The Scottish Series: The SNP is an independence party, and on this it should focus

If you regularly watch Prime Ministers Questions you’ll know that the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has become a regular fixture of proceedings. He has become as much the voice of the party as Nicola Sturgeon as he is regularly heard asking questions to the Prime Minister. Blackford has drawn support (or at least sympathy) from many on the opposition benches, being unwavering in his criticism of consecutive Conservative Governments. As a friend of mine recently suggested to me though, he has become slightly “repetitive.”

The SNP’s opposition has begun to hit the same notes, ‘Scotland voted Remain and therefore Brexit is against what we were promised in the 2014 referendum, this gives us the right to another independence referendum,’ to summarise. Of course, this is an essential argument and one that needs to be made. The main goal of the SNP is to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom and Scotland having a distinctly different result to England and Wales does renew calls for an independence referendum, even after one was lost not so long ago. However, the SNP has taken this a step further and have begun to look like a distinctly pro-EU party, consistently voting with Remainer MPs and supporting the pro-EU Lib Dems in calls for an early election before Labour supported the motion.

The party edging on this ‘Remainer’ stance may be as a contrast to the Conservative Government, who represents the British system that the SNP seeks to escape from, or as a clearer cut option than Labour, whose stance hasn’t been fully understood by many in the public. This shift from arguing for Scotland’s right to self-determination due to a change in circumstances since 2014, towards becoming viewed as a Remain party, may dampen the SNP’s high election hopes.

SNP supporters aren’t inherently pro-EU, a survey by the National Centre for Social Research estimated that as high as 36% of SNP voters supported Leave in 2014. Ex-SNP leader, Gordon Wilson, gives similar numbers of between 30% to 34%. These numbers don’t even account for pro-independence Scots who voted Remain tactically in the Brexit referendum in the hope of generating the point of difference from England, which was a very real factor in how many Scots voted. Many Scots want out of both unions in order to be ‘fully’ independent.

Another possible thorn in the side of the Scottish National Party is Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader who took her seat from the SNP in 2017. The flagship policy of Swinson’s is to stop Brexit completely, any Scottish voter who is decidedly pro-EU could easily be turned away from the murky waters of the SNP and Labour into the clear waters of the Liberal Democrats.

The SNP have said they will be fighting hard to take Swinson’s seat back from her, to do this they will have to offer something completely different to her and not just be the other Remain option.

20,000 people attended a pro-independence rally in Glasgow last weekend, including SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. This may have been the change of direction needed for the party, as pro-EU rhetoric was toned down and the perceived importance of Scottish independence was back at the forefront. Sturgeon stated that independence was ‘within touching distance’ and that it was time to put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands and not Boris Johnson’s.

Instead of opposing Brexit completely, the SNP must return focus on the uncertainty surrounding it and the opportunity Scotland has to go a different direction. Scottish voters were promised in 2014 that remaining in the United Kingdom was the safer and more stable option, this was untrue. If this is the direction that the SNP take throughout the campaign they will do as well as predicted, possibly reaching the heights of 2015. However, there is a real chance that Blackford’s broken record at Westminster and the perception of being pro-EU may have turned off much of the electorate from the party, which could leave many Scottish separatists very disappointed when they wake up on Friday the 13th of December.