BY EFFIE DEANS
The key to continuing to defeat your opponent is never to underestimate them. This is the main danger for the pro UK side of the argument in Scotland. Sturgeon is gone, but if there were a General Election tomorrow or a Holyrood election the SNP would still win a large majority of the seats. This may change in time, but it will take a while.
A proportion of Scots want independence, not because it would make Scotland more prosperous, but just because it would bring back the land that was lost, Robert the Bruce and the Jacobites all rolled into one. These people are as eager for another go as they were before Sturgeon resigned.
The patient SNP strategy would be to rule Scotland as well as possible and gradually try to improve support for independence to consistently being more than 60%. Given that they are 12% behind this week and need to be 20% and more ahead this is a task requiring patience and perhaps decades.
But Scottish nationalists are not patient, for which reason mad as it seems, and even though the SNP has called off its special conference there is still a chance that a new leader will respond to Sturgeon’s demise with something like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, otherwise known as a de facto referendum at the next General Election or still more suicidal at an early Holyrood election. Banzai.
Attacking Pearl Harbor was a sign of desperation. Some battleships that were already obsolete were sunk, but the carriers survived. When the US got over the shock it still had the strength to destroy the Japanese navy at Midway in 1942 and the war in the Pacific was already over a little more than 6 months after it started.
If the SNP ever declares that an election is a de facto referendum the British Government can simply reply no it is not. The SNP strategy requires both the Scottish electorate and the British Government to accept that a referendum is taking place.
If the UK Government says, we will not negotiate with you no matter the result of the election, the SNP could find itself with a victory just like at Pearl Harbor that was really a strategic defeat. Tsar Alexandr refused to negotiate with Napoleon when he captured Moscow, which left Napoleon with only one choice, retreat. His army was destroyed gradually and then almost completely at the river Berezina a few weeks later.
The Supreme Court has told us that legally Scotland is merely a region (called a country) of a sovereign nation state called the UK. It has no legal right to a referendum no matter what, no more than the formerly independent parts of Germany, Spain and France. So, the SNP doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on if it tries to force the issue.
A more risky strategy but perhaps with the potential for greater reward would be to respond to an SNP de facto referendum by treating it as a potential unilateral declaration of independence. You can have your de facto referendum. If you get 50% plus one vote you will immediately on the day after the election, be independent. There will be no negotiations whatsoever. There will be no transition period. All fiscal transfers from the Treasury will cease immediately and we will close the border. No dual nationality will be allowed. The former UK will not recognise Scotland, will not cooperate with it and will advise all other countries that it has illegally broken away from the UK.
It is always difficult to judge how a Scottish electorate might respond to such an offer. It might choose to bring ruin on itself by voting for the SNP, but the ruin would be such that Scotland would be back in the UK after a few days. But my guess is that any such tough tactics if properly communicated and properly understood would destroy the independence movement more even than the Japanese fleet at Midway.
Scots might be tempted by independence, but few of us are tempted by poverty and destitution. In the end most independence supporters are only interested if independence leaves life much as it is. The former UK could wreck Scotland merely by not cooperating. This above all is the limit beyond which the SNP cannot push.
But none of these things are likely to happen. The SNP is leaderless, rudderless and without a plan. Going for an all or nothing attack after the departure of Sturgeon would be mere folly. Other things being equal if Sturgeon had thought she could win a de facto referendum in the next two years, she would have stayed. Her leaving, assuming no other reason, suggests she knew that she could not win one. SNP MPs and MSPs know this too.
Despite controlling education and most of the bodies that influence public opinion the SNP is still stuck on 45%. It cannot risk a de facto referendum because there is a much greater chance that it would fall short than surpass 50%. Falling short would equal your second referendum, which really equals you never get another go. But in the unlikely event that 50% was surpassed, still less likely now that Sturgeon is gone, there would be nothing legally nor morally that would force the UK Government to negotiate independence. The SNP risks all for nothing. Banzai again.
The SNP both hates the UK but depends on the British Government playing fair. But we know now from the Supreme Court that Scotland has no legal right to secede in international law. So, who or what is going to force the issue?
Negotiated independence is possible, but only if support for independence is massively higher than it is at present. Work towards this dear SNP and you may still win, but attack too early and we will sink your fleet and see you all fall to the bottom of the ocean.
The Excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.