Today, the SNP’s Growth Commission will finally publish its report – a “look afresh at the challenges and opportunities” of independence ordered by the First Minister in September 2016, shortly after the constitutional opportunity of Brexit presented itself.
The release of the report, now titled Scotland: The New Case for Optimism, will seemingly precipitate a “summer of independence” as the SNP “restart the debate” that has been the primary focus of Scottish politics for nigh-on a decade.
In contrast to many, I’ll await the actual release of the report before passing judgement on its contents but I hope it isn’t entirely reliant on independence to achieve its goals. Innovative ideas for improving public policy at any level should be welcomed, or at least given honest consideration, by all and the Growth Commission’s report would be very disappointing indeed were it to exclude initiatives on the basis they don’t need separation to become reality.
So whilst I’m not exactly champing at the bit for today’s release, I’ll read the report and judge for myself what it has to say. I wonder how many will do the same. I suspect, in the grand scheme of things, very few.
The more – ahem – dedicated elements of pro-union sentiment, capital U Unionists if you like, have – predictably – dismissed the report long before its release; but this is not the Growth Commission’s target audience. Instead, it’s aimed at shoring up the soft-Yes vote and tempting the soft-No vote which, it is suggested, was primarily dissuaded from independence in 2014 by the weak and, crucially, untrustworthy economic case for separation. If the anti-union cause is ever to win a future referendum, it is these people it needs to convince.
But are these people listening? Is anyone?
Following the EU Referendum, in which the SNP’s dream scenario of a Scottish Remain vote and UK-wide Leave vote was delivered, it was widely expected that public sympathy for independence would grow. For whatever reason, that hasn’t been the case.
Regardless the Growth Commission was created and, in March 2017, Nicola Sturgeon announced her intention to hold a second independence referendum. The prospect of yet more constitutional wrangling proved as popular as the middle urinal when, in June’s snap election, the SNP lost 21 MPs and saw a 13% vote swing to the Tories. For an ordinary political party winning 35 seats in Scotland would be a remarkable success. For a party whose only goal is 50%+1 losing half a million votes and seeing 63% vote for pro-union opponents is anything but.
Seemingly unperturbed, or perhaps simply having no idea what else to do in politics, the fixation with independence has continued. Not least with the unedifying sight of the governing party desperately willing Brexit to force such hardship on the people of the country that they’ll choose a constitutional destination for which the SNP hasn’t otherwise been able to provide a convincing argument. Recent attempts have concentrated on building opposition to Westminster, as opposed to support for independence, through claims of supposed “power grabs” and – with some justification – sheer incompetence. Still the numbers on Yes / No haven’t moved, at least not in the direction the SNP would want. Rather predictably, the Scottish people, who have only recently voted to share sovereignty across both the UK and the EU, are not driven to outrage by the prospect of UK-wide legislation for food labelling.
Will the Growth Commission be any different? I see no reason why it should. There’s a good reason the Tory strategy of stressing their fundamental opposition to indyref2 has been so successful, not just with British nationalists but with people who are simply sick of the same tired arguments. That their opposition to indyref2 involved mentioning indyref2 as every third word did not seem to matter. “Get on with the day job” resonated with people who, accurately, see the SNP as being interested in only one thing.
Into this mix, the SNP are now introducing a 300+ page report of, presumably, detailed economic analysis and technical currency arguments. No-one sensible expects anyone but journalists and the most dedicated politic geeks to actually read it. It will, however, generate a certain amount of column inches and airtime, as it already has. The danger for the SNP is that people only hear one word – independence.
The SNP is no longer a fresh, positive-sounding alternative to the two-party establishment. They are the establishment. A decade-old government obsessed with endless repetition of the same question for which they offer only two answers: Yes and Not Yet.
Rather than attract soft-No votes, it’s entirely possible the report will instead harm relations with their anti-union core. Whilst the numbers in support of independence don’t appear to have changed much, there is a growing trend for that support to no longer coalesce around the SNP. Last month, a few details of the report were released and met with at best a tepid, in some quarters openly hostile, reaction. Hints at a free market approach similar to that taken by New Zealand were not welcomed by many on the left of the independence cause and early reaction from the same quarters does not bode well for the SNP. (Ben Wray is editor and policy director of lefty nationalists The Common Space)
Perhaps this is why the release of the report will be followed by a “national tour” of SNP activists, not the wider public. Perhaps I’m completely wrong and the report will convince even committed sceptics like me to opt for independence. Perhaps not.
Regardless, this interminable debate is certain to continue – refreshed, restarted, reset or regurgitated – for some time to come.