The SNP, Brexit and Calls for a General Election

I’ve had a few emails recently from people who are asking about the SNP position regarding a general election.

While I recorded some video updates last week, one of the limitations of social media is that it mitigates against context and nuance, so it is not always an adequate medium to communicate one’s ideas. Also, while the instant nature of social media is useful it is limited in a situation like this where events are changing hourly and policy needs to be constantly refined and updated. So, I’ve taken time to set out my thinking here – and hope it will help in expressing my position.

To start at the beginning, I see my role as representing the interests of the people who elected me – the whole community that is, not just those who put x against my name. In my view, and that of my SNP colleagues, those interests are best served by (a) preventing a hard or no-deal Brexit, (b) creating the opportunity for the UK electorate to review and hopefully change its view on Brexit and remain part of the EU, and (c) giving people in Scotland the chance to choose becoming politically independent of the UK so that they can determine their own trans-national relationships including participation in the EU.

I’ll address each of these in turn.

Our priority is to prevent PM Johnson crashing the UK out of the EU on 31st October. We recognise that whilst we may be the biggest party in Scotland we are small in number at Westminster. So, we have always sought to build alliances with others. Specifically, we have worked tirelessly with other opposition parties to oppose Brexit in general and a no-deal Brexit in particular. We’ve been doing this for a long time and have no intention of stopping now.

We have been successful (it seems) in driving through emergency legislation to prevent a no deal Brexit. The EU Withdrawal (No. 6) Bill passed through the House of Lords on Friday and should get royal assent today. The Bill mandates the PM to try to get a deal at the EU Council on 17th October. He is required to report back to parliament by the 19th October either presenting a deal, or getting a vote for not having a deal, or that he has applied for a further extension of the process until 31st January 2020.

I am not prepared to allow the PM to use calling a general election as a means to frustrate parliament’s desire to block no-deal and to escape the mandate which has been placed upon him. In practical terms that means that there should not be an election before the extension has been applied for on 19th October (assuming he doesn’t get a deal – which he won’t). An election before that point could return a right-wing Tory majority which would simply repeal the act now being passed and continue with the no-deal countdown to 31st October. But once the extension is applied for it cannot legally be un-applied for and whatever happens parliament has until 31st January 2020 to make further moves.

Now if all this is successful it does beg the question what happens then – after the 20th or 31st October? So, let me move now to our second objective. We don’t only wish to prevent a no-deal Brexit – as the Tories never tire of pointing out – we are doing this to create the time and opportunity to stop Brexit altogether.

We do work in pursuit of that objective on a cross party basis too but the nature of the alliance is quite different. I believe that the route to stopping Brexit is by allowing the electorate to reconsider its 2016 decision in the light of all of the information we now have about the consequences of it. Crucially there is not a majority of members of the current parliament who would support a second Brexit referendum. There are many who might now take that view personally but they feel constrained either by the views of their electorate or by the fact that they stood on a manifesto which pledged to implement rather than review the 2016 referendum result. Most of these are in the Labour party.

So this is why I believe that a general election would be useful, indeed necessary. It would allow a new set of MPs to be elected with a new mandate. Ourselves, the LibDems and others will be pledged against Brexit and Labour at least would support a further referendum. I don’t see how Brexit can be stopped without a new parliament being elected.

Now, I am fully aware that a possible outcome of a general election would be that Johnson might achieve a workable majority – although this is not being predicted by most pollsters. But concern about one potential outcome is not a good enough reason to argue against having an election in circumstances where it is not possible for anyone to govern with a majority. Besides it is entirely possible that a different outcome will be the result – one where Johnson loses and an alternative government can be formed. The SNP will do all it can to achieve that.

The hard right have taken control of the Tory party. They are desperate to get Brexit “done” so that they can move on to a tax-cutting libertarian agenda. The worst thing for them is to have to fight on terrain where Brexit has not been done and they have to argue for a no-deal hard Brexit approach. This will allow the public to see through their proposals and it is also likely that the Brexit vote will be split between the Tories and the Brexit Party. So I am not troubled by the prospect of an election in late October/November and I think it may well allow the remain side of the argument to seize the agenda.

Which brings me to our third objective in terms of the current constitutional debate. We are genuinely fighting to stop Brexit. It is not a ploy. Brexit will be bad for the UK economy, and especially bad for Scotland as a peripheral part of the UK economy. Moreover, whilst Brexit may increase support for independence as a means of avoiding it, it might actually make independence harder to achieve.

That said the manner in which the UK has conducted itself over this Brexit debate, and in particular the way in which Scottish opinion and the representations of the Sottish government have been ignored, underlines the democratic deficit which Scotland faces. I firmly believe that Scotland would do much better and be able to play a much more positive role in the world as an independent country. Amongst other things this would allow a Scottish government to determine the relationship we could have with other countries in Britain, in the EU and beyond. We would be able to ensure that these relationships were optimal for the needs of the people who live in this part of the British Isles as well as demonstrating solidarity to jointly achieve human progress.

That is why, whenever the election comes, we will stand on a platform not only of stopping Brexit and ending Tory austerity, but of demanding that people in Scotland have the right to choose an independent political future. Ultimately that decision should be taken by the people in a referendum, but if an elected Scottish parliament decides by majority vote to have that consultation with the people then Westminster should not attempt to veto or frustrate that ambition. That is why the coming election is so very important.

There is no self-indulgent nationalism at work here but a serious, calm and determined process not to simply complain about the circumstances we find ourselves in, but to change them.

[Copied from Tommy Sheppard MP’s blog at]