Ben Wray: Here's what Scotland needs to do in #GE17 to beat the Tories and get closer to indy

CommonSpace columnist and Common Weal head of policy Ben Wray says Ruth Davidson is banking on voter fatigue in Scotland to escape oblivion

THE shape of Theresa May’s surprise snap General Election is already pretty clear: it will be the constitutional election.

It’s an election about two constitutional mandates: Theresa May’s for hard Brexit, and Nicola Sturgeon’s for a second independence referendum. Behind that lies a bigger battle: the future direction of Britain.

Theresa May’s position is both strong and weak, but it is important to understand that the decision to call a second election was made primarily out of weakness. She didn’t want to do this. 

Read more – Theresa May calls for snap General Election on Brexit

The reality of Brexit negotiations and fear about her narrow majority has forced her hand. She has now exposed herself to the public, and will have to defend her vision – which could show vulnerability. If May doesn’t win the election in a big way she will be weakened.

But we shouldn’t be naïve – the most likely outcome of this election is a large Tory majority, and a mandate for hard (and hard-right) Brexit. Polls show more people becoming accustomed to leaving the EU and little remorse among Leave voters. 

Indeed, the economy has fared better so far than many economists (and George Osborne) predicted, and May has had a poll bounce, as most new prime ministers do. It makes sense to reap the harvest before the crops begin to wilt.

For Nicola Sturgeon, the General Election presents dangers and opportunities. The danger is referendum fatigue. Ruth Davidson has already set out her camp, saying she will campaign on "no more referendums". After indyref, after Brexit, after a snap General Election – can the people of Scotland stomach more turmoil? Davidson is banking on demoralisation and resignation leading to Scots limply surrendering to Tory hard Brexit rule.

Read more – 5 key ways the snap General Election will impact Scotland and the UK

But the Tories would have to produce something pretty remarkable to claim any sort of a dent in the independence march. Even if the SNP lost four or five seats to the Tories, it would still have an enormous majority in Scotland.

Indeed, Sturgeon can absolutely, justifiably state that winning any sort of majority of MPs in the election on a pledge of a second independence referendum would solidify her mandate. After all, May is running the General Election for her own mandate, and will surely claim one no matter how narrow the victory.

May’s likely victory will be much more narrow than Sturgeon’s north of the border, of that we can be confident.

So an aggressive anti-Tory, pro-second referendum strategy has sizeable advantages for Sturgeon over a safe, 'SNP stronger for Scotland at Westminster' approach. This is an opportunity to deliver a clear verdict on what the people of Scotland think about Tory hard Brexit – Sturgeon should not duck away from taking that fight on directly, as the odds are stacked in the independence camp’s favour.

Read more – Rosa Zambonini to seek SNP candidacy in Natalie McGarry's Glasgow East seat for #GE17

Indeed, this could be the opportunity to finally align Scottish politics in such a way as the prospect for a big independence majority opens up. Scottish politics runs primarily on two over-lapping paradigms: left vs right and independence vs union. While left is generally associated with independence and right with unionism, the waters were muddied in the last referendum primarily by Labour and the possibility of another route to getting the Tories out of power.

This time, Labour is in a historically weak (almost irrelevant) position in Scottish politics and almost no one thinks the Tories are going to be out of power. Add to that the fact that the Tories themselves have shifted well to the right since 2014 – basically taking Nigel Farage and Ukip’s clothes – and the opportunity for the independence movement in this constitutionally-focused election becomes clear: usher left opinion behind independence, and isolate the right behind unionism. 

If unionism can be welded in the public’s mind with Toryism, then a big majority for Scottish independence can emerge.

This is the task all independence supporters should dedicate themselves to over the coming seven weeks of campaigning, regardless of whether they support the SNP or not. You don’t have to put on a yellow sticker to say to the public that hard right Tory Brexit rule will be a disaster for the majority of people in Scotland and we need to win an unquestionable, iron-clad mandate for a second referendum on independence.

Read more – Scottish Labour pledge to defend last seat in Scotland

A clear route out of the Tories' fantasy Empire 2.0 vision for Britain has opened up and we need to seize it. My sense, glancing quickly at social media in the aftermath of the announcement, is a certain activist fatigue – many have been in campaign mode now for half a decade. I understand that. 

But the stakes are now extremely high. The stronger mandate that emerges out of this election for a second referendum, the weaker Theresa May’s hand will be. If she can’t resist a second referendum, then the prospect of Britain unravelling before it sets sail on its Empire 2.0 journey is real. 

Now is not the time to get distracted, demotivated or deterred. If you feel that way, remember this – that is exactly how Ruth Davidson wants you to feel.

Picture courtesy of Liam O’Hare

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Tue, 04/18/2017 - 15:36

We had a referendum on the independence question in 2014 and Nicola Sturgeon told us then to vote very carefully because it was going to settle the matter for a generation.

For you to get from that simple fact to the conclusion that "Davidson is banking on demoralisation" is astonishing.

Ruth Davidson has already set out her camp, saying she will campaign on "no more referendums".

That is not actually what she said, is it? The actual statement was "we oppose SNP's divisive plan for a second referendum".

Not opposition to referendums in the abstract. Opposition to this specific referendum, which is a betrayal of the voters in the 2014 referendum, and which is badly timed and damaging to the Scottish economy at a time when it does not need the additional stress.


Tue, 04/18/2017 - 15:56

We had a General Election in 2015 and we were led to believe that due to the fixed parliaments act that there wouldn't be another one in five years. To call another divisive General Election is a betrayal of voters in the 2015 General Election, and is badly timed and damaging to the British Economy at a time when it does not need the additional stress
..... or ....
Sometimes circumstances change and, due to the fact that this is a democracy, the public are entitled to another vote to express a potential change of opinion in light of new circumstances.


Tue, 04/18/2017 - 16:00

GEs and referendums are two different things. GEs are necessary for the purpose of holding the elected representatives to account. No one campaigned in 2015 on the promise that it would be the last GE for a generation.
The Scottish public don't want a second indy ref.


Tue, 04/18/2017 - 16:18

Many promises were made by both sides and the pro-Union campaign broke a great deal more of them. The 'once in a generation' line that's always trotted out is particularly frustrating because at the time it was said with the true belief that it probably would be. Soundbites like this are often part of a campaign in the hope of encouraging people to vote. It has always seemed strange to me that people have been intent on latching on to this one soundbite whilst ignoring the huge and damaging changes to our country that have taken place since 2014. No-one could have predicted the mess that the UK has gotten into and people are entitled to vote again in the light of new circumstances. There is even less public appetite for a General Election yet Theresa May feels that the public need the opportunity to reconsider the choice they made two years ago in the light of new circumstances.
Of course no-one campaigned in 2015 that it would be the last GE for a generation, but people did vote on the understanding that there wouldn't be another one for 5 years. I just find it slightly hypocritical that politicians will only support democracy if they think it'll work to their advantage.
And if the Scottish public don't want a second indy ref, that suggests if a second referendum would be held, the public would vote no (no appetite for independence. In which case, why not hold one to end the conversation once and for all? The people desperately shouting that the Scottish Public don't want a second indy ref seem to be slightly nervous about the prospect, don't you think?


Tue, 04/18/2017 - 16:31

Quote from the Independence White Paper:

If we remain in the UK, the Conservative Party’s promise of an in/out referendum on EU membership raises the serious possibility that Scotland will be forced to leave the EU against the wishes of the people of Scotland."

Quote from Sturgeon during the campaign:

it is no longer fanciful to consider as real the possibility that the UK is heading out of the EU"

Link to Salmond fulminating about the EU referendum and saying it is a reason to vote Yes:

So much for your "No-one could have predicted" excuse.

The issue was aired and the voters decided "No, Thanks", with the understanding that it would settle the matter for a generation.

Holding a second referendum ensures 2-3 more years of Holyrood not getting down to business, and 2-3 more years of damaging uncertainty for the Scottish economy. That is why the majority of Scots don't want it.


Tue, 04/18/2017 - 17:42

But I'm not just talking about the EU ref. The Tory win in 2015 followed by the party lurching even further to the right, damaging a great many sections of our society. The EU ref may have been in the white paper but the general consensus from the media was that this was scaremongering on the part of the SNP. 'Tories won't win in 2015, even if they do a win for Brexit is unlikely, voting no is the only way to stay in the EU' it's just as likely that that's what people voted for.


Tue, 04/18/2017 - 17:49

The Tory win in 2015 was entirely foreseeable. Proposing the economic suicide of independence in response to a GE result is nuts. And claiming that you just didn't believe the leaders of your own movement indicates that you've reached the bottom of your excuse barrel.


Tue, 04/18/2017 - 19:06

In reply to Maurice Bishop... you somehow failed to mention that Scotland was told that on voting NO we could rely on continued membership of the EU... and guess what.. in the SNP manifesto it said no more ref unless a change in circumstance... so the part you have left out refers to that DRAMATIC change... as my circumstances have already deteriorated due to brexit... as a small example ... grapes in Aldi or Lidl were £1,45 before.. & are now £1.85 for same quantity ..from same country of origin... so I regard that as pretty damn serious... therefore ANYone saying not for a generation unless ... will have my vote as things have certainly changed... & if you can not work out that they have changed then ...


Tue, 04/18/2017 - 19:08

Things I've learned today. Down is up. Black is white. Everyone knew there'd be a Tory majority in 2015. And "vote NO to stay in the EU" wasn't a cornerstone of Better Together campaigning in 2014. LOL!


Tue, 04/18/2017 - 19:12

Please tell me where you find this gem that the Scottish people do not want a second ref?... is it the daily express or daily heil.. as no one that I come in contact with has ever suggested not holding a Indy ref.. & should UDI ever become an issue... many that I mix with would jump at this before an asset rich country suffers more fraud committed by the wm establishment...

Alisdair McKay

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 19:25

Mandate for a second referendum, why? The door is already open for the election of a majority of MPs on a 'go to Westminster only to negotoiate to leave the UK ticket'. Without a Westminster sub committe called Holyrood this is how we would take back control of Scotland's future. As a component part of Westminster our MPs do not require permission to do the bidding of their constituents, it is their duty. Job done.


Tue, 04/18/2017 - 20:14

In reply to Maurice Bishop, the evidence I have from recent canvassing is that a small number of people voted "Yes" in 2014 because they thought that was the best route to leaving the EU. Their best arguments for this are to do with "straight cucumbers"! and "I'm not racist, but . . . ." Apart from this small number, we have no idea what people voted for in 2014. Leaving aside the allegation of interference with the votes cast, the incontrovertible and probably illegal intervention of the Record with its Vow signed by all the (now gone and largely forgotten) Unionist Party leaders, altered the prospectus totally in the last few days before the vote. We simply don't know how many believed the promise of "as near federalism as it's possible to get" and "the most powerful devolved parliament in the World". These were actual promises, quite unlike the remark that voting for Independence was the chance of a lifetime. The argument that Scotland's economic performance means that, uniquely for a country with such a small population:resources ratio, would be unable to make a go of it is a damning indictment of the mis-management of its affairs by Westminster, not a prediction of its future prospects. Finally, compare and contrast the Scottish Government's detailed preparations for IndyRef1 and its 18 month to 2 year lead-in time for IndyRef2 together with its generally competent governance of Scotland within the constraints of its devolved powers with the lack of detail and abundance of downright lies leading up to Brexit and a mere 7 weeks to the General Election with none of the consequences of the Brexit negotiations known by the time of the vote. Which of these 2 Governments would you consider to be the more reckless and incompetent? Answers on a postcard please.


Tue, 04/18/2017 - 20:29

And the "once in a generation" quote isn't what Nicola Sturgeon said either, is it? In fact it was Alex Salmond, in an interview in 2014 who said "in my opinion, and it is only my opinion" this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. No promises, no vows and followed in 2015 by an absolutely clear manifesto pledge to reconsider the question if there were to be a material change such as removal from Europe against the will of the Scottish people. Meanwhile Downing Street has, at least five times, said there would be no snap General election, the most recent being within the last month. And let's not even look at "now is not the time". A plebiscite is apparently only appropriate when it suits the Tories' self serving political agenda.


Tue, 04/18/2017 - 20:49

Below are three links to Nicola Sturgeon saying it, not one of them includes the magic words "in my opinion" or "unless there is a material change". That was the understanding that we all had when we voted, and there is no amount of whataboutery you can engage in that retroactively changes that simple fact.

"constitutional referenda are once-in-a-generation events"

We won't stop believing in independence if that's what you're asking me. Would there be another referendum in our lifetimes? We've always said its a once-in-a-generation thing.

“These kind of referendums are once in a generation, but if you’ll forgive me, I’ll concentrate on campaigning for this one.”


Tue, 04/18/2017 - 20:56

"Apart from this small number, we have no idea what people voted for in 2014."

We know exactly what they voted for in 2014. That Scotland should remain part of the Union.

Alex M

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 22:47

Theresa May and her proxy Ruth Davidson, wish the May Council elections to be a referendum on having a second Indy ref. WE don't need an Indy ref. Please read Craig Murray. He lists the EU states that became independent without a referendum. If the SNP get the majority of Scottish seats in Westminster, having made clear what they stand for, that's all we need. Thatcher said that too!. This situation is intolerable. For the first time in my life Scotland has no representation in the UK government. What are we waiting for?


Wed, 04/19/2017 - 09:39

'79, '97, '14 -historically factual showing traditional 'generation' but what if it was more a 'political generation' ?

Additionally looking back to the Indy campaign - what if the MSM had championed and warned voters of 'this will be your only chance to vote for at least 20 years (a generation) on independence' in the same way that they reported on 'a Yes vote is final, there will be no second referendum, if you vote YES you will leave the UK and the EU' ? Don't you think that would have had a counter balance?

The fact is that the SNP, quite rightly in my opinion, raised the fact that Scottish referendums on the constitution seem to come about every 18 years or so and that it COULD be another 18/20 years before this would come round again. However a 'political generation' term was also used and I would say the UK as a whole politically has changed since 2014. The question is whether the 2014 result is still valid!
nb. The Better Together campaign said that a YES vote was final, they didn't however say, as far as I am aware, that a NO vote was either for a generation, political or otherwise, nor that it was final. This in itself left the door open for a future constitutional referendum.


Wed, 04/19/2017 - 17:04

"Its the economy , stupid"

Dear SNP, to fight the battles ahead can I please have an Industrial Policy, a Fiscal policy, a Monetary policy with a non GERS statement of accounts. Then and only then will we win the war.

Its the Economy Stupid


Wed, 04/19/2017 - 17:38

Jaydeeness...." Finally, compare and contrast the Scottish Government's detailed preparations for IndyRef1 and its 18 month to 2 year lead-in time for IndyRef2 together with its generally competent governance of Scotland within the constraints of its devolved powers"
You are having a laff, right?


Fri, 04/21/2017 - 13:58

"We know exactly what they voted for in 2014. That Scotland should remain part of the Union."

Two Unions, in fact: the UK and the EU. Since that time, the UK has decided to leave the EU, so now the question needs to be asked again.

What exactly are you afraid of, Maurice? That the answer given by the people of Scotland might not agree with your own? Welcome to democracy.

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