In the lead up to the 2015 General Election Nicola Sturgeon made abundantly clear to the Scottish electorate that the election was not about independence, it was about challenging austerity and stopping the Tories. Although this goal failed due to Labour’s complacency and incompetence, the SNP leadership also maintained that any second referendum on independence would take place if the majority of Scots voted at the 2016 Holyrood elections for parties that pledged to hold another referendum in their manifestos.
The SNP have yet to rule out such a promise in their 2016 manifesto however an interesting development in this area came in comments by David Cameron in which he believed the 2014 referendum was “decisive” and that “there will not be another vote in this parliament”. The question now becomes: what should the SNP do?
Despite the Prime Minister’s comments the SNP should commit to a second referendum in their 2016 Holyrood manifesto; had Cameron not made his comments I would have, in fact, recommended the opposite which I will touch on later.
Because of Cameron’s comments has has put the Conservative Party in a political problem: by ruling out a second referendum, irrespective of what the SNP decide, Cameron is playing into the SNP’s narrative of the Tories suppressing the democratic will of the Scottish people. Now that Cameron has put the Tories in this situation the SNP have a golden opportunity to push for a second referendum, as by ruling out such a vote until the end of his premiership, Cameron has allowed Sturgeon and her 56-strong group of MPs to call out the Tories as ignoring democracy.
Furthermore the SNP could paint the Tories as preventing a second referendum because they had failed to deliver on ‘The Vow’ and that as a result the Tories know that they would be on the losing side of a second vote.
Finally by laying down this position he has given himself very little room to manoeuvre; Tory unionists will argue that the first referendum was binding therefore making a second vote unnecessary however if the SNP won a landslide in the 2016 Holyrood elections with this promise for another vote in their manifesto the democratic case for a second referendum would be more compelling than the first time.
I previously mentioned that I wouldn’t have previously recommended a second referendum so soon after the first; this was because I would have waited until the demographics of the country had changed a bit more. In the 2014 referendum an overwhelming majority of older people (73%) had voted against independence whereas almost the same number of 16 and 17-year-olds (71%) had voted for independence.
My argument to delay the vote was that the longer the wait, the more the over 65s category would be inclined to vote ‘No’ as a disproportionate number of ‘No’ voters would have died and replaced in this age group by people from the 55-64 in 2014 who were more receptive to the proposition (43% voted for independence).
Also, as a supporter of independence, I didn’t want the Quebec situation repeated in Scotland: two referenda in a relatively short space of time both having the same result and taking the proposition of the table for a generation.
However due to the continued growth in membership for pro-independence parties, the collapse of Labour in Scotland, and Cameron’s refusal to countenance a second referendum whilst he’s in charge, I believe the SNP, who have shown to be very politically astute, will be able to do enough sabre-rattling at Westminster politics and the Tory austerity regime to win second time around (albeit by a closer margin than in a later vote).
By Cameron ruling out a second referendum until at least 2020 he has shot himself in the foot and his predicament would be made more apparent if the SNP put a second referendum in their 2016 Holyrood manifesto.
In such a situation Tory MPs with English nationalist-tendencies will become more irate, preventing Cameron from changing his mind, thus allowing the SNP to lament the continued rule of Scotland by a Tory government that only has 1 Scottish MP. With Cameron unable to change his mind, politically speaking, the SNP would be able to lambaste the Prime Minister as undemocratic with demographic changes in Scotland making a ‘Yes’ vote more likely the longer Cameron waits.
Either way, this second referendum has the potential to provide the ‘Yes’ vote that the unionists fear; the delaying tactics will only make the survival of the union they love less likely.
To sum up: the SNP could win a second referendum if its held in the next five years because Cameron’s attempts to stop it would embolden the pro-independence movement, but if the Nationalists decided to delay the promise of another referendum until the 2020 Holyrood election manifesto the result would be a disaster for the unionists; a soul-crushingly emphatic ‘Yes’ vote.