Why fear the Scottish referendum?

The SNP is having problems finding a coalition partner and may go for a minority administration. The sticking point is a referendum on independence. However, rather than run scared of such a referendum could it be the best option to stop the march of the SNP? The media hype around the SNP advances underestimates the under-lying strength of the Unionist parties. Also the nominal ‘defeat’ in the 1979 Scottish referendum contributed to electoral reversal and internal disputes for the SNP in the 1980’s.Some relevant electoral data:
1. In 2003, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives gained 66.5% of the vote. In 2007 they recieved 65%. They have a majority of the second votes too.
2. The SNP has had similar levels of support twice before – 30.4% in the 1974 General Election and 32.4% in the 1994 European election.
3. The SNP had a net gain of 20 seats. The Lab/LD/Cons had a net loss of 5 6 seats. In net terms it was the small parties who were the real losers in the Scottish election, two of whom the SSP and Greens, are pro-indepence parties.
4. In physical vote terms the SNP polled higher in 1999 when they gained 672,757 slightly higher than 664,227 (although the problems with spolied ballots drove this second number down.)

In electoral terms what has broadly happened in the past three elections was a good Labour performance in 1999. In 2003, disillusionment led to a loss of support for Labour but the SNP did not capitalise on this instead the smaller parties were the beneficiaries. In 2007, a revitalised SNP succeeded in attracting the disillusioned under their banner.

Part of the disillusionment with Labour is a lack of leadership and delivery by devolution in Scotland since the death of Donald Dewar. With the exception of Dewar none of the Scottish political heavyweights were willing to sacrifice a Westminster career for Holyrood. Now that John Reid is standing down from the Cabinet, could he be persuaded to head to Holyrood to lead Scottish Labour’s fight back against Salmond and the SNP?

The impact of a referendum defeat on pro-republicans in Australia is probably worth noting.

  • Dewi

    “Mr Stephen said he had made it clear to Mr Salmond that unless and until the SNP removed the “fundamental barrier” of the referendum there would be no coalition.

    “We consistently stated to people across Scotland at all times during the campaign that this was our position and it will not change,” he stated.”

    From the article Lib Dem leader reaffirms opposition to the referendum………but they lost. They could be the big losers here. In the North East and the Highlands it’s SNP v Lib Dem in a lot of cases and scuppering the largest party’s efforts to give the Democratic option to Scots of determining condtitutional future appears quite bizarre to me.

    I’m sure your Maths are right Fair Deal (the effect of the ballot paper problems could have been 30,000 lost SNP votes mind) – however what is striking about this wave of SNP support is it’s geographic breadth – First Past the Post victories in Glasgow and Edinburgh for instance, winning the list in Lothians, close second in Scotland South. This seems to indicate a move in national terms. Given the media bashing the SNP achievment is quite stunning.

    I wonder what happens next.

  • kensei

    “The impact of a referendum defeat on pro-republicans in Australia is probably worth noting.”

    Nah. There are significant differences. The SNP have had those types of setbacks before and while a referendum might set it back ten, fifteen years it is unlikely to go away. Second, there are huge psychological differences – Republicanism in Australia really should have won, but if Independence even runs it close in Scotland it would be a boost. Third, it is likely that if a referendum is run with three options, more power for devolved government will come out the winner. That in itself would begin to fundamental ly change the Union.

    But I agree – what the hell are the Unionist parties afraid of? This might actually be the best scenario for the SNP. It is effectively a free run . If the SNP are even halfway competent and the opposition misjudge, then it might just tip.

  • FD

    Would you also advocate a referendum here to call the bluff of nationalists in NI?

  • Tori

    I wish to express my joy for SNP win.I’ve always supported Salmond’s campaign,and I believe he’ll be able to become a great leader for Scotland.I’d only desire a solid government,for achieving the hardest challenge:a referendum to establish the independence.It’s fundamental an agreement with Greens and Lib Dems;then I’m sure the major part of scottish will endorse the end of union,after the next magnificent and positive years of SNP government.

  • fair_deal

    Gonzo

    1. I don’t think it would call the bluff of nationalists in NI. There isn’t a bluff to call as they accept that the present position is what a majority want.
    2. Scottish and Irish nationalism would seem to me to be inherently different creatures. The SNP’s support is much more volatile and not connected to the size of a particular community.
    3. Also IIRC the Belfast Agreement means once you have the first referendum you have to keep calling them every seven years. So it wouldn’t ‘settle’ the question in fact the reverse.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Thanks FD

    In response:

    1. True to an extent – there isn’t a majority, although that might not always be the case. But I don’t think nationalists have given up on a united Ireland per se, otherwise they wouldn’t be nationalists!

    2. I’ll bow to your wisdom on this.

    3. IIRC the Agreement doesn’t say this at all. I can check, but I think a referendum may be called seven years after a previous one, but this is at the Secretary of State’s discretion. In your defence, it is likely that once the first is called, there would be a push for follow-up referendums – but this might be to unionism’s advantage, hence my original question!

  • PaddyReilly

    Scottish and Irish nationalism would seem to me to be inherently different creatures. The SNP’s support is much more volatile and not connected to the size of a particular community.

    This much at least is true, though it is only the 6 county entity which has created this effect in Ireland. In Ireland before partition opinion differed and fluctuated as to the wisdom of total, rather than partial separation from Britain.

    The problem is that the Independence option seems to be even more popular than the SNP:-

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/5331992.stm

    As this was not a SNP commissioned poll, it might just be accurate.

    Calling the Liberal Democrats and Labour ‘Unionist’ parties is really a misnomer. They are primarily Liberal Democratic and Socialist parties, the leadership of which happens currently to be taking a pro-devolution anti-independence line.

    Almost all Scots are Nationalist: no-one is campaigning for greater integration with England, or to shut down the Scots Parliament. What is at issue is the degree of separation from England. It’s rather like deciding to go self-employed: ideally you would like to, but you are not sure that it would be a success.

  • fair_deal

    Gonzo

    1. I didn’t mean to imply they had given up just they accept it isn’t a present or short-term possibility.
    2. Some data for you on the rise and fall of the SNP’s fortunes here.
    The coincidence it its first significant gains and the discovery and production from the North Sea Oil fields is interesting to note too. Can scottish nationalism as a force outlive North Sea Oil?
    3. You may very well be right on the referendum bit and the SoS.

    I still think the situation over a Scottish referendum would be more clear-cut than in NI but you may have a point of Unionism trying to turn such a referendum to their advantage.

  • fair_deal

    PR

    1. A Times poll in April 2007 showed that stronger powers for Holyrood is the most popular option even among SNP voters. Essentially public disappointment with devolution has been blamed on a lack of powers, not necessarily the correct diagnosis but the common view no less.
    2. If the SNP were so confident of wider public support then why did they spend so much time rowing back from a quick referendum and toning down their rhetoric?

  • Prince Eoghan

    Actually FD the Unionist parties lost 6 seats all together. Small correction 🙂

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/vote2007/scottish_parliment/html/region_99999.stm

    However what you seem to miss with all due respect is something touched on by Dewi. In that there really has been a sea change in Scottish politics, to dismiss as ‘disillusionment’ a 20 seat gain is frankly astonishing. If this were even remotely accurate why did so many staunch labour voters rally around their cause? are they somehow immune from being disillusioned? and why did so much of this disillusioned vote find it’s way by magic into the SNP pile? The reality is that Scots voted for a party who will govern with the best interests of all the people of Scotland at heart.

    The Labour campaign was frighteningly negative, they pulled no punches. An extremely hostile media it must be stated frightened the pants off people. Both fought an anti-SNP campaign on the basis that it wasn’t an election campaign to Holyrood, but an actual independence referendum. The level of success they had in this cannot be understated! we do not know the numbers but there must have been some who were influenced by such a sustained campaign. Despite all of this the SNP still managed to pull off an incredible victory.

    The SNP won the popular vote for the first time ever,something that Labour has not lost for 50 years both the first past the post and list popular votes were won by the Nats. They won seats in Glasgow and Edinburgh for the first time at a general election. And something that has not been highlighted destroyed labour domination of almost all local councils Scotland wide. Labour lost a third of their council seats in total, losing 161 councillors. The SNP gained in every council bar one and now have the most councillors with 363. The first Asian elected to the Scottish Parliament is a sign of progressive inclusive future governance by the SNP.

    I would think that not all who voted SNP on thursday are necessarily pro-independence. I would be willing to bet my house though that a very large minority of the 30 odd percent who voted Labour would not be hostile to it either. Tory intellectuals are beginning to advocate a total split rather than the wasteful half-way house at present. So Don’t read the result of the election for Unionist parties as a sure fire indication of Unionist victory at an independence referendum.

    It seems that the Labour party is in denial at the moment, almost as if they think Tony Blair will rush to their rescue and reassure them that they have in fact won after all. Jack McConnell has not even had the decency to ring Alex Salmond and congratulate him on his victory fair and square. In the media they are making noises about ‘waiting in the wings’ to take over power etc… the degree to which they have spat the dummy is alarming!

  • I was an organiser of the SNP in the mid 80s.
    At that time I concluded that Scottish and Irish nationalism were qualitatively different.

    The modern SNP espouses a civic nationalism.

    There was very little “blood & soil” emotions in the SNP activists I knew 20 years ago.

    I do believe, allbeit from a vantage point of the West of Ireland, that there is a sea change in Scottish life now.
    The new voters coming onto the electoral roll do not possess the cultural cringe of their parent’s generation.

    Labourism is the real loser in this election.
    I think it is fair to say that Scotland has enetered its home rule decade.
    The analogy to the Parnell/Redmond times is not off the mark I think.

  • Dewi
    I think you are correct to highlight the extent to which the media campaigned against the SNP in this elelection.
    People I spoke to in Scotland during the election campaign (family & friends-all of them from a labour voting background) thought it very different to previous election campaigns.
    They expected the media to be,in a way, neutral.
    This was not the case this time.

  • fair_deal

    PE

    Thanks for the number correction will amend.

    As for most of the rest thank you for the party political broadcast for the SNP. For example,

    “If this were even remotely accurate why did so many staunch labour voters rally around their cause?”

    They didn’t. The Labour Party % was down from 34.6 to 32.2, they lost 7% of their 2003 vote (1 in 14 of their voters). Lib Dems grew by 0.8% and Tories dropped by 1%.

    The SNP should be toasting their advances and having one hell of a party but as the numbers show they have been here before, they could have had a similar result in 2003 and they face a pretty solid bloc of over 65% of voters.

    As for your comments on Labour in Scotland nothing would surprise me about their arrogance and incompetence.

  • Prince Eoghan

    >>As for most of the rest thank you for the party political broadcast for the SNP.< >The SNP should be toasting their advances and having one hell of a party but as the numbers show they have been here before, they could have had a similar result in 2003 and they face a pretty solid bloc of over 65% of voters.<

  • Dewi

    Prince – SNP lost seats in a council !!! – Which one and how did that happen ???

  • Prince Eoghan

    Haud yir horses Dewi.

    I never said they lost any seats. I said there was only one where they didn’t gain extra seats. This was in the Orkney’s where no party won a seat. They were divvied up amongst all kinds of assorted relations. ;¬)

  • dodrade

    I very much doubt there will ever be a referendum on independence, it wouldn’t even be worth having unless pro independence parties won over 40% of the vote, which I can’t see happening anytime soon.

    Labour would be very foolish to challenge the result, besides they are only a heart attack away from being the largest party again.

    Let the SNP form a minority government. Give Alex Salmond enough rope and it wont be long before he’s swinging from the rafters.

    I give him two years max without a coalition. By then a rejevunated Labour party under Brown will reestablish their dominance in Scotland.

  • Dewi

    PE – Orkneys of course – sorry. Let’s just hope Alex keeps a cool head.

  • Prince Eoghan

    Dodrade.

    You sure know how to predict the future. How about the 3:30 at Newmarket the morra?

  • Dewi

    Waiting for the Gordon Brown statement:

    “The UK have no selfish or strategic interest in Scotland”

  • Prince Eoghan

    He’ll need to Dewi.

    The lib-Dem’s are playing hardball and even the Greens who were speaking so positively yesterday are still not on board. Goldie the Tory leader predicted ages ago that the Parly would have to work together as she foreseen that post election no coalition would be possible.

    The sticking point is the referendum. The Lib’s refuse to go into coalition if their senior partner is trying to break up the failed union. God knows what the problem with the green’s are. After the voting fiasco (Westminster’s fault mainly) the inability to have stable coalition government might reflect badly on Scotland.

  • Teach

    I think the LibDems are making a mistake,they should be a bit more flexible when it comes to the independence referendum.As for the Greens,I must admit if any party went into a coalition with the SNP,I would have thought that they would have been the first to sign up no problem.I’m a bit puzzled what the issue/issues are that’s stopping them from doing that just now.On a personal note speaking as a Labour voter I have absolutely no problems with a referendum on independence , in fact I would welcome it ! I think most Scots want a referendum whether they support independence or not.

  • Jocky

    Dewi, of more relevance,
    “The Labour party have no selfish or strategic influence in Scotland”

  • Dodrade:
    I wouldnt be too sure about Labour re-establishing its soviet grip on North Britain.
    Salmond was correct IMHO.
    This was a sea change election.

    Generational and seminal.

    Labour’s power in Scotland was based on local patronage.

    Classic dominant party system a la Fianna Fail here in the ROI.

    If that is broken for any length of time then the dominant party itself starts to atrophy.

    Salmond’s view was always “if the Scots taste a little power they will want more”

    Even if the Lib Dem option on a future plebiscite was victorious-ie devolution plus more powers-then the march towards separation continues.

    That gradual, cautious approach probably suits the good folk of my native land.

    The end of an Auld Sang it isnt

  • dodrade

    “I think the LibDems are making a mistake,they should be a bit more flexible when it comes to the independence referendum.”

    Why should they be? They made their position crystal clear during the campaign. They are against independence and an independence referendum. Everyone seems surprised that they meant it.

    There shouldn’t be an independence referendum because there is simply no real demand for it from the electorate.

    As for phil’s comments, it was inevitable that the SNP would get in at some stage, if it wasn’t this election it would be the next. But even Salmond himself said there would be future Labour first ministers.

    The best comparison is Quebec, where the PQ first broke Liberal dominance in 1976 and have alternated in government since. However Quebec is still in Canada and the PQ have slipped to third place. The SNP’s position is even weaker than the PQ as they have little prospect of ever forming a majority government and passing a referendum bill, never mind winning it.

  • Dewi

    Dodrade

    “I think the LibDems are making a mistake,they should be a bit more flexible when it comes to the independence referendum.”

    Why should they be? They made their position crystal clear during the campaign. They are against independence and an independence referendum. Everyone seems surprised that they meant it.

    But they lost badly ! – why should they be able to determine the future ? – they also need to be careful – a lot of their seats are in “nationalist” areas – if I were Salmond I think i’d go 4 another election……

  • Prince Eoghan

    >>There shouldn’t be an independence referendum because there is simply no real demand for it from the electorate.<

  • dodrade

    “Not true! Every poll shows overwhelming support for the referendum.”

    If people wanted an independence referendum then they should have voted for pro independence parties. The fact that two thirds of the electorate did not suggests the polls are wrong, the same polls which gave a SNP a substantial lead over Labour.

  • Teach

    Actually Prince personally I think the best time for a referendum would be a year before the next elections.That way if it’s gets accepted it will give people the chance to form other nationalist parties with different views and policies of the SNP(the ssp and the Greens aren’t a viable option for me and after the recent elections obviously a large portion of the Scottish electorate agrees with that).And if it doesn’t get accepted then the elections can focus on other important issues instead of just the independence question.It would also give a chance for the economy to stabilise again before the next elections,as most of us are aware referendums like this usually have an adverse effect on the economy with unemployment and interest rates etc,etc increasing.

    Where I think you’re getting mixed up Prince.Was when I offered the opinion that I thought the SNP were missing out on an opportunity to capitalise on their excellent results and the disaffection of people who voted for the other parties.By having the referendum as soon as.

    On another note I’m neither a unionist nor a nationalist . I judge each party on the all their polices not just the independence issue.If their was another nationalist party in the last election with polices I both liked and thought would be good for Scotland I would have no qualms in voting for them.

  • Teach

    “I think the LibDems are making a mistake,they should be a bit more flexible when it comes to the independence referendum.”

    Why should they be? They made their position crystal clear during the campaign. They are against independence and an independence referendum. Everyone seems surprised that they meant it.

    Posted by dodrade on May 08, 2007 @ 07:36 PM

    I actually agree with you.I probably haven’t explained what I ment very well.What I was getting at was that there are ways of getting around this point without changing Party policy .For example one way round the problem is to agree a deal in which a White Paper on independence is published later on this year, but a vote on a bill is delayed until around 2009.With the LibDems giving their MSP’s a free vote on the issue when it arises.

    That would give the LibDems an opportunity to be part of a coalition Government rather than the opposition !

  • dodrade

    “I actually agree with you.I probably haven’t explained what I ment very well.What I was getting at was that there are ways of getting around this point without changing Party policy .For example one way round the problem is to agree a deal in which a White Paper on independence is published later on this year, but a vote on a bill is delayed until around 2009.With the LibDems giving their MSP’s a free vote on the issue when it arises.

    That would give the LibDems an opportunity to be part of a coalition Government rather than the opposition !”

    How would that get round it? What you’ve proposed is pretty much current SNP policy!

    Opposition is the best option for the Lib Dems. To reverse position now would leave them discredited power hungry opportunists. They simply can’t just jump straight into bed with the SNP after 8 years with Labour. Only if the SNP are still the largest party after the next Scottish election could they credibly consider compromise and coalition with them.

  • Teach

    It would get round it because when it actually came to voting on the white paper in Parliament the LibDems would be free to vote against the referendum,even though they are part of the Government !

    As for a SNP/LibDem coalition the LibDem’s publicly stated before the elections the only party they would consider having a coalition with after the 2007 elections would be the SNP.So the people who voted for them knew the possibility of a coalition with the SNP was on the books.A lot of LibDem and SNP policies are very similar e.g. their poll tax and nuclear power policies !

    I just want to add I’m not a supporter nor did I vote for any of the two parties above.I was just pointing out there are options around the problems that stopped their coalition.

  • dodrade

    “It would get round it because when it actually came to voting on the white paper in Parliament the LibDems would be free to vote against the referendum,even though they are part of the Government !”

    How serious could you take a coalition whose two main parties were fundamentally opposed on the constitutional question?

    Wait a minute that sounds familiar…

    Seriously though, the DUP and SF share power because the system forces them to, no such arrangement exists in Scotland and a similar arrangement is very unlikely at the moment.

    Yes the Lib Dems in many ways are closer to the SNP than Labour but neither the SNP or the Lib Dems can credibly compromise on their stated positions at this point. Opposition is the best option for the Lib Dems and better for the SNP to table a referendum bill alone and lose than have to give it up altogether as part of a coalition deal.

  • Prince Eoghan

    Fair do’s Teach.

    Good to know you are on board for the 2010 referendum! Let the people decide and all that