By-election defeat could cause SNP rethink

The SNP’s defeat in Glasgow could lead them to reasses their plans for independence, with polls turning against Alex Salmond and the administration.

Just days after the SNP suffered what Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, herself described as a disappointing defeat in the Glasgow North East by-election, it now appears that the result could be causing Alex Salmond’s administration to reassess its strategy on its defining mission.

Months after it took office in 2007, the Scottish Government published its White Paper on the constitution. The paper set out the SNP’s proposals for a referendum on independence, concluding that any referendum which included an option for greater powers to the Scottish Parliament, as well as for independence would be difficult to achieve.

It said (page 33):

“There is not a sufficiently well developed proposal for further devolution to make such a multi-option referenduma realistic proposal at this stage”

Instead, the favoured option was to give the people of Scotland a single question on the basis of the following statement (page 35):

“The Scottish Government should negotiate a settlement with the Government of the United Kingdom so that Scotland becomes an independent state.”

However, following its by-election defeat, the Sunday Herald has reported that Ministers in Scotland have now abandoned their policy of a single question referendum with the First Minister now working on an option that would include independence among other options.

If true, such a move would see the SNP backtracking on its commitments in the 2007 White Paper, by opting for the position it dismissed as unlikely to attract enough support. According to the report, it is thought such a multi option referendum is being looked at as the only way the SNP could gain the essential support of opposition parties opposed to a referendum or legislation on independence.

The Sunday Herald went on to quote spokespeople for all the main pro-Union parties who were united in their condemnation of what the Liberal Democrats described as a “desperate” move on the part of the SNP.

For Labour, alluding to the challenge made by former Labour Leader Wendy Alexander to the SNP, a spokesman said:

“The SNP continues to fail to understand that this is not the time. They were offered the opportunity two years ago but ran away.

“All our efforts should be focused on getting Scotland out of recession and creating jobs. Their pet obsession will damage that greatly and we are not prepared to see that happen.”

For the Executive, a spokesman for Constitution Minister Mike Russell told the Herald:

“We have regularly made it clear to the other parties that if they wish to amend the wording of the question, or indeed include their constitutional preference, they will be perfectly able to put forward such amendments when the bill comes forward.”

If such a multi-option referendum were to succeed, it would almost certainly need to include an option to support the recommendations of the Calman Commission. Established with the support of every major party in Scotland, except the SNP, it included proposals for the Scottish Parliament to gain greater powers to raise its own finances independently of Westminster.

The news comes after a week of bad publicity for the SNP government. On Thursday, Scottish Labour Leader Iain Gray claimed that plans for independence and a vote would total £12 million. Meanwhile, following its by-election defeat, writing in the Observer, Kevin McKenna said:

“An icy breeze is making the Scottish National Party shiver and gather its cloak more tightly about itself.”

And Scotland on Sunday has reported concerns raised by former SNP leader, and now one of the party’s elder statesmen, Gordon Wilson, that the Government in Holyrood was failing to connect with people.

It would seem that whilst Labour would be unwise to get too carried away by its victory, as analysed by Left Foot Forward, for Alex Salmond and the SNP, Glasgow North East could be the slice of humble pie that many in Scotland believe Salmond now needs to take.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.