What if tomorrow never comes?
Some want to keep their options open, but few of us want another referendum anytime soon. So why are the SNP making an urgent indyref their election offer?
With those who want to exit the United Kingdom losing their lead in the polls, the SNP have dropped silly talk of a new ‘settled will’. But having awarded pollsters their position as the arbiters of Scotland’s future, the party needs new numbers to support their cause. They have returned to another question: when would people support a re-run of the 2014 referendum?
The number quoted by Robertson looks convincing until you look at the raw numbers and see that it is the sum of 25% who are likely hard core nationalists plus another 30% who say a vote should be held between 2 and 5 years:
There were similar figures last week in a poll by YouGov. They also found the number open to another referendum is higher if you push the timescale, with 44% willing to accept another vote if it stretches up to 5 years:
Last month Comres identified a similar mood among voters with 17% supporting a vote in the next year, 16% in the next two years, 14% in the next 5 years, and 9% choosing between 10 years and never. And just as I was about to press send on this a fresh Opinium poll dropped which showed the same sort of pattern.
It is pretty obvious that there is no real support for the SNP’s talk of holding a referendum in the next few months. But what’s the deal with those voters who say they don’t want one now, but might be open to one later?
Worryingly for supporters of breaking up the UK, when you go back over the last few years and look at the various versions of this question voters have almost always favoured putting it off till later. Over time, people consistently choosing the options that push another vote over the horizon. That suggests that those opting for the longer timescale in these polls aren’t signalling consent for holding a vote on a particular timeline. Rather it looks like they are simply content to kick the constitutional can down the road. Leaving the UK hasn’t been an urgent concern for them, it isn’t today, and might never be a priority for them.
These people are what I would call mañana voters. They may not be saying ‘never’ to another referendum, but they are saying ‘not now’.
Putting off the Mañana Voters
In all the noise of the constitutional rows, it is important to remember that most voters simply don’t care as much about this stuff as the ultras on either side. Another poll (last one I promise) confirmed this with fewer than one in ten of us choosing independence as one of our three most important issues facing Scotland.
This is what makes the SNP’s decision to apply to have “Vote SNP for IndyRef2” on the ballot paper in May courageous. Friends doing focus groups with swing voters say the idea of having a referendum any time soon goes down like a cup of cold sick. The weird thing is that Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t have the stomach for an urgent referendum either. She hasn’t done any of the work needed to get the nationalist argument ready for another vote. So why, weeks away from an election, is the SNP sending out a message about a vote that both they and the Scottish people aren’t ready for?
The First Minister in a tough spot. If the SNP decide to literally put another referendum on the Holyrood ballot paper then they risk losing the mañana voters they need to win a pro-Scexit majority. If she doesn’t ask us to put a cross beside another referendum, despite having secured it as an option, that would hand her internal and external opponents an easy argument: she could have sought a clearer mandate but was too afraid.
I’d be surprised if political-insider language like “indyref” ever appears on a ballot paper. I suspect, like much of what the SNP leadership does at the moment, the ballot paper idea is about placating the impatient membership. However, having lost the authority that came with a clear independence lead in the polls, and with the Salmond civil war smouldering like a tire fire, Nicola Sturgeon may feel she is forced into a core-vote strategy.
The great irony of the First Minister’s existence is that the faster she runs towards her obsession, the further away it gets.
For those that want to remain in the UK we should make sure everyone knows what the SNP’s priority would be if they are given a majority:
The SNP say they want to hold another referendum in the next few months, if you would rather see Nicola Sturgeon focus on recovering from the pandemic, use your vote to prevent her from getting a majority.
Note the language here assumes Nicola Sturgeon will be First Minister after May. A good message needs to be based in reality. The reality is that, despite the SNP’s woeful record, many of these voters want Nicola Sturgeon to continue in office. They aren’t yet sold on the idea of an alternative. So rather than pretending she’s about to be defeated, it would be better to make the election about shaping her priorities and helping to push another referendum down her to-do list.
In Case You Missed It…
Here are a last few things that are worth sharing this week.
In the first edition of this newsletter, I wrote about how those of us who want to remain in the UK should use language which evokes the similarities between Scexit and Brexit, including, well, talking about wanting to remain in the UK. A Scotland in Union poll this week that used Leave and Remain rather than YES/NO demonstrated the value of this language - both in the results of the poll and the reaction to it from nationalists. The nationalists spent all day amplifying language which makes the link between Brexit and Scexit, in doing so helped to communicate the frame. If you can get your opponent to repeat your frame, that’s good politics. Scottish Remainers should spend more time doing this (see what I did there?).
Also this week, Ian Murray did a great job in the House of Commons taking the piss out of the SNP on their confused and chaotic currency positions. Watch as SNP MPs refuse his offer to intervene to clarify their policy.
“To say that Scotland has an industrial policy would be wrong. It has a government ready to throw money at projects that produce the right optics (reindustrialisation and green jobs) but with little appetite or ability for the hard graft of getting beyond a publicity event and a press release.”
And finally…I really liked the video which is typical of how scunnered scots are increasingly finding their voice.