Iain Macwhirter Iain Macwhirter

Sturgeon’s de facto referendum plan is dividing the SNP

Credit: Jane Barlow-Pool/Getty Images

It is vanishingly rare for the SNP-supporting paper The National – a publication that makes Pravda look like the Washington Post – to place anything remotely critical of Nicola Sturgeon on its front page. Yet on Wednesday it warned that the Dear Leader’s ploy to turn the 2024 general election into a ‘de facto referendum’ could ‘Blow It For Indy’. It is right. The idea looks like being about as popular as placing rapists in a woman’s jail.

The plan, unveiled by the First Minister in high dudgeon last November, after the Supreme Court rejected her bill to hold an ‘advisory’ referendum on independence, was to present Scottish voters with a one line manifesto before the next Westminster vote in or around 2024. That line would declare that Scotland should be an independent country. That’s it. No policies on health education or the like – just independence. If the SNP wins a majority in this de facto referendum, Ms Sturgeon would regard it as a mandate ‘to open negotiations on independence with the UK government’.

It was soon pointed out that not only was this undemocratic – instructing the electorate how to vote – but also destined to fail.

Initially, Nicola Sturgeon’s deputy, John Swinney, told the BBC that a ‘majority’ meant a majority of seats. He was corrected later that day by the FM.  It means a majority of votes: 50 per cent and over. A monumental task in a first-past-the-post election. The SNP didn’t break the 50 per cent barrier even in the ‘tsunami’ general election of 2015 (here, they won 56 out of 59 MPs). 

It was soon pointed out that not only was this undemocratic – instructing the electorate how to vote – but also destined to fail.

Moreover failure to reach this barrier would of course be interpreted by Westminster as a failed second independence referendum since, well, that’s what the First Minister said it was.

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Written by
Iain Macwhirter

Iain Macwhirter is a former BBC TV presenter and was political commentator for The Herald between 1999 and 2022. He is an author of Road to Referendum and Disunited Kingdom: How Westminster Won a Referendum but Lost Scotland.

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