Election all about kicking Rishi Sunak out, not the Scottish constitution - John McLellan

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaking during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of CommonsPrime Minister Rishi Sunak speaking during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaking during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons
Oh please, please, Electoral Commissioners, please let the SNP put “independence for Scotland” on the ballot papers for the General Election.

For years Nationalists have tried everything to get round the reality that as long as there is no sustained majority for independence the UK Government, whether Conservative or Labour, will not countenance a second independence referendum.

It led to humiliation in the Supreme Court and then the bonkers plan to treat the election as a “de facto” referendum, a misjudgement which contributed to Nicola Sturgeon’s sudden exit.

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With her successor Humza Yusaf pledging to put independence on “page one, line one” of his manifesto, the new wheeze is for an independence tagline on the ballot paper to emphasise what the SNP thinks the election should be all about.

That’s absolutely fine, because poll after poll shows the average voter thinks the election is all about kicking Rishi Sunak out of Downing Street and giving Labour a turn, not about the Scottish constitution.

Over the last year the SNP has been polling consistently below 40 per cent and while it’s possible their position might improve, it’s hard to see what might happen to bring about lockdown levels of support when the SNP was regularly nudging above 50 per cent. Pushing the same dreary message of uncertainty at a time when the UK government is almost certain to change looks very like a misreading of the public mood, or certainly misreading the mood amongst people the SNP needs to persuade to return to the fold.

This week’s publication of the latest independence pamphlet, on defence, was a perfect illustration of how little their argument has changed. Despite the world being a far more dangerous place than it was in 2014, they are still peddling the same nonsense that Scotland would happily be welcomed into NATO at the same time as disrupting the alliance’s nuclear shield under which the SNP would shamelessly be happy to shelter. And who believes a government which can’t build two ferries could develop its own navy?

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Jeremy Hunt’s welcome 2p cut in National Insurance might not be enough to reverse Conservative fortunes, but the polls also show the Scottish public is tiring of the SNP’s excuses, and they can’t blame London for failing to persuade enough people to support independence. Nor can Finance Secretary Shona Robison have any excuse for not restoring the affordable housing budget after yesterday’s £295 million boost.

Sticking “independence” on the ballot paper at a time when their fortunes are on the wane is one way of ensuring the separation can is kicked even further down the road. It also undermines the argument for a mandate based on a pro-independence majority with the Greens, if the Greens don’t have the same slogan too. And if they did, how would that affect Green voters who oppose independence?

It’s desperate stuff. Who after a decade of constitutional bickering doesn’t know a vote for the SNP is a vote for independence? Even adventurers strapped to Rockall have radios, so the dodge is more likely to remind Unionists that the best way to stop independence is to vote tactically. So go on, Electoral Commissioners, amongst them ex-SNP cabinet secretary Roseanna Cunnningham, let them have their way. And let them explain to the independence movement why they wrecked the only thing still keeping them together.