Category Archives: SNP

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.

The independence campaign catch-22


Back in the early days of the first indyref, Yes Scotland designed some cards asking people to places themselves on an independence scale from 1 to 10, and they told us activists to knock doors, ask the questions and fill out the cards.

I did exactly that (being a bit literal-minded), but I soon realised that most other activists took it as an opportunity to talk to people about the benefits of independence. In retrospect, I think most of the conversions from No to Yes were due to these conversations — much more so than the targeted materials Yes Scotland will have sent to some people based on the classification on the cards.

I’m mentioning this because the SNP recently launched a huge National Survey that asks even more questions than the small cards Yes Scotland sent out, and they’re asking their members to get as many people as possible to answer the questions.

What I’m wondering is whether they just want us to go out and record the answers, or is it really just an excuse to campaign on the doorstep? If it’s the former, it won’t change many minds (but it might tell the SNP who the soft No voters are and where they live), but if it’s the latter, we really could do with some new pro-independence campaign materials to aid us in the conversations.

It’s really a catch-22. It would be easier to campaign if the campaign had been officially launched and we were backed up with materials and all that. Also, many people won’t change their opinion on independence before somebody talks to them — they won’t just have a eureka moment in the bath one morning. However, the SNP clearly doesn’t want to launch the campaign prematurely and there are many indications that nothing will happen before Yes has clearly overtaken No in the opinion polls. So opinion won’t shift before we start campaigning for real, but we won’t start campaigning before opinion has shifted.

This makes me think National Survey is probably a campaign in disguise. They hope that we will all campaign hard on the doorsteps while pretending it’s just a listening exercise, so that opinion shifts enough that the official campaign can start.

Perhaps it’s the right way forward, but annoyingly it means we’ll have to create campaign materials on our own instead of getting them from Yes Scotland II or the SNP. I just wish the real campaign would start, but then I’m of course really impatient given my status as an EU migrant.

The SNP Depute Leader election

Eastwood Hustings.
Eastwood Hustings.
I went along to the Eastwood Hustings last night to get a better idea about who to vote for in the SNP’s election for a new depute leader.

It was quite interesting — although unfortunately Angus Robertson couldn’t make it — and I now feel I know how to prioritise the candidates. Here are my thoughts, started with the candidate I’ll be ranking lowest and ending with my preferred depute leader:

  • Chris McEleny has some decent ideas about reforms to the party structure, but I think the other candidates have listened to these and are likely to implement them, too. However, his focus seemed very strongly to be on local elections, and with the possibility of a new independence referendum, I don’t think this is the right kind of depute for the SNP at the moment.
  • Tommy Sheppard is great and I’m really appreciative of the things he’s done during the indyref campaign and as an MP. At another point in time I can imagine he would have been my preferred candidate. However, like Chris he seemed to focus more on local elections and on the party structure, and again I’m just not sure this is the right time. Paid organisers might be a great idea, but when the next referendum campaign gets called, a lot of activity will probably shift to Yes Scotland 2 (or whatever it’ll get called), and then these organisers could almost become a hindrance.
  • Angus Robertson is one of my heroes. As somebody who’s half German myself I really admire the way he’s explaining Scottish politics in German to German and Austrian audiences — he simply says all the right things, like for instance: “Wir Schotten sind […] Weltbürger — von daher ärgert mich die deutsche Übersetzung meiner Partei: Wir sind keine Nationalisten.” He’s also doing a great job in Westminster, and I’m sure being depute leader of the SNP could help him there. Finally, his point about making sure that the SNP doesn’t lose the rural areas now that the party is becoming much more urban makes eminent sense to me. I’ll be very happy if he wins this election.
  • Alyn Smith is, however, my preferred candidate. His famous speech in the European Parliament has shown he can win over European hearts and minds, and that really matters at the moment. He also pointed out last night that his election will send a strong signal to Europe that the European Parliament matters more to Scotland than the UK Parliament in London, and he can really use the depute leader title to impress on people across Europe that he’s to be taken seriously. Finally, although he didn’t say it, I can’t help thinking that somebody who’ll lose his current job if Scotland gets chucked out of the EU will perhaps work harder to keep us there than those who won’t. Given how much staying in the EU matters to me as a New Scot from another EU member state, I’ll cast my first vote for Alyn Smith.

If the UK votes to leave the EU, #indyref2 must follow soon afterwards

There are indications that the SNP leadership are trying to talk down the prospects of a quick indyref2 after a Brexit vote. For instance, this is what Humza Yousaf said recently according to The Herald:

Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Government’s transport minister, has made clear that, personally, he would not like a second referendum on Scotland’s future in such circumstances, noting how it would “make the argument for independence very difficult”.


[He] then added: “I do not want a referendum in those circumstances. It makes the argument for independence very difficult as well. It presents us with some additional difficulties and some additional challenges.”

I agree with Humza that it might be difficult to win a new indyref immediately after a Brexit vote, when voters are aware that a Yes vote will mean that the English-Scottish border will become the external border of the EU. I therefore very much hope that the UK votes to Remain in the EU.

However, if Brexit happens, it’ll only get harder to win a new indyref if we wait a few years, so unless we want to kick Scottish independence into the long grass, we’ll need to act immediately afterwards and hold a new referendum in late 2016 or early 2017, well before the (r)UK leaves the EU in the summer of 2018.

The reason for the urgency is that Scotland’s big chance is to vote to remain in the EU without ever leaving the bloc. If that happens, many companies will choose to relocate here from the rUK. On the other hand, if Scotland leaves the EU together with the rest of the UK, those companies will move to Ireland or another EU member state, and they won’t move to Scotland even if we decide to become independent a few years later. Even if just 5% of the companies currently domiciled in the rUK move to Scotland, it will be a huge boost to the Scottish economy and will lubricate the change from dependence to independence nicely.

It’s also likely many people in the EU will suddenly encourage Scottish membership of the EU so that not all of the UK is lost after Brexit. For instance, in a role-play organised by Open Europe, the “Netherlands predicted an effort to channel investment to Scotland, in an effort to peel it off from the rest of the UK.”

Furthermore, YouGov’s Peter Kellner has pointed out that there normally is a late swing towards the status quo in referendums, which is exactly what we saw in the 2014 independence referendum. However, just after Brexit, there won’t be a status quo — the alternatives will be to remain either in the EU or in the UK, but not both — and this might prevent this late swing from happening again. On the other hand, if we sit on our hands for ten years, a status quo will have re-established itself, which will benefit the pro-UK side.

In other words, a snap indyref2 will appeal to both risk-takers who believe Scotland can poach a lot of English companies as well as to the natural conservatives who are worried about what will happen if we leave the EU. Combined with those who are already convinced about Scottish independence, that might well be a winning combination.

Things won’t get easier over time. So long as England remains outside the EU, a vote for Scottish independence will be much more daunting than it was in 2014 when it was simply a question of turning the English-Scottish border into an internal EU one.

So yes, I’m pessimistic that we can win indyref2 after a Brexit vote, but our only chance of doing so is to have it almost immediately afterwards so that Scotland never leaves the EU and can become the natural new location for companies wanting to remain within both the EU and the old UK. After that, any hope of independence will be kicked at least twenty years into the future.

Of course I’d prefer the UK to remain within the EU, but given recent opinion polls, we have to be prepare to seize the moment after a vote to Leave.


The SNP is now either the winner or the runner-up in all Holyrood constituencies. (Is that not the first time any party has achieved that, by the way?)

I thought it would be useful to list the size of all the majorities here for future reference, ordered by the size of the majority. A negative number means the SNP didn’t win the seat. The party in the last column is the SNP’s main opponent in this seat.

Majority Constituency Opponent
11630 Aberdeen Donside (North East Scotland) CON
11280 Falkirk West (Central Scotland) LAB
11194 Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley (South Scotland) LAB
10979 East Kilbride (Central Scotland) LAB
10898 Dundee City East (North East Scotland) LAB
10857 Inverness and Nairn (Highlands and Islands) CON
9593 Glasgow Southside (Glasgow) LAB
9478 Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Central Scotland) LAB
9390 Glasgow Cathcart (Glasgow) LAB
9335 Linlithgow (Lothian) LAB
9043 Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch (Highlands and Islands) LD
8828 Dundee City West (North East Scotland) LAB
8724 Cunninghame North (West Scotland) CON
8432 Clydebank and Milngavie (West Scotland) LAB
8393 Almond Valley (Lothian) LAB
8312 Falkirk East (Central Scotland) LAB
8276 Mid Fife and Glenrothes (Mid Scotland and Fife) LAB
8230 Greenock and Inverclyde (West Scotland) LAB
8100 Strathkelvin and Bearsden (West Scotland) CON
7395 Kirkcaldy (Mid Scotland and Fife) LAB
7373 Renfrewshire North and West (West Scotland) CON
7323 Glasgow Shettleston (Glasgow) LAB
7035 Midlothian North and Musselburgh (Lothian) LAB
6746 Edinburgh Northern and Leith (Lothian) LAB
6721 Clackmannanshire and Dunblane (Mid Scotland and Fife) LAB
6718 Stirling (Mid Scotland and Fife) CON
6583 Banffshire and Buchan Coast (North East Scotland) CON
6482 Glasgow Pollok (Glasgow) LAB
6223 Motherwell and Wishaw (Central Scotland) LAB
6192 Airdrie and Shotts (Central Scotland) LAB
6153 Glasgow Anniesland (Glasgow) LAB
6006 Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (South Scotland) LAB
5979 Clydesdale (South Scotland) CON
5978 Argyll and Bute (Highlands and Islands) LD
5868 Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale (South Scotland) CON
5837 Aberdeenshire East (North East Scotland) CON
5693 Cunninghame South (West Scotland) LAB
5602 Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn (Glasgow) LAB
5437 Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse (Central Scotland) LAB
5199 Paisley (West Scotland) LAB
5087 Edinburgh Eastern (Lothian) LAB
4809 Uddingston and Bellshill (Central Scotland) LAB
4783 Glasgow Provan (Glasgow) LAB
4558 Dunfermline (Mid Scotland and Fife) LAB
4408 Renfrewshire South (West Scotland) LAB
4349 Aberdeen Central (North East Scotland) LAB
4304 Angus South (North East Scotland) CON
4048 Glasgow Kelvin (Glasgow) GRN
3913 Caithness, Sutherland and Ross (Highlands and Islands) LD
3779 Coatbridge and Chryston (Central Scotland) LAB
3743 Rutherglen (Glasgow) LAB
3496 Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Highlands and Islands) LAB
3336 Perthshire North (Mid Scotland and Fife) CON
3041 Cowdenbeath (Mid Scotland and Fife) LAB
2875 Moray (Highlands and Islands) CON
2755 Aberdeen South and North Kincardine (North East Scotland) CON
2472 Angus North and Mearns (North East Scotland) CON
2456 Edinburgh Pentlands (Lothian) CON
1422 Perthshire South and Kinross-shire (Mid Scotland and Fife) CON
-109 Dumbarton (West Scotland) LAB
-610 Edinburgh Central (Lothian) CON
-750 Ayr (South Scotland) CON
-900 Aberdeenshire West (North East Scotland) CON
-1123 Edinburgh Southern (Lothian) LAB
-1127 East Lothian (South Scotland) LAB
-1230 Dumfriesshire (South Scotland) CON
-1514 Galloway and West Dumfries (South Scotland) CON
-1611 Eastwood (West Scotland) CON
-2960 Edinburgh Western (Lothian) LD
-3465 North East Fife (Mid Scotland and Fife) LD
-4534 Orkney Islands (Highlands and Islands) LD
-4895 Shetland Islands (Highlands and Islands) LD
-7736 Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire (South Scotland) CON

PS: In order to do this I had to create a CSV file containing all the constituency results. You can download it here if you’re interested.

What should the SNP have done to win a majority?

I’ve already argued in another blog post that it really wasn’t the Greens’ fault that the SNP didn’t get a majority — they won exactly as many seats as the SNP would have if they had got all their votes on top of their own, so a vote for them got weren’t wasted (but at the same time there wasn’t any tactical voting benefit to voting Green, either).

I’ve also pointed out that just like in the indyref, Glasgow performed better than expected, and Edinburgh and the North East underperformed.

I therefore thought it would be useful to look at all the regions again to see what the SNP could have done better. (I’m commenting in places also on the Greens’ performance, but the focus here is on the SNP.)

  • Glasgow added two SNP seats (going from 7 to 9 out of 16), so it really wasn’t Glasgow’s fault that the SNP didn’t win a majority in Holyrood. Yes, it would have been nice to win an additional list seat here, but even if the SNP had managed to convince all the Green list voters to vote SNP instead, the seat gained would have cost Patrick Harvie his seat, so it wouldn’t have benefited the Yes movement as a whole. It’s hard to see how the SNP can do better than this in the future here, but the Greens should be able to pick up at least one more seat.
  • Central Scotland did OK. The SNP again won all the constituency seats — 9 out of 16 seats (the same as five years ago). Neither the SNP nor the Greens won any list seats here. Again, it’s hard to see how the SNP can improve a lot on this result in the future, but again, perhaps the Greens are in a better position to win a list seat here.
  • The West Scotland region achieved a decent result (flat on 8 out of 17). (It was decent in numerical terms, but the brilliant Stewart Maxwell failed to gain a seat — he’ll be sorely missed in the new parliament). However, this really wasn’t good enough. Winning a list seat here was always going to be tough, but winning only 8 out of 10 constituencies was careless, and the SNP should perhaps have bussed in supporters from other constituencies to the vulnerable ones (Dumbarton and Eastwood).
  • Mid Scotland and Fife saw the loss of one SNP seat (from 9 to 8 out of 16), which fortunately was picked up by the Greens. (If all the Green voters had voted SNP on the list, this seat would have gone to Labour, not to the SNP.) The SNP should have bussed in supporters to prevent Willie Rennie from winning North East Fife.
  • In the South Scotland region, the SNP went from 8 to 7 seats (out of 17), and differently from other regions, the list vote was very important here: The SNP won only 4 constituencies and got a top-up of 3 list seats. Targeting constituencies here would have been a waste of time, but the SNP should have run a stronger operation to pursue the list vote here.
  • The Highlands and Islands saw the loss of two SNP seats (from 9 to 7 out of 15). One of these was picked up by the Greens, but the SNP only needed about 10,000 more list votes to win it. The huge majority achieved by the Liberal Democrats in Orkney and Shetland means it probably would have been a waste of energy to try and win the constituency seats, and the SNP should instead have pursued a list vote strategy in this region.
  • In the North East region, the SNP had a bad election, going from 11 to 9 seats (out of 17). To be fair, 9/17 is still more than half, but this region is clearly no longer a bastion of SNP support. Perhaps it’s simply not realistic any longer to hope to win a list seat on top of all the constituencies, but how was Aberdeenshire West allowed to fall to the Tories?
  • In Lothian, the SNP lost two seats, going from 8 to 6 out of 16. They almost added a list seat, which would have lessened the damage, but a safer strategy would perhaps have been to defend the constituency seats more strongly. It was great that the SNP managed to win Edinburgh Northern & Leith, but why did the Tories win Edinburgh Central, Labour Edinburgh Southern, and the Lib Dems Edinburgh Western?

To conclude, the SNP should have run two different campaigns. In the Central Belt and in the North East, they should have ignored the list vote and instead thrown their heart and soul into the swing seats, such as Dumbarton, Eastwood, North East Fife and the Edinburgh seats, bussing in supporters from other areas.

In South Scotland and Highlands & Islands, on the other hand, the SNP should have focused wholeheartedly on the list vote and left the constituency campaigns to their own devices.

In an ideal world, the SNP would perhaps even have made a gentleman’s agreement with the Greens that they wouldn’t campaign in South Scotland and Highland & Islands in return for getting a free run elsewhere.

#BothVotesSNP wasn’t really a strategy, because it made it unclear what the supporters needed to focus on (and focusing on everything at once isn’t focusing).

I’d prefer Holyrood to change the voting system before 2016, but if they keep the Additional Member System, I think the SNP would do well to come up with a more focused regional strategy.

A regional view

The colour of each council area shows the difference between the actual indyref result and an old prediction of mine, based on an earlier election. Red means it did less well, and blue means it did better.
The colour of each council area shows the difference between the actual indyref result and an old prediction of mine, based on an earlier election. Red means it did less well, and blue means it did better.
It’s quite interesting to look at yesterday’s election from a regional point of view.

In Glasgow, the SNP added two seats (and the Greens kept their single seat), and in West Scotland, the SNP were flat while the Greens added a seat. On the other hand, Central Scotland was static, and in Mid Scotland and Fife one seat moved from the SNP to the Greens. Everywhere else the Yes parties lost ground: In both Lothian and the Highland & Islands, the SNP lost two seats while the Greens gained one; in South Scotland the SNP lost a seat, and in North East Scotland the SNP lost two seats.

I’ve added the change in seats for the two Yes parties together and have superimposed them on an old map of mine, which illustrates how the indyref results compared with my predictions. We all know now that Glasgow and some neighbouring areas voted Yes in much greater numbers than anybody had predicted two years earlier, while Edinburgh and most areas outwith the Central Belt voted No in greater numbers than expected.

It’s looking like this pattern is repeating itself. Two SNP seats moved from Aberdeenshire to Glasgow yesterday, for instance.

Another way to look at it is that party politics is still adjusting itself to the indyref result.

What will this mean for the next independence referendum? Will it make it even harder to obtain a Yes vote outwith Glasgow? Or will it be easier because we won’t focus on preaching to the converted? We’ll need to think very carefully about these questions over the next couple of years.