The SNP has a hard road ahead

No independence referendum in 2016—but by 2020 it's almost certain

May 08, 2015
Are the SNP divisive? © Scott Heppell/AP/Press Association Images
Are the SNP divisive? © Scott Heppell/AP/Press Association Images

So was the Tory majority procured through Project Fear II? Just a few bleary hours after the result, that would seem to be the case.

The first Project Fear was the winning strategy in the independence referendum for the No side—a well-drilled, cross-party orchestration between the press and the Coalition government, to blare the klaxons about the systemic instability that a Yes vote would bring.

With a cruel irony, the Conservatives have applied the same scaremongering strategy to their erstwhile No-voting partners in Better Together, the Labour Party—all those primal screens showing Miliband popping out of the pocket, or dancing to the strings, of either Salmond or Sturgeon.

What partly explains the frankly stunning discrepancy between the polling organisations predicting a dead heat, and the final result delivering a slender Tory majority, isn’t just the shy rUK voter, but the tactical rUK voter—previously a Scottish phenomenon (well, they’ve moved on to a different reality altogether.)

And those tactical votes were surely partly driven from a drumbeat of “chaos” and “instability”—and perhaps also combined with a genuine ideological disagreement, among middle-Englanders, with the left-of-centre policy amalgam that a Labour-SNP arrangement would represent.

Is there a genuine note of disappointment from Sturgeon and her team that the SNP isn’t now able to contribute to a majority swirl of progressive forces in Westminster? I think so.

That’s partly because Sturgeon knows this truth: that the gradual build of confidence-and-competence in Scottish government among Scots would have been the most solid route to a robust majority in a second independence referendum. (That positive spirit is what’s powered the Yes voters to keep their movement going, by means of the SNP—or the “YeSNP,” as I call them now).

Read more on the election result:

Why Europe isn't happy about our election result

Who will be the next Ukip leader?

Labour isn't working

Independence would have happened best under conditions of optimism, progress and uplift; now it’ll be a harder, grittier route, grimly fighting the sturm-und-drang of a regnant Tory party. But that’s the path that lies before Sturgeon and the SNP—and you might imagine the deep strategising that’s going on in their Edinburgh New Town bunkers right now.

What impact will these 56 SNP members have in Westminster, now that the progressive majority can’t be assembled? Of course they will be automatically enrolled into committees, get their chance at PMQs, benefit from massively increased supports funds—which will doubtless assist with the much needed policy formation for a better, more worldly independence offer.

And we might see a neat turn in the “legitimacy” meme, which is that the scale of the SNP win compels Cameron to make an offer on enhanced devolution much closer to what is now a massive consensus of Scottish opinion.

The Prime Minister’s opening One-Nation speeches throughout Friday would seem to suggest they’ll make some commensurate response. Though there’s weasel-wording in his idea of Scotland as “the most powerful devolved parliament in the world”—which could be far from a coherent federal solution that separates powers, institutes electoral reform, defines the purpose (and location) of a new second chamber, and a’ that.

And the Tories, being the Tories, still have the opportunity to blow it. They could impose some kind of non-gradual, brutal fiscal autonomy that effectively (and ostentatiously) reduces the overall Scots budget, placating the resentments of middle-English voters they so effectively stoked up during the General Election.

So as the Scots Bloc shakes its fist at a spectacle of continued Tory austerity, a renewed Trident (by both Conservative and Labour parties), the miserable shitstorm of European referendum debate, its other hand will be arranging pieces on a chess board, trying to line up a checkmate for the Union.

No Indyref 2 on the SNP manifesto for the 2016 Holyrood elections, I would predict: wrath must be nursed, over a few useful years, to keep it warm. But it’s now very, very likely for the 2020 Scottish Parliament manifestos (and I mean plural—the Greens, and perhaps some new post-Scottish-Labour left grouping, may join the Nats in so proposing).

This will be a bumpier, grumpier road than the Abraham-Maslow-like flourishing towards full self-government that the “progressive” scenario promised. But the last stop of independence is now not so far off as it felt on September 19th, 2014. And it is as hard and clear as a spring day in Govan, Gordon or Greenock.