Why independence supporters must vote SNP at the next election

It’s 2024. Election year. And it really is all to play for.

Under the UK’s unfit-for-purpose constitution, the incumbent gets to decide on polling day. Opposition parties talk up a May election. They will claim the Tories are running scared if they don’t call it then. But unless the gap between the Tories and Labour gets close to single figures, it’s difficult to see why the Government would go early.

It doesn’t really matter, the result is already clear. Labour are so far ahead in England as to be uncatchable. Pollsters predict that if a General Election were held tomorrow, Sir Keir Starmer would romp home with a majority of between 100 and 200 seats. It won’t be held tomorrow, and the majority won’t be that big, but even with their track record of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Labour cannot lose in England.

The reasons for Tory oblivion are pretty clear. There’s been no Brexit dividend, and the unified right which made it happen is splitting down the middle. Although Reform aren’t quite inflicting the damage Farage did in 2017, they are getting there. Real incomes are falling; most people feel worse off. Westminster’s catastrophic management of Covid continues to unfold with questions mounting as to why they spent so much more than comparable countries only to preside over many more deaths.

Labour just need to stand aside and let the Tories fall apart. That is precisely what those around Starmer will do. Every one of the 44 red wall seats is already toast. You can see it in the eyes of the incumbents; the likes of Lee Anderson and Jonathan Gullis know they are well past their sell-by date. But Labour will oust more than 100 Tories from their own heartlands too.

Now you might argue that with the Tories in such disarray, now might be the time for Labour to champion a revitalised British social democracy. Comparisons are made with 1997.

Say what you want about New Labour – and I could say plenty – they did at least have a bunch of stuff – devolution, tax credits, international aid – that added up to a different vision from the tired John Major government.

But today’s new, new Labour have given up on pretty much everything the party ever stood for. There’ll be no attempt to make the wealthy pay more. Even those at the very bottom subsisting on state pensions and benefits can’t be sure Labour would be more generous. Inequality will remain the scourge that it is without any conviction or plan to change it.

There’ll be no new money for the NHS. No acceleration to green energy. No return to Europe. Every hare-brained right-wing populist idea the Tories come up with is top trumped by Labour.

The Labour strategy isn’t pretty but as a short-term device to win seats, it is effective. I feel for the many lifelong Labour activists in England now abandoned by their party. Some will stay at home, some will vote Green, but most will go along with it. Turnouts will be low, disillusion will be high, feeding a dangerous legacy of alienation and apathy. That’s the price Labour seem content to pay to win Tory support.

This is Labour’s strategy for England. But it won’t play well in Scotland where desire and demography are different.

Against that backdrop, we should consider how this election campaign is fought here. A generation of Labour activists – of which I am one – made a conscious decision to embrace independence as a political strategy not because we were nationalists, but because we believed it offered a better prospect for achieving the social and economic change we desired.

A medium-sized European country north of Britain seemed just more able to deliver a just and equitable future than a vestigial imperial power avoiding coming to terms with its past. And the very idea of running our economy in the public interest sat well with the character and psyche of the Scottish electorate whereas it grated against England’s small C conservative majority.

Every statement Starmer makes, every abandoned promise, every reassurance to the rich and powerful demonstrates that we were right. This is not to say that the right has taken over Labour – although that is clearly the case. It’s more that for Labour to win electorally in England, they must compromise so much that they cannot achieve real change. Independence offers Scotland the chance not to have its ambition thwarted by another country’s political reality.

Given that the prospect of the Conservatives winning this year is practically inconceivable, two things follow. Firstly, what is the best way to influence an alternative UK Government into being something better than a low-calorie version of what it replaces? Secondly, how can we make sure this country’s journey to having autonomy over its own affairs and resources does not stop after two decades of remarkable progress?

There are many decent people in Scotland contemplating voting Labour simply because of a desperation to get rid of the Tories. I understand that. But the Tories have already lost, and the SNP are a more anti-Tory party than Labour. I have lost count of the number of times we have voted against proposed Tory legislation whilst Labour sat on their hands for fear of upsetting some swing voters somewhere.

More to the point, on pretty much every social and economic policy you can think of, the SNP will press for the things that Labour used to believe in and have now abandoned. So, anyone wanting real change at a UK level would do better to send representatives to Westminster who will force Labour to be different, rather than give Starmer a blank cheque.

There is a bigger question for Scottish voters. Will they simply be ignored by a Starmer government? If the SNP lose this election, the answer is yes.

Around half of the population believes that Scotland should be an independent country. The desire has not – and will not – go away. At some stage, we will vote to establish a new independent country – and the campaign to win that vote must be broad and diverse involving every party and organisation in the movement for national autonomy.

But that is not where we are now and that is not what we are voting for in this year’s General Election.

We need to be very clear with the electorate – this year’s vote is about whether the journey continues, whether we can create circumstances to move towards our independence. And with a corrupt first-past-the-post system, the only way to do that is to vote SNP.

The Daily Record, in a hardening of its editorial stance against the party, last week questioned whether the SNP can still represent the political ambition of independence. The point is we don’t have a choice. If the SNP lose the election in Scotland, the debate on independence stops. That is why we must put aside our differences and unite.

If we win, we will use every means to press that mandate against a British state under new management. Crucially, we will demand that this decision must be made in Scotland and that the UK constitution is changed to respect that principle. That is why anyone who believes Scotland should become independent, or even that we should have the choice to do so, ought to vote SNP.

The stakes are high. We must win. It will not be easy. But it can be done.