Why Sturgeon doesn't need to give more clarity on her indyref2 plan | Autonomy Scotland

Why Sturgeon doesn’t need to give more clarity on her indyref2 plan

I’m noticing that people on both sides of the independence debate are trying to pressurise Nicola Sturgeon into clarifying her position on independence.

I can understand this tactic from the Unionist side. The Tory strategy in both the snap General Election and the Local Council Election is as follows.

Forget about that Brexit thing that is actually happening and is going to have a massive impact on your life. We’ll handle that, don’t question us as it will all be great. Boris, Gove and Fox really care about you. What you need to worry about is a hypothetical Scottish independence, which might happen at some point but only if a majority of you vote for it.


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To me this Tory strategy of telling people to ignore the thing that is happening, in favour of fearing the thing that is a bit of a long shot but might happen, is a very dangerous one which will crumble if between now and the election we talk about their policies.

There are not enough stupid people in Scotland for this strategy to win that many extra seats.

Sadly though, some on our side of the debate are playing the same game.

At the extreme end there are folk who want the SNP to announce they will unilaterally declare independence should they win a majority of seats. We have discussed the logical flaws of this idea before. On the more calm end of the scale there are people on our side buying into the idea that Sturgeon should clarify her position on holding indyref2 now so that voters know exactly what they are voting for.

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There are a few reasons this is an bad strategy.

  • The first is that this election has absolutely nothing to do with independence. Every-time I see someone talking about this election in the context of independence I ask them to explain why. The best they can do is say that if the Tories do well they will spin it as a victory against independence. I say, only if we let them.
  • By making this about independence, we are playing the game that the Tories want us to play. This is a big strategic error. The Tories want to talk about independence because they are weak on the big issues in Scotland. The elephant in the room is hard-Brexit and we need to force them to talk about that. A bigger proportion of Scots are against that than are against indyref2.
  • The last point is that there is a process for arranging an independence referendum. Sturgeon is following that process. She was elected on a mandate to call a referendum. The Scottish Parliament voted with a majority to hold one. Sturgeon sent a letter to Theresa May requesting a section 30 order which will give the Scottish parliament the power to hold one. The letter Sturgeon sent contained the following:

You confirmed to me on Monday, and repeated in your letter invoking Article 50, that you intend the terms of both the UK’s exit from the EU and of a future trade deal to be agreed before March 2019 and in time for ratification by other member states – in other words, between the autumn of next year and the spring of 2019. As you are aware, this is the timescale endorsed by the Scottish Parliament for a referendum. As I have said previously, if the timetable you have set out changes, we will require to consider the implications for the timing of a referendum. However, it seems reasonable at this stage to work on the basis of your stated timetable.

So Sturgeon has set out her stall. As far as I can tell the UK government have not officially responded to this letter.

In that context Sturgeon is completely within her rights not to make another move. The ball is in the court of the UK Government and they are in a bit of a sticky spot. They want to deny a referendum but they know that would be a bad move politically. Therefore, their current strategy is to try to make this general election about independence so that they can claim they have a mandate to kick it into touch.

The problem the Tories have is they are unlikely to win that many seats.

Now, the more we talk about independence and UDI in this campaign the better the Tories will do. The more we play their game the bigger mandate they will have to turn around and formally respond to Sturgeon’s letter with two big fingers. However, if we keep talking about Brexit, and Rape Clauses, austerity and mitigating Tory Welfare cuts they will be lucky to gain a couple of extra seats.

This issue will keep coming up as the Scottish Tories have no other plan . When it does crop up it is relatively easy to answer from our point of view. We just raise the following points.

  • The mandate for independence comes from the Scottish Parliament as it did in 2011.
  • In 2011 there were only 6 nationalist MPs in Westminster so the make-up of the Scottish contingent at Westminster is not an important factor for arranging a referendum.
  • Nothing that happens in this election will change the position of the Scottish Parliament. They are waiting for a formal reply to the Section 30 letter and Sturgeon will make her next move at that point. It would be madness to give away our next move before the UK government officially show their hand. If they want to know what the Scottish Government will do then they need to formally state their position.
  • As this election has no bearing on independence, we need to talk about the real serious issues this vote will impact on. The most important of these is the type of Brexit that we are about to have. This vote gives people a big opportunity to soften the government stance. Those willing to waste that just to deprive the people of a democratic vote on independence don’t have their priorities straight.

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6 years ago

Excellent piece. In the first rush of excitement I was all for making the GE in Scotland about independence. On calmer reflection I realised now is not the time.

The ball is in the Tory court and we need to fight the GE by focusing on their appalling record in office. We’re not short of things to hammer them about as you indicate. I’d also add the Tories breaking the law at the last election. I note Alex Salmond is taking that one forward.

6 years ago
Reply to  TheStrach

First two comments. Excellent piece and this article is riddled with flaws. I like your comment better. Anyway, well done for changing your mind as it’s a hard thing for most folk to do on issues like this.

6 years ago

This article is riddled with flaws, and the Tory strategists would just love independence supporters to buy into it. Let’s leave aside the opener on “this Tory strategy of telling people to ignore the thing that is happening, in favour of fearing the thing that is a bit of a long shot but might happen” – I mean, really? The likelihood of having a second independence referendum is merely ‘a long shot’ which ‘might’ happen? But the idea that this snap GE is not going to be played out as a dry run on that inevitable IndyRef is ludicrous. Like… Read more »

6 years ago
Reply to  Quarmby

I’m not saying an independence referendum is a long shot although it’s not a certainty. I’m stating the obvious fact that independence itself is a less likely scenario than Brexit which is actually in the process of happening. I agree that that Tories will try to spin any gains as a victory for unionism. However, that strategy will only work for people who are not very bright. We need to set out own narrative and not play along with the Tory ones. We start by framing the debate to our advantage not going along with their trap. UDI is only… Read more »

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