Issue 25


By Andy Maciver, Director, Message Matters

Admittedly, the statement I am about to make lacks the veracity of detailed research, but the SNP is probably the most successful political party in the democratic world. It has been in government - sometimes in minority, sometimes majority - for over 12 years, and still consistently polls between 35% and 40% with its closest rival sometimes 20 points behind. It is not certain to win the 2021 Holyrood election, but for it to lose would require a seismic event, and it is also difficult to see any of the current rivals winning in 2026 either. Indeed, there is reason to believe that the party which will eventually beat the SNP doesn’t yet exist.

That sounds like a garden which is exceedingly rosy. In truth, though, the SNP and the extended independence movement should be doing better than they are. And they know it.

The background for their success is nearly at its best. The independence referendum of 2014 left a legacy in the shape of nearly half of the electorate advocating independence, roughly double the proportion which prevailed in the decades before; the EU referendum delivered a UK Leave vote with which Scotland vehemently disagreed; the weakness of Labour keeps the Conservatives as the favourites for any future general election; and the new Prime Minister looks like being Boris Johnson.

If the SNP and the independence movement could create a political environment designed to help them meet their goal, it looks exactly like the one we have. A substantial minority in favour as a starting point, with a Scotland/England chasm over the EU and a rich, southern English nationalist Leaver running the Tory party which will probably win the next election.

And, yet, despite all of this, polling for a Yes vote is barely moving. Other than for a few turbulent days in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum, the Yes side has led in only one poll, and that was two years ago. For sure, the polls are close, but No still wins practically every time.

Recent theoretical polling, based on a Boris Johnson Premiership, returned a Yes lead of 53:47, but I suspect the SNP would have hoped that lead would be far greater given the context.

So, what’s going wrong?

In general, I think the Yes movement has three problems, none of which are easy to fix.

Firstly, voters are sick of constitutional change, and they want certainty. Scots have had a double helping, unique in the UK when compared to England, Wales and even Northern Ireland, with an independence referendum followed by an EU referendum. It has created massive political problems, unarguably, and a case can also be made that it has created social and economic ripples of a negative kind. We can say, with reasonable certainty, that the UK’s future lies outside the EU, and in that context it is far from clear that Scottish voters will take the giant leap of then taking Scotland out of its largest trading partner, the UK, whether there is a home in the EU or otherwise.

Secondly, there has been almost no progress on the economic case for a yes vote, which was one of the primary reasons that Yes failed to get over the line in 2014. Other than Andrew Wilson’s laudable Growth Commission, the Yes campaign remains an entity dominated by the left, doing effectively nothing to persuade those with an eye on economics to cross the divide and vote Yes.

Let’s put ourselves in the position of a No voter. Not dogmatic or particularly political, but concerned about the impact on their domestic finances of a Yes vote; working for a UK-wide or even international company; earning a salary which makes them comfortable but by no means rich; patriotic Scots but also perfectly at ease with our southern neighbours. What has the Yes campaign done since 2014 to persuade them to change their minds? Absolutely nothing.

And there is a third problem, small but growing. The small group of English-hating, Tory-hating protestors who pitched their flags outside Perth Concert Hall on Friday night before the Tory leadership hustings are not the best of people. We see them and their type frequently on protests and marches. Fanatical nationalists, in many cases rabid bigots. People who hate England more than they love Scotland. People who want to break from the UK in order to create a socialist state rather than build a new economy. People who appear to be more at ease with those who run Palestine rather than those who run Britain.

Their numbers are small, but their impact is large. Every time these people come out to play, wavering No voters roll their eyes and say “now I remember why I didn’t vote yes last time”.

We are reaching the end game. 2021 is Scotland’s more important election. Ever. Forget the bluster from the Tory leadership candidates; if the SNP, with or without the Greens, returns a majority on a clear and unambiguous manifesto commitment to ask Westminster for another referendum, the Prime Minister will have to say yes. The Scottish Tories understand this, although it is unclear whether the coffee has been smelt in Westminster.

Conversely, though, if the SNP and Greens, combined, fall short of a Parliamentary majority, the future of the party and the movement are bleak.

High stakes, isn’t it, when in two years the world’s most successful political party could be in tatters?

By Andy Maciver, Director, Message Matters

Issue 25

Issue 25


CalMac's cutting carbon as part of new eco actions

This year we will pass a milestone in achieving one of our key targets in our bid to be the country’s greenest ferry company, cutting our carbon emissions by 5%.


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