"The 'Scottish Question' remains unanswered. Everyone knows that, whether they pretend that this has been resolved for a generation or not. It will not answer itself. If you believe in independence, now would be a good time to start answering the big questions of what scotland is and what it will be. Crossed fingers are neither a tool or a weapon. It will take determination - or our future will be determined for us."
- Robin McAlpine, 'Determinations', How Scotland can become independent by 2021.
The road to independence waters were muddied still further this week, with May and the Tories suggesting that they would ‘allow’ a second independence referendum only after Brexit.
Much as we may dislike it, they may have the strongest suit of cards to play legally.
Westminster remains sovereign, only the Edinburgh Agreement back in 2012 allowed the referendum of 2014 to have the force of law, and the SNP had a clear and unambiguous mandate to hold a referendum.
It would be open to the Scottish Government to challenge such an obstructive Tory decision in the courts, of course, but going to the law could be a long drawn out process, with no guarantee of success, that may drag on beyond Brexit in any case.
Fortunately, there is more than one road to a successful indyref 2 open to us.
Robin McAlpine of the Common Weal Foundation, in his thought provoking YES strategy pamphlet ‘Determination’, argues that going for an independence referendum in 2018 may be too quick, that more preparatory work on key issues like the currency, pensions and other policy issues needs to be done.
Others, such as ourselves, have argued that there is an element of a gamble in going for an indyref 2 in 2018 or earlier that would seem - by design or default - to make the referendum solely or mainly about membership of the EU, when some polling experts have estimated that up to 4 out of 10 Yes voters in Scotland also voted to Leave the EU, a not insignificant proportion of YES leaning voters who desire not only independence from Westminster but also Brussels.
Even putting its own policy of independence in Europe before the unity of the YES movement as a whole, to hold such a referendum – even if it first won the battle over its legality with Westminster – the SNP leadership would need to be sure, beyond peradventure, that it would gain many more voters from the NO camp who would now vote YES as a way of retaining EU membership, than it might lose from previous YES voters who want out of the EU. To date, the data from all published polls has indicated that that appears to be an unlikely scenario. A second indyref lost, however closely, would probably mean all roads to the national and political liberation of Scotland closed off for at least a decade, if not longer.
In ‘Determination’ Robin McAlpine puts forward another route to a successful indyref 2, however, and it is one that seems to have increasing appeal.
He argues that the only certain way to get a referendum from Westminster is to have a clear and unambiguous mandate for it in your hands.
Consequently, he argues that all of Scotland’s pro-independence parties should stand for election to Holyrood in the 2021 Scottish Parliamentary elections, with a clear commitment for an immediate indyref 2 in their manifesto, to be held in the autumn 2021.
A majority of pro-independence MSPs returned to the Scottish Parliament in 2021 would be a clear democratic mandate to hold such a referendum. This could be could be achieved either by all pro-indy parties standing across constituencies and lists, or by some form of informal agreement between parties, or by a full on ‘Yes Alliance’ type of strategy. The precise electoral tactics would be up for discussion. It means all of the YES family committing to winning a pro-indy majority in 2021, but the momentum from that would then certainly carry over into the referendum itself.
This would mean that Scotland could effectively become an independent country in 2021, and, with full negotiations and formal procedures to take place, become fully, constitutionally independent by 2024 at the latest.
That would also mean, of course, that Scotland would effectively become independent outside of the EU, but it would also be open to both pro-EU independence parties, such as the Greens and the SNP, and anti-EU independence parties such as Solidarity to promise a full Scottish referendum on our relationship with Europe in the lifetime of the new Scottish Parliament once independence was secured.
This is something that could tick all the boxes and keep everybody happy and united in prosecuting the main struggle to win Indyref 2. Those who want independence in Europe could negotiate the best deal they can and put it to the newly independent Scottish people. Those who are more Eurosceptic, but on the pro-indy progressive left would get a chance to put their case against the EU, enencumbered by the xenophobic, Little Englander and racist nonsense that accompanied the Brexit poll. Unity of purpose will be key to winning any indyref 2.
"As a kind of personal, anecdotal research project I've asked people how many percentage points out of the 45 secured would not have been secured if it wasn't for National Collective, Radical Independence Campaign, Scottish CND, Women for Independence, Common Weal, NHS Yes and all the rest (not to mention the Greens, SSP and Solidarity). So far, no-one has suggested a number less than five."
- Robin McAlpine, 'Determination'.
Other factors could work to make a 2021 poll more likely to succeed than a 2018 one, Robin McAlpine argues. The demographic of the electorate would move a little more in the YES camp’s favour. There would be three more years to get policy preparation right and have convincing answers on key issues that YES failed to convince enough voters over last time – the safety of pensions and the currency being the most obvious two. The oil price will be likely to have recovered somewhat, giving Project Fear less ammunition to scarify people from the increasingly discredited GERS figures.
Perhaps most of all, and wishing our English and Welsh cousins all the best in winning a Corbynite Labour majority at the next Westminster elections, Scotland could be facing yet another five more years of a Tory Government it did not vote for.
Of course, it goes without saying that if the Scottish Government calls and secures a second independence referendum within this current Parliament, the Point will do everything in its power to help win it, regardless of any doubts we may have over the timing or the EU background to it. We will fight for independence wholeheartedly, whenever, and in whatever circumstances indyref 2 is called, while always putting forward our own distinctive socialist and radical vision for an independent Scotland
But it is a foolish army that goes into battle with no Plan B. We believe Robin McAlpine has outlined a Plan B that is exceedingly doable and winnable.
Perhaps it should even become our Plan A.