WITH all the many things said about the anniversary of the referendum it’s hard to believe that the case for independence was crafted some five years ago. Scotland’s Future, or just simply the white paper, now seems to belong to an altogether different political era. Since the white paper there have been two General Elections and a UK vote to leave the European Union. What we now need is a new programme for independence, an independence 2.0, a new blueprint for an independent Scotland.
Scotland in 2017 is an altogether different country from the time of the white paper. This year’s General Election found Scotland apparently weary of constitutional change but at the same time restless for solutions. We saw the Tories’ Unionist campaign opposing a second independence referendum resonate with many of our fellow Scots. We also saw the SNP lose almost half a million votes as our vote came under assault on a number of fronts as Scotland’s political mood became almost impossible to predict
Yet support for independence remains at around 45 per cent, defiantly the same as the 2014 referendum. There are still almost half of our fellow Scots who believe independence is the ultimate destination for our nation and there is no sense that desire for self-government is diminishing.
This is a constituency that urgently requires reassurance and who we need to address and refresh. We need to offer a new prospectus that will re-motivate and inspire. These are people looking for a new way forward for their constitutional ambitions and who are looking to the Scottish National Party to signpost the way to that destination.
We also now know that this is a fragile constituency that can not be taken for granted. We lost a third of our Westminster MPs just as much because independence supporters decided to stay at home, uninspired by what they saw as an agenda that did not meet their constitutional ambitions.
Where we must start is with the realities of Brexit. Brexit will be an absolute disaster for Scotland, cutting average pay by £2000 and resulting in the loss of 80 000 jobs. When the reality of this folly finally becomes apparent, the Scottish people will almost certainly want to fully review and consider all their available constitutional options. The Tories are doing everything possible to uncouple Brexit from a further referendum on independence and that is why we in turn must do everything possible to ensure that connection is seen and felt. As the good ship UK fully collides with that Brexit iceberg, we must make that lifeboat available for Scotland and have it fully equipped and seaworthy.
The first thing we therefore need for Independence 2.0 is a credible post-Brexit vision for an independent Scotland. We will always be a European-inclined nation and the desire to be a full member of the EU must always be our ambition. But we have to carefully craft a road map to match that ambition which realistically reflects the position we will find ourselves in. We also need to be sensitive to the many people in Scotland (including the many SNP supporters) who remain suspicious of the whole EU project.
We need a graduated approach, starting with institutions we can apply to join on day one of our independence. We should say that we would seek immediate entry to the EEA and EFTA while starting discussions about a return to the European Union. We should also say that our membership of any European multi-lateral institution will be kept under review in any ascent up that stairway to full European Union membership.
There are other things we must address as urgent major chapters in Independence 2.0. The fiscal commission is due to report soon and that will hopefully address some of the issues concerning our onshore economy and the still potent issue of the currency in an independent Scotland. So much time and energy was spent addressing currency in the last referendum that we must never again allow the Unionists to hold the whip hand on what we may or may not be “allowed” as an independent nation.
In a post-Brexit UK our land border is likely to replace currency as the top of the ‘we’re not going to let you do that’ list. A Brexitised UK will have the full ability to determine any future border relationship, and is likely to be as unhelpful as possible in how it engages in these conversations. We have to prepare ourselves with solutions for when the UK assumes its isolation and uses borders as political muscle to oppose our independence.
Then there is how we get there, and I notice the impatience of some to have this tested as quickly as possible. Timing is everything and we must seek the optimal time for success, carefully assessing opportunity against risk.
We must also have an unquestionable mandate. This time round the Tory Government is less likely to be so accommodating in granting the same democratic arrangements we secured last time.
This means contesting the next Scottish election with a clear commitment to revisit our constitutional future with a reference to allow Scotland to consider its position when Brexit finally concludes. 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.
More than anything we need a new case. An Independence 2.0. A properly thought out, considered programme for independence in the 2020s. Independence 2.0 must be positive and realistic, with a strong powerful vision of what we want to contribute internationally predicated on the best inclusive, social democratic traditions of our nation.
We need to demonstrate what we can achieve with the full powers of self Government.
Let’s put the case together and then go out and claim the main prize, a nation of our own.