The SNP leadership needs to break the Union for the sake of all within it

Posted on

Sitting in Edinburgh this morning it's a little hard not to have a Scottish perspective on some of the events of the last day, especially as I was discussing them rather later into the night than I originally planned.

The news that I was able to discuss with the enthusiastic audience I met last night was that Ruth Davidson was expected to resign as leader of the Tories in Scotland at any moment. And this, I suggest is not just a Scottish story, even if that is where it will have most immediate impact.

If referenda have transformed and redrawn the dividing lines of politics in the  UK as a whole then it is important to remember that the impact has been different in the constituent countries of the UK.

Northern Ireland approved the Good Friday Agreement in a referendum.

Scotland and Wales chose devolved government in the same way.

Scotland was divided by its 2014 referendum on independence.

England has suffered the same fate on Brexit.

And these events are not unrelated. The Good Friday Agreement has created Brexit division. And questions about the future membership of the Union will be asked for a long time, most especially if we hard Brexit.

In this context Ruth Davidson's resignation cannot be ignored. In a country rather short of charismatic Unionists (look at the leadership of Scotland's Labour Party and LibDems to see what I mean) she stood out as by far the most important Unionist in a weak field. The election of so many Scottish Tory MPs (themselves a dire bunch of individuals, prone to persistent uncouth behaviour at Westminster, even by its own low standards) must be very largely down to her campaigning ability.

But she also campaigned against Brexit and very specifically Boris Johnson.

I am sure she has family reasons for leaving her post, and she has held it for a long time in political terms. But there is no heir apparent who has any chance of replacing her in the political arena of Scottish politics.

What this means is that on the day when Johnson and the Queen indicated that democracy will be ignored in the single-minded pursuit of the destruction of the  well-being of the UK, Scotland, which remains profoundly in favour of EU membership, is left without a single heavyweight Unionist to argue that it should remain in the UK to achieve that goal.

Will this tip the balance in favour of independence? I do not know. But I am sure it will help.

But that requires the SNP to take the lead, and what struck me very forcibly in my discussions with many grass-root SNP members last night is how frustrated they are with their own leadership. Nicola Sturgeon is perceived of as being remote. It is thought she does not listen.

There is real anger that the move, spearheaded by Angus McNeil MP, to bring a resolution to the SNP October conference to suggest that a pro-independence majority in any election, whether at Holyrood or of Scottish seats at Westminster, should be taken as the mandate to leave the Union has been blocked by the leadership.

I should declare a bias: I have known Angus for some time. But the fact that I enjoy his company does not change my view on this issue. He and his colleagues are saying that Scotland does not need Westminster's consent to leave the Union. And in international law that is a simple statement of fact. The very name of the United Kingdom makes clear that it is made up of separate nations.  And international law provides a right to self-determination. A majority in any election for those seeking it would be more than sufficient for this purpose. No one requires a referendum on such an issue.

Except for Westminster.

And the SNP are very clearly, in the eyes of its membership as I heard them, failing those members by insisting on having Westminster's approval before Scotland can leave. As one put it, that's like insisting, to use a footballing metaphor, on playing away all the time, with very limited traveling support on a decidedly hostile ground. And it's unnecessary.

Johnson is showing contempt for parliament, for our constitutional conventions, MPs and so the electorate.  Even his Scottish leader can no longer tolerate that, and rightly so.

Nor should the rest of Scotland. There is an urgency and vibrancy that is akin to suppressed optimism for the future in Scottish politics that needs to be set free from the deeply pessimistic oppression of Westminster. The SNP's leadership needs to have the courage to give its membership what they very clearly want. The time for speeches of condemnation is over. We're living in revolutionary times. And Scotland has the legal right to go its own independent way in the scenarios that Angus McNeil has described.

And maybe that's exactly what is required for the sake of England too. England has to realise just what an unacceptable place it is becoming. This is one way of getting that message across.

And that, in turn, might let the Welsh and people of Northern Ireland decide what they also want for their futures. Decision time is coming, and maybe quite soon.