ALBA Leader, Alex Salmond on the strategy for Scottish Independence

The SNP written submission to the Supreme Court cites a parliamentary exchange between Donald Dewar and myself, upholding the sovereign rights of the Scottish people, on the introduction of the Scotland Bill White Paper on the 24th July 1997.

It would have strengthened the case on intent if their legal team had asked me about it, since the question and answer was not a throwaway parliamentary line but pre-arranged with the then Secretary of State for Scotland.

Donald’s aim was to secure SNP support for the Yes/Yes campaign of 1997. Mine was to secure the commitment that Scotland’s right to self-determination wasn’t restricted by the legislation. Dewar was a convinced devolutionist but in 1989 had signed the modern Claim of Right.

Thus the commitment & it was a unity which held fast throughout that referendum campaign - the sovereign Scottish people could decide between devolution & independence just as they were asked for the second time in 1997 to choose between devolution & no Scottish Parliament.

The basis of this answer, which opened the door to the Scottish Parliament (a creature of statute) still being capable of unleashing the sovereignty of the Scottish people, is the heart of the gradualist strategy of the SNP and national movement for a quarter of a century.

Now it is being placed at risk and for no good or discernible reason. Westminster could never be expected just to roll over and agree to a consented referendum. They did not do so 10 years ago and would not do so now.

If there was a serious political campaign to force their hand then I missed it. Sending the occasional letter to the occasional Prime Minister doesn’t cut it nor does fulminating at Westminster about what Scotland will or will not stand for and then doing absolutely nothing.

The prospect of a go-it-alone referendum by the Scottish Parliament was always a key political weapon to be invoked but only in the most careful of circumstances. One strategy is as follows;

Firstly, pass the legislation and let your opponents go to court. This would remove the “hypothetical argument” (which the Scottish Government used against Keatings) from Westminster AND courts are leery about overturning democratically approved legislation.

Secondly, the legislation passed, in terms of the question asked, should maximise rather than minimise the chances of resisting legal challenge. There are ways to do this but rather obviously, asking the same question as the consented referendum of 2014 isn’t one of them.

In contrast, not securing the Lord Advocate’s support for legislation and then sending her to ask for the Supreme Court’s view, while lacking “confidence” herself in the case, seems a peculiarly self-defeating gambit.

No legal case is guaranteed success and therefore none is a guaranteed failure. However, approaching the Supreme Court of the UK for a helpful ruling on the sovereignty of the Scottish People versus the King in Parliament, is at the Hail Mary end of the spectrum.

The vacuum of strategic thinking which seems to have preceded the Supreme Court move does not augur well for the prospects of better planning of the aftermath.

The next time the Scottish independence question is put to the people you would want to do it on the home ground of a Scottish Parliamentary franchise and appealing for a mandate you intend to politically exercise rather than ignore.

We have moved from an electorate not quite ready for independence but with a clear strategy to achieve it, to a people ready for independence but with no convincing strategy.

The sovereign people of Scotland deserve better.

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