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Saturday, October 1, 2022

Scottish independence campaigners galvanise grassroots after SNP reveals plans | Scottish independence

Scottish National party and yes campaign activists are planning a summer of action after Nicola Sturgeon announced plans to hold a second independence referendum in October next year.

SNP sources said the coming months will revolve around “galvanising the grassroots”, with local officials tasked with putting together plans to ramp up the yes campaign’s visibility and to reach undecided voters.

The SNP’s estimated 119,000 members received a personal email from Sturgeon on Tuesday evening after her statement to the Scottish parliament, telling them “the referendum campaign starts here”. It directed them to contact their local branches to see if they can help with campaigning this weekend.

Sturgeon revealed on Tuesday that her government has formally requested a ruling from the UK supreme court on whether Holyrood is legally able to call a referendum without Westminster’s authorisation.

But there will be a long hiatus in parliamentary and legal activity over the summer because the Scottish parliament goes into recess this week, and the UK supreme court rises for its summer break on 29 July, putting pressure on yes campaigners to maintain momentum.

The SNP and the wider yes movement also face significant challenges in shifting public opinion beyond their activist base: recent Ipsos Mori polling showed only 32% of voters wanted a fresh referendum by the end of 2023. Support for yes continues to hover just below 50%, excluding don’t knows, after hitting 58% during the Covid crisis.

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The SNP, supported by their pro-independence partners the Scottish Greens, need to push support for independence and for an early referendum well above 50% to bolster their political case.

Sturgeon said on Tuesday that if the court refuses to authorise a Holyrood-based referendum, as many constitutional lawyers anticipate, she would seek to use the next general election as a “de facto referendum” on independence. She would claim Scotland’s will had been thwarted by Westminster’s rules.

That message was marred by a misstep from John Swinney, Scotland’s deputy first minister, after he had to issue a correction on Twitter on Wednesday clarifying what would constitute a pro-independence mandate at the election.

Swinney told the BBC on Wednesday morning the SNP needed only to win a majority of Scotland’s Westminster seats to have that mandate. But Sturgeon told the BBC in a separate interview they needed a majority of all the votes cast in Scotland to secure that mandate.

The SNP came very close to winning a majority in 2015, taking 49.97% of the votes, but has not done so in any other election.

Sturgeon’s announcement yesterday saw an immediate surge in online activity: SNP and yes digital channels reached more than 4 million people on Tuesday with pro-independence content via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.

Party sources – who privately raise concerns about what they say is the “hostility” of mainstream media to independence – underline their track record on digital activism and expect social media messaging to become much more focused.

The party’s pro-independence campaign Yes has been producing short film explainers about the mandate for a referendum and the Scottish government’s first independence paper, as well as showcasing personal testimony from dedicated campaigners and those who have switched from no to yes since 2014.

A spokesperson for Yes said: “Yesterday’s announcement by the first minster really shifted the world’s attention back on to Scotland. We saw a significant spike in online traffic, and we have big plans – online and offline for the months ahead.”

Women for Independence (WFI), one of the most prominent grassroots groups of the 2014 campaign, is holding its first in-person national convention in Dundee this weekend, with a focus on abortion rights as well as independence.

WFI now plans a “big push” over the summer months, said committee member Suzanne McLaughlin. “We’re targeting women who were soft noes or undecided in 2014, and also women who voted yes and dipped their toe in activism last time, encouraging them to get more involved,” she said.

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Pat Kane, a member of the Scottish Independence Convention and veteran independence campaigner, said “the yes movement today is as much of a lifestyle as an infrastructure”. In practice, that meant discussions about big campaign narratives to unite people as well as advice on influencing conversations over a shop counter were already under way.

Legal experts believe the supreme court will rule that only the UK government can legislate on changing the constitution. Lord Sumption, a former supreme court judge, told the BBC the first minister had charted “a very difficult course” for herself.

“The problem is that the constitutional relationship between England and Scotland is a reserved matter under the Scotland Act, which means that the Scottish parliament has no power to legislate for anything that affects the constitutional relationship between two parts of the United Kingdom,” he said.

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