SNP activists head to Dundee today battered and bruised by the turmoil of the last few months. We need to regroup, reset. We need to engage and involve our membership, talk to supporters beyond our ranks, devise a strategy to advance our cause at the coming election and work out a way to win. That’ll take more than one day. But let’s make a start.
Support for independence appears remarkably resilient, despite our party’s problems and the fragmentation of our movement. But let’s not get carried away. Given the palpable chaos at Westminster, who wouldn’t consider an alternative. We don’t know how deep or how shallow that support is. And we don’t know whether people who tell pollsters they support independence will vote for it at the next election.
We need to be frank. The police investigation is having an effect. It will need to conclude, and we will need to deal with the consequences. Our activist base is smaller and tired. Our party is still Scotland’s most popular, but political representation of the movement has splintered. There’s caution and uncertainty in the population, and not enough confidence in our ranks. This can change. But we need to be honest and realistic. We need a strategy which isn’t chasing the dream like it should happen yesterday.
The SNP only exists because people want independence. So, we need to ensure that at the next election, we are the political expression of that ambition. Who governs Scotland, and who decides who governs Scotland must be central to our campaign.
But this cannot be the final decision on becoming an independent country. At some stage we will need an eyes-wide-open specific vote on whether people want to do that. The next election is not it. For starters, that means the debate about Yes candidates and Yes alliances is for another day.
First, we need to make independence more relevant than ever. Rising bills. Crippling mortgages. Overstretched public services. Immigration. Brexit. Unionists pretend that independence is an abstract constitutional concern, disconnected from these real-life problems.
This is a lie. Always has been. Independence means the power to change lives. We need to spell out the direct connection. The power to raise minimum wages, improve benefits, regulate energy. To mobilise the capital we need to become a renewable powerhouse. To be part of Europe and allow people to migrate here.
Secondly, we need to show how it can happen. The Supreme Court says that the Scottish Parliament does not have the legal authority to organise a referendum on independence. We must demand that authority. We should seek a mandate to change the British constitution to permanently transfer power to Holyrood to consult and represent the people who live here on how they are governed.
We are beyond asking permission through a section 30 order. This is demanding and asserting a right. The right to decide for ourselves how we are governed. This change would put into legislation the 1989 Claim of Right for Scotland, endorsed at the time not only by the SNP but Labour and Liberal Democrats too.
This is the mandate we should take into the new Westminster Parliament after the election. A clear expression of desire to become independent and a specific mechanism to give people that choice. What happens next will depend on the outcome of that election. If SNP votes are needed for Labour to govern, then we will extract a price for that cooperation.
But what if Labour has a big enough majority to ignore us? This takes us into virgin political territory. Never in history has there been a Labour Government in the UK without a mandate in Scotland.
Of course, there’s a chance that Labour could be every bit as intransigent and dismissive of Scottish opinion as the Tories. But maybe not. It’s not a good look for a new Government wishing to present as an alternative. And after all, we will be pursuing something that they once signed up to. Something resonating with their backbench MPs keen on constitutional reform more generally.
But if we are met with contempt then we still have 2026. If the British state continues to refuse to let people in Scotland have a say, we can re-purpose that Scottish Parliament election to allow that to happen. There are many advantages in doing this then rather than now. We will have given the British state every opportunity to review – including changing its Parliament. The entire focus in 2026 will be about who runs Scotland, not who runs the UK. And of course, the franchise is bigger and the system fairer.
But first things first. We have an election probably within a year. If we don’t win, none of the above happens. Since 1967 the SNP vote has been a barometer of support for self-Government. When that vote rises, the state makes concessions. The reverse is also true.
We must make our electorate aware of this simple truth. If the SNP lose the next election, independence goes off the table. At least until the election after that.
So, we must win. And we must win in an election where many people will be desperate to get rid of the Tories above all else. Some independence supporters will be seduced by Labour’s argument that only they can do that, and independence can be left for another day.
This is not true. SNP MPs will never support the Tories in Westminster. To win, Labour doesn’t need to defeat us in Scotland, it needs to defeat Tories in England. Labour can, most probably will, do that. So voting Labour here isn’t necessary to rid ourselves of the Tories.
Moreover, given the chance would anyone really want to give Starmer a blank cheque? Mostly the SNP wants stronger, faster action to tackle poverty and inequality. Given the choice, we will keep Labour honest.
Voting SNP means getting rid of a Tory Government we didn’t vote for this time, and the choice to lock them out of Scotland forever. That’s a compelling message and if we can’t sell it to our countrymen and women desperate for change, maybe we shouldn’t be in politics.