The Great Independence Divide
If this election has done anything, it has brought to the fore a philosophical schism at the heart of the Yes movement. I don’t want to get over dramatic about it like some do. I respect the way others are thinking. I can see the logic of those on the other side of the debate. And although it has gotten heated at times, I don’t think this split is an irreparable one. However, after the election dust settles a discussion about the direction forward is one that needs to be had.
The two camps can be described like this:
There are those who think that we need to keep a steady keel and not rock the boat in order to not spook potential future Yes voters. And there are those who think that we need radical change now in order to give potential future Yes voters a more defined choice.
The Steady Keel approach is one favoured by the many of those who have been promoting an SNP/SNP vote. The view goes hand in hand with the notion that only the SNP can secure a second referendum, and that this can only be achieved with political stability. Proponents of the notion often suggest that more conservative policies now are the price we have to pay for the inevitable unleashing of post Independence progressiveness.
The other approach, as espoused mostly by those who support the Greens, Rise and the SSP, is that we need to be radical now in order to more fully differentiate Holyrood from Westminster. We need to use whatever imperfect powers we have in a more radical fashion in order to give people a glimpse of what Independence could be like.
Although there is no way to tell which approach is correct I am more optimistic about the potential dividends we may gain from being more progressive now. For winning independence is really about persuading those who are not British or Scottish Nationalists that one option is clearly better. And that is an easier thing to do if the choice is more defined.
Don’t get me wrong, one of the reasons the Yes vote improved last time was a perception that things are done better here and the SNP need to take much of the credit for that. Our voting system is fairer and the parliament is more representative. We have much less privatisation here and we have more respect for universalism. People like those things but they didn’t like them enough to vote for Independence in 2014 and there is no evidence to think this dynamic may have changed.
In fact there is some reason to think a conservative approach may drive people away.
In the last week the SNP have fallen slightly in the polls. Interestingly, the figures show that they have not been losing pro Independence voters. They have been losing voters from the section of the population who voted No in the Independence referendum. In his blog professor John Curtice puts this down to the recent heightened rhetoric surrounding the possibility of a second indyref.
The switch to the Conservatives would be the sensible choice for these voters if the decision was prominently based on separation. The Conservatives would also be the sensible choice if those No voters were really so badly spooked by progressive taxation. It is notable though that these voters are moving towards Labour: a party who have recently said that they would allow a free vote on the subject of Independence. A party that is proposing a 50p tax rate as well as a 1p increase for all taxpayers.
Surely conflicted Labour/SNP supporting No voters will be open to persuasion in the run up to a second referendum? And the polling seems to suggest they find Labour’s progressive taxation plans more appealing than the Conservative idea of copying the rest of the UK.
We will soon have the power to make income tax much more progressive. We do have the ability to radically change how local government is funded and operates. We can radically shake up land ownership. We can make sure more poor kids get to go to university.
Not being more radical now may mean we don’t frighten the horses. But it also telegraphs that Scotland on many issues is the same as the rest of the UK.
This argument may die down after the election when the party political stuff also begins to fade away. And it may become redundant if events get out of our control. The EU referendum may take Scotland out of the EU against its will. The UK may increase the difference between the two countries by continuing to lurch to the right while we stand still. However, as nobody who is likely to get a sniff of power is actually promising a referendum, and an EU Out vote probably won’t happen, then this issue, unless dealt with, is likely to resurface in 5 years time.
Tumultuous EU referendum results aside, this is something we need to come to an agreement on during the next term, as if those who want change now are correct then we need the Scottish Government to be on board with the idea sooner rather than later for the effects of radical policy will take years to materialise. Which might put us at a disadvantage when we debate Independence again.
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