If a second Independence referendum were called now, who would lead the official No campaign? A serious and important question. Not enough attention has been paid to the utter disarray of the unionist camp.
Last time, the Tories were by and large content to hide behind Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and Jim Murphy and let Labour do the bulk of the heavy lifting. At that time, Labour were still a massive force in Scottish politics, with the large majority of Scottish MPs and a formidable numerical (if not quality) presence at Holyrood, plus an awful lot of urban councils.
Now the landscape is utterly changed. The Tories, following the Holyrood election, see themselves as taking over the leadership of the Unionists from Labour with whom they are engaged in a neck and neck struggle for distant second. The Tories will not agree to play second fiddle now, while for their part Scottish Labour will not rush to complete their suicide by again sharing platforms with the Tories. The Electoral Commission will have to make a choice between two “No” campaigns, just as it had to choose between UKIP and Tory Leave organisations in the EU referendum. I suspect it will again choose the Tories.
The media adulation of Ruth Davidson after the Tories managed the “stunning result” of just over 20% in the Holyrood elections was astonishing – in fact it was about the same level as the media adulation of Jim Murphy when he became Labour Party leader. But still only one in five Scottish voters in that election, and one in nine of the registered Scottish electorate, actually voted Tory, and I am prepared to bet that was a high water mark. As the reality of Tory rule, and the prospect of still more Westminster Tory rule, is reinforced, then a straight choice between the Tories and Independence, with no Gordon Brown media-hyped pretence there is something inbetween, is precisely the situation in which I would like to campaign for Independence.
Support for Independence rose by over 15% during the course of the referendum campaign, after rising only very slightly for the previous decade. Since the campaign it has gone back to rising slightly and slowly again. The difference is that now we only need a very small improvement to go over the winning line, and I have no doubt whatsoever that once again during a campaign we will see a major advance in support for Independence. If however we wait for the “natural rise” to take its slow effect and set a bar of 60% in opinion polls before we call a referendum, there is a real danger we will lose the moment. Indeed without a campaign, I doubt 60% will happen in my lifetime. With a referendum campaign, we will hit it.
That moment is now. Our opponents have never been weaker and never been more divided. Nationalists have become too inclined to gaze at their navels, and are failing to look up and see the complete and utter disarray, the total shambles, in the opposing camp. We should strike before they recover.
I still do not expect to see Brexit. If we did see Brexit, I would argue for Holyrood MSPs and Scotland’s Westminster MPs to meet together as a National Assembly and declare Independence, to be followed by a confirmatory referendum, the object of the Delcaration being to maintain the rights of Scots as EU citizens. There would be a great deal of international sympathy for that, and as I have continually explained, as a matter of firm and indisputable international law you achieve Independence through recognition by other states, not by any arrangement or otherwise with the residual UK.
But assuming Brexit does not win the Tory Leadership Referendum, the Greens’ idea of a million person petition to trigger a new referendum is a good one. Sooner rather than later. I suggest 2018 for the vote – stripping Labour of their corrupt local council resource next year must be a key stepping stone.