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. 


  1. Jack black

    So the big reveal is a vague statement at the end of your patronizing piece? You mention that the UK Gov have said no consistently and almost mock the suggestion by others to look for alternatives. You also call them”plan B-ers” which is similar to how the UK Gov describe SNP members as “Nats” when seeking to suggest cult like beliefs or following. May I suggest as my MP who is paid very handsomely, that you have a stab at coming up with an alternative to asking permission from the UK Gov since we know they will continue to refuse a section 30 request?
    I have voted for you consistently Pete but your approach to Scots getting frustrated had been disappointing. Please dont take the people for granted. Regards, a Blairgowrie SNP member.

    1. petewishart Post author

      I don’t know how it’s patronising Jack. If this is a serious proposition it must be effectively scrutinised and questions asked of it. The last thing we want at this stage are people being led up some dead end. The SNP will come forward with their renewed route to indy in next year’s manifesto. I will also be offering my views. Remember, the Tories are counting on this frustration so we beat ourselves. We must not oblige them.

      1. John McCall

        I am glad that you have written this article and provided space for a debate on this topic. Thank you.

        I would be very interested to hear where Plan A is going next, since that is what you favour. I agree with you that SNP are achieving success in building sustained support for independence. So far so good for Plan A. But WM has said “no” to a new referendum. You say now that that “no” is not immutable and argue that continued strong electoral results will bring about change.

        Frankly, there is good reason why Indy supporters are losing faith in the argument that “force of electoral numbers” will change minds at WM. After the SNP landslide in the recent UK GE, Tory commentators were immediately arguing that % of vote was less than 50% so no mandate for IndyRef 2. For every electoral mandate barrier that is jumped, another higher one is set. Every time SNP suffers even a minor electoral reverse, we are told “that’s it for Indy for another generation”. Therefore it is reasonable to ask, “what next?”

        In your article, you hint at “an escalation of tactics to get all our Indy ducks in a row”? What do you mean by that? Whatever you think about them, at least those suggesting a Plan B are putting forward testable ideas.

        You are right in saying that all of the Plan B ideas have the same problem as Plan A. The problem is to bring WM to agree that Scotland can self-determine, by a democratic act.

        So really the Plan A vs Plan B debate is a distraction. The important question is, what do we do to force WM to that agreement? It is not unreasonable for supporters of Indy to look to the SNP for answers to that question.

      2. Jomry

        I fully agree with your statement that plan B requires detailed scrutiny and consideration. Which was what was being requested at SNP conference but refused consideration. Refusal to debate smacks of arrogance and your current disingenuous remarks about plan B are indeed patronising.

  2. Derick Tulloch

    Um. A Parliamentary route to independence has numerous precedents. Norway, Iceland, the Baltic Republics. It used to be the policy of the political party to which we both belong

    True, the UK PM might just ignore it. But at least we’d have had a vote. A Westminster election would be the logical place for a plebiscite on Independence, given that hoary institution claims sovereignty

  3. Iain Bruce

    Dear Pete
    For the longest serving member of the SNP In the Commons you seem remarkably ill informed on the question of PlansB. Try this for size and courtesy of Craig Murray, straight form the UK Government on the green benches opposite you at ‘work’.

    2. As the United Kingdom stated in oral argument, international law contains no
    prohibition against declarations of independence as such. Whether a declaration of
    independence leads to the creation of a new State by separation or secession depends
    not on the fact of the declaration but on subsequent developments, notably recognition
    by other States. As a general matter, an act not prohibited by international law needs
    no authorization. This position holds with respect to States. It holds also with respect
    to acts of individuals or groups, for international law prohibits conduct of non-State
    entities only exceptionally and where expressly indicated.

    1. petewishart Post author

      I wish that was the case Iain, but unfortunately not. If Scotland declared UDI it would immediately be declared illegal and we would be in the same hellish limbo as Catalonia. I know the temptation is to look for an easy solution but this isn’t one that is going to help us…..

      1. Jeff Saunderson

        Except Pete, that unlike Catalonia, Spain has chosen to respect Scotlands right to determine it’s own future, as have most of the EU members.

        The only two states preventing us having our referendum tomorrow are England and Scotland.

        Let’s reduce that to England only, and see how that plays with the rest of Europe and their willingness to recognise an independent Scotland.

        England’s future lies with the USA.

        Ours doesn’t and our neighbours recognise that.

        When will you?

  4. Dennis Nicholson

    “There may be a time for some sort of Plan B, but that time has not come yet.” you say Pete. So how many more times does Boris get to say “No” before you decide Plan A is dead duck? The fact that support for independence is growing doesn’t mean Plan A is working – it demonstrably isn’t working. The Tories just keep saying “No”. As long as they do, Plan A can’t work – and so far having more support is actually making them more likely to keep on blocking it. If you really want to convince people that Plan A is best you need to start answering the key question – what do you do if they just keep saying “No” until the current momentum for Yes dissipates. Because that is clearly their Plan A – and as far as I can see it is working a lot better than ours is…

    1. petewishart Post author

      Hi Dennis. The Tories say ‘No’ because they believe that they still represent majority support on independence. This is now being taken away from them and they will lose the democratic debate. If they continue to say No to a majority we have to start to escalate our approach, as I said in my article. What we have to demonstrate to the international community is that we have that democratic legitimacy and we have tried everything possible to engage the UK in the process of our independence. Again, as I said, it’s all about ‘ducks in a row’. Their ‘plan’ is to say NO, hope it is accepted as gospel and then hope the movement turns in on itself. We must not oblige them….

      1. ndls61

        Not nearly good enough sorry. The Tories (or indeed any other British nationalist party) will continue to say no even if your reach your 60% “Gold Standard”. Why do you find that so difficult to understand?

        You’re seriously asking us to have faith in the moral probity of the unionist establishment?

        What are the steps of this “escalation of our approach”? What does “having our ducks in a row” actually entail over and above the several mandates already gathering dust in the mandate cupboard Pete?

        You can’t even defend your opposition to using the Holyrood 2021 elections as a plebiscite, other than by maintaining that the Scottish people apparently aren’t capable of holding two concepts in their heads at the same time: the need to over-ride the British nationalist veto on #indyref2 and voting on the issues and record of the Scottish Government.

  5. Robert T

    Hi Mr Wishart I noticed that you have not included my comment which I posted earlier in response to your post , although the comment was critical of your and NS pedestrianised attitude to taking our country Scotland to independence there were no swear words involved
    Do you now have such a contempt for voters who are critical of your confuscation that you deem it necessary to silence any dissention

  6. Bill Laing

    You can bet your boots that during the 2021 HR election campaign, the unionist parties will make it an election about independence whether or not the SNP choose to do so.

  7. Bob Waugh

    Why is the idea of making the next Holyrood election hinge on the Indy question so bad? It is after all, the policy with which the SNP achieved its first GE breakthroughs in the 70s, updated to the modern context.
    A majority of votes for pro-Indy parties = a mandate for the Scottish government to negotiate an Indy deal with the UK government. Surely an idea that anyone can understand? Lots did in 1974.

  8. William Spalding

    How long do the SNP wait, or continue to “build a case“ for holding another referendum that requires agreement from Westminster?
    If Westminster can simply say “No” and tack on some dubious addition as their justification, they don’t need to do anything to keep Scotland in its place apart from what they’re doing now.
    That tactic could run for another ten years easily, if not longer. And it’s a tactic that can be passed from Tory to Labour with little impact on their vote.
    The point you make about the SNP fighting a quasi referendum during an election where the unionist parties are campaigning on issues from a manifesto is absolutely correct.
    But there is also the clear danger that the same unionist parties can use every slip, every underachievement and every fault the SNP make in government as a reason why independence or the chance to choose it through Indyref2 is not a good idea.
    It heaps a tremendous pressure on any SNP Scottish Government to perform at levels that will not be there for a Westminster Government.
    And you know voters will look for change eventually, regardless of how well things are going.
    The SNP have already been in power for more than a decade. The next Scottish Election looks secure at present, but if independence or a vote of some kind is not secured before the end of the next Scottish Parliament, the danger of voter fatigue coming into play must increase the chances of independence being pushed back again.
    The current “Plan A” might be productive at present in delivering support for the SNP and better polling numbers, but if all of that can be negated by a simple “No”, then it becomes meaningless.
    As a party member, I think it’s vital that a clear path and timescale for the current Plan A is outlined and the alternative route (Plan B) is made clear.
    In my opinion, lobbying international bodies such as the UN, EU and allies of the UK to ascertain their views on how Scotland can legally control what is in effect their right, is an important step.
    Surely the Acts of Union show Scotland chose to participate in the venture that is the UK and as such, has a moral and legal right to change its mind.
    Surely to deny these rights is no different to any other acts of suppression that happened round the world such as apartheid. If the contact or questioning to international bodies and/or allies is centred on these fundamental rights, it also puts pressure on them to respond.
    The recent BLM campaign has shown that kind of pressure at work.

  9. Tom Donald

    (The UK govt. NO) “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.”

    So this is Plan A. I would very much like to know what “an escalation of tactics by getting all our indy strategy ducks in a row” actually means, because it doesn’t seem to mean very much at the moment.

    We have the votes, we have the mandates, and our tactics seem to be to go down to Westminster to be mocked, and… er… that’s it. I was very sorry to see SNP MPs meekly participating in the recent charade at Westminster, THEY were the “ducks in a row”, and would have been better advised to escalate their tactics at that point. No wonder the Tories laugh at us.

    Come on Pete, what IS Plan A?

  10. Pingback: It’s the waiting… – Peter A Bell

  11. ndls61

    You’re on the wrong side of history here Pete, not that I have the slightest confidence you can see it. The majority of the Scottish people disagree with you. The majority of pro-indy folk disagree with you. Yours is essentially a faith based position, which brooks no compromise and is not open to reason or to debate, hence your penchant for blocking those who disagree with your poorly thought out and fanciful strategy.

    Plan B isn’t rocket science. Demand that Westminster honours the precedent of the Edinburgh Agreement and the 2014 Referendum. If it fails to do so, announce that every subsequent election to Holyrood and Westminster will be considered plebiscitary, with >50% voting for pro-indy parties being taken as de facto independence. The international community would hardly be able to complain, as the electoral route is in fact more common than use of referendums historically. If nothing else, the very threat of moving to plebiscitary elections has a much greater chance of focusing British nationalists minds and making them compromise than your airy assertion that they will somehow be forced to “permit” indyref2 by the force of our moral argument.

    The real questions you need to answer Pete are:

    – why do you think it is appropriate for the SNP to have signally failed to clarify the question of the legality of a referendum without a S30 Order for the past 5 years (and indeed to leave it to a private citizen to do so!);
    – why you think it is appropriate for the SNP conference not to debate – and actually boo the very mention – of debating Plan B; and
    – why you are so bound and determined to have us believe your faith based position that the most regressive Tory government in decades will simply roll over and give us what we want?

  12. Alan Crocket

    Kudos to Pete Wishart for at least discussing this crucial issue.

    Can I suggest that the basic precept, indeed the principle, upon which the continuing participation of Scotland in the UK is based is that Scotland is free to leave if its people so choose. This is consistent with London’s line whenever it has been articulated. It is also the proper position of the SNP, because it always was their stance, and because any other notion would give London a veto which it neither claims nor possesses. That is why the modern insistence on London allowing a referendum is such a dead-end, and such a betrayal of the independence movement. As long as it is maintained, it closes off any route to independence without London’s say-so, and is therefore incompatible with the first principle, to the point of absurdity.

    That is not to say that there might not be some attraction in a referendum. But if the SNP government wants to go that route, it should not supplicate London for consent, but should insist upon it, with a warning that upon refusal, it will use the electoral method, which was always envisaged as the obvious route before the 2014 referendum came along, and which remains the clearest and simplest method, being completely legal and constitutional. There is no evidence whatsoever that London would try to delegitimize such an election to keep Scotland in.

    As one of Scotland’s supreme representatives, Pete Wishart should be aware of the constitutional power he shares with his Scottish MP colleagues to bring independence into effect, because it is they who would take the decisive step if it had to be done over London’s head. Following a democratic win for independence (i.e. a majority of seats and a majority of the actual votes) at Holyrood, at a convenient juncture the step of independence would be taken by the majority of Scotland’s MPs leaving Westminster and constituting the whole body of Scottish MPs as the sovereign Scottish parliament. In a nutshell, that’s how it would work, though there’s little doubt that by then London would have come on board for a negotiated inauguration of independence. Essentially, it’s not mysterious or complicated, but rather straightforward. Even the manifesto issue is basically simple: scenario one (the independence stuff) to be adopted in the event of fully democratic victory, and scenario two (a normal devolved-government programme) in the event of coming back to power but without a majority of the actual votes.

    It has nothing to do with Catalonia, which is a total red-herring. Nor does it have anything to do with the independence of other states from colonialism or whatever. Strictly speaking, it doesn’t have anything to do with London either. The only barrier Scotland has is its own people. If they vote for independence in their majority, whether in a legal referendum or in an election under the appropriate manifesto, that is what will happen. It is the job of an independence party to give them such a vote and to win them over to vote Yes.

    If Pete Wishart and others wish to argue that we should wait until support is stronger, let them make that argument openly and plainly, without inventing obstacles which don’t exist and excuses which are as insubstantial as a dud squib. But they should also be aware of the risks of waiting. The SNP is not an ordinary political party whose existence can roll on forever. It is a movement in political form, with a one-off goal, and while it dithers about that goal there are plenty of second-order issues around to hollow its resilience and lose support. Single-mindedness should be its greatest virtue. The current omens are good, and the time is now.

  13. Jomry

    Plan A is working. We have run a successful colony so well that more and more of us natives believe that we can really do it ourselves.. all we have to do now is ask the motherland once more if it is ok for us to go it alone. And although the answer has always been No in the past, we are sure it will soon be Yes. Just look at the ‘surge’ in the native population opinion. Almost back to where it was four years ago in 2016 following Brexit ( but sadly not quite enough yet …but give us time..)- so you can see how dynamic our plan A has been over the past four years.

    We have never needed consideration of another plan which is why we refused to consider it at our conferences. You know we are right. We have told you often enough. I am indeed sorry if some of you think this is patronising. Oh ye of little faith!

  14. Nick Edmunds

    Hi Pete, thanks. I decided to read your article. Your pre-publicity was accurate. I noticed some “us and thems”. Both the tories and the “Plan B-ers” were thems.
    Do you accept the idea that a Plan B is necessary? Without a Plan B there is nothing to negotiate with if and when Plan A fails. It goes without saying that any Plan B comes after Plan A has failed, when the tories refuse a Section 30 as you seem to accept that they most definitely will continue to do.
    Everyone accepts that Plan A is the preferred route. For you to condescendingly dismiss “Plan B-ers” as confused fools is hardly inclusive. I am glad you accept the need to debate the idea of a Plan B, though. Or did you say “put it to bed”?
    I don’t think you are really helping to move things forward. That’s just my opinion on your intervention.

  15. Outside The Marginals

    Is “Boris says ‘no'” almost a guarantee to “light unionists” that they can safely vote for the SNP’s program but avoid independence? For those who cannot stomach the dark unionism of the Scottish Tories or the London-ness of Lost Labour, “Boris says ‘no'” gives them a way to vote for a near Social Democratic government?

    If Johnson was to indicate that if the SNP got a clear majority in 2021 he would allow a S30, how many supporters would be frightened away? I suspect not a huge proportion – but possibly enough to make a difference – unless the promise of a S30 would galvanise non-voters to vote “for independence”?

    Parties tend to make the mistake of assuming that people who vote for them necessarily support what they believe are the key elements of their manifesto.

  16. Jim Dryburgh

    For Bojo to have access to our resources he will keep saying no to S30. To him it will be nothing more than having to swat away a fly. A tiny price to pay to keep Scotland under his control. Ian Blackford blasts him regularly at Westminster and totally unsurprisingly he remains unfazed. S30 is a dead duck. We have an oven ready massive and mature Yes Movement and an Oven ready Political Party. It’s time the hierarchy of both got together to get us out of the UK.

  17. Pingback: The Road To Independence Part Two – Johnson’s Journey to Yes | The Common Green

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