SNP quietly put Independence on the backburner

It is with some suprise but much delight that I hear the SNP are dropping their plans for an independence referendum during this Parliament.  Regardless of what I think the merits of having an independence referendum are, I believe the SNP have made a major tactical blunder with their latest decision for three reasons:

1. The grassroots campaigners are motivated by one thing, independence.  It is the party’s raison d’etre and the reason why many of their members joined the party in the first place.  By breaking a manifesto pledge that so many of their members hold dear it could be harder for them to motivate a portion of their activists to actually fight the next Scottish election.

2. If Salmond had gone ahead with holding the referendum during the Parliament then he could have ensured that the big story dominating the months preceding the election was Independence.  He could then have made much of those “nasty pro-unionist parties” who were committed to not allowing the Scottish people to have their say.  So instead of press, radio and TV talking about a struggle for Independence, the run up to the election will be all about the SNP’s broken promises and the implementation of cuts.

3. By not ploughing ahead with a referendum early on it allowed Labour, Lib Dems and Conservatives to promote the Calman Commission proposals.  When the Westminster election saw the creation of a Tory/Lib Dem coalition government intent on implementing these proposals it offered the voters an alternative more in line with what polling suggests.

It must be tempting for opposition politicians within the Parliament to make political capital out of the  SNP’s u-turn but I would warn against it.  One lesson that Labour are learning in their attacks on the Tory/Lib Dem coalition is that each fresh attack actually brings the Tory and Lib Dem ministers closer together as they join in opposition against a common enemy and put their own internal disagreements aside in favour or promoting a strong and stable government.  If the opposition parties in Scotland look too eager to attack the SNP on their latest decision then it not only binds SNP activists together but also takes us away from what is important.  Instead I would suggest that the opposition parties focus on holding the SNP to account on their failures as a government and the list of broken promises.  The next election should be about the things that matter most to people;  jobs, services and the economy.

Only time will tell by I sense that Salmond has made his first misstep in the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary election campaign.

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