It’s a year to the day since the 2019 General Election was called and it will go down as the election that changed everything around the constitutional debate in Scotland. We were able to exorcise the electoral demons of 2017 and we were able to bring a new sense of confidence and determination to the whole campaign for independence. Since that election independence has been the majority choice of the people of Scotland according to nearly all opinion polls conducted. We recruited a new generation of Brexit remainers to our cause and we demonstrated that Scotland and the rest of the UK were on different trajectories in how they want to be governed.
It brought the ‘no to a second referendum’ mini boom of the Sottish Conservatives to a shuddering halt and we rid the country of 13 unionist MPs with all their resources and local influence. After the 2019 election things would never be the same again.
2019 was just about the best of times. Our second best ever result and the return of 48 SNP MPs. We secured a bigger share of the vote in Scotland than the Tories did in the UK. Most importantly we stopped being defined by the relative ‘failure’ of the 2017 result. It proclaimed that the SNP was back in business.
But let’s deal with some of the nonsense that is still being said about the 2017 campaign. It’s still the conventional view that we did badly because we didn’t campaign ‘hard enough’ for independence. The truth is In 2017 you couldn’t give a referendum away, and you were practically chased from the doors when the conversation got to independence with undecideds or previous soft indy supporters. Constitutional fatigue had gripped Scotland and people simply had had enough following the Brexit debacle and the independence referendum. The amount of people who told me ‘I’ve voted for you since 2001, I even voted Yes to independence, but I’m voting Tory to stop any more talk of referendums’. It really was that bad. The idea that independence supporters stayed at home because there wasn’t the necessary amount of independence fervour is just simply nonsense. In 2017 there were a lot of people who simply did not want to know.
Fast forward 2 years and everything was completely different. With Scotland on the Brexit precipice independence suddenly made sense to a whole new generation of Scots. ‘No’ voters who voted remain were coming in droves to our cause and the election of Johnson as Prime Minister confirmed to people that the UK was already becoming a foreign country with an entirely different set of priorities. Scotland did not like the look of where a Johnson led hard right Government stuffed full of committed Brexiteers would be taking them. The Tories fought the campaign on the same ‘No to indyref” campaign as 2017 and the people of Scotland this time told them, after thinking about it, they actually did want another choice about their future.
There were of course those who said that we ‘sacrificed’ SNP leverage or influence in the chaotic minority Tory position in 2019. That somehow we could hold back a Tory Government determined to force an election in some sort of ‘electoral cage’. All that confinement did was let the Johnson beast grow electorally stronger by the week. Where it would have been fun to watch them force a vote of confidence in themselves (which is what they would have done) it would have made no difference to their ultimate massive success in England.
The only thing continuing the misery would have achieved would be to go continually round and round the futile Brexit wheel, continuing the misery, trying to find a way to stop a Brexit that was driving our support and denying the people of England what they seemed to want. The disastrous ‘people’s vote’ campaign and the consort of Blairites and Liberals who ran it were simply the most inept political ‘operators’ I have ever observed in my 20 years at Westminster. I parted company with them, and even broke the SNP whip, when it got so absurd that they proposed a vote to ‘stop Brexit’ that didn’t involve, well, a vote to stop Brexit! Jo Swinson, Chukka and the rest of them got everything they deserved.
The defeat of 2019 also had impacts on the Scottish opposition parties. The Scottish Conservatives have now been deprived of the one thing that has sustained them over the past few years abandoning their ‘no to a second referendum’ messaging. They know that they can no longer campaign against something they’ve ‘apparently’ ruled out without conceding that one is indeed going to happen. They will now try to campaign on domestic issues forever hampered by their southern neighbours making a pigs ear out of governing in the UK. Meanwhile, Scottish Labour just appear to be crushed by the sheer weight of their constitutional and leadership dilemmas. They will once again have to campaign in what was their ‘former’ heartlands on a hard unionist agenda that no-one who used to vote for them wants to know.
The result of 2019 has helped set us up beautifully as we go into the most important Scottish election. This will be the independence election and the momentum caused by 2019 will mean we go into it with independence at a record high and at a sustained majority. Support for the SNP is well over 50% and if borne out we will again have an overall majority. The only people who now seem to be able to beat us are ourselves, and by god, at times it seems we are doing everything possible to try and make that happen…
2019 has helped give us the best chance we have ever had to make all our independence ambitions come true. It’s all up to us now.