on that ?

    Plus should they do so, what’s to stop the “Yoons” doing what they do best , and uniting as one party.
    Then its a straight two horse race .
    Even “safe ” seats look vulnerable when the three other parties unite into one vote.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:


      The SNP exists to achieve independence for Scotland. (I am not a member, although I support the idea of independence). So, anyone who votes for the SNP knows that if sufficient other people do so, then independence is likely. Some people, of course, have, in the past voted tactically for the SNP ‘to keep out Tory/Labour’ But, for most voters if they vote SNP it is because they see it as the main vehicle for achieving independence.

      Although it might be ‘implicit’, such as in the 2015 and 2017 elections, as you have, rather exaggeratedly, stated, but the other parties, always used the ‘separation’ argument against them. Now, with their customary hypocrisy, we have both the Tories and Labour, in almost the exact same words, claiming the SNP do not have a ‘mandate’ because it was not explicit, despite the fact that a majority for independence exists in the current Scottish parliament. They are also saying that although the Scottish Greens support independence, their votes do not count because they are NOT the SNP!

      With regard to unionists voting tactically to ‘keep out the SNP’, we already have had that and it will continue in other elections, too. Your assertion also implies that preserving the union is their prime motivation. Voters have a range of principles and, preserving the union might not be their main one. Anti-abortion supporters, for example, who are unionists, might not vote for the candidate most likely to ‘stop the SNP’ if that candidate is strongly pro-choice.

      I tend to agree with the writer that in the current fluid situation, ‘Plan A’ is best (or least worst), but it would be unwise not to have prepared variations on that theme and alternatives.

  2. mark cheevers says:

    I cannot be reminded with the events that brought in to the being of the republic of ireland westminister will delay and delay until they cannot regardless. With that it started the war of independence in Ireland. The best thing SNP can do if after the result of Brexit at this moment and i think a no deal Brexit is most likely. Is for the SNP to withdraw from Westminister and declare a referendum regards Scotland becoming an independent nation. It is a high risk strategy but with the delusion and megalomania that has seemed to engulfed Westminister Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem and others has shown that democracy in Britain is flawed. Brexit i think is really a sort of english nationalism not a nice one as nationalisms go. The opportunity for the SNP is to force the issue westminister wont and never will but only by making sure that the SNP will not engage in false politics.

  3. Douglas Wilson says:

    Route B as outlined above – that is to say, turning a General Election into a plebiscite on Scottish independence – is a perfectly legitimate democratic strategy, of course it is. That is not the problem with it.

    The problem with it is that you a) you have a mere three week campaign to make your case instead of a campaign lasting several months and b) you risk your message not getting across, ie, a significant chunk of the electorate might not realize what they’re voting for exactly, c) the media attention will be focused on London as much as Scotland and of course d) you have to abide by the results by counting the share of the vote, which has to be over 50% of course, not by the counting the number of seats won….

    As for the name of the SNP on the ballot paper, well it wouldn’t be there. You create a single pro independence platform of all the pro independence parties which is what appears on the ballot paper. That is what they did in Catalonia with Junts Pel Si (Together For Yes) where Esquera Republicana, Puigdemont’s PdCAT and other pro indie factions came together on one single ticket.

    Junts Pel Si won most seats in the Catalan House, but they never won even 50% of all votes cast in the September 2015 Catalan elections, or subsequent elections. Despite this, they went on to draft and pass legislation for UDI and “a law of disconnection” with Spain. This was not only undemocratic, it was highly foolish and to me eyes, completely inexplicable….

    I think the plebiscite route is a perfectly legitimate option which shouldn’t be ruled out and certainly shouldn’t be described as “undemocratic”. However, it is clearly not the preferred option unless you are sure that you are going to attain a share of the vote comfortably over 50%….

    …it is preferable to frame the question in a stand alone YES/NO referendum after a much longer campaign which focuses on what independence will bring to Scotland.

    1. Douglas Wilson says:

      PS: Just so people get the full picture about what happened in Catalonia, because it is a good example of what shouldn’t be done, in actual fact the by now world famous referendum of October 1st 2017 wasn’t in the election manifesto of Junts Pel Si for the Catalan elections of September 2015.

      There was no mention of a referendum on independence in that manifesto. What was in the manifesto was the pledge for the Catalan Parliament – where Junts Pel Si had a majority of seats despite not having 50% of the popular vote – and the Govern (government) to pass legislation which effectuated Catalan independence and made it a reality within the space of two years…

      This, as it turned out, couldn’t be done for a variety of reasons, and so Junts Pel Si decided to hold a referendum…. but it was an afterthought, it wasn’t in their manifesto of Sep 2015 and it was never their main strategy…

  4. David says:

    I think that if plan A is the only feasible option then a major part of this independence process must be that we now take the campaign into the heart of England. We need ordinary English people to see and understand that the promises of the unionist side were not fulfilled following on from Sep 18, 2014 and that once in a generation does not apply and never was an actual part of the legal process anyway. If sentiment, information and education can penetrate the general population of England then their politicians will find it much more difficult to kick a section 30 into the long grass buried under a heap of simplistic, sound bite, misinformation. We need the ordinary people of England to support our democratic right to choose to take back control of our own destiny. If many also chose to back our independence that would be a bit of icing on the cake.

  5. Gavin says:

    The point of the alternative……what I would refer to as the Maggie Thatcher ploy (as she articulated the route map for independence in the Commons ” a majority of pro Indy Scottish MPs elected”) ……….is to use it as a mirrored shield against Brit Nat journalists when they bluster……..”but Westminster has REFUSED a second referendum”……you reply with —–” but didn’t Thatcher say a simple majority of Indy supporting Scottish MPs elected in a GE”? ………….put THEM on the spot with a Thatcherite put down they dare not repeat now.
    They don’t want Scots to have a direct vote on Indy, but they also don’t want to imply ANY Scottish vote could carry sovereign weight.
    Democracy marches in Hong Kong being too suggestive of Under One Banner here, so the Brit Nat media show one but not the other.

    1. John B Dick says:

      We were told that the 1950 plebicite counted fr nothing and only votes of MPs mattered.to get

      Till the run up to the two devolution votes, the nationalist objective was to get 50%+1 of Scottish MPs and then secede.

      We’ve had that more than once but in the meantime there have been as many as a dozen referenda in some part of the UK, so that sets the expectation.

  6. Elaine Fraser says:

    “democracy is at the very core of the independence movement”

    Oh aye is it? So then……

    Plan ‘C’

    Nicola stops having her ear bent by lobbyists and meets with women ( 52% of the population) to listen to their concerns and answer their questions around the reform of the GRA.

    Ready when you are First Minister.

  7. Thomas Dunlop says:

    “5) Independence through a general election will not be legally recognised by either the UK or international community”

    Maybe not immediately, but taking the Baltic states as an example, in particular Lithuania, its parliament declared independence from the Soviet Union. Iceland was the first to recognise the new country after a few months. We live in extraordinary times , faced with a hard Brexit and right wing government in Westminster, we need safeguards to save ourselves from disaster.

    1. Bill says:

      The Scottish situation differs from that of Lithuania. Lithuania was ‘taken over’ by the USSR. There would have been a degree of uncertainty in not wanting to antagonise the old USSR and/o Russia – so to recognise a breakaway state could hear posed problems. Scotland and England as two separate sovereign states entered an agreement. We signed a contract. We could resile and leave, without the blessing, or authority of the other signatory.

      Therefore in our case, an election, especially in the Holyrood electoral system, fought on the basis of independence and realising a substantial majority for the SNP in that situation could give rise to a legitimate ending of the contract and our independence. That would then need a reference to the Declaration of Arbroath in order to rid ourselves of the ‘German lairdies’ and declare a republic.


  8. John Mc Gurk says:

    I think the (SNP) is on the right track but I think they could work a bit harder to explain the real benefits of (INDY) And I think they will need to do more to get the people that do not normally vote to take action. It would surprise you the number of times I have heard people say what is the point of voting it does not make any difference they are all the same. Why can we not get a written constitution something people can sign up to and have real faith in , and not just more promises .

  9. John James Jackson says:

    I think this strategy may be the most expedient politically but its seems to me its too complicated for the Yes movement in general to get behind.
    I prefer Margaret Thatcher’s proposal, that if the SNP sends a majority to Westminster then that’s good enough. If we keep playing by Westminster’s rules they will keep us waiting forever. I don’t know of any time in the past where the Establishment ever relinquished power voluntarily.
    Every time we get close they move the goalposts, and they are already hinting that they will do the same again. In my opinion Scotland’s problem is that it has been far too biddable historically, time for a change of tack.

  10. Rory Winter says:

    If you look at the SNP’s 1997 Manifesto it will clearly show that once a mandate has been obtained at a GE (something which has never been asked the Scottish electorate to date, why?) while a majority win by the SNP would provide grounds for them to start talks it would still require a confirmatory referendum of the Scottish electorate. Nobody is ignoring democracy and you are simply obfuscating the issue to even suggest that.

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