Writing in The National Angus MacNeil, the MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, argues that there are a number of problems with the current Scottish Government plan to make the next General Election a de-facto referendum on independence should the Supreme Court rule out a legal path to indyref2.
The MP is concerned that a UK-wide General Election will not have the proper franchise, as 16-17 year olds and those with refugee status are not allowed to vote.
MacNeil also highlighted the risk of the “media narrative” being dominated by how many seats Labour win in England, turning the independence question into a “footnote”.
The timing of such a vote is also reliant on the Tory government choosing to hold an election – something they’re unlikely to do when Labour are 30+ points ahead, the MP argued.
MacNeil wrote: “If the Supreme Court confirms the referendum route never actually existed, and a UK General Election is not happening, will Scotland’s politicians and parliament complain for two years about Westminster choices … or make an opportunity for the Scottish people and hold a Holyrood Election under the 1998 Scotland Act?”
He went on: “A UK election will only see Scottish independence as a footnote. The narrative will concentrate on the majority in the sinking ship of the UK and not the 8.4% of the UK population, Scotland, who have a lifeboat.
“A Westminster election is never on Scotland’s terms and certainly won’t be in a now panicked UK.”
The Scottish Government showing its commitment to independence with a definite ballot box date and a “broad-based, inclusive campaign” is more likely to succeed than using a General Election on a path to independence, MacNeil added.
Failing to act will lead to “anxiety of missed opportunity” and “passive coping strategies”, the MP concluded.
MacNeil played a key role in the “Plan B” for Scottish independence strategy prior to the last General Election, alongside Chris McEleny – who has now defected to Alex Salmond’s Alba party.
The pair submitted a motion to the 2019 SNP conference arguing that if there had been no referendum by autumn 2020, a majority of SNP seats won at Holyrood or Westminster would be sufficient to start negotiations with Westminster.
However at the time many in the SNP argued that getting a Section 30 order from Westminster would be the ideal way to secure independence.
Since the UK Government repeatedly ruled out granting the order, and Boris Johnson rejected multiple Section 30 requests, Sturgeon announced over the summer that her strategy had changed.
The result from the Supreme Court – on whether Holyrood can legally hold indyref2 without consent from the UK Government – is expected within the next few weeks.
If the court finds Scotland can press ahead with a vote, indyref2 will be held on October 19, 2023. If the court says a referendum cannot be legally held, the Scottish Government still hopes to use the next General Election as a de-facto referendum.