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We, on the Yes side, need to do something the independence movement has not been adept at so far: listening to Unionists

This is election year on both sides of the pond. As 2025 approaches we’ll find ourselves on the brink of the Starmer/Trump years; Labour in charge at Westminster while Trump gets busy making the world even scarier

It feels like everything is changing so fast. Here in Scotland too. Later this year we will have the most significant election since devolution. Our political landscape will be transformed.

Although not changing the current make-up of the Scottish Parliament, the impending UK election will send the message out loud and clear: the SNP are no longer all powerful.

I don’t think I’m sticking my neck out too much by predicting that when the results start to come in on election night, it will be a UK landslide for Labour and a bad night for the SNP.

The new Westminster benches are likely to look very different. Reform will probably make the Tory defeat even worse. They might even win actual seats, resulting in a block of new Reform MPs, joining the opposition benches alongside the Lib Dems, Ulster unionists, and the SNP, shrunk to half of what we were. A casserole of conflicting vested interests vying for attention alongside an equally shrunken Tory party on life support, at war with itself.

Obviously, from an SNP point of view, I’m hoping it won’t be too bad. A ‘good result’ would be ending the count with 29 seats, down from the current 47. By any measure that will be interpreted UK-wide as a sea-change in Scottish politics; a vote of no-confidence in the SNP.

But it will be a good night for Scottish Labour. I bet they’re already looking forward to it. Winning on election night is one of those goal-scoring/cup-winning experiences. Thousands of voters will have switched from SNP to Labour.

Meaning that a big chunk of the electorate who voted Yes in 2014, and probably still do support independence, have lost faith in the SNP as a party. A one-party government for 17 years hasn’t turned out be a good advert for how Scotland might be managed after independence.

Of course, others will simply have been motivated by getting rid of this Tory government, and Labour is the knee-jerk response. Whatever the rationale of each vote, a big chunk of the Scottish electorate will defect from the party who won them over 10 years ago.

What will this mean for both parties?

For Scottish Labour, they will have gained huge numbers of independence supporting voters overnight. How will they keep them? How will their new Scottish MPs stand up for Scotland in Westminster? How will they stand up to English Labour?

How the SNP responds will be the food for debate in countless conferences, and after branch meetings. But for me, the question that matters is: what next for the process towards independence?

We have been stuck in a quarrelsome stand-off for too long. A steady 50/50 split on our constitutional future. This has become the yardstick that defines our political tribes. It creates divides where there needn’t be any. It undermines the effectiveness of our Parliament and warps the process for achieving independence.

The independence question is not going away. The status quo clearly isn’t working. Brexit has left a lot of work to do on Scotland’s relationship with England.

You could say that the whole constitutional debate comes down to one question: what kind of long-term relationship do we want to have with our next-door neighbour? A neighbour whom, for all their failings, we have been entwined with, both personally and politically, for centuries.

The initiative to break this logjam has to come from us – the supporters of independence, the advocates of change. And now our constituency of supporters will include many more Labour voters. Calling for a second referendum won’t hack it anymore.

Fifty-percent-plus-one was always a terrible idea. The truth is: Not enough of us want it enough. There is currently no deafening clamour for change that would render us unstoppable.

But imagine if there were. That is our challenge. We, on the Yes side, need to do something the independence movement has not been adept at so far: listening to Unionists. I want to hear their case for the Union. I want to understand their fears regarding independence. And I want to be bombarded by their hostility to the SNP. But most of all I want to hear their ideas for how Scotland can get out of this deadlock.

I seek out Unionists. I enjoy my conversations with them. We find we have so much in common concerning many of today’s political challenges. In some ways the demise of the SNP could do the movement for independence a big favour.

It will no longer be all about how the SNP performs at Holyrood. The post-election independence camp will be spread cross-party. This humbling of the SNP could ‘de-party-ify’ the constitutional debate.

Margo MacDonald once described independence as a ‘process’. Post-election, let the process continue and let’s slowly but surely build a huge majority for independence, irrespective of who you vote for. ■


Majority sizes in Scottish constituencies, and below, the ‘yellow belt’ of SNP marginals and pro-Union underperformance. Data BBC Election Team

The question is, what kind of long-term relationship do we want to have with our next-door neighbour?



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