So it looks like Plan B is to be debated at conference and the party will have a chance to decide if this is indeed the ‘deadlock breaker’ that will end all our referendum woes. Borne out of an implacable belief that ‘Boris’ will ‘never’ agree to a ‘Section 30’ its proponents contend that this will be the route that will allow Scotland to chose.
But what exactly is Plan B? What does it actually do and has it any chance of actually working?
Sometimes like the proverbial constitutional bus several Plan Bs come along at once. If you look round ‘Yes’ social media you would find plenty to chose from. There are the various UDIs, legal challenges, covenants and wildcat referendums all claiming to be the real thing.
But the Plan B that will present itself to conference is a pretty straight forward affair. It proclaims that a victory based on a parliamentary majority will lead to negotiations to independence. In advance the UK Government will be offered a final opportunity to ‘give’ a Section 30. Refusal would mean that the UK Government would meet the full force of, well, an election… But an election like no other. In fact a ‘plebiscite’.
Reading the motion I’m not entirely sure if there is also to be a programme for Government and a policy platform for the next Parliamentary term or whether it will just be independence and nothing else. What is entirely certain is that all the unionist opposition parties would refuse to agree to an election framed on this basis. Unlike a dedicated referendum there will be no opposition case and nobody representing the union case. 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 countless 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 public majority. 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’ to a Scottish Government newly armed with a mandate to ‘negotiate’ independence, 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 180 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 and the certainty of the ‘Boris veto’ it is beyond naive to believe that they will somehow so readily acquiesce to the result of an 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’. 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 this then takes us right back to their ‘Boris veto’ without taking us any further forward in our independence ambitions having wasted a great deal of time and support in the process.
What a ‘Plan B’ does more than anything else is let the Tories off the referendum hook. They are getting beat and they know it. They know that if the SNP replicate the conditions of the 2011 election and secure another majority it is all more or less over. All their current planning and strategising is simply screaming ‘we are in big trouble’. The Tories know a referendum is coming and the only people who have absolute faith in the Tories sustaining their current ‘No’ to a referendum are the Plan B-ers and others on social media.
The Tories in fact can’t believe their luck. They know the last chance of their union being saved is if we beat ourselves. Their only plan is to say ‘No’ then hope that this No is accepted as their last word and gospel on the matter and then count on the frustration and division building. They could not be more delighted at the way this simple but effective plan is working out. The loudest cheers of an SNP conference backing this Plan B motion will be in the offices of the Conservative party. It would be a total vindication of their ‘Plan No’. They, without doing practically anything, will have pushed us down the road of the electorally unpalatable whilst ending their referendum difficulties.
The only good thing about all of this is it that this damaging debate will come to a head. We as a party will debate a ‘Plan B’ and the result of conference must be respected and we then all get back to winning our independence.
I very much hope the Plan B motion is comprehensively defeated but despite all my many reservations if this is what the party decides then I will do all I can to make it work.
I hope all the Plan B-ers will do the same if the motion is defeated