It now looks like a second referendum is set to dominate our Depute Leadership contest and I believe that is a good thing. We are at a critical juncture in how we proceed with a second referendum and it is something that we simply have to get right. The debate seems to centre round whether we should proceed with a referendum simply because we currently possess a mandate or whether we hold one when there is good evidence it can be won.
I think everyone knows my view on this by now and it begins and ends with my firm belief that we simply can not countenance losing again. We are so close to securing our historic objective that to throw away a victory that we’ve so patiently and constructively worked for over the decades through impatience would be the worst type of defeat. I want to see evidence it can be won and I want it held at the time of our choosing when the optimum conditions are in place for success.
People have asked what these conditions are and what evidence is required? It is a fair question which I will try and address.
Before I do I want to first go over what these ‘optimal conditions’ are not.
Firstly, they are not when we are less than one year away from having lost over one third of our independence supporting MPs to candidates who had as their main campaigning message ‘No to a second referendum’. The SNP Government had only weeks previous to last year’s General Election placed independence centre stage by successfully securing support in Parliament to request a fresh section 30 order from the UK Government. Where there were other issues at play in last year’s General election an early referendum was by far the most dominant and we can not ignore the fact that the SNP lost half a million votes.
‘Optimal conditions’ are not when a significant gap exists between support for independence and support for an ‘early’ independence referendum. Every test of public opinion has shown that this gap is real and we simply can not wish it away. Support for independence remains impressively at around the 45% we secured in 2014. I don’t know how we can otherwise conclude that there are a number of people who still support independence but who do not want an early referendum. Indeed, in my campaign last year I came across identified independence supporters who told me that they were voting Conservative to stop an early referendum.
‘Optimal conditions’ are also not when a majority of our fellow Scots continue to tell us they still oppose independence by a significant margin when public opinion is tested. Many have said that simply holding a new referendum will somehow secure a majority and just by initiating a renewed contest we will secure a victory. This ignores just how hard it is going to be to secure a majority. That last five precent we need to win over in a renewed referendum will be the hardest five percent we have ever had to convert. It is a five percent that is deeply dug in with over five years of intense debate about our country’s constitutional future.
That then brings me on to what we need to do to start to move towards ‘optimal conditions’. First, and most obviously, we need a new case to win over that last tough, entrenched, 5 percent. They are going to take a lot of shifting and we have to get on to their territory. Everyday issues such as currency, pensions and perceived deficits are the obvious issues we have to address but so are things that persuadable unionists care about. To win we are going to have to be creative. Things like the cultural connections and attachments that are valued across these isles and even things like British identity are going to have to be tackled and reviewed. It is also about returning to a One Scotland approach to independence. The places we lost in 2014 were in rural and affluent Scotland and we need to ask searching questions about whether appealing to one sector of our community we may be losing out to another. It means listening to persuadable unionists, understanding their agenda then winning them over.
Then there is Brexit. We simply can not leave Yes leavers semi-detached from the Yes movement. Forget stay at home ‘over eager nationalists’ the people who stayed at home last year were Yes voters who voted to leave the European Union. Proceeding to another indyref with this unresolved will be like proceeding with one hand tied behind our back. Then there is recognising the opportunities around Brexit. Brexit will be an unmitigated disaster for our fellow Scots and when it properly hits our fellow Scots will want to review their constitutional options.
The ‘optimum conditions’ then is when we have done all of this. When we can feel confident that we can go to the Scottish people with a new case for our country’s independence with the outstanding impediments to success addressed. It means seeing support for our country’s independence being the sustained choice when public opinion is tested. It is hitting the sweet spot when Brexit impacts and people actively want out of an isolated, desolated UK. It means seeing support for the SNP returning to the levels we achieved around the last referendum in electoral contests. It means evidence. If securing our independence was easy we would already be an independent country. This is going to be hard, hard work and no amount of just wishing it can be easily achieved because we want it is going to get us there. We owe it to future generations of Scots to win this and rescue our nation from a disastrous Brexit and a UK determined to erode our national Parliament. We simply have to have a nation of our own run by those of us who live and work here.
So, again, and again, and again – rinse and repeat, losing again is simply not an option.