NICOLA Sturgeon might have been hoping to go into her party’s conference in Aberdeen this weekend with a boost from the latest prospectus for independence.
The 354-page report by former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson and his Sustainable Growth Commission – two years in the making – was designed to be a realistic assessment of the prospects for an independent Scotland and addressed some of the issues not satisfactorily answered during the 2014 referendum, most notably the currency.
Rather than serve as a rallying point for Nationalists and the wider pro-independence campaign, the commission’s document has brought division.
Radical independence campaigners complain its warnings about the need for spending restraint are tantamount to prescribing another decade of austerity.
Former East Lothian SNP MP George Kerevan accuses the report of “pandering to the status quo”. He says it has little for the poor, unskilled and working-class voters looking for hope.
Scottish Socialist leader Colin Fox says it risks driving hundreds of thousands of former Yes voters into the hands of Jeremy Corbyn.
Ms Sturgeon has defended the commission, issuing a series of tweets to insist it “explicitly rejects austerity” and had made “deliberately cautious” projections for deficit reduction.
She continued: “So we have a choice – stay as we are, locked into the Brexit spiral and continued austerity that the Westminster parties offer no alternative to, or decide to equip ourselves with the powers to build our way to a better future.
“Policy choices in an independent Scotland will always be for the government of the day, so we should welcome debate, but without independence, these choices will always be far too limited.”
The commission report was first and foremost about credibility, moving on from what many see as the overly optimistic tone of the independence white paper produced in 2013.
Ms Sturgeon argued at the weekend that it has prompted people who voted No in 2014 to look afresh at the arguments for independence. The problem for her may be that certain aspects of the report have also prompted some Yes voters to reconsider their stance.
Mr Fox, for instance, has said the Scottish Socialist Party will not take part in a Yes campaign that puts the report at its centre.
The First Minister is due to decide in the autumn whether to go for a second referendum. But, realistically, there is little likelihood of a fresh vote any time soon. Polls suggest there is no majority for independence just now – and the last thing the SNP needs is to lose another referendum.
So there will be interesting exchanges among SNP delegates in Aberdeen on Friday and Saturday and Ms Sturgeon will have to try to keep everyone on board for the sake of unity. But beyond the conference there is plenty time for debate on what independence would really look like.
Andrew Wilson’s report has set out a serious independence programme. The radical independence campaigners have their own principled positions and they should be heard too.
If there is to be serious consideration of independence again, Scotland needs an open, honest and informed debate rather than sloganising.