Transport Minister, Keith Brown, the most capable and experienced of the three candidates for the Deputy Leadership of the SNP and the most capable and experienced of the two of those three who are also, therefore, standing for Deputy First Minister of Scotland, gave an interesting interview to the national press, published yesterday.
In saying that the SNP accepts the result of the independence referendum and in going on to say that the party will not make independence a manifesto issue in the upcoming General Election in May 2015, Mr Brown appears to have convinced the terminally complacent that there is now no risk of another independence referendum for a generation.
In fact, he made the timetable clear.
In saying that the SNP and its supporters ‘must accept the result’ he did not say for how long that acceptance should run.
He then said: ‘It used to be SNP policy that a majority of votes and seats at Westminster elections was sufficient to achieve independence. That’s no longer the case as we have the Scottish Parliament‘. [Ed: our emphasis.]
Following this, Mr Brown made it clear that he continues to regard a referendum as ‘the gold standard of democratic endorsement’ and that independence should be gained ‘through a referendum and not any other route’.
Putting these statements together in what they did and did not say, the SNP strategy could not be more clear – or more obviously the correct strategy from its point of view.
If the SNP focused its General Election campaign – in which it intends to put down a serious marker in seats gained – on a manifesto committing the party to a continuing pursuit of independence, much of the 55% who did not support independence could not and would not vote for SNP candidates.
But the party needs members of that 55% to vote for SNP candidates if it is to achieve the UK electoral impact upon which it has set its mind.
So of course there will be no mention of independence in the General Election manifesto. This is no concession to the majority view. It is wisely strategic, party-protective politics.
But Mr Brown tellingly distinguished between the parliaments where such a manifesto must be brought to bear. He said that there is no need today to feel that votes and seats at Westminster must be gained on an independence manifesto ‘as we have the Scottish Parliament.’
And that is, of course, to be the battlefield.
The SNP strategy is not to mention independence in the General Election campaign, but to stress the infinite and universal awfulness of Westminister and to wheel in the newly mobilised stormtroopers – and as many others who can be persuaded – to vote for SNP candidates.
The SNP will undoubtedly make substantial gains in the General Election – although the individuality of local scenarios makes it hard to estimate what the scale of those gains may be. Depending on how the declining major established parties at Westminster fare overall – and with UKIP knocking lumps out of all three, those gains may make the SNP one of several players trading deals in exchange for support.
While the SNP’s first and minority administration of 2007-2011 was glad of the support arrangement it entered into with the Scottish Conservatives, it has found it politic for its own advantage to demonise the Conservatives today. This will leave Labour at Westminster as the only likely recipient of an offer from the SNP.
However, with both of the two bigger parties having been bitterly and unjustly monstered by the SNP in its own electoral manoeuvering, both may well feel that the length of spoon required to sup with the SNP would make other dates more attractive – so the anticipated power play may not materialise.
It would indeed be foolish of either of the traditional big two to collude in the additional aggrandisement of the SNP.
But that is a side issue for the party, if not for its ego-driven former Leader, Alex Salmond, whose dreams of bestriding Westminster as a Colossus continues.
The key SNP strategy is to make substantial gains in the General Election, to flood the party’s fuel tanks with even more of the driver of a perceived unstoppability – then to put independence into the manifesto for the 2016 Scottish Election – and take it from there.
They would have a mass membership on fire with its own magnificent refusal to accept defeat in September 2014; reignited by a terrific performance in the General Election in 2015; and urgent to go for gold again in 2016.
It is silly to say ‘But that’s not fair. We had a referendum in September 2014. A decent majority rejected it. That was it for a generation. They have to accept that. They cannot try this again so soon’.
The reality is why can they not and why should they not?
The SNP exists to gain independence for Scotland.
They are not obliged to play by any Marquess of Queensberry rules or by any other rules. They exist to achieve that ambition. They are a liberty to achieve it by whatever means appear to them the most likely to deliver the end result. They have no interest in the consequences, only in the win.
At the moment they have a huge and galvanised new membership. Much of it is not a cerebral membership. It is full of passion, force and a fully tribal triumphalism. To remain engaged as the party’s baseload power supply, this membership needs to see results, not to wait, not to play any long game it is not equipped to understand nor possesses the temperament to play.
The scenario laid out above, determinable from sheer political logic and evident in the subtext of Keith Brown’s position statement, is of course what the SNP must do, in its own interests.
It is up to those who do not see this as being in the nation’s interests to overcome it. If they cannot or will not, Scotland will be set for independence by May 2016 and that will be the end of it.