So plan B is back. This time with an opinion poll which seems to suggest it comes with majority public support. Always there as a proposed route forward is this the possible solution to all our indy woes and could it indeed break the constitutional stand off and get us swiftly and easily to independence? If it is now a serious contender we surely owe the proposition the scrutiny it deserves and to ask a few gentle but searching questions to test if it does indeed offer the salvation we all seek.
But what exactly is plan B? Sometimes like the proverbial constitutional bus several plan Bs come along at the same time, each making a claim to be the real thing. As yet no one has actually outlined what the exact proposal is. Looking around the debate it does seems to coalesce around the idea that if the SNP wins a majority of seats in a ‘democratic event’ this then gives the party the right to begin negotiations on independence.
This democratic event might even arrive as early as next year and it is suggested that the next election to Holyrood should be fought on this Plan B basis. That would therefore mean that the 2021 election ceases to be a General Election in the conventional sense and instead becomes a single issue plebiscite exclusively on the proposition that if the SNP secures a majority we move towards becoming an independent state. If it was to happen there would be no programme for Government, no defence of a record in power, just a straight forward one issue independence question.
I think we can take it as a given that all the unionist opposition parties would refuse to agree to an election framed on this basis and it will therefore be the SNP fighting some sort of quasi referendum and all the other parties contesting a scheduled election. This then leads immediately to questions around democratic legitimacy. Forget the fact that no other nation has ever done anything remotely like this before it breaks every notion that independence should only be secured on the back of a majority in a dedicated referendum. We would also have to assume that the Scottish people would somehow go along with their democracy being appropriated like this, and that is a very big assumption…
But before we get into all of that surely the most basic question is what happens when the UK Government says ‘No’, as it most definitely will? This is a UK Government that has said ‘No’ to another agreed referendum and which consistently says ‘No’ to devolving the powers to Scotland to hold a referendum. We are apparently invited to accept the notion that they will turn 360 degrees on their heads and say – ‘OK we’ve done everything possible to stop you having another referendum but we’ll agree to negotiate independence with you because you won an election’? After being told repeatedly about the perniciousness of the UK state it is beyond naive to believe that they will somehow so readily acquiesce to the result of a plebiscitary election.
‘We’ll just do it anyway’ you might then say. Well, this is where we start to get into some seriously tricky territory. ‘Just doing it anyway’ means we would be doing something broadly similar to what Catalonia did when they ‘won’ their uncontested referendum – without actually winning a referendum! This would in effect mean we would be declaring some sort of Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). The consequences of that could not be more serious. Almost certain to be one of the first things to happen is that we would have all of this immediately ruled illegal and be disenfranchised from the entire international community. We would be left in the sort of hellish limbo currently endured by the people of Catalonia. The idea that the Scottish people who have conducted the debate around independence constitutionally and legally for decades would somehow embrace a ‘UDI’ is almost beyond preposterous and is just not going to happen.
Of course UDI might be the furthest thing from the mind of the ‘plan B-ers’; again we don’t know, because they haven’t told us. It may be to them a means to simply exercise further leverage on the UK to ‘grant’ the plan A of a referendum, as some have indeed suggested. But that then comes back to the first question posed to them. What happens when the UK says ‘No’ again and how therefore does it take us any further forward? There are only two ways to pursue independence, one is with the participation of the UK state, the other is through a unilateral declaration.
Where the plan B-ers are right is that this needs to be debated in the SNP and put to bed. The level of divisive self defeating nonsense we see on social media must come to an end and we have to unite behind an agreed way forward. My prediction is that this plan B is likely to prove as popular as the attempts to foist it on to the agenda at last year’s conference, particularly now that it will be properly scrutinised with serious questions asked of it. My little bit of advice to my good friends in the ‘plan B movement’ is to at least come up with some sort of concrete proposal so we can have some idea what it is we are supposed to debate.
The only ‘plan’ we need is the one that gets us to independence and so far the one we are currently pursuing seem to be working and proving to be popular with the Scottish people. After losing a referendum only 5 and a half years ago almost unbelievably we are easing into sustained majority support for the first time with another spectacular poll this morning. We are on course for winning another majority in Parliament and we can almost reach out and touch our ambition. The SNP will enter the next Holyrood election with a route map to secure our nation’s independence and we will win it if that is what the Scottish people desire.
The unionists know that they can no longer beat us. Their last hope is that we beat ourselves. Their only plan is to say ‘No’ then hope that this No is accepted as their last word and gospel and count on frustration and division building. What always surprises me is that so many people think that ‘No’ is immutable and just so readily accept it. But they will be overcome and that will be done by force of electoral numbers, and if necessary, an escalation of tactics by getting all our indy strategy ducks in a row. There may be a time for some sort of Plan B, but that time has not come yet.