SNP independence nightmare: Ex-deputy warned Sturgeon about repeating referendum error

SNP 'won't get majority' in Scottish election says Jim Sillars

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Scotland’s First Minister, Ms Sturgeon, vowed that if a majority of pro-independence MSPs were elected to Holyrood during last month’s election, she would have a mandate to push forward with a second independent referendum. The Scottish National Party (SNP) secured 64 seats, falling just one short of a working majority, meaning they are now dependent on cooperation from the pro-independence Scottish Greens, who won eight seats. Still, with this support, Ms Sturgeon has promised to push through with Indyref2 once the Covid crisis has subsided.

Yet, Prime Minister Boris Johnson maintains that it would be “irresponsible and reckless” to hold another referendum, especially as the first public vote on the matter in 2014 was dubbed a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity by the SNP itself.

However, it may not be the Government who presents the greatest problem to Ms Sturgeon’s dream of an independent Scotland but the SNP itself.

Jim Sillars, deputy leader of the SNP in the Nineties, noted shortly after the Yes Campaign lost in 2014 that his former party had made a significant error.

Writing in his book, ‘In Place of Failure’, Mr Sillars said: “The Yes campaign had strength in depth, yet it also had that salient weakness of an SNP connection.

“The latter will have to be addressed and removed for next time.

“That will not be easy. It will require wisdom and willingness to cooperate on the part of all who will be engaged, especially the membership and parliamentary leadership of the SNP.”

He said the strength of the campaign came from grassroots organisations across the political spectrum, rather than just from SNP supporters.

Women for Independence, the National Collective, Business for Scotland, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Scottish Green Party, Labour for Independence and Academics for Yes made up just some of the smaller organisations who campaigned to leave the UK in 2014.

But, as Mr Sillars noted: “In the national campaign, as covered by the media, the role of SNP and its leadership eclipsed the rest and that proved a weakness.”

He also criticised the White Paper put forward by the SNP in 2013, which laid a plan for how Scotland would become independent, and subsequently came to define most of the Yes campaign.

The former deputy claimed that nationalists should not have “a government White Paper which, whether intended or not, subsumes other views that are equally valid”, and suggested restricting the SNP’s contribution to such future documents, so it could not become “the dominant voice”.

He said: “There should be a published document of agreed principles from all the campaigning groups.”

He concluded this should include agreements over currency, the date of the elections, the election method and whether a referendum should be held over the monarchy.

Mr Sillars is not only a prominent voice for independence in Scotland, his recent prediction that the SNP would not be able to secure a majority in last month’s Holyrood elections came true.

However, Ms Sturgeon may not be able to avoid repeating the supposed mistake of the 2014 campaign.

Aside from the Greens and the SNP, all of the parties currently in Holyrood are Unionist.

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The Scottish Greens have also set themselves apart from the SNP on numerous occasions by explaining that they are not “nationalists” unlike Ms Sturgeon’s party, and that independence is the best option for the country to become green.

Writing in Scottish newspaper The Herald, columnist Mark Smith claimed that the Greens’ Autumn conference saw minimal mention of independence — hinting that the SNP might once again become the dominant voice in a future Yes campaign.

He noted: “How strange. How revealing. How misleading.”

He said this was “misleading” of the party’s co-leader Patrick Harvie because independence is the main “battlefield” of Scotland at the moment and so will sway voters.

But, Mr Harvie and his co-leader Lorna Slater have both warned that there may be a price for their support of the SNP and Indyref2 — such as the Scottish Assembly incorporating more green policies.

Without the Greens’ support, the SNP would not have a majority in Holyrood to push for Indyref2.

Even if it did get through under an SNP minority, it would risk repeating the same errors of 2014 by making it a one-party issue.

‘In Place of Failure: Making It Yes Next Time…Soon’ by Jim Sillars was published in 2015 by Vagabond Voices Glasgow and is available here.

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