Pete Wishart has written an article in The National today, which rather puzzled me. In it he writes this:
Brexit will be an absolute disaster for Scotland, cutting average pay by £2000 and resulting in the loss of 80 000 jobs. […]
With transitional arrangements in place, it is likely that the full impact of Brexit will start to become apparent just as we start to contest the 2021 election. We therefore have to seek a renewed mandate in 2021 and have the courage of our convictions to fight the next Scottish election on securing a renewed referendum mandate.
This is barking mad! If Pete Wishart thought there was a decent chance Brexit might be a success, I could understand why he might want to wait a bit, but if he’s convinced (as am I) that it will be “an absolute disaster”, why wait?
Have politicians lost their ability to change people’s minds? Is there a rule that they have to follow opinion polls slavishly without trying to influence hearts and minds?
If you can see that the Titanic is going to collide with an iceberg and sink, your duty is to either change course or launch a lifeboat. It’s not to congratulate yourself that lots of people will flock to your lifeboat once the ship is sinking fast.
I realise that a lot of SNP people got a nasty shock in June, when the party did much worse than anybody had expected. However, what happened wasn’t a rejection of independence – it was a sign that many independentistas are getting fed up with the SNP, as happens with all parties that have been in power for a while. I find it very unlikely that Scottish voters will vote for the SNP in bigger numbers in 2021 and 2022 if the economy is falling apart under an SNP government (but ultimately due to Brexit and Tory austerity).
We already have two separate mandates for independence. It’s true that it’s hard to force Westminster’s hand when Yes is still hovering around the 45% mark in the opinion polls, but surely what we should be doing in those circumstances is to campaign for independence now in order to shift public opinion.
I have for a long time argued that we need a new independence referendum no later than the autumn of 2018, in order to get out before Brexit happens. However, if the UK gets a two-year transition deal, as asked for by Theresa May (and whether this gets accepted by the EU is by no means certain yet), I guess we can perhaps wait till September 2020, if we’re happy to negotiate independence within six months. If we want 18 months to put everything in place (which is what Alex Salmond’s plan was last time), we need to hold ScotRef no later than September 2019.
That is entirely doable. The EU will not implement a transitional arrangement unless they know where the UK is heading, so by March 2019 it should be be clear what Brexit means, and that then allows for a six-month campaign before a September 2019 referendum.
Much as I can see the rationale for this, I still personally think it is too late. As I’ve said many times before, a lot of people and companies will start moving to the continent in 2018, and they won’t come back no matter what. And new companies trying to make money out of Brexit (for instance by selling substitutes for EU products that suddenly get too expensive) will not place themselves in Scotland if there’s any possibility that Scotland will leave the UK soon afterwards, so Scotland is likely to end up in a nightmare scenario, losing people and companies but not gaining any, basically because we’ve been staring into the headlights for too long.
Also, the longer we wait, the more likely it becomes that the English Remainers will finally get their act together and cancel Brexit. That would be great in many ways, but it will kick Scottish independence into the seriously long grass. It certainly won’t benefit the SNP.
If I was being evil, I would say that Pete Wishart’s idea of a referendum during the 2021–26 parliament is based on the idea that asking for a mandate for independence might be the SNP’s only chance to win that election. However, if that’s the thinking behind it, it’s for the sole benefit of the SNP and to the detriment of the independence movement and of the people of Scotland.