Is it just me or does last month’s election already seem a long time ago? That last week in parliament was a pretty turgid affair. Self-congratulation by the tea-room Tories was matched by remorse and recrimination as Labour losers cleared lockers and desks. And then it was Christmas. There was no settling of the dust, no clarity on what the election results actually meant.
That starts now. Not for the first time this was a tale of two elections. We were somewhere very similar in May 2015. Then, as now, the Tories won convincingly south of the border in a campaign dominated by whether to leave the European Union. Then, as now, Scotland just as convincingly voted for the SNP in a campaign dominated by Scotland’s relationship with the UK.
There is a big difference though. In 2015, just six months after losing the referendum, the SNP did not seek a mandate for Scotland to consider independence. Instead the argument was about who could best protect Scotland’s interests in the union we had decided to stay part of. Not so this time.
The SNP won last month’s election asserting Scotland’s right to choose a better independent future. It was a central theme of the SNP’s election. And as if to put the mandate beyond doubt the Tories pretty much made it a single-issue campaign claiming that the “union was on every ballot paper”. They asked Scotland to “say no to Indyref 2”. Instead, Scotland said no to them.
That is not to say that everyone who voted SNP supports Scotland becoming a politically independent country. There are many fair-minded people not yet convinced of independence who nonetheless believe it is a decision that should be made in Scotland. They voted SNP to allow that choice to be offered. Conversely, there were many people who support independence but who voted for parties other than the SNP.
I and my SNP colleagues will press the clear mandate we have been given. We will assert the right of the people who live in Scotland to choose how they are governed. And we will use every legal and political device available to us to press the UK government to recognise that claim.
The reaction of the UK government will in many ways be more influential on how matters develop than anything else. If they reject Scotland’s wishes out of hand, they risk alienating new layers of public opinion. Boris Johnson has the capacity to become the greatest recruiting sergeant for the cause of independence.
Insomuch as the UK is a union at all it can only survive on the basis of consent. To deny people the right to choose is tantamount to saying that Scotland will stay in the UK even if the majority of people who live here don’t want to. And that is unsustainable in a modern democracy.
But the most important players in 2020 are not the SNP or the UK government – it’s those who supported neither. There were very many decent men and women who still hoped three weeks ago that social and economic fairness might be delivered by a progressive reforming government in the UK. To them I say now is the time you should consider political independence for Scotland as a better means to achieve that change. Come and join us. Be part of shaping a new prospectus for a modern independent nation. A new country built on fairness and social justice. A nation which welcomes the world and becomes a catalyst for transforming Britain.
Given the alternative, who wouldn’t now give it serious thought?
Written for the Edinburgh Evening News - 3rd January 2020
Time is running out for many of Edinburgh's small businesses. Today I've written to the Chancellor asking for additional emergency assistance for our hospitality sector through the COVID-19 epidemic.