On Saturday 18th February, 241 voting delegates from 126 local and national Yes groups joined the Scottish Independence Congress hosted by Believe in Scotland. This was the biggest ever meeting of Yes Group organisers. Delegates met to discuss and agree on the next steps for the Yes movement and what the strategy for achieving independence should be.
In quite a coup for Believe in Scotland the Congress delegates heard from representatives from each of the three main pro-Yes parties. Michael Russell from the SNP, Ross Greer from the Greens and Kenny MacAskill from Alba were all interviewed by Judith Duffy the Chief Political Reporter of the National on their suggested way forward for achieving independence.
Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp presented the results of a large scale (2,006 respondents) poll conducted in the previous week by Panelbase for Believe in Scotland and discussed how different policies such as Wellbeing Economics, rejoining the EU and paying a Wellbeing Pension impacted on support for independence. Polling details and Wellbeing Economics will be covered in a separate article.
Richard Walker the former Sunday Herald editor and founding editor of The National then hosted a lively discussion on the options with panelists Lesley Riddoch, Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp and Kelly Given.
Armed with hours of data and opinion from all sides of the debate, delegates then voted on a series of measures. These have been laid out below:
What is the most practical democratic route to gaining Scotland’s independence?
All speakers and panelists were clear that the Scottish Government has multiple mandates for a second independence referendum and that is the gold standard way to demonstrate the will of the Scottish people and achieve Scotland's independence. That route being undemocratically blocked by Westminster is an affront to democracy and is driven by the fact that Westminster knows it will lose the next referendum.
Given therefore that the choices of a path forward (assuming doing nothing is not an option) lies either through a Westminster or Holyrood defacto referendum - 70% of delegates supported using the next Westminster election as a defacto independence referendum, while just under 10% wanted to see a Holyrood election used, and a further 10% wished to see the law changed to force an early Holyrood election to be used as a defacto or a UK General Election used to secure a Section 30 referendum.
Independence support will only rise if we campaign and focus the nations thinking on the benefits of independence versus the irreversible decline of Brexit Britain. When during that campaign independence support reaches the high 50s we expect Westminster will offer a Section 30 referendum - if not then the next UK General election becomes a defacto referendum.
The Yes movement has been clear. The next Westminster election should be used by the pro-Yes parties as a defacto referendum on whether or not Scotland should be an independent nation. It is therefore the belief of the Congress that this should be adopted by the parties and that the date should be announced in order to energise the movement before a new SNP leader takes the reins.
Have the pro-Yes political parties specifically the SNP done enough to promote and explain the benefits of independence?
When asked, 91% of delegates thought that the pro-Yes parties had not done enough to promote and explain the benefits of independence to the Scottish people. A clear message from the Yes movement that there is significant work on the part of the parties to get our message out there to the undecideds. As the leadership race of the SNP kicks off, this is a clear sign that the next leader must refocus the party’s priorities back onto independence, an issue it seems many within the movement think the parties have been neglecting.
Should an independent Scotland seek to rejoin the EU or the EFTA?
Scotland is an inherently pro-EU nation. Scotland voted 62% to remain in 2016 and in recent polling for Believe in Scotland, Panelbase found that 68% want an independent Scotland to rejoin the EU. 80% of delegates at the Scottish Independence Congress voted in favour of an independent Scotland rejoining the EU, with another 15% voted that we should rejoin the European Free Trade Association. Scotland is an outward looking nation, we must leave behind Brexit Britain and reconnect with our European partners, that is the message of this Congress.
Getting the Policies Right
87% of delegates would like to see the Scottish Government restart the publication of its policy papers on independence which ceased after the supreme court ruling. These papers gave the Yes movement critical ammunition in winning over undecideds and those whose “hearts said yes but their heads said no”. It is paramount for the movement going forward that the Scottish Government make its official stance clear on what policies it will pursue in the wake of independence.
The Role of Believe in Scotland
87% of delegates also agreed that an organised grassroots, non party political campaign such as Believe in Scotland was vital to increasing support for and ultimately winning independence. 85% would also like to see pro-Yes political parties kick their membership into campaign mode and join Believe in Scotland and our 136 affiliated Yes Campaign Groups to campaign and raise the Yes support - making any plebiscite on independence a sure win.
The Scottish Independence Congress succeeded in its plans to bring together the organisers of the Yes movement and chart the course towards independence. The delegates to this Congress have stated clearly that in the absence of an agreed referendum that the next Westminster General Election be a defacto referendum on Scottish independence. In addition to this, we ask that the political parties reaffirm their commitment to ensuring that an independent Scotland will begin the process of rejoining the EU from day one.
The SNP is Scotland dominant political party and the Scottish Independence Congress hoped that a new leader could refocus the SNP on Independence, raise their game and refresh the message whilst working more closely with Believe in Scotland to and our affiliated groups to launch a proper and sustained campaign that will lead to Scotland independence and the opportunity to build a better country that only independence can bring.
Through these commitments and through these policies we can ensure that pro-independence support in Scotland will reach new highs and that more and more people will be persuaded to Believe in Scotland.