Category Archives: ScotRef

The Yellow Tribe of Scotland

Minions Singing In The Rain
Minions Singing In The Rain.
I thought I’d have a closer look at the four tribes of Scotland as described in my two earlier blog posts.

I defined the Yellow Tribe as “the 11% who want Scotland to be a completely independent country outside both the UK and the EU [mnemonic: yellow as the background on the lion rampant flag, which this group in my experience is very fond of]”, and I speculated that they typically voted Yes to independence and Leave in the Brexit referendum. It’s also the group that Wings over Scotland recently called “the unhappy 11%“.

They’re obviously not a homogenous group. Some members are ultra-idealistic lefties who denounce both the UK and the EU as being neo-liberal conspiracies, others are ethnic nationalists who are romanticising about Scotland’s glorious past, and others again are completely average voters who just don’t see why either union is needed.

Their preferred way forward was described rather well by Alex Neil in The Telegraph (I’m not saying that he is a member of the Yellow Tribe himself — he might or might not be):

Top of the list of Scottish demands should be the transfer of the powers being repatriated from Brussels, as they relate to Scotland, to the Scottish Parliament; not Westminster. […] The accumulation of all these new powers and finances would bring about “neo-Independence” for Scotland, creating the ideal platform for advancing to full sovereignty for the Scottish people in the early 2020’s.

It might sound tempting at a first glance. What is not being said is that it would make it time-consuming and cumbersome to rejoin the EU, because Scotland would in that case have to build a huge apparatus to deal with these power only for them to get delegated back to the EU a few years later.

Because of this, this is a very off-putting prospectus for those voters who prioritise EU membership, including those who voted No to independence two years ago because they thought continued EU membership was secured in that way. This is exactly the group of voters that will be needed to build a winning coalition for independence, so following this piece of advice kicks independence into the very long grass.

Interestingly, I think Theresa May might be eying up the Yellow Tribe, trying to convince them that independence won’t even be needed after Brexit. Here’s what she wrote in Holyrood Magazine:

As we strike that deal, we have an exciting chance to forge a new role in the world. Scotland’s status will not be diminished by that; it will be enhanced.

Although the Yellow voters only make up 11% of population, they’re rather more important within the Scottish National Party for historical reasons. Archive footage of the early SNP events looks like Yellow Tribe meetings. It was probably only when the Independence in Europe policy was adopted in the 1980s that the Blue Tribe began to dominate. However, my gut feeling is that there are many more Yellows amongst the old-timers of the party than amongst those of us who joined more recently.

This is significant because as Wings pointed out, it’s a group that desperately wants to avoid an early Indyref2. They want Brexit to be fully implemented before calling a new referendum, and they most definitely don’t want to see a ballot paper that asks the obvious question: “Should Scotland be an independent country within the European Union?”

Because they dominate amongst the long-term members of the SNP, it’s of course very difficult for the leadership to call an early referendum, because if they do so, their inboxes and voicemail will get inundated by complaints from people who have supported and mentored them since the day they joined the party.

Every political party has a strong instinct to stay united, so if the only way to keep the Yellow Tribe on side is by delaying the referendum till 2025 or so, there’s a strong incentive to do so, even if it means the Green Tribe won’t be converted to independence and Scotland faces economic ruin in the meantime.

At the end of the day, I find it inconceivable that many members of the Yellow Tribe will vote No to independence next time. They might huff and puff, and they might not pull their weight during the campaign, but at the end of the day they should know that campaigning for an independent Scotland to leave the EU will be easier than convincing people to back independence once Independence in Europe is no longer on the table. However, it will take guts for the SNP leadership to call an early referendum when the Yellows are so strongly against it.

Is Scotland going for the worst possible solution?

Hard & soft
Hard & soft.
I’m seeing more and more independence supporters saying that we should wait and see what Brexit brings before launching Indyref2, so perhaps delaying it till 2020 or even later.

For instance, Iain Macwhirter wrote the following in The Sunday Herald today:

I don’t think we’ll see another Scottish referendum until well into the 2020s because the implications of Brexit will take many years to sort out. Article 50 hasn’t been declared yet and isn’t going to be for some time. It will take more than two years to disentangle Britain from the EU, and the years immediately after formal departure will be as chaotic, if not more chaotic, than now.

Robin McAlpine has expressed similar thoughts in the past, for instance at the recent Independence Rally on Glasgow Green.

I’m afraid I totally disagree with such ideas. Getting dragged out of the EU and then rejoining a couple of years later is insane, as anybody who knows the complexity of the modern EU will tell you. It means going through enormous amounts of change and then reverting everything immediately afterwards.

Of course it depends what kind of Brexit we’re getting.

If the Tories opt for a soft Brexit (essentially a Norwegian solution, which means that the free movement of goods, capital, services and people will be maintained), I agree it makes sense to take a deep breath and think hard about the timing of the next independence referendum. The main downside to delaying is perhaps that all of us EU citizens will have lost our right to vote in it, but it shouldn’t affect other people or businesses drastically. I still think there would be many advantages to Scotland remaining within the EU when the rUK leaves, but we can sit down and have a civilised discussion about the pros and cons.

On the other hand, if the Westminster government goes for a hard Brexit, taking us out of the Internal Market and all the other parts of the EU in order to restrict migration, we need to get out in time. Sadly, all the smoke signals emerging from Westminster seem to be pointing towards this being the preferred solution.

A hard Brexit will be a like a wrecking ball taken to the Scottish economy, and saying that we might leave five years later if we don’t like it will only make things worse. This is because a hard Brexit will be both a disaster and a business opportunity. Lots of companies are going to relocate to the rEU, shedding a lot of jobs here in the process. However, once that is done, there will presumably be opportunities to create products and services to replace those that suddenly cannot be sourced from the rEU profitably. For instance, if it becomes clear that the UK will slap a 20% import tax on Manchego cheese from Spain, it might become a business opportunity to create a clone here for the British consumer. My gut feeling is that there won’t be enough of these new jobs to replace the ones lost to the rEU in the medium term, but at least there will be a few of them. However, if you’re a business person thinking about setting up a company making a British Manchego clone, will you place it in Scotland if there is a possibility that Scotland will five years later leave the rUK and rejoin the EU? No, of course not. You’ll place the company south of the border. If it’s clear that Scotland will remain in the EU if the rUK goes for a hard Brexit, many of the EU-oriented businesses will potentially relocate to Scotland, but if it isn’t clear what Scotland is going for, we won’t get any of them – they’ll go to Ireland, Germany or some other rEU country instead. We need to make it clear whether we’re going to stay within the Internal Market or remaining within the UK no matter what, or we’ll end up in the worst of all possible worlds, getting neither relocating EU businesses nor new post-Brexit companies. It would be a disaster of Darien Scheme proportions.

I’m not saying we need to call the referendum just yet. But Nicola Sturgeon needs to go out and say that Scotland will remain within the Internal Market, and if Westminster are going for a hard Brexit, Scotland will hold a new independence referendum in time for Scotland to leave the UK before Brexit happens. This would also provide the kind of message control that Robin McAlpine has correctly called for.

The morning after Brexit, when Nicola took charge and promised EU citizens and their families in Scotland that we’d be OK, we were all ready to kiss her. The impression I and others got was that she would explore the options for keeping Scotland within the Internal Market (e.g., whether a Reverse Greenland would be possible), but that she would definitely call a new independence referendum if that was the only was to achieve that. You can always discuss the finer legal and linguistic aspects of her statement, but that was definitely the impression I was left with. Because of this, if she follows the advice offered by Messrs. Macwhirter and McAlpine and allows Scotland to be taken out of the Internal Market just because the opinion polls aren’t favourable enough (and let’s face it, they’re much better now than when Indyref1 was called), she will have broken the promise she made to us that morning, and I will be tearing my SNP membership card apart.

Hopefully I’m just worrying needlessly, and all that is happening just now is that the SNP leadership are trying to ascertain whether the Brexit will be soft or hard before fixing a date for the next independence referendum. Salmond’s prediction that it’ll be held in two years time sounds OK to me, although I don’t like the fact that Boris Johnson has started saying that the negotiations might be concluded in less than two years, in which case we might have less time than we think.

The reason for the lack of movement in the opinion polls, as well as for the laid-back attitude with regard to Brexit exhibited by the Indyref2-after-2020 crowd, is perhaps the general feeling in the UK media that Brexit isn’t going to be that bad after all, based on the fact the economy is still ticking along nicely. However, Brexit hasn’t happened yet, and many businesses will be waiting to find out whether it’s going to be soft or hard before relocating, so we ain’t seen nothing yet. This is likely to change soon, however. I’ve started hearing about the first redundancies due to Brexit amongst my acquaintances this week, and if that continues, the general mood might change abruptly. We need to be ready to seize the moment when that happens.

We need to create our own campaign materials

If I’m right that the SNP’s National Survey is basically just an excuse to get activists chapping on doors, we need campaign materials.

I’m frankly a bit surprised the SNP isn’t supplying us with any, but I guess we just need to take matters into our own hands.

When I was at the rally on Glasgow Green last Sunday, I sensed there was a real desire to start campaigning again, and if we are to hold Indyref2 in two years’ time, we really need to get started on building a majority for independence.

It would be good with a number of A5 flyers targeting different audiences (e.g., EU citizens, NHS workers and pensioners) and specific topics (such as currency, EU membership, and whether there’ll be a hard border with England).

An updated reprint of Wings over Scotland’s Wee Blue Book would also be amazing.

And finally I’d like to see a card with links to various independence websites (several versions of this existed two years ago).

I’m sure there are tens of thousands of people out there who are desperate to deliver them, and they would probably also help pay for them and all.

Who’s up for designing them, organising the printing and doing the crowdfunding? Has any of this been done yet? I really don’t think we need to wait for the SNP to do it, or for Yes Scotland II to be set up. Who’s with me?

More about the four tribes of Scotland

As a rough approximation, the Yes movement two years ago was a coalition between the blue and yellow tribes, and the No side was home to both the green and red ones. However, during the Brexit referendum, the Remain side brought together the blues and the greens, and the Leave side consisted of the yellows and the reds.
As a rough approximation, the Yes movement two years ago was a coalition between the blue and yellow tribes, and the No side was home to both the green and red ones. However, during the Brexit referendum, the Remain side brought together the blues and the greens, and the Leave side consisted of the yellows and the reds.
I’ve been thinking about the four tribes of Scotland a bit more.

Let’s first recapitulate how I defined the four groups:

  • The blue tribe consists of the 33% of voters who want Scotland to be an independent country inside the EU [mnemonic: blue as the Saltire and the EU flag].
  • The yellow tribe is made up of the 11% who want Scotland to be a completely independent country outside both the UK and the EU [mnemonic: yellow as the background on the lion rampant flag, which this group in my experience is very fond of].
  • The green tribe is home to the pro-EU unionists who were perfectly happy inside both unions (28% of voters) [mnemonic: green for hope, because they will hopefully vote Yes next time].
  • The red tribe is made up of the 23% of voters who are pro-UK Brexiters [mnemonic: red as the cross on the English flag].

The first point that I don’t think I stressed enough in my first post on this topic is that it’s important to bear in mind that the four tribes aren’t homogenous groups separate from each other. Many voters for instance inhabit the blue-green borderland – they’re primarily internationalists and aren’t actually that concerned about whether they’re citizens of Scotland or the UK. Other voters are found in the blue-yellow area and are primarily pro-Scotland and less concerned with Scotland’s membership of the EU. The interested reader can as an exercise describe the green-red and yellow-red voters.

In Indyref2 the goal for the Yes side is to turn the blue-green greens into blue-green blues without losing the yellow tribe (in particular the yellow-red yellows). And similarly I expect the No side will focus on winning over the yellows without losing too many of the greens.

And this leads me to my second point: I don’t think the opposing tribes have anything in common. The blue and red tribes are complete opposites, as are the green and yellow ones.

It’s interesting that when Better Together (which were of course dominated by green-tribe politicians) talked about the Yes side, they always seemed to describe the yellow tribe and not have any understanding of the blue tribe, and I think the Yes side (which was almost entirely a blue-tribe effort) made a similar error of assuming all No voters were deep down from the red tribe, and we didn’t really understand how you could be a progressive internationalist and still vote No.

If my analysis is correct, the potential problem for Indyref2 is that you can’t create a successful coalition of yellow-blue-green: As soon as you start appealing to the green tribe, the yellows will walk out in disgust, and vice versa. It’s already very clear that the yellow tribe are deeply unhappy about Indyref2 being run on the basis of continued EU membership. On the other hand, if we focus too much on keeping the yellow tribe on board, we’ll be unable to appeal to the green tribe.

The million-bawbee question is how many members of the green tribe we can realistically win over in Indyref2. If we stop appealing to the yellow tribe, we need to win over a significant number of green-tribe voters to compensate.

We badly need an opinion poll to segment the green tribe into blue-green and red-green (and perhaps even finer shades than this). When push comes to shove, how many of them will join the blue tribe rather than the red one? I hope this is something the SNP are doing behind the scenes.

The 173,000 Yes voters that will disappear overnight in 2019

Driving into Scotland after 2018
Driving into Scotland after 2018.
One fact that seems to be overlooked by many commentators is that when the UK leaves the EU, all EU citizens living in Scotland will get disenfranchised overnight because it’s an EU rule that gives us the right to vote in local elections, and independence referendums use the same franchise. So when Brexit happens, we’ll suddenly have no special status and will be treated the same as Americans or Argentinians, which means we won’t be able to vote.

Because voting Yes to Scottish independence this time is a complete no-brainer to any EU citizen living in Scotland (differently from last time, when many thought continued EU membership was secured better by voting No), it means we will lose up to 173,000 safe Yes votes by holding the referendum after the UK has left.

You’d need to feel extremely confident about the result of Indyref2 to discard these safe Yes votes just because you don’t really like the timeframe it imposes on you.

However, there are many other good reasons to hold the referendum before Brexit happens, as explored well by Wings over Scotland today.

It’s an excellent article, and I agree with most of he writes. However, I think he’s wrong in thinking that it’ll happen in May 2019:

So if we assume it must happen by next May, that makes May 2019 the logical cut-off point for Brexit. It’s coincidentally also the date the next European election is due – an event which of course remains on the UK political calendar, precisely because we haven’t even begun the process of Brexit yet.

It would be farcical for the UK to still be an EU member at that point – because we’d still have to hold those elections if there was no clear exit date in place – but in the current UK political climate, something being farcical is no barrier to it happening.

Nevertheless, let’s take it as the closest thing that we’ve got to a rationally plausible outcome. It would make sense to hold a second indyref at the same time. It would massively reduce the costs and admin, and it’s infinitely preferable from everyone’s point of view – Scotland’s, the EU’s and the rUK’s – for Scotland to STAY in the EU rather than to be dragged out then try to JOIN at a later date.

(Honestly, it’s simply not possible to overstate how much that’s the case. For about a thousand mainly pretty obvious reasons the technicalities of the latter scenario, for all three entities, would by comparison be absolutely insanely complex and costly. It’d be a lot less trouble just to go to war with Russia.)

I totally agree that it’d be barking mad to be dragged out only to rejoin a couple of years later, but I just can’t see how it can technically be done in time to ensure continued EU membership if we don’t vote till May 2019. Two years ago we argued that we needed about 18 months to set up an independent state. I always thought it could be done quicker, but the six months it took Czechia and Slovakia to separate is probably the gold standard. I would therefore say that the autumn of 2018 is the latest realistical time for the referendum to ensure Scotland remains within the EU without spending some time outside the door. (Unless, of course, we pre-negotiate everything, but I doubt Westminster will agree to doing that.)

One last note: At the rally on Glasgow Green yesterday, Robin McAlpine seemed to argue that we had to wait till at least 2020 before holding Indyref2 because Westminster won’t let us hold a new referendum before 2019 because they’re too busy with Brexit to allow themselves to get distracted by other matters. Surely that’s an excellent reason to hold it sooner rather than later – it can only help us if Westminster are too busy to interfere, and as somebody who believes in the sovereignty of the people of Scotland I don’t think Westminster can morally or politically block it anyway.

The four tribes of Scotland

Today's opinion poll asked voters to choose amongst four options for Scotland's place in the world.
Today’s opinion poll asked voters to choose amongst four options for Scotland’s place in the world.
Today’s Panelbase poll (coinciding with the 2nd anniversary of the first independence referendum) very helpfully asked the respondents to pick their preferred scenario for Scotland’s place in the world. I’ve put the figures into a pie chart, ignoring the 5% who are undecided, to make it easier to spot the possible majorities.

To make it easier to discuss the four groupings, I’ll refer to them by colour in the following. The blue tribe consists of the 33% of voters who want Scotland to be an independent country inside the EU; the yellow tribe is made up of the 11% who want Scotland to be a completely independent country outside both the UK and the EU; the green tribe is home to the pro-EU unionists who were perfectly happy inside both unions (28% of voters); and finally the red tribe is made up of the 23% of voters who are pro-UK Brexiters.

As a rough approximation, the Yes movement two years ago was a coalition between the blue and yellow tribes, and the No side was home to both the green and red ones. However, during the Brexit referendum, the Remain side brought together the blues and the greens, and the Leave side consisted of the yellows and the reds.

The question now is what happens in Indyref2. The green tribe has just become politically homeless because their preferred option simply doesn’t exist any more. Will they eventually join the blue tribe or the red one?

Wings over Scotland today focuses on the yellow tribe (or the “unhappy 11%”, as he calls them). However, I don’t think that’s a big worry. At the end of the day, they are in favour of an independent Scotland, and even though they might not be very active during the next campaign, I can’t imagine that many of them will actually vote No to independence — surely they’ll just start a UKIP-like party in Scotland post-independence.

The green tribe is our big opportunity. They’re not happy with the outcome of the Brexit referendum, and they need to rethink their political priorities. If Brexit turns out to mean a soft Brexit (a.k.a. the Norwegian solution), they might eventually join the red tribe, but if it seems like the UK is opting for a hard Brexit, it should be easy to convince most of them that joining the blue tribe is the internationalist and outward-looking position, and that will enable us to win a landslide victory in the next independence referendum.

Let’s not get so focused on keeping together the Indyref1 coalition that we completely miss the opportunity to assemble a much bigger Indyref2 coalition.

Beware of sleekit Tories muddying the waters

Beescraigs by Alan Weir.
In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum, most sensible people believed the Tories had a plan. Not necessarily a good one, but at least some sort of idea of what they wanted to achieve.

It then dawned on the rest of us that they had absolutely no plan whatsoever, that the Leave campaign had consisted of nothing more than infinite amounts of hot air and wishful thinking.

We then all expected the Tories to formulate a plan and tell us about it. This is clearly what the EU negotiators still are expecting – they’ve lined up their team and their negotiating position, and they’re now waiting for the triggering of Article 50 and to hear what the UK wants to do. The Scottish Government also seems to be waiting to find out whether the Tory plan involves being part of the Internal Market and whether Scotland will have a formal rôle in the negotiations as promised.

However, what if they never clear things up? What if the various members of the UK government continue to contradict each other in public? What if they keep promising to listen to Scotland without ever doing so? What if it doesn’t become clear till the night before Brexit takes place what it actually entails? It could actually be deliberate – if you have a weak hand in negotiations, clarity helps your opponents, so the Tories might think maximum obfuscation is the best way to get a good deal.

So I think we have to brace ourselves for the possibility that we might not know whether post-Brexit England and Wales will be part of the Internal Market till the Tory negotiators emerge in the wee hours of the morning from a smoke-filled room in Brussels in early 2019. Until that point, they might very feasibly keep saying they want to restrict immigration while having full access to the Internal Market.

The problem for Scotland is that if our plan is to use continued Internal Market membership as the way to get a majority to vote Yes in the next independence referendum, we effectively tie our hands because we can’t then call the referendum until we know what the Tories are doing, and that could very well be too close to the actual Brexit date to allow us to hold a referendum in time to ensure that Scotland never leaves the EU.

I’m aware some independentistas would like us to wait till everything becomes clear and the consequences of Brexit are real and felt by everybody, but as I wrote yesterday, I feel that’s like walking out onto thin ice with our partner when we could be standing on the shore.

We need to come up with a plan that works even if the Tories do their best to muddy the waters. Walking onto thin ice in the middle of the night when you can’t see what you’re doing is hardly better than doing it during the day!