This is the first of what will hopefully be a series of short posts examining various constitutional, policy and political consequences of the ‘No’ vote in the Scottish referendum.
Where will the SNP go now? They can hardly go for “business as usual” approach, now independence is off the agenda for an unspecified period.
There are indications from Alex Salmond and especially Nicola Sturgeon that that is precisely where they will go. “Off the agenda for a generation” has been reduced to “15 years” by Sturgeon (not most people’s definition of a ‘generation’). Alex Salmond’s concession speech also sounded more like a call for round two, with the telling phrase that “at this stage” they had lost and great emphasis on the 45% ‘Yes’ vote (with the subliminal “we’re nearly there” message). If the SNP leadership still think they might get a second chance during their political lifetimes then we are perilously close to a Neverendum.
A key indicator here will be whether or not the SNP is prepared to enter into the process of constructing the new devolution settlement, or sits back and leaves it to the UK parties to produce an offer that they then try and bargain over. If they really think independence is off the agenda for the foreseeable future then engagement would make more sense, if not then better, from their perspective, to keep the devolution discussions at arms-length as they have done in the past.
It will also be interesting to see what happens to the wider “yes” coalition. This brought together a strange set of bed-fellows: greens and oil-junkies; socialists and deeply conservative nationalists; etc. It is unlikely it will hang together unless independence is still a “live” issue. Given the “no” is being widely blamed on “project fear”, the “establishment”, the media, will a new more radical nationalism emerge that questions the possibility of winning democratically?
One factor in all this could be “events, dear boy, events”. If, for example, the Conservatives win the next General Election and call an EU referendum in 2017 that could be a game changer. The Nationalists could seize on the possibility of a “Brexit” and another hated-by-Scots Tory government in Westminster to open up the whole issue again.
More immediately, there are already doubts about when and if Westminster will deliver on the devolution proposals made in the end of campaign panic period. The attempt by the Tories to tie this an entire overhaul of the relationship between the UK, and England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland within it, risks derailing the changes for Scotland. If that happens, it would create the perfect excuse for the SNP to say “we told you so” and renege on their (rather short) ‘generation’ promise.
If anyone thinks the referendum has “settled” anything, it looks like they could be sorely mistaken.
Alex Salmond’s rather precipitate, but not entirely unexpected, decision to stand down as First Minister and leader of the SNP (but not as an MSP) doesn’t really change the analysis above. His Press Conference continued his theme of laying the grounds for “one more heave” for independence in the future. And his focus on the devolution proposals from Westminster even hinted at using any failure to deliver or delay as an excuse for another go.
Salmond also has history of ‘taking a break’ from being SNP leader, and at 59 he could easily do so and come back again in some role, maybe even leader again, later. Maybe he’s been inspired by Dr Who’s latest incarnation as a Scot and he’s just off to regenerate?