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Revealed: The SNP strategy for a second independence vote

17 July 2021

4:35 AM

17 July 2021

4:35 AM

A new leaflet from the SNP says another referendum on independence is ‘an issue of basic democracy’ and that Boris Johnson ‘is seeking to block the democratic right of the people of Scotland to decide our own future’. The eight-page missive, which I understand is being distributed initially to party members, is entitled ‘A Referendum for Recovery’ and features the ‘Yes’ branding of the SNP’s campaign for indyref2.

The booklet is anchored by a short essay by Mike Russell, party president and former constitution minister in Nicola Sturgeon’s devolved administration at Holyrood. He writes that the Prime Minister is ‘changing the whole foundation of the UK’ from ‘a voluntary union based on the idea of partnership’ to one of ‘asserting Westminster control over Scotland’. Russell contends that, while the Tories consider the ‘democratic rights’ of Scots ‘subordinate to Westminster control’, independence would bring ‘a genuine partnership of equals with our friends in the rest of the UK’.

Along with the SNP’s claimed doctrine of popular sovereignty, ‘A Referendum for Recovery’ majors on five key themes: one, Boris bad; two, Brexit bad; three, Covid recovery; four, the Tories are coming for the NHS; and five, Scotland is rolling in it.

Boris is a nationalist recruiting sergeant in Scotland and old quotes of his are dug up — as some of us once warned they would be — to make the case for Scottish secession:

Control of Scotland’s economic policy will be in Scotland’s hands – not Boris Johnson’s. The Boris Johnson who said ‘A pound spent in Croydon is far more of value to the country than a pound spent in Strathclyde.’ So we know where his priority lies.

You don’t have to be a dog to hear that whistle. The pamphlet also warns of privations to come as a result of Brexit, with a mind to the 62 per cent of voters north of the border who voted Remain in 2016:

Brexit means the UK is going to become poorer and if we stay under Westminster control Scotland will go the same way…

Brexit is hitting the Scottish economy hard and on top of that the UK is expected to pay the EU around £40 billion in a divorce bill. That’s Scotland’s future with Westminster control.

Anti-independence voters who went on to vote Remain in 2016 will be the lynchpin of the secessionist majority that Sturgeon is trying to build and polling has shown significant progress with this demographic.


As the title of the leaflet indicates, the nationalists are trying to link independence to the Covid recovery, contending that Scotland needs statehood to bounce back from the pandemic:

After the pandemic a major economic re-building job will be required. So who do you trust to undertake that re-building to ensure a fairer and more prosperous society? Should it be yet another Westminster government, like Boris Johnson’s, that Scotland has rejected or a government in Scotland equipped with the full powers of independence?

This is a riskier line of argument. In theory, most Scots might prefer to have all economic and fiscal decisions about the recovery made by the SNP rather than the Tories, but any tactic that involves foregrounding the pandemic and the economic challenges resulting from it is dicey. It’s just as likely to make voters feel relieved that Scotland could rely on the broad shoulders of the UK to fund the job retention scheme and vaccine procurement and wary of walking away while the economic situation is still precarious.

Labour doesn’t have a monopoly on the conspiracy theory that the Tories are plotting to sell off the NHS. The SNP leaned heavily into this theme in the dying — and desperate — days of the 2014 referendum and the leaflet suggests this tactic is to be resurrected:

You can’t trust the Tories at Westminster to keep their hands off Scotland’s NHS. In an independent Scotland we can be certain Westminster will not be able to threaten our NHS. That threat is growing and real.

If the SNP can convince Scots that English Tories are scheming to flog the health service to American venture capitalists, they might succeed in drawing more Labour voters over to the pro-separation side.

There are the familiar assertions of Scotland’s immense wealth, and it is common for independence-supporters to believe not only that it is Scotland that subsidies England, rather than the other way round, but that Westminster falsifies official statistics to conceal the true level of Scotland’s prosperity. Take this sentence from the new production:

[T]he size of our economy, our educated workforce, natural resources, varied economy, with strengths in services and manufacturing demonstrate Scotland’s got what it takes to build a thriving economy.

The leaflet is full of upbeat-sounding, buzzword-intensive prose like that but is decidedly light on detail about how removing Scotland from its biggest market and erecting a border at Gretna would grow the economy.

Cheekily, the booklet turns Tory love-bombing against the bombers, quoting their own words in its argument for independence. So, Ruth Davidson’s line ‘Actually, I believe Scotland is big enough, rich enough and good enough to be an independent country’ is cited, as is David Cameron’s ‘It would be wrong to suggest that Scotland could not be another such successful, independent country’.

There are a few cringe bits, too. Maintaining that Britain isn’t as successful as other north western European nations, there is this beamer-inducing line: ‘The UK isn’t keeping up with the Joneses, the Jensens, the Johansens, the Jacques or the Joyces’. A photograph of the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ road sign at the border with England has been Photoshopped to read: ‘Big enough… rich enough… smart enough.. had enough.’ It’s a tough economy out there so I’m glad to see yer da has found work in the SNP graphics department.

The document seems to have been written exclusively for party members and activists — no one outside the SNP knows who Mike Russell is — and there is a sense of buttons being pushed and boxes ticked. Far from kickstarting (yet again) the campaign for another referendum, the leaflet looks like something chucked together to make it look like the party leadership is making progress on securing such a vote. It is not, and it’s unlikely an eight-page precis of a decade’s worth of result-free rhetoric will fool committed nationalists.

You can read the full document here:
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