SNP must make alliances with Labour and the unions to ensure another Scottish independence referendum – Kenny MacAskill

Indyref2 was never going to be put to bed, whatever Tories might have thought after 2014. Saying “no” to another referendum may have hoovered up unionist votes in some elections thereafter but the issue was never going to just go away.

Boris Johnson insists he will not allow a second referendum on Scottish independence (Picture: Leon Neal/pool photo via AP)
Boris Johnson insists he will not allow a second referendum on Scottish independence (Picture: Leon Neal/pool photo via AP)

And whilst last year’s general election may have focused on Brexit, the fallout since then has only shown that the constitution is still the fault line in Scottish politics.

Now denials of a Westminster power grab with the Internal Market Bill have been blown asunder by independent reports. So much for as near to federalism as damn it or whatever other promises were made.

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A change in attitude, as much as policy, has also been exposed. Long gone are the “Scotland Please Stay” pleas of yore. Instead they have been replaced by a far more intransigent unionism and whilst not quite the “Croppy Lie Down” from across the Irish Sea, it certainly sounds a lot like “know your place, Jock”.

All that has given fresh impetus to the Indyref2 campaign, with apparent support being considered by the STUC and even some Labour voices breaking ranks. The former is significant, but neither should the latter be disdained. The SNP and wider Yes movement should be welcoming and engaging with both, not letting past differences get in the way of future alliances.

It should never be forgotten that it was the STUC who kept devolution alive in the 1960s, when Labour abandoned it. They may not be the power they once were, but they still offer credibility and are a bridge to others. Seeking to engage with them is vital, not simply taking them for granted.

For much more must be done with the trade union movement where there has been a discernable shift since 2014. Back then major unions opposed independence but saw their members march with their feet into the Yes camp. Now it may not be possible to get all the union barons to convert but getting them into neutral or accepting the will of their Scottish members is possible. Work on that must commence.

Similarly, disdaining pleas from Labour voices for another referendum is equally misplaced. How they voted in 2014 is as relevant as the SNP’s position in 1979. It’s where we go from here that matters. If they wish to argue for a referendum, then good. If it’s a multi-option referendum, so what? Let them find out that it’s not wanted by their own leader, never mind most of England.

But as well as forging alliances, the SNP needs to take a stand. Simply assuming Boris will blink is entirely inadequate. There’s neither assurance he will nor a plan for if he doesn’t. It’s why the forthcoming party conference must make independence and a mandate for action thereafter centrepiece of the 2021 election campaign. Power to call and run a referendum must lie with the Scottish Parliament and, in that, alliances will also be required.

It’s about the right of the Scottish people to decide and friendships need forged.

Kenny MacAskill is the SNP MP for East Lothian

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